Which supplements and skin creams make your skin look younger?
As a teenager I had a face like a lunar landscape. I was given antibiotics, special anti-bacterial skin washes, told to cut my hair, but no-one mentioned the ‘F’ word – food.
What you feed your skin in the way of nutrients, both from the inside through diet and supplements, and from the outside through skin creams, is the single most important factor for ensuring healthy, young and glowing skin.
Starting with the inner layer of the skin, the dermis, collagen is made by vitamin C. No vitamin C, no collagen. The flexibility of collagen and elastin fibres reduces in time due to damage caused by free radicals.
What you eat, and what you feed your skin in terms of nutrients is the single most important factor for ensuring healthy, young, and glowing skin. Various factors and processes inside your body can bring on signs of aging.
The culprit—oxidative damage, caused by free radical damage from pollution, cigarette smoke, fried and burnt foods, processed cooking oils, sunlight, combustion, and ironically, even your body’s own burning of oxygen to produce energy.
Just as oxygen can damage iron to form rust, it can also damage molecules in your body. The oxidants are overall very destructive, as they damage fats, proteins, connective tissue, and nucleic acids (DNA and RNA). The membranes of your cells and the DNA within them are particularly vulnerable to such attack, both of which affect the condition of your skin and its ability to generate new cells.
The two foods most strongly linked to acne are dairy products and sugar. Avoiding both for two weeks is an essential first step if you suffer from acne.
Your skin’s friends
The flexibility of collagen and elastin fibers reduces in time due to damage caused by free radicals. This damage is limited by antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E, among others.
Vitamin A helps to control the rate of keratin accumulation in the skin, and normalizes DNA, which results in healthy cells that function better. It also improves collagen and elastin production (helping skin stay plump and supple), aids in normal sebum production and pigment control, and repairs old damage. Eating a diet rich in vitamin A and supplementing with the nutrient can help to maintain healthy skin.
Similarly, collagen is made when vitamin C converts the amino acid proline into hydroxyproline. No vitamin C, no collagen. That’s why a good diet consisting of fresh, untreated foods is essential for the health of your entire body, not just your skin, and reduces the speed at which it ages.
Eating plenty of antioxidant-rich foods every day is a key dietary factor. These include red/orange/yellow vegetables and fruits such as sweet potatoes, carrots, apricots, and watermelon; purple foods such as berries and grapes; green foods such as watercress, kale, alfalfa sprouts, and broccoli; seed foods, such as peas and whole grains; fresh nuts, seeds, and their oils; onions; and garlic.
Keeping your digestive tract and liver in good working order is also important for healthy skin. Make sure your diet includes foods that are naturally high in fibre—whole grains, root vegetables, lentils, beans—as well as unprocessed foods.
Be sure to chew well and try to eat only when you are relaxed.
Finally, the health of your skin cells depends on sufficient zinc, which is needed for accurate production of new generations of skin cells. Lack of zinc leads to stretch marks and poor healing and is associated with a wide variety of skin problems, from acne to eczema.
Skin cells also produce a chemical that, in the presence of sunlight, is converted into vitamin D, which you need to maintain the calcium balance in your body. So, in many ways, what you eat today, you wear tomorrow.
Slapping on moisturising cream certainly helps to relieve or prevent dry skin. But only a little. Without enough water, each of your body’s cells becomes dehydrated, losing its plumpness and structure.
Imagine a balloon filled with water—taut and firm to the touch. Allow some of the water out and the balloon will shrink, and may even become a little shrivelled. Deprive a cell of water and it will produce a similar result. In addition to the change in structure, the way it works will also be diminished.
The process of removing water—dehydration—leaves all your body’s cells gasping for replenishment, especially those in the skin, which are exposed to the harsh elements of the outside world. Without an adequate supply of water, your cells cannot rebuild your body, and they cannot clear waste products.
This turns into a vicious cycle whereby your cells cannot receive enough oxygen or nutrients to work or cleanse properly. Therefore, to keep your skin well hydrated, be sure to do just that—hydrate it by drinking at least 1.5 quarts of water a day.
In addition to water, your can keep your skin “well-oiled” from the inside with essential fatty acids—especially the omega 3 and 6 families. Each cell membrane—in effect the skin of each cell—is composed partly of essential fats, making the fatty acid content of your cell membranes a vital key to healthy skin.
Not only do essential fats keep cell membranes in smooth and soft, but they also help your cells’ membranes do a better job of controlling what goes in and out of your cells. Without enough fats in your cell membranes, they are not able to retain water, and eventually lose their plumpness.
So for soft skin, include plenty of essential fat-rich foods in your diet such as fish, nuts, and seeds, and their oils. I do this by adding some seeds to a salad, eating a handful as a snack, or grinding them up and sprinkling them on cereals and yoghurt or in soups.
