Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Is A Vegetarian Or Vegan Diet Bad For Your Skin? April 12, 2012

I’ve been a vegetarian for over 20 years, and have no plans to start eating meat any time soon, so could that mean I am hurting my skin instead of helping it?  Truthfully I didn’t think that the lack of animal protein in my diet was hurting my skin at all until I read the following post from esthetician Renee Rouleau on her blog:

From working with skin hands-on as an esthetician and skin care expert for over twenty years, I have to say that I most definitely have seen similarities in the skin of people who have a vegan diet versus those who are not. What I have noticed is a dull, tired, sallow look to the skin, similar to that of a heavy smoker’s skin, as well as a premature loss of skin tone. By no means am I knocking someone’s choice to live a vegan lifestyle, I’m simply sharing my observations and thoughts.

Because a vegan diet consists of mainly fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains, those that follow it may have trouble getting enough protein—the building blocks for skin. Protein is an essential component that makes up cells in the epidermis, including collagen and elastin fibers to keep skin firm and smooth.

Many vegans rely on beans and soy as their main source of protein, but protein that comes from fish, poultry and meat may be more complete and therefore make for a better effect for the appearance…

Now I am not going to argue with Rouleau’s hands on experience and observations about how people’s skin who follow a vegan diet looks because of her experience and expertise (and on a side note, the more I read of Rouleau’s blog the more I like her and her advice, usually), but I can go by my experience being a vegetarian for a long time and I certainly can research this topic – which I did.  Though Rouleau mentions specifically an issue with vegan’s skin, vegan’s do not eat any animal protein or any food derived from animal sources like eggs, dairy, or honey, I chose to tackle this question by looking at both a vegetarian (a vegetarian will eat dairy, honey, and eggs) and vegan diets as well.

I found it really interesting that a lack of animal protein in someone’s diet would influence how their skin looks since you can get enough protein in your diet from dairy, eggs, and legumes (not to mention certain grains as well like quinoa).  Making a statement that a person needs animal protein in their diet for good skin – is that just an anti-vegetarian or vegan bias?  I have to admit that the minute I read Rouleau’s post I got a little defensive about my vegetarian diet and how my skin looks, and I really wanted to research this topic further.

Yes, Protein Is Important But You Don’t Need Meat

A well balanced diet is key to both having and maintaining great skin, but a well balanced diet means that you eat a wide variety of foods from many sources not just animal sources.  I looked through my various books at home and searched online in order to see if others agreed with Rouleau’s statement that consuming animal protein was necessary for building collagen.  I only found one other source that said the same thing.  Mostly my research yielded the similar lists of foods that promote great skin and good health like a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, nuts, olive oil, lean protein like fish, poultry, tofu, and legumes, and whole grains.  When it comes to building collagen in the skin, in particular, New Beauty suggests eating the following foods:

Boost your body’s collagen with the following eight foods:

1. Water-rich vegetables like cucumber and celery have a high sulfur content, which is important in collagen production. Collagen can’t be produced if sulfur isn’t present.
2. Fish creates stronger cells. Fish is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. Skin cells are surrounded by a fatty membrane that protects them. When the cells are healthy, they are able to support the structure of the skin.
3. Soy blocks aging. Whether sourced from soymilk, cheese or tofu, soy contains genistein (plant hormones that serve as antioxidants), which prompts collagen production and helps to block enzymes, like MMPs, that can age the skin.
4. Red vegetables are a natural form of SPF. Tomatoes, peppers and beets contain the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene protects the skin from damage while increasing collagen levels, acting as a natural sun block.
5. Dark green vegetables, rich in vitamin C, like spinach and kale, rev up collagen production. In topical products, vitamin C stabilizes messenger enzymes that break down collagen. It also prevents weak collagen by protecting against free radicals.
6. Berries ward off damage. Blackberries and raspberries scavenge free radicals while simultaneously increasing collagen levels.
7. White tea supports structure. According to research conducted by Kingston University and Neal’s Yard Remedies, white tea may protect the structural proteins of the skin, specifically collagen. It’s believed to prevent enzyme activity that breaks down collagen, contributing to lines and wrinkles.
8. Orange vegetables, like carrots and sweet potatoes, are rich in vitamin A, which restores and regenerates damaged collagen

So while an animal protein does show up on this list there are plenty of other options as well for building collagen.  Dermatologist Nicole Rogers, MD, on WebMD, answers the question about what to eat in order to prevent wrinkles thusly:

Question:

What kind of foods should I include in my diet to prevent wrinkles?

