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Can you eat your way to younger looking skin?

It turns out beauty really can come from the inside. What you eat can affect your skin in many ways, from helping the body to replenish cells and even skin tone to preventing premature ageing and protecting the skin from the effects of the sun’s harsh UV rays.

So what foods are best for healthy skin? Here’s a list of the nutrients that matter and the common foods you can find them in.


1. Vitamin A

There are two key types of vitamin A – retinol which comes from animal products and carotenoids, a group of antioxidants that are found in red, yellow or orange fruit and veggies – think mango, papaya and carrots.

You’ve probably spotted retinol emblazoned on the labels of moisturisers and topical creams, as it is important for preventing dry skin. Eating foods that contain retinol or carotenoids (which are converted to retinol by the body) has been shown to prevent premature skin aging and cell damage.

Retinol also helps our bodies produce new cells to rejuvenate our skin and improves skin tone by stimulating the production of new blood vessels. Taking vitamin A (retinol) supplements (or liver, cod liver oil) isn’t advised, especially during pregnancy, due to possibility of toxicity. There are no similar concerns with carotenoids. 

2. Collagen

From supplements to collagen coffee and even collagen infused waters, it seems collagen is the new must-have in ingestible beauty tonics, and it’s a boom that is set to continue in 2021. But does consuming collagen actually plump and polish skin as promised?

Collagen supplements or powders come mostly from animal sources, such as beef or fish. But science has recently discovered a way to make vegan collagen using yeasts and bacteria. There are also products on the market that support the production of collagen in the body. These contain some of the key nutrients we mention here for skin health but without collagen.

Collagen is a protein that forms fibres found in our skin, nails, hair, bones and joints and is often thought of as the ‘scaffolding’ of our body. It’s perfectly structured to be both super strong and flexible, characteristics that help make skin firm yet supple.  

Our bodies naturally make collagen from the protein we eat, whether that’s protein from plant foods like legumes, grains and nuts or protein from animals like dairy, eggs and meat.

As we get older the amount of collagen we produce declines, from 1% reduction in collagen production in our twenties to up to 30% during menopause. The good news is you can help your body make more collagen by eating healthy foods that contain protein, as well as foods that contain vitamin C and zinc (we’ll explain more on these later).

However, when you look at how our body uses proteins, like collagen, it’s not straight forward. Like all protein, collagen is broken down in the gut into amino acids so it can be absorbed. The body then uses these amino acids to build or repair tissue wherever it is needed. So just because you take a collagen supplement doesn’t mean your body will use it to build or replenish collagen.

As far as collagen supplements go the jury is still out and more research is needed. A New Zealand review of the current research found some evidence collagen supplements may improve skin hydration and elasticity for people over 50. For vegan collagen, there is very little research available regarding health or skin benefits.

3. Vitamin C

While vitamin C may be more associated with supporting immunity, it’s also important for healthy skin. This powerful antioxidant protects our cells, including skin cells, from oxidative damage – that’s the damage from the external elements like UV and pollution, as well as internal elements like stress. It also helps with detoxification, supports the building of collagen and can help speed up wound healing.

Our bodies can’t make vitamin C, so we need to get it from the food we eat. While citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and limes are high in vitamin C, other surprising and delicious sources  include berries, kiwifruit, broccoli, watercress, cassava, tomatoes and capsicum.

4. Vitamin E

Another antioxidant skin warrior is vitamin E – a fat-soluble, essential nutrient with anti-inflammatory properties. It works with vitamin C and aids with the normal formation of collagen, protects against cell damage and UV damage.

Vitamin E is found in nuts (e.g. almonds, walnuts, pecans, peanuts), sesame and sunflower seeds and green leafy vegetables.

5. Omega-3 and omega-6

There are two types of essential fatty acids – omega-3 and omega-6.

These fatty acids help to ward off signs of ageing by keeping our skin hydrated. They have been shown to help with skin conditions caused by inflammation and help create a protective barrier to the skin’s surface.

Our bodies don’t produce omega-3 or omega-6, so it’s another nutrient that’s important to include in our diet. That means eating foods like chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, soy / edamame / tofu, wheat germ, green vegies, sunflower and sesame seeds as well as vegetable oils. 

6. Polyphenols

Polyphenols are micronutrients found in many plant-based foods. Their antioxidant properties are thought to play a role in reducing oxidative stress – an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Oxidative stress is not good news for our skin, as it can cause the collagen fibres that keep our skin plump to break down.

Some of the most common and abundant sources of polyphenols include many colourful fruits (especially apples, apricots, peaches and pears, along with berries including blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries), vegetables (especially broccoli, carrots, spinach and potatoes), and legumes.

7. Zinc

A proven skin hero, zinc is heralded for repair and maintenance of our skin, tackling inflammation and signs of aging. It protects against oxidative stress and UV damage and helps accumulate collagen. It’s also good for acne if you’re prone to the odd breakout. 

The top layer of our skin contains more zinc than lower layers of the epidermis. This is why making sure you have enough can support the growth of new, healthy skin cells.

Our bodies don’t store enough zinc, so we need to make sure we’re getting adequate amounts in our diet every day. The daily recommended dietary intake for Aussie women is 8 mg/day.

In addition to a healthy diet (or ingestible beauty regime to make it sound fancy) sunscreen is always a must to protect against the harsh Australian sun and try to stay hydrated. These beauty basics will help to replenish your skin and give you a healthy complexion – a great foundation to build on with any skin care creams you swear by.