Healthy skin is an inside job. Although consumers around the world spend billions of dollars each year on an array of creams, lotions and serums in attempt to reduce wrinkles, clear up blemishes and improve tone, dermatologists say diet plays a key role in skin health.
“It’s a no-brainer; the healthier you eat, the more your skin will benefit. A lot of the signs of unhealthy eating habits can often show through our skin,” noted Marina Peredo, MD, PC, founder of Spatique in Smithtown NY. “By practicing good nutrition, you’re working on things from the inside out, not just on the surface. If you are eating well, the nutrients will work on the inside to produce a better you on the outside!”
Getting a doctor’s approval is one way for consumer product companies to find success in the skin care market. When it comes to their skin, more consumers are seeking professional help these days. And they can choose from a growing selection of dermatologists and physicians.
In the U.S. alone there are 14,000 plastic surgeons and 12,000 dermatologists, according to recent data from Kline & Company, a research company based in Parsippany, NJ. Among these, 6000 plastic surgeons and 5700 dermatologists dispense skin care products. But Karen Doskow, industry manager for consumer products at Kline, points out that other physicians, including dentists, internists and obstetricians/gynocologists are getting into the skin care business, too.
Their actions helped propel sales of skin care products through doctors to $300 million (manufacturers’ dollars) last year, an increase of 7%. A portion of that gain, however, came from higher price points, noted Ms. Doskow.
“When a consumer goes to the doctor’s office, she is expecting to pay more for a product that is efficacious,” Ms. Doskow explained. “She might get a moisturizer from Sephora or CVS. But she is prepared to spend more for better products in a doctor’s office.”
Moreover, in-office traffic is on the rise, as doctors seek new patients.
“There’s been particular growth in serums,” Mr. Doskow noted. “Aging and hyperpigmentation are the fastest-growing products.”
Of course, topical remedies aren’t the only way to improve one’s skin. More derms than ever are telling their patients that in order to look right, they must eat right as well.
“It is safe to say ‘you are what you eat,’” explained Jeanette Graf, a board certified, clinical and research dermatologist and professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. “More and more we are seeing studies pointing to the link between certain aspects of diet and skin; for example, linking milk and dairy intake to acne and alcohol intake to psoriasis.”
Dermatologist Dr. Howard Murad, CEO and founder of Murad Inc., has been a leading proponent of the healthy skin/healthy diet link for decades. And yet, his new patients still seek fast solutions to their skin problems.
“I don’t do Botox,” he pointed out. “I tell patients about a program to eat better and put good products on their faces. My way is cheaper and better for them in the long run, but some still expect immediate gratification.”
Years ago, Dr. Murad conducted a study that proved how nutrition impacts antioxidant, glycoaminoglycan and trace mineral levels in the skin—all of them critical to producing collagen.
“As we age, the body loses 1% of collagen every year,” noted Dr. Murad. “Collagen production is crucial to healthy skin.”
To promote collagen production, Dr. Murad recommends his Youth Builder dietary supplement, which boosts collagen and helps improve skin clarity and tone. It contains glucosamine, amino acid complex and vitamin A to boost collagen production, support connective tissue and stimulate healthy cell renewal to promote improved strength, clarity and tone.
So What Should You Eat?
If they hope to take better care of the skin they’re in, consumers would do well to forego chips, cookies and other sweet or processed snacks in favor of whole fruits and vegetables.
Dr. Murad recommends a diet loaded with raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, eggs, beans and seeds, along with cold-water fish.
“Acne is an inflammatory condition, so raw fruits and vegetables really help,” he said.
According to Jeff Murad, vice president, new product development at Murad, the more colorful the vegetable, the better it is for your skin—especially broccoli and kale. And pomegranate, he noted, has antioxidant and anti-erthyma benefits.
“We conducted a study that concluded the strongest antioxidants come from the ellagic acid found in pomegranates,” he recalled.
Murad has created a durian extract-based skin care product that has no odor, but as Jeff Murad noted, it is best to eat the fruit itself because durian is rich in essential fatty acids and other nutrients.
Dr. Graf also urges patients to follow the “color rule;” that is, follow a high fiber diet rich in colorful vegetables and fruit. Good examples include dark green leafy vegetables such as the aforementioned kale and spinach, and red, yellow and orange peppers.
