Skin. It forms the entire covering of our body and is one of the first things people assess when they meet you (before your eyes and your witty intellect). So it is no surprise that the state of your skin can determine how we feel about ourselves, and there’s no doubt that it’s pretty tough to be “comfortable in your own skin” if you have a skin condition that is causing it to be dry, flaky, scratchy and inflamed.
There are many different types of skin conditions, ranging from mildly annoying all the way through to life threatening. Acne and dermatitis are two of the most common conditions experienced by adults and they can leave the skin red, sore, dry and irritated. While there are numerous topical treatments for these conditions, it is essential to also look at addressing the health of your skin cells from the inside.
To understand how internal nutrition can help something that seems so external, let’s have a quick look at the structure and function of the skin. Skin is our largest and arguably most important organ – it provides a barrier between the outside world and all of the tissues inside the body – it also helps hold us together, giving us form and shape. There are two main layers of the skin: the dermis and the epidermis. The top 0.5mm or so that we can see is made up of compacted keratinocytes, making up 90 – 95% of the epidermis. It is the epidermis that is most directly affected by topical creams and treatments, although the skin does absorb some compounds and deliver them directly into the blood.
The dermis is much thicker than the epidermis – ranging from 0.3mm – 4.00mm in different areas of the body. The dermis layer is comprised mostly of collagen which provides the structural integrity and flexibility of our skin. It also has a rich blood supply making it the layer that is initially influenced by nutrition, which will then filter through to the epidermis and the top layers of skin that we see every day.
There are many individual nutrients that can help keep the dermis and consequently the epidermis healthy, but the most important activities to look for in skin nutrients are the ability to support cellular health, structural integrity, and hydration and reduce inflammation.
Antioxidants for cellular health
The skin is exposed to all manner of damaging free radicals – such as sun exposure, chemicals and even oxygen. As we age it is thought that our ability to fight these free radicals reduces, basically we need more antioxidants to maintain healthy skin. By taking antioxidant supplements you are delivering support directly to the dermal layer of the skin, which will help to ensure that the cells that develop in the epidermis and make their way to the surface are as healthy as possible. Antioxidants that are well known for their benefit for skin include vitamins A, C, E, coenzyme Q10, resveratrol and polyphenols such as those found in green tea, pine bark extract and grape seed extract.
Lipids for structural integrity and hydration
The cells in our body rely on a healthy supply of lipids (fats) to form the lipid bilayer – the protective wall of each cell. While there are many types of lipids in the bilayer that help with skin health, omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to improve the structural integrity of the skin by providing flexibility, assisting in skin repair, helping to reduce water loss and keeping the top outer layer (epidermis) of the skin strong, thereby stopping potentially damaging environmental toxins from entering the body.
So not only can omega 3 fatty acids help keep the skin healthy, hydrated and strong, but they are potent anti-inflammatory agents, which makes them really helpful for anyone with chronic skin conditions.
Nutrients to reduce inflammation
Inflammation, characterised by heat, redness, swelling and pain is a sign of poor skin health, most likely caused by an underlying condition such as dermatitis, acne or simply an overload of toxins in the body. The process of inflammation occurs at a cellular level, so while some relief may be obtained by using topical treatments, you really need to alter the internal environment of the body to calm the inflammatory process.
Two of the most potent known natural food derived anti-inflammatories are omega 3 from fish oil and curcumins from the spice turmeric. Curcumin has the ability to inhibit the over expression of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body called cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2) and 5-lipooxygenase (5-LOX). Fish oil has been proven to reduce many inflammatory markers including C-reactive protein, COX2 and arachidonic acid but just as importantly it also promotes the formation of anti-inflammatory chemicals called prostaglandins 1 and 3 (PGE-1 & PGE-3). This double action makes these two nutrients really powerful in the bid to reduce the inflammation that accompanies many chronic skin conditions.
In short, there are lots of different nutrients required for healthy skin formation such as the well-known vitamins A, C, E and zinc; but also nutrients such as resveratrol, vitamin D, fish oil and polyphenols that are gaining popularity as more evidence emerges about their benefits for skin.
Food sources of skin nutrients:
- Vitamin A – red and orange foods such as carrots, capsicums, sweet potato as well as dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale
- Vitamin C – fresh fruit and vegetables, particularly high in broccoli, kiwi fruit and oranges
- Vitamin E – raw nuts and seeds and avocado
- Zinc – pumpkin seeds, legumes, beef, lamb and shellfish
- Omega 3 fatty acids – oily fish such as salmon, tuna, anchovies, sardines and mackerel
- Vitamin D – oily fish, eggs and primarily sun exposure
While it is quite easy to get some of these nutrients in the diet (such as vitamin C) others can be more difficult to get decent doses of, which is where supplementation comes in. Resveratrol is a good example, you really shouldn’t try to get your daily intake by drinking red wine; vitamin D is another one that is tricky to get, the reality is that most of us do not spend anywhere near enough time in the sun to naturally synthesise sufficient levels of this important nutrient; and unless you’re eating oily fish at least three times per week that you know is low in mercury, you probably should be taking a fish oil supplement. While polyphenols are compounds that occur in many foods, measuring the amount you’re getting from your diet would be nearly impossible.
When it comes to healthy, naturally radiant skin as well as taking Res-V Ultimate and Lester’s Oil daily, you should ensure that you eat a diet that is high in antioxidants – that means lots of fresh vegetables, some fruits, healthy fats and minimal processed foods; reduce foods known to cause inflammation such as sugar, refined carbohydrates, red meat and alcohol; and stay hydrated by drinking at least 2.0 litres of water every day.