“You are what you eat,” as the saying goes, but how does food factor into your skin? A lot, actually. Your diet fuels energy and growth for your whole body—it makes sense, then, that the body’s largest organ, skin, can benefit from certain foods. But is it possible certain foods make you more prone to acne and breakouts? According to board-certified dermatologist Georgina Ferzli, MD, it depends. “Research shows that everyone is different,” she tells Glamour. “While many people break out from dairy or from junk food (inflammatory foods), many people do not. We’ve even learned that someone can break out from something as simple as cherries (very rare). If you eat something and notice you always break out afterwards, avoid that food. Nevertheless, in the majority of the people who break out from foods, dairy and junk food tend to be the biggest culprits.”
What are the best foods to eat for healthy skin?
It turns out, there are quite a few foods and drinks you can incorporate into your diet to promote skin health. According to Dr. Ferzli, our parents were right: Eat your fruits and veggies! “Foods rich in antioxidants—think blueberries, cranberries, spinach, açaí, oranges, broccoli, or truly any fruit or dark green leafy vegetable—are best for your skin,” she tells Glamour. “Our skin is subject to damage from free radicals in the environment all day every day as well as damage from things we ingest like alcohol, so you can think of antioxidants as little power tools to fight this damage.”
Michels agrees, adding that foods rich in carotenoids are most beneficial. Carotenoids are any red, yellow, or orange pigment created by plants to help them absorb light and convert that light to energy. “Carotenoids provide protective and preventative effects to the human body, including the skin,” she says. “We obtain carotenoids by consuming fruits and vegetables rich in these colours.”
This is especially helpful when it comes to sun exposure. “Research confirms that carotenoid deposition in skin provides a photo-protective effect, decreasing the amount of skin damage caused by both the sun and artificial UV light exposure,” Michels says. “Carotenoids have also been found to increase the minimum amount of UV exposure required to cause sunburn. Carotenoids provide protective and preventive effects to the human body, including the skin. We obtain carotenoids by consuming fruits and vegetables rich in these colours.”
Carotenoid-rich foods include carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, pink guava, papaya, orange bell pepper, honeydew melon, turnip greens, goji, saffron, and mango. Many of these foods are also rich in vitamin C, which Michel recommends to support the elimination of free radicals that may cause skin damage and collagen production. “Other nutrients needed for collagen production include magnesium, zinc, iron, copper, amino acids glycine, proline, and lysine,” she says.
What can I drink for healthy skin?
You guessed it: Water is best. After all, your body needs water way beyond just skin health. “Proper hydration is essential for a well-functioning body and influences skin health, metabolism, digestion, satiety, energy levels, mood, sleep quality, and the immune system,” says Michels. “We can only survive a short amount of time without water because it’s needed in almost every process of the body and makes up to 60% of the human body, including skin, tissues, blood, and bones.”
Dr. Ferzli also stresses the importance of staying hydrated. “Your skin needs it,” she says. “We have hyaluronic acid in our skin, a molecule that helps bolster up our collagen and elastin fibers by binding water. In fact, one molecule of hyaluronic acid can bind up to one ton of water. If you’re dehydrated, this molecule can’t bind as much water, leaving skin looking less dewy. Dry skin also allows for fine lines to be more evident.”
Should I cut dairy out of my diet to clear acne?
While you may have heard success stories of people doing this, cutting dairy out of your diet doesn’t work for everyone. “If you’re somebody who breaks out from dairy, yes,” says Dr. Ferzli. “We have learned, however, that not everyone breaks out from dairy. Everyone is different. If you’re someone who breaks out from dairy, you’ll know about it as it tends to be very consistent.”
However, there is some general benefit—for your skin, at least—to consuming less dairy. “Cutting out pro-inflammatory foods like ice cream will lead to generally lower levels of inflammation in your body and subsequently less acne,” says Dr. Ferzli. “Acne is an inflammatory condition, after all.”
Are there any foods that can help clear acne?
While you can certainly consume foods that promote better skin health, there are no foods that effectively clear acne. “Anecdotally, antioxidant-rich foods and a clean diet help prevent acne and new breakouts, leading to clear skin,” says Dr. Ferzli. “They definitely help with overall skin health, but we don’t have any hard clinical evidence to say that any specific food will clear acne.”
Instead, Dr. Ferzli recommends seeing a dermatologist to help combat breakouts. “Remember, acne is a medical condition that requires medical attention, and your dermatologist has tons of tools to help clear acne safely and effectively,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to use medication, either topical or oral, to treat your acne. That’s what they’re made for!”