Eating right for healthy skin | Gustafson

Beauty may only be skin deep, as the 1966 hit song by The Temptations famously reminds us, but the fact is that the appearance of our skin does tell quite a bit about our health and wellbeing.

Beauty may only be skin deep, as the 1966 hit song by The Temptations famously reminds us, but the fact is that the appearance of our skin does tell quite a bit about our health and wellbeing.

It is not just age-related decay, or cellular damage from too much sun exposure, but also our diet that affects how our skin looks.

The skin is the body’s largest organ, and as all other parts, it must constantly be nourished.

Through its complex, layered system, the skin has multiple functions, including protecting us from microbes and the elements, regulating body temperature, and registering touch, heat, and cold. All these tasks require regular rejuvenation and replenishment.

Basically, our skin complexion is a window to the condition our health is in. If nutrients are plentiful, our skin feels smoother, nails grow faster and stronger, and hair is shinier. But these are not among the body’s highest priorities. If nutritional deficiencies persist, whatever nutrients are left go to the foremost life-sustaining organs like the brain, the heart, the lungs, etc. So, if the skin is less than flawless, nails become brittle, or hair looks dull, something is probably amiss.

Although, it is not altogether clear whether there are specifically skin-healthy foods, most experts would agree that consuming lots of fresh fruits and vegetables – mainly because of their antioxidants and phytochemicals – is recommended. Particularly, intensely colorful plant foods like carrots, squash, tomatoes, peppers, deep green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, apricots, berries, as well as beans, peas, lentils, and nuts are nutrient-rich and contain plenty of these properties.

Processed foods, on the other hand, especially when they are high in fat, salt, and sugar content, can contribute to dietary imbalances that also leave their mark on the health status of the skin. Especially simple carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, pasta, potatoes, and sweets, many of which are at the base of the so-called “Western diet,” can wreak havoc not only on inner organs but can also lead to breakouts in the skin.

For instance, although we have not yet found ironclad scientific proof that acne is caused by certain foods, most experts will tell you that diet plays probably a role, said Dr. Ellen Marmur, a dermatologist and dermatology surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, to WebMD.

“The body, skin included, is constantly under construction. And it uses vitamins and nutrients from food to repair and rebuild,” she explains. If these healing processes are interrupted or disabled, a disorder called “keratinization” can develop, where glands and pores get blocked, thereby trapping proteins and oils, which can lead to inflammation in the skin cells.

Of course, diet is not the only cause of skin damage. Insufficient hydration is a major culprit. Other potential factors are hormonal imbalances, stress, sleep deprivation, and environmental pollution.

But while there are no super foods that can help prevent damage to the skin, it is important to know that good eating habits can help, Dr. Marmur says.

“Remember, many of the best foods for healthy skin also promote good health overall,” says Dr. Lawrence E. Gibson, a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. “Rather than focusing on specific foods for healthy skin, concentrate on a healthy diet in general,” he recommends.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (