With Fashion Month still in full swing, it’s impossible to miss the one trend that surfaces at every spring show. Glowing, radiant, dewy, luminous—pick your adjective, but you can always count on seeing enviably clear complexions backstage. Take Marc Jacobs, where the models wore moisturizer, sans makeup. Here’s what I took away from that particular look: faces that require zero foundation must depend on something other than good genes and effective products. My conclusion is that naturally gorgeous skin often starts with your diet.
In theory, it’s brilliantly simple. In practice, I had no “foods for flawless skin” list to bring to the grocery store. To get the scoop on healthy eating for healthy skin, I caught up with a dermatologist, a celebrity esthetician, a beauty expert and a registered dietitian. Discover their secrets below.
How Diet Affects Your Skin
“I tell my patients that what they put in their mouths is as important as the products they apply on their skin,” says Dr. Jessica Wu (dermatologist and creator of Dr. Jessica Wu Skincare), who’s written her own guide to eating for beauty, Feed Your Face. “Foods get digested and broken down into vitamins, minerals and amino acids that your body can use to build healthy skin. If you crash diet or eat highly processed foods, your skin won’t be as strong and supple as it could be. For example, if you don’t eat enough protein, you are depriving your skin of the amino acids that go into making collagen (which makes your skin strong) and elastic tissue (which makes it supple).”
Jessica Crescenzi, founder of Beauty Guru NYC, agrees: “Many clients and friends come to me and say, ‘I’m doing my skincare ritual every morning and evening, but I’m still breaking out.’ My first question to them is ‘How’s your diet?’ The bottom line is that whatever’s going on inside your gut will eventually show in your skin.”
Why You Should Avoid Sugar
“Low-glycemic diets have been shown to be beneficial to acne-prone skin,” says registered dietitian and nutrition expert Alex Caspero, “There are some studies that do not show an association with acne, insulin levels and glycemic loads, but I see consistently positive results in my clients. In my practice, I usually recommend reducing sugar as much as possible. I replace refined, sugary foods with nutrient-dense foods- like fruit, vegetables and healthy sources of Omega-3.”
According to Dr. Wu, protein bars are one of the biggest beauty offenders. “Protein bars are essentially a candy bar,” she warns, “The sugar will quickly get into your bloodstream, making your insulin levels spike, which can aggravate acne, wrinkles and rashes. If you need a quick, portable snack in the middle of the day or after a workout, it’s better to have a handful of almonds and a piece of whole fruit. You’ll be eating better for your skin, and you’ll feel more satisfied.”
Is Dairy Causing Your Breakouts?
“It’s controversial, but I don’t recommend dairy,” cautions Caspero, “There are some studies that show associations between dairy and acne, but not necessarily cause and effect. Either way, just like sugar, I see great results when I completely remove dairy from the diet. The hypothesis is that since the majority of milk in the US comes from pregnant cows, the hormone levels in milk may play a role in excess sebum production, which promotes acne. Sebum production is influenced by androgens and hormonal mediators, such as insulin-like growth factors found in milk and other animal products. If people must have milk or yogurt, I recommend non-dairy alternatives or goat’s milk.”
What to Eat for Glowing Skin
“I find that the best skin diet is one that involves eating vegetables of different colors for every meal and a green juice every day,” says celebrity esthetician (and founder of the eponymous salon and skincare line) Joanna Vargas. Her client Rachel Weisz follows this routine, but Vargas assures me it works on everyone. Another favorite? Avocados. “One of my best tips is to start by eating a bit of avocado everyday as part of your salad, or even throwing a half of an avocado into your morning smoothie,” she tells me, “It supplies the skin with healthy fats and phytonutrients.” Her last piece of advice is tailored toward the picky eaters: “If I have a client who doesn’t eat salad or drink green juices, I tell them to go to Whole Foods and buy liquid chlorophyll. It tastes like mint, oxygenates the skin and works from the inside-out to keep the skin healthy and glowing.”
Dr. Wu recommends vegetables in these three colors: red (specifically tomatoes), yellow and green. “Tomatoes are good for helping reduce sun damage,” she says, “They’re high in the antioxidant lycopene, which helps fight free radicals. The antioxidant is most easily absorbed when the tomatoes have been cooked, which releases it from the plant cells. It’s also easier for your body to absorb it if you eat the tomatoes along with some healthy fats, like avocado or olive oil. The amount of lycopene varies depending on the type of tomato and its ripeness. In general, the redder the tomato, the more lycopene it has.” Picking green and yellow vegetables works similarly: “The darker and brighter the color, the more nutrients. If you’re picking greens for a salad, choose darker green greens like kale or spinach. Better yet, choose arugula or dandelion greens. These vegetables fight the free radicals that break down collagen over time, so they can help support the delicate, thin skin around your eyes.”
Lastly, make sure you’re not neglecting the rest of your diet. “You also need to make sure you’re getting enough carbohydrates and protein,” says Crescenzi, “Carbs will give you fuel during your workouts, and protein will help repair and build muscle. It’s all about a healthy balance. Drink water too; hydration will help flush out toxins.”
Bonus Step: Supplement with Spices
So what does Caspero recommend for gorgeous skin? Foods high in skin-strengthening Omega-3 fatty acids (think sardines, chia seeds, flaxseed and walnuts), collagen-boosting vitamin C (bell peppers, strawberries, citrus fruits, kale and broccoli) and antioxidant-rich vitamins A and E (almond butter, swiss chard, wheat germ, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots and cantaloupe).
There’s a catch, though: “Most of us think of fruits and vegetables as antioxidant sources, but surprisingly, herbs and spices pack the most punch. Turmeric, a spice often found in Indian cuisine, is one of the best.” If you find it difficult to work the ingredient into your diet, try ingesting it supplement form.