When we look good, we feel good and part of looking good is having healthy skin. What you see when you look in the mirror at your skin can be an indication of your overall health and stress level. How your skin looks can give you clues as to how healthy your lifestyle and eating habits are. For optimal skin health the keys are eating foods for healthy skin with the right vitamins and antioxidants, avoiding damage from the sun, and not smoking. Our skin is the largest organ in the body and the first line of defense in our immune systems which makes it extra important to take good care of it. Just the aging process itself takes a toll on the skin as the skin produces less collagen and loses skin cells, becomes drier, and becomes less elastic as we age. But there are ways to protect your skin and keep it healthy no matter what age you are or how much damage it has already sustained.
The Sun and Your Skin
Between the years 1994 and 2004, claims made through Medicare for treatment of non-melanoma skin cancer doubled. In 2011, Dr. Coldiron reported at the American Academy of Dermatology that there were 3.7 million cases of skin cancer reported for the year 2008. That’s a lot of damaged skin from sun rays. The sun puts out three types of light. These are infrared that produces the heat, visible light and ultraviolet or UV light. It is the UV light that causes the most damage to skin. This is a problem since exposure to sunlight helps us produce vitamin D that we need for good health. The most common way to protect the skin from UV light while still being able to get outside and get our vitamin D is to use sunscreen. Recently though there are questions being raised about certain ingredients found in sunscreens that may make us even more susceptible to skin cancer. Zinc oxide is one of these that is often found in sunscreen, but according to Missouri S&T Professor of chemistry, Dr. Yinfa Ma, and graduate student Qingbo Yang, zinc oxide produces a chemical reaction when exposed to sunlight that produces free radicals that damage skin and increase skin cancer risks. Oxybenzone is another concerning ingredient found in some sunscreens as according to Joseph Laszlo, Ph.D. from the Agricultural Research Service, ingredients such as this are becoming a concern in contaminating water and this ingredient may be a hormone disruptor that negatively affects the reproduction of aquatic species.
So what to do? How do you get safe exposure to sunlight without using sunscreens that contain controversial ingredients? One way that has been proposed is to tap into the protective pigments found in microalgae. Pigments found in microalgae such as scytonemin and astaxanthin, have been found to actually absorb UV-A radiation. This would make microalgae a great candidate for being added to sunscreen protection and in fact is being experimented with in this way. This moisturizing lotion that has lots of antioxidant protection including beta-glucan, blue-green algae, vitamin E, A and C and aloe vera is an example of another way bluegreen algae can be used topically. In addition, this protection is available by consuming microalgae internally too. Besides giving these pigment protections, AFA bluegreen algae also has vitamins and antioxidants that can help fight off damage to skin cells from free radicals and nourish skin. For even more of a nutritional punch and extra pigments, you can get the minerals and phytonutrients of nine colorful algae in this algae supplement. Sunscreen is still recommended by most experts as your best protection against UV rays. Read labels to see what ingredients are in your sunscreen and choose wisely. Then adjust your diet to make sure you are getting the antioxidant protection you need to help combat damage from free radicals that your sunscreen may not be protecting you from.
Free Radicals and Your Skin
Free radicals are unstable molecules that have lost an electron by becoming weakened through such conditions as toxins in the body, exposure to UV rays, chlorinated water, pollution, and overcooked, fried and processed foods. These weakened molecules attack our healthy cells stealing the electrons from them and leaving these cells damaged. Free radical damage to cells, enzymes, and DNA, can result in pain, inflammation, and chronic diseases. Our best protection against free radicals is antioxidant vitamins, minerals and enzymes we can get through foods and dietary supplements. Making sure you get enough antioxidants in your diet can actually help combat the damage free radicals do to the body and certain antioxidant foods and supplements can give you additional protection against UV rays. Antioxidants used directly on the skin have also shown good results in offering extra protection for the skin. Rosemary, tomato paste, grape seed extract, pomegranate, and soy are just a few foods that can be eaten or used topically to offer skin protection. Regularly adding herbs such as rosemary and thyme to foods was reported to decrease the risk of melanoma by 60% according to a study in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
According to experts like Karen E. Burke, MD, PhD from the dermatology department at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, antioxidants such as Vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium can increase skin repair and protect your skin from further damage including the damage from the sun. Discoloring and wrinkling that comes with aging can also be reversed by including foods with these types of antioxidants in your diet. Along with aging, our bodies produce less coenzyme Q10 which is another antioxidant that aids in cell growth and can protect cells from disease such as cancer. One study found in Biofactors also reported a reduction in wrinkles by using this coenzyme topically. Alpha-lipoic Acid is another antioxidant that can help protect against sun damage and can be found in creams and the active form of vitamin A, retinoic acid, is another good ingredient to look for in skin care products to reduce wrinkles, age spots and give protection from sun damage. As far as adding antioxidants to your diet, they are found in bright colored fruits and vegetables in high amounts. The antioxidant flavonoids found in green tea and dark chocolate are also good additions to a healthy skin diet and help hydrate skin and improve circulation. Foods with B-vitamins such as chicken, eggs and fortified grains can also help keep skin healthy and hydrated. You can help boost your body’s own natural production of B-vitamins by increasing the number of probiotics or “friendly bacteria” in the intestines through supplementation as they are responsible for making these vitamins. Some extra good antioxidant foods to make sure you have in your healthy skin diet include kale that gives you lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin C and vitamin A, kiwi, for about 120% of the vitamin C you need per day in just one medium sized fruit, and cooked pumpkin for beta-carotene needed to grow skin cells, and keep skin soft while reducing wrinkles.
Other Foods and Supplements for Healthy Skin
Foods with omega-3 fatty acids such as olive oil, walnuts, and fatty fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel have also been found to be a good addition to the diet for healthy skin. A study from 2012 in PLOS ONE reported participants eating over 2 teaspoons daily of olive oil showed 31% less signs of aging than those eating less than a teaspoon a day. Not only do you get the omega-3’s in olive oil, but also antioxidant polyphenols to fight off free radical damage. Walnuts have a type of omega-3’s called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which according to experts like Lisa Drayer, MA, RD, who wrote The Beauty Diet, can leave skin dry, scaly and producing eczema if you don’t get enough of it. Mackerel not only gives you omega-3’s but also is a great source of vitamin B12 which a lack of can cause skin spots and blotching. And sardines are loaded with DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) omega-3’s that can help protect your skin from inflammation. Andrew Weil, MD also recommends GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) found in evening primrose oil and black currant oil as being supportive of not only healthy skin, but also hair and nails. You can also get omega-3’s with less omega-6 fatty acids by eating grass fed beef. This is a good way to get lots of protein too that is needed for making collagen and elastin.
Another detriment to healthy skin is refined carbohydrates and sugars as they increase the body’s production of insulin and androgen hormones that Lisa Drayer, MA, RD warns increase oils on the skin that can get into pores and create pimples. Whole grains such as oatmeal help keep blood sugar levels stable and reduce this skin dilemma. Eating the peel from citrus fruits such as orange peel and lemon zest was reported in research from the University of Arizona to provide extra protection from UV rays more than just the fruit or juice from the fruit.
Healthy skin at any age is possible. With some additions to the diet in foods and supplements that boost skin health and protecting skin from sun damage, you can have better looking and healthier skin too. Pay attention to what you put on the outside and inside of your body that will support your skin’s health and you’ll like what you see when you look in the mirror.
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Bruno, Jeffrey, PhD, Eat Light to Feel Bright