Is your skin looking dull, or feeling dry or itchy? It’s all too common at this time of year, thanks to the drying effects of central heating and harsh winter winds – as well as the after-effects of holiday season indulgences.
So what can you do to get your skin back to its normal healthy glow? There’s really no need for harsh topical treatments or even drastic dietary measures like a juice cleanse. Instead, minimise your intake of added sugars, refined carbohydrates and processed foods, and eat skin-nourishing whole foods. The following could be particularly helpful – our selection of the best ‘skin superfoods’.
1. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a fantastic winter vegetable; and as a bonus, they’re great for your skin too. Like other orange veg, they’re rich in carotenoids. Some of these – such as beta-carotene – can be converted in your body into vitamin A, a crucial nutrient for healthy skin. Carotenoids may also help protect your skin against sun damage  – a good reason to store them up in preparation for summer!
Sweet potatoes are also one of our richest sources of biotin. Biotin is best known for its role in hair growth, but also helps to keep our skin and mucous membranes (the ‘internal skin’) healthy. It’s said to help store healthy fats in the skin, to keep it moist . Deficiency in biotin may even be a cause of skin rashes , so it could be worth increasing your intake if you’re experiencing itchy or irritated skin.
Add sweet potatoes to stews and casseroles, use them for jacket potatoes, or roast them with other veg such as pepper, red onions and beetroot as a delicious side dish.
2. Pumpkin seeds
They may not look like anything special, but pumpkin seeds are rich in many nutrients – they should definitely be classed as a superfood! Their top skin-loving nutrients include zinc and essential fatty acids. And – rare amongst plant foods – pumpkin seeds are a good source of ‘complete’ protein too. This means they contain all the amino acids our body needs to make its own proteins – including those needed to keep our skin healthy and supple.
Pumpkin seeds make a fantastic snack. Try gently roasting them in a cool oven for around 20 minutes. Or try pumpkin seed butter – simply a paste made from ground pumpkin seeds. It’s delicious on oatcakes or crackers.
We bet you won’t see this one on most ‘great for your skin’ hit lists. But in fact, liver is perhaps the most nutrient rich food we can eat, and can be highly nourishing for the whole body. One of its nutrition highlights is that it’s our best food source of true vitamin A (retinol). While your body can make some vitamin A from carotenoids in vegetables – as mentioned above – it’s thought that many people don’t make this conversion very well. So it’s possible to be deficient in this skin-critical nutrient – and have skin problems as a result – even if you’re loading up on orange and green vegetables. A good reason to try including some liver in your diet.
When you’re buying liver, make sure you choose good-quality organic liver. Chicken liver can be the mildest-tasting. Look for recipes for making your own liver pâté – and if the recipe uses butter, make sure it’s from grass-fed cows, as this is another good source of vitamin A. You might be surprised at how amazing it tastes!
4. Green tea
It may not be everyone’s cup of tea (pun intended!), but green tea comes up trumps when it comes to skin health. The wealth of polyphenols it contains are thought to be protective against sun damage and the aging effects of UV light on the skin [3,4]. Matcha green tea could be the best choice, as one study found it to contain much higher levels of a specific polyphenol called epigallocatechin gallate (thought to be particularly powerful) compared to standard green tea . Why not make your own matcha latte?
Another way we can get better skin is by supporting our liver. Even a slight build-up of toxins in the body can be reflected in poor skin health – such as dull skin, dark circles under the eyes, and even skin rashes. The liver, of course, filters wastes and toxins from our blood; and it gets rid of many of them via the bile into the digestive tract, which is then excreted. So where does artichoke come in? This vegetable has been found to have liver-supporting properties, and also ‘choleretic’ properties – meaning it helps to stimulate bile production and flow from the liver .
If you’re not a fan of artichoke, then leafy green veg that has a bitter taste – such as rocket and watercress – can be a good alternative, with much of the same benefits.
Sardines are, of course, a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 and omega-6 fats both play an essential role in skin structure and appearance, helping to maintain the skin’s barrier function and prevent moisture loss. They’re also thought to play a protective role for the skin by helping to control inflammation and minimising collagen damage from UV rays . What’s more, the specific omega-3s found in oily fish – EPA and DHA – may be especially important for good skin health, because it’s thought that skin can’t convert other types of omega-3s (as found in seeds and nuts) to EPA and DHA . So don’t rely on flaxseeds for your omega-3s!
If you’re not keen on sardines, other oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and herring are also fantastic. And if you need extra support (or don’t like fish!), try taking a good-quality fish oil supplement.
We’ve written before about the amazing health benefits of turmeric. This super spice may have multiple benefits for skin health, including helping to prevent sun damage , relieving or preventing skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema , and supporting skin regeneration and wound healing . Like artichoke, it may also support liver detoxification  and help bile flow from the gallbladder .
Use ground or fresh turmeric in homemade curries (made with sweet potato too!), or make your own turmeric lattes. Turmeric or curcumin supplements (curcumin is the primary active compound in turmeric) can also help you achieve your daily intake without over-doing the curries!
- Stahl W, Sies H. β-Carotene and other carotenoids in protection from sunlight. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Nov;96(5):1179S-84S.
- Whfoods.com. (2017). biotin. [online] Available at: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=42 [Accessed 16 Jan. 2017].
- Roh E et al. Molecular Mechanisms of Green Tea Polyphenols with Protective Effects against Skin Photoaging. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2015 Jun 26:0.
- Vayalil PK et al. Green tea polyphenols prevent ultraviolet light-induced oxidative damage and matrix metalloproteinases expression in mouse skin. J Invest Dermatol. 2004 Jun;122(6):1480-7.
- Weiss DJ, Anderton CR. Determination of catechins in matcha green tea by micellar electrokinetic chromatography. J Chromatogr A. 2003 Sep 5;1011(1-2):173-80.
- Ben Salem M et al. Pharmacological Studies of Artichoke Leaf Extract and Their Health Benefits. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2015 Dec;70(4):441-53.
- Linus Pauling Institute. (2017). Essential Fatty Acids and Skin Health. [online] Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/skin-health/essential-fatty-acids [Accessed 17 Jan. 2017]. (This link leads to a website provided by the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. Superfooduk is not affiliated or endorsed by the Linus Pauling Institute or Oregon State University.)
- Heng MC. Curcumin targeted signaling pathways: basis for anti-photoaging and anti-carcinogenic therapy. Int J Dermatol. 2010 Jun;49(6):608-22.
- Vaughn AR et al. Effects of Turmeric (Curcuma longa) on Skin Health: A Systematic Review of the Clinical Evidence. Phytother Res. 2016 Aug;30(8):1243-64.
- Thangapazham RL et al. Skin regenerative potentials of curcumin. Biofactors. 2013 Jan-Feb;39(1):141-9.
- Rasyid A, Lelo A. The effect of curcumin and placebo on human gall-bladder function: an ultrasound study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 1999 Feb;13(2):245-9.