I’ve been debating a long time about how to approach this subject on my blog. Though I definitely think that the subject needs to addressed I’ve never been quite sure how to approach it mainly because the scope of the subject is so large. But I finally decided that it is time to take the plunge and write this post.
There are quite a few things that need to be mentioned here. One is the issue of a healthy diet and how to affects your skin. Another entirely separate issue is that of supplements, in pill form or drink form, that claim to address all sorts of skin issues from acne to aging. I actually already wrote two posts debunking the idea that you can drink collagen in order to get smoother skin (see my posts Can You Drink Your Way to Firmer Skin? and Taste Test) and have even addressed the issue of diet and acne in an earlier post, but I felt it was time to delve a bit deeper into the issue.
Healthy Diet = Healthy Skin?
Everyone of us already knows that in order to stay healthy we should, ideally follow, a healthy diet. At the very least we should reduce our intake of fast food, fatty foods, and excessive amounts of sugar and processed foods. So if we follow a healthy diet will this be reflected in our skin? Many experts would say yes. But just what are we supposed to eat in order to maintain a youthful glow? Well that opens up a lot of room for debate. One of the biggest advocates for eating a certain diet in order to get and then maintain beautiful skin is Dr. Perricone. His books are widely available if you want to check out his ideas and food plans.
In an article for her Beauty Bulletin – The Best Foods for Beautiful Skin - Paula Begoun recommends eating berries, salmon, walnuts, whole grains, and yogurt (among other foods) in order to maintain healthy skin. Much of that advice is reflected in Chapter 4: Beauty and The Buffet of celebrity esthetician Kate Somerville’s book Complexion Perfection!. Somerville, like Begoun, tells her readers to eat salmon, whole grains, and berries. Additionally, Somerville also recommends eating black beans, almonds, flaxseed, and sweet potatoes (plus other foods). A one day sample menu for healthy eating is even provided in her book.
But my favorite advice about diet and your skin comes from Dr. Amy Wechsler’s wonderful book The Mind Beauty Connection. (I highly recommend this book if you want to better understand how stress and lifestyle choices affect your skin) Chapter 7 of the book is entitled The Beauty Buffet and Bar: Optimum Diet Choices for Beautiful Skin, and the chapter does an excellent job in explaining why certain foods may positively impact the appearance of your skin and how a healthy diet can help the health of your skin. While rereading this chapter of Wechsler’s book for the writing of this post I was struck by both the logic and insight of what she wrote time and again. I think it is a good idea to share some quotes from the above mentioned chapter (pages 167-169):
There is no magic pill, potion, formula for beauty. Too many things coalesce in our bodies to produce either the results we want or don’t want. … There is … plenty of scientific proof about eating certain foods to support your skin and health, while avoiding others that can sabotage your beauty goals. Don’t panic: The point is not for you to do anything too unrealistic, such as suddenly savor wheatgrass juice or spoon flaxseed oil in your mouth every morning. … Remember, this isn’t about going on a specific diet. It’s ultimately up to you to make modifications in how you eat so you can move over to a lifetime of healthy eating – and limitless beauty. As with any healthy eating guidelines, the goal here is to supply your cells and systems with the raw materials they need to function efficiently and optimally, inside and out. You don’t want to give your body any excuse to age prematurely, so you need to be sure that at any given time it has all the resources it requires to stay alive, hydrated, and nourished to the max.
Nutritional medicine is a rapidly growing area of research that will continue to gain momentum as we learn more and more about the connections between nutrition and health – not just in relation to skin health, but all kinds of health concerns. In fact, the link between nutrition and diseases like obesity, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease are well documented. I expect us to learn more and more about the powerful influences diet can have on our skin health and ability to slow down the inevitable decline we call aging and its appearance on our bodies. Because we know that oxidative stress, inflammation, and, to a lesser extent, genetics, are the chief agers in our bodies, and because they spur chronic conditions that wear us down physically, gaining the upper hand on these as best we can is key. And if diet can help this in any way, then we should be paying attention.
I also want to note that there is no single approach to optimizing health and beauty, and that diet alone is not the answer. … The combination of proven skin-care techniques, relaxation therapies to dampen stress, exercise, restful sleep, and diet are all important and play a part in your looks on the inside and the outside. It would be impossible to say which of these factors is more important than the other. They all bear weight, and perhaps which one carries the most depends on the individual, especially as they relate to a person’s genetics and other lifestyle choices.
Like Begoun and Somerville, Dr. Wechsler also recommends eating berries, nuts, and salmon, among other foods. (I am starting to sense a theme here) Furthermore, Dr. Wechsler is a big advocate of drinking lots of green tea throughout the day and taking a multivitamin.
What About Nutritional Supplements?
