The beauty business, a $43 billion industry, is filled with topical solutions to make skin healthier and clearer. Improvements in complexion and tone and even promises of miracle anti-aging effects lure consumers to buy, buy, buy.
As large as the beauty industry is, however, only a very small part is focused on the very important internal factor that contributes to skin health.
As a Nutritional Therapist, skin care is a subject near and dear to my heart. For years I suffered with skin issues, specifically acne and red, dry bumps, also known as keratosis pilaris, on the back of my arms and upper thighs. It has taken me years to understand the cause of my skin issues, even with a healthy diet in place.
It is my most passionate subject to address and work with in regards to health. The one thing I have learned from clients with skin issues is that there is no one way to address them, yet I have always seen improvement when targeting internal health rather than the pure focus being externally.
Addressing deficiencies of particular nutrients beneficial to skin health is a great starting point, but may not be the sole answer. Any internal inflammation can also affect the appearance of the skin. This could include consuming inflammatory foods, food sensitivities, parasites or digestive distress that can lead to leaky gut, bacterial overgrowth, malabsorption, and make one more susceptible to infections.
Dr. Georgiana Donadio, founder of the National Institute of Whole Health states:
“Your skin is the fingerprint of what is going on inside your body, and all skin conditions, from psoriasis to acne to aging, are the manifestations of your body’s internal needs, including its nutritional needs.”
The first step to start working on improving your skin is most definitely through diet. This will begin to address the root problem, as using special creams and soaps is only treating symptoms, and even then does a minimal job at best. Poor nutrition in many cases can be the answer for many people. Even if it may not be the only solution one may need, it is crucial for allowing the skin to heal and reduce inflammation.
Your skin needs many nutrients: vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and antioxidants to keep it looking it’s best. Lets take a look at four specific vitamins to make sure you are getting in your diet as they are critical to skin health.
Vitamin A, also known as retinol is frequently used in conventional skin treatments, both topically and internally, especially in regards to acne. Deficiencies of vitamin A can exacerbate skin conditions and can cause symptoms such as dry, flaky, rough and scaly skin. A common sign of vitamin A deficiency is keratosis pilaris, which results in red bumps on the back of arms. I personally had this for years, and recently have been able to successfully address it by supplementing with true vitamin A, but also by treating the deeper cause of why there was a vitamin A deficiency in the first place.
Beta carotene is commonly mistaken as true Vitamin A. The main difference is that true vitamin A is the active form that can be used by the body, where beta carotene needs to be converted into the active form. The conversion of beta carotene to retinol in the body is inefficient at best and in those with gut problems, may not occur at all.
In marketing there is no distinction between these forms and therefore many people think they are getting vitamin A through plant foods, such as carrots, leafy greens and sweet potatoes, when they are really only receiving beta carotene.
Food Sources: True sources of vitamin A come form animal sources such as organ meats like liver and kidney, pastured cream, butter and egg yolks, as well as cod liver oil. It is also important to note that vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin which means you need to consume fat with it to absorb it, especially with plant sources. It is much easier for the body to use the straight form of vitamin A, rather than relying on needed co-factors to make the conversion from plant sources. It is these nutrient dense sources of Vitamin A from animal foods that can really help to improve overall skin health with increased dietary intake.
Vitamin C has many benefits and truly is a super nutrient. Being an antioxidant, it helps to repair damage caused by overexposure to sun or toxins, especially when consumed with vitamin E. It also helps to support collagen and overall skin tone- a natural anti-ager and rejuvenator. You can safely take a whole food vitamin C as a supplement from 500 to 1,000 milligrams per day, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Just be aware that high dosages of vitamin C can cause loose bowels, so adjust accordingly.
Food sources: Citrus, acerola cherries, camu camu berries, bell peppers, guava, leafy greens, broccoli, parsley, strawberries.
Vitamin E is another common nutrient and antioxidant in mainstream skin treatments. It is helpful in reducing the appearance of wrinkles, and like whole food based vitamin C, helps to repair damage. Like vitamin A, it is a fat soluble vitamin, but the most abundant found in the skin. Be sure to eat whole food sources with healthy fats to absorb and utilize.
Food sources: Wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, chard, prunes, tomatoes, cabbage, asparagus, avocados and olive oil.
Vitamin K2 is a lesser known vitamin in mainstream health, and therefore has been a missing link in the modern diet. It is known to help with calcium utilization and absorption, the key factor in maintaining both bone and cardiovascular health.
More recently research has shown Vitamin K2’s importance in activating proteins responsible for healthy tissues, making it imperative to prevent and reduce wrinkles. It is also critical for the proper absorption of Vitamins A and D. Vitamin A is recommended frequently by dermatologists, but when was the last time you were told to supplement with vitamin K2 in conjunction? Food sources are best as they will have a natural synergy with vitamin A and D.
Food sources: Fermented foods like sauerkraut and natto along with full fat pastured dairy products such as butter and cream, egg yolks, and liver. Note that conventional dairy products from grain fed animals will NOT contain vitamin K2 unless they are fermented which adds K2 via the fermentation process. Fermented cod liver oil mixed with butter oil is a great way to supplement.
Make sure that you take into consideration food sensitivities, as many people may not be able to tolerate some food sources of these vitamins, such as pastured dairy. Always listen to your body and watch for reactions, immediate and delayed. Stay tuned for more nutrients and underlying causes of skin conditions to come!
About the Author
Carla is a Board Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) who uses nutrition, diet and lifestyle interventions to support physiological mechanisms within the body. She is the founder of Wise Roots Nutrition, which is an integrative approach that focuses on customized plans to support the root cause of a person’s health challenge.
Carla educates and empowers you to make responsible and healthful food choices that restore balance and proper function to your body, as well as offers lab testing to provide accurate recommendations and effective solutions. She believes in finding the root cause of a condition, rather than just treating the symptoms. Carla works with people locally in San Francisco, as well as long distance via phone and Skype. She specializes in Digestive Issues, Weight Loss and Skin Conditions.