16 Nutrients for Healthy Skin
It is often said that the appearance of skin can predict overall health. Historically, the deficiency of many of the essential nutrients was noted by observing the disruption of skin integrity or by a change in the skin appearance.
The bold statement “old for one’s age” may actually reflect the overall health status of an individual. Balanced nutrition is essential not only to prevent heart diseases or diabetes, but also to maintain skin health.
Many nutrients are important co-factors that participate in biochemical processes occurring within skin cells and therefore the deficiencies are manifested by changes in the skin's appearance.
One way to achieve optimal skin appearance is through the use of cosmetics. Many published studies show that the supplementation of some key nutrients can improve skin quality and appearance. This has boosted the use of nutrients in cosmetics. Can taking the key nutrients via diet and supplementation also provide benefits to skin?
Instability of vitamin C is one issue of its use in skin care products. If dietary intake of vitamin C gives the same benefits, this opens the way for using it via diet.
There is a growing interest from researchers to understand whether dietary intake of these nutrients can also be beneficial for skin health. The results of some of the studies are surprisingly good. The following are some key nutrients and their skin health benefits.
UV radiation, mostly from the sun, is a major cause of skin aging. Both UV-A and UV-B rays generate harmful free radicals in the skin causing photo-damage, leading to the production of fine lines and wrinkles, and in extreme cases, sunburns and cancers. When no sun protection is used, skin depends solely on melanin to fight it back.
Antioxidants can help protect against free radical formation induced by UV radiation. Nutrients that are studied to be most effective in minimizing UV damage within skin includes carotenoids, vitamin E, flavonoids, vitamin C and n-fatty acids.
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an important co-factor for collagen synthesis, and also plays a role in skin regeneration and wound healing. It was reported to reduce wrinkled appearance and skin dryness.
In a study, taking vitamin C and E supplements for three months significantly reduced the sunburn reaction to UV-B irradiation and skin DNA damage. 
Best food sources of vitamin C:
- Brussels sprouts
2. Vitamin E (Tocopherols)
Vitamin E is a fat soluble antioxidant. It protects the skin against free radical damage. Studies have shown that vitamin E supplement reduced the level of malondialdehyde (MDA, a marker of oxidative stress) in the skin upon exposure to UV rays.
Vitamin E also plays a role in skin healing. A study involving 57 patients with pressure ulcers reported administration of 400 mg/day oral vitamin E promoted faster healing than placebo. 
Best food sources of vitamin E:
- Polyunsaturated oils
- Polyunsaturated margarine
- Olive oil
- Fatty fish
3. Beta carotene
Beta carotene can be used as a source of vitamin A, which is important for skin maintenance and repair. Several studies support the use of carotene to improve skin health.
Best food sources of Beta carotene:
Lycopene is depleted from the skin upon sun exposure. A study revealed taking tomato paste, which is high in lycopene, for 10 weeks gives protection against skin redness (erythema) following UV irradiation. 
Best food sources of lycopene:
- Tomatoes and tomato products
- Water melon
- Pink grapefruit
5. Lutein/Zeaxanthin (LZ)
LZ supplementation can reduce UV damage to the skin and increase skin hydration and elasticity. 
Best food sources of lutein/zeaxanthin:
- Dark, leafy, green and yellow vegetables
Astaxanthin improves elastivity, moisture content and lowers wrinkle appearance.
The carotenoid astaxanthin is found in plants and algae. It gives pink-orange color to shellfish and salmon. Supplementation of astaxanthin produced significant improvements in pre-existing skin wrinkles, and also improved skin elasticity and transepidermal water loss.
In a study, subjects taking astaxanthin and vitamin E showed significant reduction in fine wrinkles and pimples, and increased moisture levels after four weeks of course. 
Best food sources of astaxanthin:
- Red trouts
7. Coenzyme Q10
It is an important antioxidant necessary for energy metabolism.
Supplementation of 60 mg CoQ10 for three months significantly reduced wrinkles in depth and area and improved skin properties. 
Best food sources for CoQ10:
8. Alpha-Lipoic acid
It is also an antioxidant which has been shown to reduce advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). AGEs predispose skin to pre-mature aging.
Best food sources of alpha-lipoic acid:
- Organ meat
- Brussels sprouts
- Rice bran
Fish Oil / Omega-3 Fatty Acids
9. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Dietary consumption of fish oil is important in the treatment of inflammatory skin disorders. Some studies showed the consumption of 3g/day of EPA and DHA reduced erythema aka skin redness that occurs upon UV exposure.