Skin supplements for supple skin
In addition to the dietary recommendations above, it is also well worth taking a good all¬-round multivitamin and mineral supplement, as well as an additional l,000 mg of vitamin C each day. There are also advatanges of topical vitamin C application as well (see below). The evidence for this is well summarized in a recent paper entitled ‘The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health’ published last year in the journal Nutrients.
I also recommend adding some essential fats – both GLA, the most potent omega-6 and EPA and DHA, the most potent omega-3 fat, all of which are in my Essential Omegas, which I take twice a day.
One nutrient that deserves a special mention is sulphur. This vital mineral is a constituent of keratin and collagen, both of which are found in your skin, hair, and nails. That’s why it never surprises me to hear that people taking MSM (methyl sulfonyl methane) frequently experience stronger nails, clearer skin, and shinier hair.
Sulphur is needed for new cell formation (remember your skin is constantly renewing itself), keeping the bonds between cells pliable, plus it’s a great detoxifier. Not only has MSM been shown to enhance the beauty of skin, nails, and hair, but it also helps with skin healing, acne, allergies, arthritis, and much more.
I recommend taking 1,000 mg of MSM a day if you have skin problems, otherwise eat lots of onions, garlic and eggs, rich in sulphur containing amino acids.
Topical skin care – the truth about vitamin A skin creams
Vitamin A, however, is the king of the skin. It helps to control the rate of keratin accumulation in the skin, the scaly stuff that makes up the outer layer of your skin. A lack of this vitamin can therefore result in dry, rough skin.
Vitamin A improves collagen and elastin production (helping skin stay plump and supple), stopping excess sebum production, which means less acne, as well as controlling pigmentation, preventing age spots. Both eating a diet and taking supplements of vitamin A can help to maintain healthy skin, but even more effective is to apply vitamin A rich skin cream.
This was proven in a study in the Archives of Dermatology that examined the role of topical application of a vitamin A (retinol) lotion at 0.4% concentration. The reduction in wrinkles was supported by skin biopsies revealing that the vitamin A lotion had increased the production of collagen. The study concluded by saying that “Topical retinol improves fine wrinkles associated with natural ageing.”
If you want your skin not to age use a daily vitamin A cream. But before you rush out to your high street chemist, unfortunately it is not as simple as choosing a moisturiser that lists vitamin A on the ingredients.
Many leading brands containing retinol simply don’t contain enough (they don’t have to tell you how much is in there). That’s partly because retinol can be very irritating on the skin initially. Most beauty products therefore stick to a low level to avoid these off-putting reactions.
The ideal way to use retinol-containing products however is by using a ‘step up’ system whereby you increase the amount of vitamin A used in your products gradually, moving from a low dose to a higher dose cream slowly so that your skin has time to adjust.
To date I only know of one brand that offers this step up system, and it is not available in shops. It’s called Environ and is available from beauty therapists. I use it every day.
Many common nutritional factors are involved in a wide variety of skin problems. To prevent these problems and keep your skin healthy, here are some key diet and supplement guidelines.
1. Limit alcohol, caffeine, chemical additives, salt, saturated fat, sugar, and smoking.
2. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, preferably organic.
3. Eat some seeds, nuts, or their cold-pressed oil every day. Have a small handful of unroasted nbuts or seeds or a dessertspoon of chia seeds every day.
4. Drink at least a litre of water a day, either plain, as herbal teas, or added to Cherry or BlueberryActive or fresh fruit juice.
1. Take a good, all-round vitamin and mineral supplement that contains high doses of antioxidants, and possibly an extra antioxidant, to supply namely 5,000 IU of vitamin A (as retinyl and/or mixed carotenoids), 1,000 mg of vitamin C, and 150 IU of vitamin E. Make sure it also contains at least 10 mg of zinc.
2. Take an additional 1,000 mg of vitamin C and maybe twice this if you’re 50+
3. If you are prone to dry skin or skin inflammation, supplement with essential fats to give the equivalent of at least 350 mg of EPA, 200 mg of DHA, and 50 mg of GLA.
1. Use a cream that contains vitamins A and C in forms that can penetrate the epidermis (such as ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate, retinyl palmitate or acetate) on a daily basis. My favourite vitamin-based skin care products are Environ.
1. Avoid strong sunlight and use a partial sun block. If youn use a total sunblock you won’t make vitamin D. Environ’s RAD is my favourite and doesn’t stop you making vitamin D, which is one of the benefits of sun exposure.
2. Wash your skin with a gentle oil-based cleanser, not soap.
Keeping hydrated and moisturised is really important for good, glowing, skin and if you are also low in oestrogen then a combination cream can also help. Oestrogen is the hormone that ‘plumps up’ our skin, and if balanced with progesterone can help dry skin and dryness generally.