We want clear, glowing skin as much as anyone else. The internet and magazines will tell you how to eat your way there with chia seeds, oily fish, mushrooms and complex carbs.
But here’s the problem: It is not possible to directly improve your complexion through diet, according to Jon Hanifin, MD and professor of dermatology at Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine.
“I don’t know why anybody would be advertising foods to eat for glowing skin,” Hanifin told HuffPost. “I have a feeling that maybe this comes from people trying to sell health supplements.”
There is indeed research about the effect of food on your skin, and some of it is supportive. For example, a 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that men and women over 40 years old with higher levels of vitamin C intake had fewer wrinkles and less skin dryness.
Another study published in the journal Experimental Dermatology found that people with severe acne had lower levels of vitamin E and vitamin A than their clear-skinned control group. The study was small, just 100 participants. And yet, it’s research to run with: Suddenly we’re being told that to clear acne, we should eat sunflower seeds, which pack a punch of vitamin E in every serving. Or we’re encouraged to start eating more citrus to load up on vitamin C and become wrinkle-free.
But dermatologists remain skeptical.
“I think those studies are going in the right direction, I just wouldn’t let anybody go overkill,” Janellen Smith, dermatology professor at the University of California-Irvine School of Medicine told HuffPost.
“I wish I could tell you that there was some huge study that looked at [clearing up your skin] and you should eat A, B and C, but it’s not completely clear,” Smith said.
Marie Jhin, dermatologist and author of Asian Beauty Secrets, agrees. “Diet is important for healthy skin,” Jhin told HuffPost. “However, if you have a skin condition, then just eating habits alone may not be enough. That’s when we bring in the medicines.”
Both Hanifin and Smith could not say they’ve seen a patient’s skin clear up just by changing their diet. But both dermatologists said it’s common to see significant skin damage due to diets that lack nutrients.
Patients with a protein deficiency may have severely dry and peeling skin, according to Smith. And Hanifin recalls a patient who was working through a food allergy diagnosis, subsisting only on rice milk in the meantime. The patient suffered malnutrition so severe that by the time he met with Hanifin, he had “horrible skin problems all over.”
“What moisturizes the skin is lots of oils and fats,” Smith said. “That’s what your body makes: A natural moisturizing factor.”
So Smith encourages people to eat a well-rounded diet of healthy fruits, vegetables, protein, fats and carbs. She also encourages regular exercise.
“A good, natural diet is a great thing and you won’t only benefit your skin, you’ll benefit everything else. You’ll benefit your heart and your vessels and your brain,” Smith said.
Beyond that, “Wear lots and lots of sunscreen. That’s the best you can do. The rest of it is probably a little bit genetics and probably some luck.”
And remember that you can always head to the doctor to help manage a skin condition.
“If you have dry skin and eczema and inflamed skin, of course there are topical things that you can use, like cortical steroids or some of the new medicines that are coming out,” Hanifin said.
“I believe in active ingredients,” Alicia Barba, dermatologist and founder of Barba Dermatology and Barba Skin Clinic in Miami, Florida told HuffPost. “If they’re good foods, I would say eat them. But if you have a real skin condition, please do not give up on modern medicine.”
A well rounded diet and medicinal relief? Sounds good to us.