“A colorful diet is an alkaline-producing, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging diet,” explained Dr. Graf, who also advocates drinking plenty of water. To enhance its alkalinizing effect adding lemon or lime to water is a great idea.
Similarly, Dr. Peredo recommends boosting one’s vitamin C intake.
“By munching on any fruit containing this crucial vitamin, your skin will look and feel better,” she noted.
According to Dr. Peredo, vitamin C works to neutralize skin to fight inflammation and redness. It also works to produce collagen, which plays into the healthy structure of one’s face.
“You’ll find that a lot of skin care products contain vitamin C because of its power to nurture the skin,” she added.
Dr. Peredo has an array of foods she advises her patients to avoid due to the deleterious effects that they have on skin. Specific foods to avoid include caffeine, which can lead to over-drying of the skin as well as breakouts and wrinkles; junk food, which can clog pores and lead to breakouts and uneven skin texture. And, of course, soft drinks, which have come under attack in recent months for causing the obesity epidemic in the U.S.
“The amount of sugar these drinks contain can cause a number of skin issue such as signs of aging and acne,” she said.
Dr. Peredo also tells her patients to cut back on highly processed food, sugar filled junk food and concentrate on eating natural foods containing vitamins, minerals and omega 3 fatty acids.
Another Point of View
But not all dermatologists place a heavy emphasis on the nutrition-healthy skin link. According to Eric Schweiger, a New York City-based dermatologist, while a general healthy, well-balanced diet, especially one low in sugars and fats, is beneficial to one’s skin, there is no one “magic food” that makes patients look great.
“I recommend a balanced diet to my patients,” said Dr. Schweiger. “For one’s complexion, it is definitely more important what your are putting on your skin than into your stomach!”
He noted that skin care regimens are usually tailored to each individual patient to treat specific concerns.
“In general I like to recommend protecting your skin in the morning with the use of a daily moisturizer with SPF—SPF 30 is usually adequate. Make sure it is “broad spectrum” so it covers both UVA and UVB,” said Dr. Schweiger.
At night, he recommends focusing on anti-aging by using an evening moisturizer that includes antioxidants and retinoids.
“Hydrating the skin is essential, therefore a morning and evening wash that is not over drying is important,” said Dr. Schweiger. “Gentle cleansers such as Cetaphil or CeraVe are great.
Neutrogena has a great foaming cleanser for removal of makeup.”
As for products to avoid, Dr. Schweiger said that patients with dry skin should stay away from drying agents such as salicylic acid, while patients with oily-acne prone skin should avoid heavy emulsion-like creams or products that contain lipids or oil-based ingredients that can occlude the pores.
Dr. Peredo agreed “Acne is caused by over-production of oil in your oil glands, so it’s best to stay away from adding more oil on top of your skin. It will just seep through and then acne will begin to show.”
Water, Water Everywhere
Of course, man (nor woman) does not live by bread alone. Next to the air we breathe, water is the most crucial part of our diets. No one has promoted the health benefits of water more than Dr. Murad, who’s book “The Water Secret,” highlights the links between health and water intake.
Dr. Murad goes a step further, however, urging patients to eat, rather than drink, their water.
“As a general rule, raw fruits and vegetables are the best sources of water,” he insisted.
In a pilot study, the Murad team found that people who eat more fruits and vegetables along with one or two glass of water a day will be more hydrated than someone who drinks eight or 10 glasses of water a day. He noted that acne is inflammatory, so raw fruits and vegetables (which are loaded with vitamin A), help normalize skin.
“A reduction in cellular water is a primary cause of aging and disease,” insisted Dr. Murad. “Consumers have a tendency to eat sweet or salty processed foods that are pro-inflammatory to our cell membranes.”
Dr. Graf said water intake plays an essential role in healthy skin. She called it the most important “alkalinizer” and noted that the body requires water for its basic function as transportation of nutrients as well as flushing out waste products.
“Hydration is essential for health and one of the ways we can assess dehydration is by looking at skin turgor,” she said. “Chronic dehydration goes hand in hand with increasing acidity of the body and poor health.”
In the end, most experts agree that nutrition plays a key role in healthy skin. By practicing good nutrition, consumers are able to improve their skin from the inside out, not just on the surface.
“If you are eating well, the nutrients will work on the inside to produce a better you on the outside,” noted Dr. Peredo. “Skin care products only help what is on the surface. We need to get to the bottom of skin care issues, which are deeply rooted within our bodies.”