Answer:

It’s helpful to ingest foods that are high in antioxidants. These foods can help absorb the free radicals created in your body by UV light exposure, which can break down collagen and create fine lines and wrinkles. Foods high in antioxidants include dark berries such as blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Beans are also high in antioxidants, including red beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans. Also, drinks that may be helpful include green tea, red wine, and coffee, all in moderation of course.

No mention here either of having to eat animal protein.

I also turned to Dr. Carl Thornfeldt in his book The New Ideal in Skin Health to see what he had to say about diet and aging (pages 445-446):

It is well known that a poor diet contributes to exacerbation and severity of skin lesions, preventing proper healing and reducing remission time.  The blame has been directed at many different types of food, and while many of those claims are not valid, a healthy and balanced diet certainly can make a huge impact to one’s skin.  Beginning in elementary school, Americans are taught to eat according to the FDA four food groups that has been upgraded to become the Food Pyramid.  However, most people do not actually follow those guidelines.  To help with overall skin health, the reduction of sugar consumption is critical and should be the first step.  Incorporating at least one additional serving of preferably fresh fruits and vegetables a day is also an effective way to improve overall health that corresponds directly to the health of one’s skin.

Furthermore, Dr. Thornfeldt points out that there is an ingredient that is widely and universally consumed that is ruining our health (and aging us by causing inflammation):

Refined White Sugar is Nutritional Public Enemy #1

The least popular recommendation I make is to avoid refined sugar.  When raw sugar – from sources such as sugar cane or sugar beet – is bleached so that only the pure sucrose is left, it is called “refined sugar.”  Refined sugar is what you would buy in the store as white sugar.  Refined white sugar is nutritional health public enemy #1 because it activates the glycation inflammatory pathway and stimulates excess insulin production by its high glycemic index, which is the speed of raising blood glucose levels, inducing an insulin spike.  This leads to further destructive inflammation.  Corn syrup contains fructose, which consists of a glucose and galactose.  Galactose has a lower glycemic index with slower absorption.  Brown sugar, molasses and honey all contain more complex sugars and proteins, thus improving the relative nutritional value as well as reducing the glycemic index.  (page 450)

In my opinion, and from the reading that I have done, I would call out sugar as a bigger collagen destroyer than not eating animal protein.  I struggle with my own addiction to sugar and keep trying to cut down on my sugar consumption in order to preserve my skin.  It’s hard.

Bottom Line:  in order to keep your skin looking youthful limit your refined sugar consumption and eat a balanced diet filled with lots of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins (from any source), and whole grains.

Further Reading:

My Related Posts:

Image from www.ithappensinindia.com

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Ingredient Spotlight: Probiotics February 20, 2012

You’ve probably heard of probiotic supplements and probiotics in yogurt, i.e. good bacteria, that help your digestive system work at its best.  But do you know that probiotics are routinely used in skincare as well?

So how do probiotics take the leap from helping your body maintain a balance of good bacteria in your digestive track to helping your skin look its best?  According to a post from Daily Beauty (the beauty blog from New Beauty magazine) probiotics can benefit the skin in numerous ways:

Probiotics are bacterial microorganisms that are well-known for their ability to alleviate certain internal issues, such as diarrhea, IBS and lactose intolerance. However, dermatologists and other skin experts have found that their benefits go beyond digestive health.

Since acne is partially caused by an overgrowth of bacteria, ingested probiotics help to treat blemish-prone skin by rebalancing bacteria in the stomach to create an overload of good bacteria. Topically, they provide protection against harmful bacteria, restore balance, and build up skin’s protective barrier and normal bacterial flora to help eliminate breakouts.

Eczema is believed to be caused by a skin imbalance that causes barrier dysfunction. Some dermatologists have found that probiotics improve eczema by aiding good bacteria and allowing them to continue releasing oxygen so skin breathes better, blood flows, and balance is restored.

Probiotics may even help fight the external aggressors that speed up aging. Destruction of skin’s barrier due to factors like the sun, smoke and pollution leads to greater dispersion of harmful bacteria, which can cause inflammation, loss of elasticity, and ultimately, wrinkles. But probiotics can help improve moisturization, stimulate cell functions, and regenerate mature skin so it becomes softer and smoother.

According to the article “In the Genes” from Allure back in April, 2011 (I was unable to find the article online):

Probiotics are associated with anti-inflammation and – here’s where we’ll get your attention – promoting glowing skin.  That’s why they’ve been used in skin care for decades.  The probiotic du jour is called Bio-Lysat: Present in both L’Oreal Paris Youth Code and Lancome Genifique products, it’s a lactobacillus – a form of “healthy” bacteria generally found in the gastrointestinal tract and vagina.  …   [Jeannette] Graf [assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center] explains it, “The fermentation of bifidus bacteria triggers keratin B6 gene expression, which is involved with cell renewal and moisture-barrier repair.”  Translation:  This probiotic supports your body’s own ongoing healthy-cell-turnover and moisture retaining capacities.

