In recognition of National Healthy Skin Month, dermatologist Susan C. Taylor, MD, FAAD, spoke at the American Academy of Dermatology’s SKIN (Academy) about the importance of eating nutritious foods for optimal skin health and how foods can aggravate common medical skin conditions.

“While there’s no mistaking how our diet affects our overall health, we’re just beginning to understand how certain foods—or lack thereof—can impact our skin’s health,” says Taylor. “In addition, studies show that some food and beverages can even worsen common skin conditions and cause allergic reactions that manifest on the skin.”

According to Taylor, the simplest way to maintain a healthy, balanced diet and ensure the skin is getting optimal nutrition from the foods we eat is to follow the recommendations of the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Daily Food Guide, commonly referred to as the food pyramid. These include:

• Choosing and eating at least three ounces of whole grain breads, cereals, rice, crackers or pasta;

• Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including more dark green and orange vegetables;

• Consuming calcium-rich foods, such as fat-free or low-fat milk and other dairy products; and

• Opting for a variety of low-fat or lean meats, poultry, and fish.

“The foods recommended by the USDA as part of a healthy diet contain valuable vitamins and minerals that have proven health benefits for our bodies,” says Taylor. “Research has shown that the antioxidants in vitamins C and E can protect the skin from sun damage and help reduce damage in skin cells caused by harmful free radicals, which contribute to aging skin. Similarly, we have long known that the B vitamin biotin is responsible for forming the basis of skin, hair, and nail cells, and vitamin A,  found in many fruits and vegetables, maintains and repairs skin tissue. Without an adequate supply of these vitamins, you may notice it in the appearance of your skin, hair, and nails.”

Although the direct link between food consumption and skin damage has not been widely studied, one study comparing the correlation between food and nutrient intake with skin wrinkling found a positive relationship. The study, called “Skin Wrinkling: Can Food Make a Difference?”, published in the February 2001 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, determined that Swedish patients aged 70 and older had the least skin wrinkling in a sun-exposed site among the four ethnic groups studied. This cross-sectional study, which analyzed the pooled data using the major food groups, suggests “that subjects with a higher intake of vegetables, olive oil, and monounsaturated fat and legumes, but a lower intake of milk and dairy products, butter, margarine, and sugar products had less skin wrinkling in a sun-exposed site.”

Taylor says that more studies need to be conducted in order to determine the long-term benefits of food on our skin.

“Eating a variety of healthy foods and drinking plenty of water so the skin stays hydrated should help most people improve the appearance of their skin,” Taylor says.

[www.aad.org, November 8, 2007]