Polyphenols and Flavonoids
10. Green tea polyphenols
Polyphenols protects the skin against free radicals via UV damage. In a study 41 women were given 300 mg green tea extract twice daily for two years. These women experienced fewer wrinkles and telangiectasias and overall less UV damage compared with other control groups. 
Cocoa supplements/Cocoa drinks contaning high dose of flavonols (329mg in the study) increased microcirculation, skin thickness, skin density, and skin hydration, along with causing significant decrease in skin roughness and scaling. 
Soy isoflavones are also known to provide significant improvements in fine wrinkles and skin elasticity.
12. Grape seed extract and resveratrol
Reduces erythema and increases skin hydration.
Pycnogenol is a patented extract of maritime pine bark (Pinus pinaster). It has procyanidins and flavonoids. Most anti-aging products contains pycnogenol. It reduces free radicals, improves skin hydration and skin elasticity. 
Zinc is an important co-factor for many enzymes in the body. Some of the best known enzymes are important for skin healing. Its deficiency leads to poor wound healing.
Best food sources of zinc:
- Wholegrain cereals
Copper is an important co-factor for elastin, the support structure of skin.
Food that is rich in copper:
- Organ meats
- Sunflower seeds
- Dried apricots
Selenium is a component of antioxidant enzyme, glutathione peroxidase. This way selenium protects the skin from UV damage. 
Best food sources of selenium:
- Brazil nuts
- Yellowfin tuna
- Beef liver
Deficiency of These Nutrients Can Cause Skin Disorders
1. Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Deficiency of vitamin B2 causes cracks around mouth, medically termed as angular cheilitis. It is a common condition seen in many children.
2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy.
3. Niacin and Vitamin A
Deficiency of niacin and vitamin A causes dry skin and in rare cases dermatitis.
One More Important Thing!
Higher intakes of fats, carbohydrates (diets with high amounts of refined sugars) and thiamine increases chance of wrinkled skin appearance and skin atrophy.
- Draelos ZD, editor. Cosmetic Dermatology: Products and Procedures. Oxford: John Wiley and Sons; 2010. pp. 126–127.
- Best food sources of the essential nutrients.
- Placzek M, Gaube S, Kerkmann U, et al. (2005) Ultraviolet B-induced DNA damage in human epidermis is modified by the antioxidants ascorbic acid and D-alpha-tocopherol. J Invest Dermatol 124, 304–307.
- Tebbe B. (2001) Relevance of oral supplementation with antioxidants for prevention and treatment of skin disorders. Skin Pharmacol Appl Skin Physiol 14, 296–302.
- Stahl W, Heinrich U, Wiseman S, et al. (2001) Dietary tomato paste protects against ultraviolet light-induced erythema in humans. J Nutr 131, 1449–51.
- Roberts RL, Green J, Lewis B. (2009) Lutein and zeaxanthin in eye and skin health. Clin Dermatol 27, 195–201.
- Yamashita E. (2002) Cosmetic benefit of dietary supplements containing astaxanthin and tocotrienol on human skin. Food Style 21 216, 112–17.
- Ashida Y, Kuwazuru S, Nakashima M, et al. (2004) Effect of coenzyme Q10 as a supplement on wrinkle reduction. Food Style 21 8, 1–4.
- Janjua R, Munoz C, Gorell E, et al. (2009) A two-year, double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial of oral green tea polyphenols on the long-term clinical and histologic appearance of photoaging skin. Dermatol Surg 35, 1057–65.
- Neukam K, Stahl W, Tronnier H, et al. (2007) Consumption of f lavanol-rich cocoa acutely increases microcirculation in human skin. Eur J Nutr 46, 53–6.
- Marini A, Grether-Beck S, Jaenicke T, et al. (2012) Pycnogenol(R) effects on skin elasticity and hydration coincide with increased gene expressions of collagen type I and hyaluronic acid synthase in women. Skin Pharmacol Physiol 25, 86–92.
- la Ruche G, Cesarini JP. (1991) Protective effect of oral selenium plus copper associated with vitamin complex on sunburn cell formation in human skin. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed 8, 232–35.
- Cosgrove MC, Franco OH, Granger SP, et al. (2007) Dietary nutrient intakes and skin-aging appearance among middle-aged American women. Am J Clin Nutr 86, 1225–31.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Sherry Haynes