Many of us think in terms of clear, glowing skin as a sign of overall health. In fact, your skin can and often does reflect the general state of your health. Stressed out? Dehydrated? Haven’t been sleeping well lately? Eating on the run at fast food restaurants? All of these factors can have a negative impact on your complexion. Healthy skin has the ability to respond to challenges that might otherwise undermine its structure and function. As our largest organ, our skin performs a variety of functions including protection, temperature regulation, insulation and sensation. The skin is constantly renewing and replenishing its cells at the astonishing rate of 30,000 to 40,000 cells per hour. At this rate, the entire epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin, is replaced approximately every 35 days.
- The skin is our first line of defense against external and environmental factors as it provides a major barrier against pathogens, viruses, and other foreign substances.
- The ability of the skin to hold water, regulate the release of water from the body, as well as providing waterproofing protection, is critical for maintaining health.
- The skin contains an extensive network of nerve cells that allow us to feel the sensations of temperature, pressure, touch and injury.
- Melanocytes are the skin cells responsible for the production of melanin in response to ultraviolet light. Melanin absorbs UV rays, shielding underlying tissues from damage.
- Just as the dermis regulates body temperature through the production of sweat and by evaporation to cool the body, it also maintains internal body temperature by controlling red blood cells. When the body is hot, red blood cells in the dermis expand, allowing heat to be released through the surface of the skin.
- Skin cells, with the assistance of sun’s ultraviolet B rays, produce vitamin D. Ten to fifteen minutes of daily sun exposure without the use of sunscreen will produce approximately 10,000 IU’s of vitamin D, depending on individual skin color.
Some of us are born with flawless skin. While genetics does play a role in the look and condition of our skin, nutrition, good skin care and lifestyle habits all have an effect. In fact, nutritional status plays a very important role when it comes to the maintenance of healthy skin. Macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients) work together to maintain the barrier function of the skin while dealing with the daily challenges of pathogens, chemicals and environmental pollution. In other words, nutritional status that supports skin structure and function can also directly affect skin appearance in positive ways by fighting acne, minimizing wrinkles and enhancing your skin’s natural beauty. To rejuvenate our skin and maintain a youthful appearance, we need to provide the right nutrients for our skin including these vitamins and minerals:
- Antioxidants – The skin is constantly exposed to high concentrations of oxygen, UV light, and oxidizing chemicals, highlighting a role for antioxidant vitamins in skin function.
- Vitamin C is critical for strong, healthy skin as it plays a role in the production of collagen which keeps skin supple and tight.
- Vitamin E helps to moisturize the skin and has the potential to overwhelm unstable free radicals believed to be destructive to skin tissue.
- Vitamin A promotes cell turnover and is one of the most widely acknowledged nutrients for the skin. Foods that support skin health include tropical fruits, broccoli, almonds, whole grains, carrots, pumpkins seeds, oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines.
- Thiamine – Part of the B complex of vitamins, thiamine helps ensure normal cellular functioning of the skin, and strengthens the skin’s outer protective barrier, locking in moisture and keeping irritants out. Foods high in thiamine include nuts and seeds, pork, and fish, such as tuna and pompano.
- Zinc – Normal epidermal cell growth relies on adequate amounts of zinc. Zinc is an essential mineral that assists in the proper structure of proteins and cell membranes and improves wound healing. Foods containing zinc include oysters, beef, peanuts and crab.
- Selenium – Selenium is required in the production of glutathione, a free radical fighter. Foods high in selenium include pork, shellfish, bran and fish.
- Essential fatty acids – Known to be anti-inflammatory, omega-3 fatty acids aid in the reduction of inflammatory skin conditions and improve overall skin health. Foods that contain omega-3 essential fatty acids include flax seeds, walnuts, cold water fish and enriched eggs.
Poor nutrition and unhealthy habits contribute to skin problems including sun damage, wrinkling and a dull complexion. Take responsibility for skin health by eating a healthy amount of colorful plant foods, using sunscreen, exercising regularly, not smoking, hydrating with water, managing stress, and getting adequate amounts of sleep each night. The beauty of skin is that you can care for it both internally and externally. Lotions and creams with vitamins and minerals can help to lock in moisture, minimize wrinkles, smooth roughness, improve skin tone and give the appearance of younger, more youthful looking skin. As you make the lifestyle changes necessary to prevent or minimize the signs of skin aging, you should begin to see through that newly radiant, vibrant skin into a body full of health and vitality.