Skin Care: The ABCs of a Healthy Skin Diet (cont.)

Because it is the cell membrane that also holds water in, the stronger that barrier is, the better your cells can hold moisture. And that means plumper, younger looking skin.

Also, says Heller, the same inflammatory process that can harm our arteries and cause heart disease can harm skin cells. Essential fatty acids are important in a healthy skin diet because they can offer protection to both.

The best-known essential fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6, which must be in balance for good health (and good skin). Though we all seem to get enough omega-6, Heller says many people lack omega-3s. Fish, walnuts, and flaxseed oil are among the best sources.

Healthy Oils

These contain more than essential fatty acids. Eating good-quality oils helps keep skin lubricated and keeps it looking and feeling healthier overall, Lipski tells WebMD.

Which oils are the right ones for healthy skin? Lipski says those labeled cold pressed, expeller processed, or extra virgin are the oils to look for in a healthy skin diet.

"When an oil is commercially processed, the first thing they do is add solvents and raise them to really high temperatures, then put it though five or six processes. Important nutrients are lost," says Lipski.

By comparison, she says when oils are prepared by the cold-press or expeller process, or, in the case of olive oil, are extra virgin, preparation involves only pressing, heating, and bottling.

"You get all the nutrients that are not only good for your skin, but good for your body," says Lipski.

Since any fat, even a healthy one, is high in calories, experts remind us that we don't need more than about 2 tablespoons a day.

Whole-Wheat Bread, Muffins, and Cereals; Turkey, Tuna, and Brazil Nuts

The mineral selenium is the ingredient that makes all these foods important in a healthy skin diet. Experts say selenium plays a key role in the health of skin cells. Some studies show that even skin damaged by the sun may suffer fewer consequences if selenium levels are high.

For instance, in two clinical trials, researchers at Edinburgh University showed that when levels of selenium were high, skin cells were less likely to suffer the kind of oxidative damage that can increase the risk of cancer. The results were published in 2003 in both the British Journal of Dermatology and the journal Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. And a group of French researchers found that oral doses of selenium, along with copper, vitamin E, and vitamin A could prevent sunburn cell formation in human skin.

What's more, Lipsky says that filling up on whole-grain products leaves less room for the "white" foods that are a worse choice for skin health. These include white-flour items (bread, cake, and pasta), sugar, and white rice. All can affect insulin levels and cause inflammation that may ultimately be linked to skin breakouts.

Green Tea

This beverage deserves a category all its own in any article about a healthy skin diet. The skin-health properties in this beneficial drink just can't be beat.

"It has anti-inflammatory properties, and it's protective to the cell membrane. It may even help prevent or reduce the risk of skin cancer," says Lipski.

Indeed, a study published recently in the Archives of Dermatology shows that whether taken orally or applied to the skin, green tea can reduce the risk of damage from ultraviolet light (such as the burning rays of the sun), and thus reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Heller adds that the polyphenols in green tea have anti-inflammatory properties that are also beneficial to skin health overall.


While the exact amount you should drink each day varies, no one disputes the role good hydration plays in a healthy skin diet. When that hydration comes from pure, clean water -- not liquids such as soda or even soup -- experts say skin cells rejoice.

"It is my belief that our skin needs at least a half gallon of good clean water -- that's about eight glasses -- every day," says Lipski.

While any good, clean water will keep your body and your skin hydrated, Lipski says hard water, the kind high in minerals, is especially good. Using water softeners to de-mineralize drinking water may reduce some of the potentially helpful effects.

"A water softener may help your plumbing, but it's hard water that is better for your health," she says.

In addition to keeping cells hydrated, water helps cells move nutrients in and toxins out, which Lipski says automatically leaves skin looking better.

She adds that when we're properly hydrated, we also sweat more efficiently. Doing so helps keep skin clean and clear as well.

SOURCES: Samantha Heller, MS, RD, senior clinical nutritionist, NYU Medical Center, New York City. Elaine Linker, PhD, biochemist, co-founder of DDF Skin Care. Liz Lipski, PhD, CCN, co-founder, director of and author of Digestive Wellness. Ann Yelmokas McDermott, PhD, nutritionist, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston. Xianli, Wu, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2004; vol 52: pp 4026-4037; Katiyar, Santosh Archives of Dermatology, 2000; vol 136: pp 989-994,1051. la Ruche, G. et al, Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed, 1991 Dec;8(6):232-5. Rafferty, T.S. British Journal of Dermatology 2003: 148:1-9.

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