Expensive creams and facials will only get you so far when it comes to healthy, glowing skin.
Free radical damage from sun damage, pollution, and a poor diet will age you faster than any face cream can keep up with.
That’s right — your diet is the foundation of how well your skin will age. And nutrients like vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin E, and collagen powder won’t just leave you with vibrant skin, it will also keep you feeling young.
If you’re suffering from dry or lackluster skin, or you experience skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema, food could also be the root cause. Or at least part of it.
Read on to learn the top 11 foods to incorporate into your diet for healthy, vibrant skin — no matter your age or goals. And yes, all of these foods are low-carb and keto-friendly.
Let’s take a look at how the food you eat can help you combat unpleasant skin conditions, sun damage, inflammation, and wrinkles.
You may hear rumblings here and there about the importance of food for skin health, but it’s not making headlines. Why?
Could be that a 42 billion dollar a year anti-aging skin care industry wants to keep the real secrets to skin health under wraps[*].
But here’s the deal.
To fully appreciate the value that food has on the health of your skin, you just have to look at nutrient deficiencies.
Vitamin B12 deficiency, for example, can show up on your skin as a patchy red rash, acne, fungal infections, or seborrhoeic dermatitis[*].
There’s no way around it — what you eat affects the health of your body from the inside out.
Before we dive into the top foods that nourish your skin, let’s do a quick skin anatomy 101 review.
To the naked eye, it may seem thin, but your skin is actually composed of several layers. To break it down, there are three main layers of skin: the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous fat layer.
Each layer has its own essential functions.
The epidermis is your top layer of skin.
It’s comprised of several layers within itself, with the top layer acting as a barrier between your body and the outside world. It also contains immune cells to help protect you from harmful bacteria and other infectious particles.
The epidermis is also responsible for giving your skin color via a pigment called melanin[*].
The dermis layer is where all the magic happens. This layer contains your connective tissue, which is made up of two very important proteins — collagen and elastin.
Collagen and elastin form the structural framework for your epidermis to sit on, also known as your extracellular matrix (ECM). When this framework is strong, your epidermis appears tight and wrinkle-free.
However, when there’s damage to these proteins due to environmental factors, nutrition, or aging, your skin appears to sag and wrinkle.
This layer also contains nerve endings so you can feel, sweat glands, sebaceous glands (oil-producing), and hair follicles[*].
This third layer connects your skin to your muscle and bones. It also helps control your body temperature and connect the blood vessels and nerves in your dermis to the rest of your body[*].
Now that you have an understanding of skin anatomy let’s look at what causes your skin to age.
There are two types of aging that happen in regards to your skin; intrinsic aging and extrinsic aging.
Intrinsic aging is a natural process that occurs as your body ages and is mostly determined by your genes. Your skin loses some of its suppleness, your connective tissue loses some of its integrity, and wrinkles begin to appear.
There is little that can be done about intrinsic aging and is a process that’s best embraced as every human being goes through it[*].
Extrinsic aging is aging that occurs due to environmental or lifestyle factors. This is the type of aging that we can change.
These factors can cause oxidation via reactive oxygen species (ROS), breakdown of your ECM, and skin inflammation.
The good news is that the food you eat can have a positive effect on extrinsic aging. Eating a diet that supports the production of collagen in your dermal layer, fights ROS, and calms inflammation will leave your skin healthy and glowing.
So let’s dive into the top foods for vibrant, young looking skin.
#1. Collagen Peptides
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. And when it comes to skin health, this is a make or break nutrient.
As mentioned above, your skin sits on a layer of connective tissue called the extracellular matrix (ECM). This matrix is a cross-linking of different proteins (like collagen), along with water and minerals.
Your ECM not only provides a functional bedrock for your skin to sit on, but it also provides structural and nutritional support.
And when damage occurs in your ECM, it can result in a loss of skin elasticity and increased wrinkles[*].
As a prized ECM nutrient, collagen helps to “feed” your ECM and make sure it has the collagen protein is needs to stay strong.
One way to increase collagen production is by eating foods that are high in collagen.
Bone broth made with high-quality bones is one well-known source of collagen. But if you would rather skip the soup, you can also add powdered collagen to your shakes, baked goods, or even just mix it in water.
In a study examining collagen’s effect on wrinkles in women 35-55, collagen supplementation reduces fine lines in just eight weeks. What’s even more impressive? Supplementation also increased synthesis of both elastin and collagen in the ECM.
This increased protein synthesis led researchers to believe that enhanced skin health wasn’t just a short-term phenomenon[*].
#2. Fatty Fish (Omega-3s)
Inflammation is one of the main culprits for skin disorders and aging. Therefore, eating a diet that’s rich in anti-inflammatory nutrients is one of the best things you can do for skin health.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids reduce inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein and TNF. This is especially true for people who consume omega-3s from marine sources like fatty fish[*].
But the health benefits of fatty fish don’t end there.
In addition to its anti-inflammatory activity, omega-3 fatty acids also help by lubricating the outermost layer of your skin (epidermis). Keeping your skin well-hydrated is essential to controlling the barrier between the outside world and your internal body.
With skin being your first line of defense against outside invaders, getting enough of these healthy fats helps you ward off the effects of bacteria and viruses[*].
What’s more, omega-3 fatty acids may also protect the connective tissue that supports your skin from damage.
Specific enzymes can become activated under inflammatory conditions or when your skin is exposed to UV rays. When these enzymes activate, they begin to destroy the extracellular matrix (ECM) under your skin.