More than one well-known skincare expert/source sells nutritional supplements than claim, as already mentioned, to clear your skin or prevent aging. To name just a few, you can buy supplements from Perricone MD , Murad, and Kate Somerville. (As an esthetician I do not recommend a certain diet or any supplements to my clients. That is an area that is well outside my expertise. If a client does ask me about such issues I recommend that they look at Dr. Perricone’s books or Dr. Wechsler’s book and leave the final decision on what to do up to the individual.) It definitely is alluring to think that all you need to do is pop a few pills a day, recommended by a skincare expert no less, in order to look beautiful. Yet let me debunk that idea. Once again I’ll quote from The Mind Beauty Connection (page 194):
The Truth About Vitamin C and E Supplements and Skin Vitamins:
What about individual nutrients or special skin-health formulas that claim to improve skin? These grab-bag concoctions, which are mostly a mix of antioxidants, are hugely popular. However, there’s minimal proof of payoff, at least right now. Oodles of isolated antioxidants like vitamins C and E and phyto-chemicals like those found in green tea have been dazzling in the test tube. When fed to lab animals, they have been marvelous at protecting against sun damage, wrinkles, and cancer; making skin softer, moister, and smoother; and halting inflammation and signs of agin. Those effects almost disappear when single-nutrient pills are tested in people. Green tea polyphenol pills, for example, protect mice skin from UV damage and skin cancer but do nada for human skin. In a topic form, however green tea is anti-inflammatory and photoprotective.
In fact, studies of isolated antioxidant pills in humans have overall been not only disappointing but actually worrisome. Disappointing because the supplements haven’t staved off health trouble. Worrisome because studies have shown that people with various diseases, from heart problems to liver aliments, who took vitamins A, E, and/or beta-carotene supplements, either to try and stop the disease or keep it from coming back, had a greater risk of dying than those who didn’t.
Punch line: The more research we do on antioxidants, the more it looks like the work best in our bodies when they are consumed with other vitamins, minerals, and probably other components we haven’t even discovered yet. All of the antioxidants nutrients you need come packaged together whenever you eat a stalk of broccoli or a juicy plum or a slice of multigrain walnut- raisin bread. Put simply: Eat whole foods.
Need further proof? During the months I was contemplating how to write this post I came across a great article in the The New York Times by Alex Kuczynski called The Beauty-From-Within Market. Kuczynski concisely addresses just these issues: how Americans love the idea of nutritional supplements and if they really work:
Americans take pills to scrub our arteries, to relax us for airplane flights, to deforest our nasal passages of mucus and to remoisten our tear ducts. We take pills to sharpen our memory, to forget the awful things that have happened to us, to revitalize our libidos and to fall into a stuporous, amnesiac, refrigerator-clearing sleep.
Like children wishing for magical results in a fairy tale, we can now also take pills to make us pretty. These are supplements sold at yoga studios, department stores, hair salons, some dermatology offices and even on QVC; they promise to even skin tone, reduce lines and wrinkles, shrink pores and offer protection from the sun. Along with food and drink that promote external beauty, these are part of what is known as the beauty-from-within industry, and it’s growing fast. …
The global beauty-from-within market – comprising beauty foods, beverages and oral beauty supplements – totaled $5.9 billion in 2008 and $6.3 billion in 2009, and is projected to be up to $6.8 billion in 2010, according to Datamonitor, a market research company that studies the skin care market. (To compare, the global skin care market – which includes cleaners, moisturizers and anything you apply to the surface of your skin — is projected to reach $65.7 billion in 2010.)
Kuczynski tried the supplement Glisodin and didn’t see much of result with her skin. She also interviewed two experts for her article (of course when I saw that one of the experts interviewed was Dr. Wechsler I was very happy):
Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University… is the queen of skepticism on the purported beauty benefits of supplements. “Lecture time,” Nestle said. “If you eat any kind of reasonable diet you will not have deficiencies that can be addressed by vitamins. All you are going to do is pee them out.”
The irony, she said, is that people who have little need for supplementary vitamins and minerals are the ones most predisposed to take them. “People with disposable income to spend on vitamins, who are interested in their health and well-being, these are the people who need them the least,” she said. And people who care about their skin enough to take beauty vitamins are also probably wearing sunscreen and using moisturizer. “It is very hard to demonstrate health in people who are already healthy,” she said. And it is also difficult to gauge improved dermatological health in people who already practice good skin habits.
The chief problem with beauty supplements, said [Dr. Amy Wechsler, a dermatologist in Manhattan], is that no matter how effective the delivery system, very little nutrients can reach the skin from a pill. In other words, my skin wasn’t going to look as poreless and pure … Lady Gaga’s, just from popping a pill.
“It is very American to put hope in a bottle,” Wechsler said. “And it is also very American to try to sell that hope.”
Bottom Line: Eat a healthy diet, destress, and practice good skincare habits and routines. Don’t expect great changes from a pill.
Further reading: Though I did not incorporate this article into my above post it does tie in perfectly with the theme: The Truth About Beauty Beverages: Do Certain Drinks Deliver Beauty Benefits – Or Is That Wishful Thinking? Experts Weigh In - Web MD