But what do dermatologists have to say about the use of probiotics in skincare lines?  There are many differing views:

… research published in the British Journal of Dermatology suggested that eczema and the associated itching improved after patients were treated with a probiotic cream.

And, just this month, the Journal of Dermatological Science devoted coverage to a small study that seemed to show that, using probiotics, it is possible to reduce the levels of acne-causing bacteria without harming the good bacteria.

All this is great news if you suffer from eczema or acne, but is it really beneficial for the rest of us to buy into probiotic skincare?  …

Dr Nick Lowe, consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Association of Dermatologists, cautions against getting carried away with the promise of such products.

‘I’m just not convinced about some of the claims that are being made with regard to anti-ageing,’ he says. ‘Until more microbiological studies can prove it, I’ll continue eating my yoghurt rather than smearing it on my face.

(Source:  Probiotic beauty: They’re the bugs that boost digestion – but can they also clean up your skin?  The Daily Mail)

In his book The New Ideal of Skin Health dermatologist Carl Thornfeldt gives probiotics in skincare products a very cautious, yet somewhat positive review (pages 385-387):

As we all know, certain pathogenic bacteria induce infection, and aggravate or activate acne, rosacea, dermatitis and psoriasis.  These harmful microbes also cause damage to the skin barrier, and activate inflammation and stress, which may lead to fine lines and furrows.  Probiotics applied directly onto the skin surface are thought to provide competitive inhibition of this pathogenic bacteria.  Additionally, nutritional deficiencies and immune imbalance hinder barrier repair and magnify destructive chronic inflammation.  Thus, oral probiotics are often recommended as nutritional supplements for certain skin diseases.

The interest in probiotics has resulted in at least one marketed skin care line that has also added a variety of nutrients and pre-biotics to the formulation, upon which the probiotic bacteria are supposed to act.  (I think Dr. Thornfeldt is referring to Nude Skincare here)  This line does not claim to have tested their products in double-blind prospective, placebo or approved prescription, controlled human clinical trials, nor has quoted any data.

Yet according to research published in Experimental Dermatology in 2010 the probiotic lysate, Bifidobacterium longum may definitely benefit reactive skin:

The effect of BL were evaluated first on two different models. Using ex vivo human skin explant model we found a statistically significant improvement versus placebo in various parameters associated with inflammation such as a decrease in vasodilation, oedema, mast cell degranulation and TNF-alpha release. Moreover, using nerve cell cultures in vitro, we showed that after 6 h of incubation in culture medium (0.3–1%), the probiotic lysate significantly inhibited capsaicin-induced CGRP release by neurones. Then, a topical cream containing the active extract was tested in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Sixty-six female volunteers with reactive skin were randomly given either the cream with the bacterial extract at 10% (n = 33) or the control cream (n = 33). The volunteers applied the cream to the face, arms and legs twice a day for two months. Skin sensitivity was assessed by stinging test (lactic acid) and skin barrier recovery was evaluated by measuring trans-epidermal water loss following barrier disruption induced by repeated tape-stripping at D1, D29 and D57. The results demonstrated that the volunteers who applied the cream with bacterial extract had a significant decrease in skin sensitivity at the end of the treatment. Moreover, the treatment led to increase skin resistance against physical and chemical aggression compared to the group of volunteers who applied the control cream. Notably, the number of strippings required to disrupt skin barrier function was significantly increased for volunteers treated with the active cream. Clinical and self-assessment scores revealed a significant decrease in skin dryness after 29 days for volunteers treated with the cream containing the 10% bacterial extract. Since in vitro studies demonstrated that, on one hand, isolate sensitive neurones release less CGRP under capsaicin stimulation in the presence of the bacterial extract and, on the other hand, increased skin resistance in volunteers applying the test cream, we speculate that this new ingredient may decrease skin sensitivity by reducing neurone reactivity and neurone accessibility. The results of this studies demonstrate that this specific bacterial extract has a beneficial effect on reactive skin. These findings suggest that new approaches, based on a bacteria lysate, could be developed for the treatment and/or prevention of symptoms related to reactive skin.

Bottom line:  It seems that probiotics could be a great skincare ingredient once more research is done on its benefits when applied topically.

Skincare products with probiotics in them:

 

Further reading:

 

 

Image from bonappetit.com

 

 
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