Omega-3 fatty acids can inhibit this enzyme activation, protecting your ECM from damage[*].
#3. Brazil Nuts
Nuts and seeds are packed with nutrients of all varieties. Brazil nuts are packed with one important skin-related nutrient: selenium.
Selenium has antioxidant activity in your body. And this activity is enhanced when you’re exposed to UVB rays from the sun. This targeted antioxidant approach is what sets selenium apart from many other antioxidants when it comes to skin health[*].
As part of a powerful antioxidant complex called selenoproteins, selenium protects your skin from reactive oxygen species (ROS), which is a major cause of aging[*].
Carrots are a fantastic source of the phytonutrient beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A.
Beta-carotene acts as an antioxidant and is photoprotective — meaning it helps fight ROS caused by UV rays from the sun. It works in your top layer of skin, the epidermis, to fight off free radical damage that could lead to the destruction of skin cells[*].
Too much sun exposure often leads to reddening of the skin and, potentially, a sunburn. In a meta-analysis, researchers discovered that beta-carotene not only protects against sunburn but does so in a dose-dependent manner.
In other words, the more beta-carotene you get in your diet, the more protected you’ll be[*]. Other low-carb foods high in beta-carotene include spinach, kale, butternut squash, turnip greens, and cabbage.
Shellfish are not only a low calorie, high protein food, but they’re an excellent source of the mineral zinc. Crab, muscles, and shrimp can all contribute to your zinc needs.
But the real zinc all-stars are oysters, which provide over 200% of your daily needs in one ounce[*].
Zinc plays an essential role in skin health, especially when it comes to wound healing. As a cofactor for enzymes that initiate the healing process, zinc mobilizes skin cells in your top layer of skin (epidermis).
It also protects your cells from ROS and bacterial toxins through its antioxidant activity[*].
And when combined with copper, zinc can enhance the production of the protein elastin, which makes up part of your ECM[*].
From low-carb pasta and pizza to greek salads and lettuce wraps — you can add tomatoes to almost any meal.
And it’s a good thing, because tomatoes may be the key to soft, supple skin.
Tomatoes contain a compound called lycopene, which gives them their brilliant red color. Lycopene is a phytonutrient that acts as an antioxidant in your body, fending off ROS.
In one study, researchers aimed to assess the effects of high lycopene concentration on the texture of the skin.
They gave a group of volunteers aged 40-50 lycopene supplements and then assessed the wrinkles and furrows on their foreheads.
The higher levels of lycopene in the skin were positively correlated with less roughness and wrinkles[*].
This effect is likely due to the photoprotective activity of lycopene, protecting your skin from sun damage and harmful UV radiation[*].
#7. Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are a fantastic source of vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin that’s essential for skin health[*]. As the most abundant fat-soluble vitamin found in your skin, vitamin E has a critical role to play in protecting your skin from damage[*].
Every cell in your body is surrounded by a membrane that protects its contents. This membrane is made up of fat, and can only be protected by fat-soluble antioxidants.
Vitamin E serves as an antioxidant that protects the membranes of your skin cells so that ROS can’t find their way into your DNA[*].
#8. Green Tea
Trading in your morning cup of coffee for some green tea may do wonders for your skin health.
That’s because green tea is brimming with antioxidants coming from its abundance of flavanols; epicatechin, catechin, and epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).
And beyond their ROS fighting activity, these flavanols are anti-inflammatory, protect your DNA from damage, and inhibit cell death[*].
What’s more, animal research shows that green tea antioxidants work at the ECM level of your skin to fight oxidative damage caused by UV light[*].
Avocados are a mainstay on the keto diet.
You know and love them for their creamy and satisfying texture, but their fat content is just as nutritious as it is delicious.
Fat from avocados has a protective effect against sun damaged skin cells. It not only reduces UV light damage, but it also has an anti-inflammatory effect on your cells.
In an in vitro study, fats from avocado enhanced DNA repair, reduced sun damage, and increased cell viability after exposure to UV light[*].
Avocados are also a great source of vitamin E, which is an essential fat-soluble antioxidant compound for skin[*].
#10. Broccoli and Broccoli Sprouts
Broccoli and broccoli sprouts, along with most other cruciferous vegetables, contains a compound called sulforaphane (SFN).
Sulforaphane is a sulfur-containing compound that’s well-known for it’s chemoprotective and antioxidant properties.
Recent research is digging into SFN as a potential anti-aging compound, specifically against UV damage. It not only acts as an antioxidant warding off the effects of ROS, but it also may enhance detoxification, and protect your ECM from degradation[*].
#11. Dark Chocolate
If you were looking for an excuse to eat some chocolate — here you go.
In a 24-week double-blind placebo-controlled study, women were asked to consume high flavanol-containing cocoa to assess its effect on skin aging. The participants had moderate sun damage, and researchers wanted to determine if cocoa could help.
After 24 weeks, the women in the cocoa group (as compared to placebo), showed significantly fewer wrinkles, as well as increased elasticity of their skin[*].
In another study, women consuming high flavanol cocoa for 12 weeks saw increases in skin hydration and blood flow. And at the same time, experienced decreased skin roughness and scaling[*].
Healthy skin starts from the inside out. What you eat not only affects how your organs function and how your body feels, but how your skin’s appearance and ability to ward of disease and damage as well.
If you want your skin firm, vibrant, and glowing, look to your diet. Face masks and serums will only get you so far. For long-lasting skin health nutrient-rich foods are essential.