Ask most dermatologists what you should eat to help improve your skin and you'll probably get a vague answer about a balanced diet and plenty of water. "Doctors have been taught to be very skeptical about nutritional approaches to health, because past advice wasn't based on hard science," says dermatologist Valori Treloar, M.D., coauthor of "The Clear Skin Diet." But their skepticism is fading as more patients sing the praises of food's skin-morphing powers, and newer research backs them up. Take teens with acne: They swear that chocolate makes breakouts worse, and (vindication!) a preliminary study of 18- to 35-year-olds presented at this year's American Academy of Dermatology conference suggests they're right.
As the proof trickles in, experts are also realizing why reliable studies on nutrition and skin are so hard to find, Dr. Treloar says: They're expensive, and people in food studies aren't always so hot at sticking to diets. And then there's the complexity of how nutrients work together in the body. For instance, after vitamin E wipes up destructive free radicals, it becomes oxidized and useless. Vitamin C restores E to its original form, but in the process, C becomes oxidized and needs yet another element to become helpful again. Interactions like these make it nearly impossible to credit one nutrient for healthy, glowy skin‚ and explain why foods tend to have more of an effect on your body than supplements do, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D., nutrition advisor to YouBeauty.com.
Sold? We were! So we developed three diets‚ one each to tackle acne; dry, dull skin; and aging‚ that basically involve filling up on delicious foods rich in nutrients with face-saving virtues. And don't be afraid to pile your plate high: It's practically impossible to OD on nutrients through diet alone. All you have to do is ID your top skin woe and dish up a gorgeous future.
The Problem: Acne
Mean girls don't always disappear after high school, and neither do embarrassing breakouts. But getting plenty of these three nutrients can help you banish blemishes. (Sadly, the snobs may still linger.)
"This antioxidant thins the epidermis, or outer layer of skin, which produces dead cells that can clog pores," explains Jody Levine, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. It also dries up sebum, the gross, oily, waxy stuff your skin glands produce that mixes with dead skin cells to create the clogs and transport you to Zitville. The daily value (DV) of A is 5,000 international units (IUs), so get at least that much, and pair it with some healthy fats such as olive oil or avocado: A is a fat-soluble vitamin, so your body will absorb it better.
Sweet potatoes (28,000 IUs each); leafy greens such as spinach (23,000 IUs per chopped, cooked cup), kale (19,000 IUs per cooked cup) and broccoli (2,400 IUs per cooked cup); bright red, yellow and orange produce such as carrots (27,000 IUs per cooked cup), cantaloupe (5,400 IUs per cup), red bell peppers (4,700 IUs per cup) and red chile peppers (428 IUs each); asparagus (600 IUs per four spears)
The mineral helps tame skin's oil production; less oil (if you have an excess of the stuff) means less sebum‚ and fewer pimples, according to Dr. Levine. The RDA for zinc is 8 milligrams.
Raw oysters (76 mg per six oysters), fortified breakfast cereals such as Total (15 mg per 3/4 cup), canned blue crab (5 mg per cup), turkey (4 mg per cup), beef sirloin (4 mg per 3 ounces), pork loin (4 mg per 3 oz), part-skim ricotta (3 mg per cup)
Omega-3 fatty acids
They help maintain the body's essential oils, the healthy, non-pore-clogging kind that keep skin cells from drying out, flaking and congesting pores, Dr. Levine says. They also have anti-inflammatory properties that aid with healing. "Acne is a teeny little wound on your face," Kirkpatrick says. There's no RDA for omega-3s; Kirkpatrick suggests aiming for 600 mg daily.
Flaxseed (1,600 mg per 1 tablespoon), canola oil (1,300 mg per 1 tbsp), soybean oil (900 mg per 1 tbsp)
Do Some Foods Breed Breakouts?
The science is still spotty, but experts are wary of...
Milk spikes levels of insulin and growth hormone, both of which open androgen (male hormone) receptors and allow the hormones to enter, says dermatologist Bill Danby, M.D., of Dartmouth Medical School. And male hormones can plug pores and activate oil glands, resulting in acne, he explains. Although not all skin pros embrace Dr. Danby‚ dairy theory, it's gaining ground, according to Dr. Treloar. She suggests that acne sufferers drop cow dairy (get vitamin D, calcium and magnesium from other sources), then experiment with noncow and fermented dairy foods.
A high-glycemic-index diet
Like dairy items, high-GI foods such as refined carbs (e.g., white bread) and sweets (including chocolate) can raise insulin levels and open androgen receptors, so most experts say it's smart to steer clear when you can.
See how your BMI and waist-to-hip ratio is affecting your beauty and health.
Highlight your eye color. Flaunt your body shape. Harness your confidence. Take our quizzes to better know yourself and get science-based, individualized advice to embrace your true beauty.
See how your BMI and waist-to-hip ratio is affecting your beauty and health.Take Quiz
Find out if your hair is aging you and learn how to turn back the strands of time.Take Quiz
Great sex does more than blow your mind—it's good for your heart, your head and your beauty.Take Quiz
Define your curves and discover the best ways to eat, exercise and dress for your figure.Take Quiz