The Diet & Skin Connection: From Acne to Wrinkles!

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Scientific research makes it abundantly clear that a healthy diet wards off disease and helps maintain a healthy body. What is not so well known is that a diet rich in beneficial foods can help keep our skin younger looking, longer. Combined with a well-formulated skin care routine and being sun-smart, eating a "skin-friendly" diet can be a significant part of achieving and keeping younger, healthier skin as you age!

Inflammation: From the Inside Out

If you use Paula's Choice products or those we recommend on Beautypedia and diligent daily use of SPF 15+, you're already avoiding sun damage and irritating ingredients that generate inflammation in skin, both of which damage collagen and elastin. In much the same way irritants and sun damage causes inflammation, eating unhealthy, processed foods can cause inflammation in the body—and you'll eventually see this on your skin!

When we say "inflammation" in connection with your diet, we don't mean how upsetting the bill can be after a trip to Whole Foods, we're talking about the type of inflammation that occurs within our bodies. Chronic inflammation whether from your diet or other sources, floods the body with stress hormones, stimulates pain receptors (so you feel worn down), destroys healthy collagen, limits cell renewal, slows your body's ability to heal itself, and may increase acne breakouts.

Many of the foods people eat on a regular basis worsen chronic inflammation, especially when paired with other unhealthy lifestyle choices like unprotected sun exposure and/or smoking. Because of this, it's easy to see why using great skin-care products is only part of the plan to keep your skin smooth, younger-looking, and healthy regardless of your age.

Perhaps the most tempting yet pro-aging and possibly pro-acne food to avoid is sugar. Here's why sugar isn't as sweet as you think!

AGEs: the Bitter Side of Sweet!

Sugar in the body creates glycation, and that's not good news. Glycation refers to a chemical reaction that occurs when the sugar you eat interacts with your body's important lipids and proteins. This reaction forms advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), which are destructive inflammation producing molecules that contribute to disease, increased free radical damage, wrinkles, sagging, and theoretically acne (after all acne is an inflammatory skin disorder).

When sugary sweets make a regular appearance in your diet, the rate of glycation increases, and that adds to the "AGEing" process.

Cutting Out AGEs and Chronic Inflammation

Eating the right foods and minimizing those that are the worst for triggering inflammation and AGEs is an anti-aging MUST. Not to mention a nutrient-rich diet helps cut your risk of multiple diseases and other health issues. Research has demonstrated the following foods as the worst of inflammation-promoting and AGEing offenders:

  • Excess sugar, especially refined sugars such as high fructose corn syrup, but any sugar (including honey) causes AGEs.
  • Trans-fats (any oil listed as "partially hydrogenated" qualifies), which includes margarine and most shortenings
  • Processed or cured meats, including bacon (the nitrites and nitrates are an acute source of inflammation)
  • Red meat (if you won't give up beef, at least choose the leanest cuts and avoid grilling, grilling with charcoal or turning food dark brown or black, which increases AGEs)
  • Highly processed foods, which includes most of the menu at fast-food restaurants and lots of pre packaged meals and snack foods in grocery stores
  • White flour (a source of simple carbohydrates and present in most baked goods)
  • Desserts such as cakes, pastries, and yes, even that breakfast muffin—these are often loaded with sugar (not to mention those that are made from white flour)
  • Salty foods (bloating, puffiness, and tired-looking skin are but a few of the consequences of too much salt). Consider sea salt: It has more minerals and is thought to be more flavorful (so you'll use less) than regular table salt.

Clearing Up Claims about Diet and Acne

Theoretically, an anti-inflammation diet can indeed be a benefit for potentially reducing breakouts, but there isn't definitive research pinpointing that to any specific foods as "acne causing." Here's what we know about the foods most often blamed for breakouts:

  • Chocolate: Research to link chocolate and acne has come up short on a definitive conclusion. Patients consuming cocoa enriched chocolate bars (dairy-free) for 120 days had no significant increase or decrease in acne than patients who consumed a non-cocoa enriched (but still dairy-free) bar.
  • Fried foods: Eating greasy foods has no chemical relationship to the oil produced by our skin, which is made up of fatty acids and other substances. Our environment, hormonal changes and lifestyle all play a role in oil production and acne-supporting bacteria, but studies have not shown a direct relationship between eating fatty foods and triggering acne blemishes (or increase in oil production in skin.)
  • Dairy: Consuming dairy, in any form, has been blamed for triggering acne by many (or those that swear their acne cleared once they gave up dairy). Studies have found a connection between consumption of milk and exacerbation of acne, but these associations are not fully understood—it is thought that the levels of naturally occurring hormones in milk affects the balance of androgens in our bodies.
  • Sugar: The sugar connection rears its ugly head, as research has shown those who regularly consume a high glycemic diet (high in sugar and/or simple carbohydrates) seem to develop acne in greater ratios than those who consume a lower glycemic diet. However, this is (like chocolate, fried foods and dairy) not a cause so much as possible supporting factor.

While there is no definitive association for any dietary aspect of acne it doesn't mean you shouldn't experiment to see what works for you! For example, fish and dairy may possibly combine with other factors to promote breakouts for some. If you suspect that dairy or other foods triggering acne, try leaving it out of your diet for a few months and see what happens.

The Best Anti-Aging Foods!

These foods are far from flavorless or boring, and they have been shown to reduce inflammation, and reduce the glycation process. The next time you're jotting down your grocery list, be sure to add these anti-inflammatory, appearance-boosting foods (and leave the Cheetos and sugared drinks on the shelf):

  • Green, black and red teas
  • Coffee (but limit consumption to 1-2 cups daily)
  • Deeply-colored berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries)
  • Deeply-colored vegetables, especially leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables such as red cabbage
  • Red, green, yellow, and orange bell peppers (plus all types of hot peppers)
  • Salmon and other cold water, oily fish (a bountiful source of omega-3 fatty acids; choose wild caught rather than farm-raised)
  • Walnuts (most nuts have health benefits, but walnuts are considered the Superman of nuts)
  • Olive oil (also recommended: grape seed, walnut, rice bran, and canola oils)
  • Whole grains (the fiber boost reduces inflammation)
  • Spices such as ginger, turmeric, cardamom, curry, cumin, garlic, oregano, basil, and tamarind
  • Flax or pumpkin seeds
  • Yogurt (preferably plain or those with reduced sugar or sugar-free)

The Bottom Line

Start eating an anti-aging/anti-acne diet now! It's never too late. Consuming an anti-inflammatory diet is one of the more beautiful things you can do for yourself and your skin. Routinely eating the right foods can lead to healthier skin cell production, reduced dry skin, a more radiant complexion, fewer breakouts, less wrinkles, and greater skin resiliency so you look younger, longer. This dietary approach complements using the right skin-care products (from Paula's Choice or those we recommend from Beautypedia,) and of course, daily sun protection is an absolute must!

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About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.

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