The Science of Superfoods for Beauty

By the DERMAdoctor, dermatologist Audrey Kunin, M.D.

Posted on | By Audrey Kunin, MD

The skin is the largest organ of the body, so what you eat can definitely affect your appearance. I want you to think of your refrigerator as a cosmetics counter. Whereas makeup is used to hide and perfect flaws, the right foods can help eliminate them altogether. Skin concerns like sun protection, wrinkles, blemishes, dryness and irritation can all be responsive to thoughtful food choices. 

Natural Sun Screen: Lycopene

 

Let’s begin with sun protection. The harmful effects of the sun show up not only as wrinkles and blotchy skin discoloration but potentially precancerous changes and skin cancer as well. 

Lycopene is an antioxidant found in brightly colored orange and red produce. Lycopene is a member of the antioxidant family known as carotenoids, which firm the skin by helping build collagen. It acts as a natural sunscreen to help protect your skin from free radical damage. 

Once the sun’s ultraviolet rays penetrate the skin, a chemical reaction occurs. Oxygen molecules that reside within the tissue are naturally bonded together in pairs. As a result of the reaction, they are broken apart, becoming free oxygen species (also known as free radicals). They work to destroy vulnerable cellular DNA and trigger skin-aging changes.

Consuming lycopene-rich foods protects DNA from these reactive free oxygen species. Let me that stress eating lycopene-rich foods helps maximize sun protection but should never be a substitute for your favorite broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) sunscreen with SPF 30.

Food source: Pink grapefruit is extremely rich in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. Just half a grapefruit a week, which contains 17 mg of lycopene, is all you need for added sun protection.


Natural Botox for Wrinkles: Vitamin C

There are 4 levels of skin aging. Addressing each level of skin aging maximizes your rejuvenation results. The dermis lies just beneath the skin’s surface and is made up of a network of collagen fibers that are linked together much like a chain-link fence. Sun damage and other aging factors act to cause these links to break. The skin loses tone, sags, and fine lines and wrinkles form.

Vitamin C is a powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidant that protects collagen fibers from injury and builds new collagen that, in turn, helps firm the skin, and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Food source: Everyone immediately thinks of an orange as containing the most vitamin C, however, a single serving of a sweet red bell pepper has more than twice the vitamin C and a third of the calories. One half-cup of raw red sweet pepper contains 142 mg of vitamin C and 20 calories. Compare this with one medium orange which contains 70 mg of vitamin C and 62 calories. Click here for Dr. Oz's vitamin C smoothie.

Natural Moisturizer for Dry Skin: Omega-3s

Dry skin lacks moisture; that’s obvious. But dry skin also leads to a disruption of the protective ceramide barrier, allowing skin cells to pull apart, moisture to escape, and further dehydration. Restoring the barrier with oils good for your skin can help protect the integrity of the ceramide barrier and reduce the risk of dry skin during the winter. Omega-3s are considered essential fatty acids (EFAs). They are necessary for good health and healthy skin, but the body cannot make them.

Food source: Fish, plant and nut oils are the primary dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids. Dry brittle hair, nails and dry, itchy skin all respond to a diet rich in omega-3s. One of the best places to find omega-3s is lake trout. One fillet of lake trout contains 1567 mg of omega-3 and has 215 calories. Consuming one fillet twice a week helps keep skin moist and protected.

Best Blemish Buster: Vitamin A

Typically, the lining of an oil gland is meant to exfoliate daily. Skin cells and excess oil exit the gland through the pore and are cleansed away. In acne-prone skin, however, there is a “stickiness” of this inner lining that leads to plugged oil glands beneath the surface of the skin. Eventually, there is a build-up of oil, cellular debris and bacteria which leads to inflammation and the appearance of a pimple

Vitamin A helps normalize the production of the oil gland lining, “unsticking them,” so to speak. Eating foods rich in vitamin A helps improves cellular turnover and reduces breakouts.

Food source: Half a cup of collard greens has 441 mg of vitamin A, the equivalent of 7917.12 IU and just 24 calories. Half a cup a week helps keep skin blemish-free.

Reduce Redness and Inflammation: Quercetin

Redness and inflammation of the skin can be the result of many things, including rosacea, sun damage, a change of season or perimenopause. Many cultures have found a variety of botanicals and herbs that work to calm the skin and reduce the appearance of redness.

Quercetin is a plant-derived flavonoid that has been shown to both calm inflammation and also has an antihistamine-type of action. Quercetin helps support the immune system against infections, free radicals, allergies and inflammatory responses such as arthritis.

Food source: One of the best sources of quercetin is the tiny caper. Don’t let their small size fool you. One tablespoon of capers contains 187mg of quercetin. Sprinkle a tablespoon over an entrée twice a week to banish skin redness.

Article written by Audrey Kunin, MD
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