The old phrase 'you are what you eat' is literally true. Every one of your cells is crafted from and maintained by a broad spectrum of nutrients - and skin, the body’s largest organ, is particularly vulnerable to the effects of what and how you eat. That’s why it’s not just what you put on your skin but what you put in your belly that counts. Here are five common skin conditions and the healthy foods that fight them:
Skin Condition: Wrinkles
Food RX: tomatoes cooked with olive oil
A recent study found that tomato paste and olive oil boosts pro-collagen, a molecule that gives the skin its structure and keeps it firm and youthful. Scientists think that lycopene, an antioxidant in tomatoes is the key. It’s at its highest when tomatoes have been cooked, and olive oil boosts its absorption from your digestive system into your bloodstream. A perfect way to take advantage of the combo is to stock up on sundried tomato pesto. You can toss it with fresh baby spinach leaves or steamed broccoli for an instant side dish, or serve it as a dip with crudites as a simple appetizer.
Skin Condition: Cellulite
Food RX: Fatty fish like wild salmon or sardines
Fish won't make cellulite disappear, but it may help a bit. Fatty fish provide good fats called omega-3s, which form cell membranes. The stronger the membranes, the better your cells can hold moisture, which means plumper cells to mask the bumpy appearance of cellulite. For dinner, add chopped sardines to a Mediterranean dish of whole wheat penne and veggies sautéed in garlic-infused extra-virgin olive oil, or for lunch top a garden salad with hot or chilled wild salmon.
Skin Condition: Ezcema
Food RX: yogurt and kefir
Both foods are rich in probiotics, the “friendly” bacteria linked to better digestion, stronger immunity and a reduction in skin sensitivity and inflammation, including ezcema. Both make a perfect protein-packed base for muselix or fruit smoothies. The same bacteria are used to make soy and coconut milk yogurt and kefir, so you can still reap the benefits, even if you have to avoid dairy.
Skin Condition: Sunburn
Food RX: Dark Chocolate
In a recent study researchers asked 24 women to drink a high-flavonoid cocoa drink or a placebo. The women who drank the placebo didn’t experience any additional protection from the sun, but those who sipped the higher-flavonoid drink suffered 15 to 20 percent less sunburn. Don’t ditch your sunscreen, but bolster its effects with a few daily squares of dark (70 percent or more) chocolate. It’s also been shown to reduce blood pressure, increase the “good” and lower the “bad” cholesterol and give you the same euphoric feeling as being in love (all reasons why I made a Daily Dark Chocolate Escape a mandatory part of the healthy weight loss plan in my newest book).
Skin Condition: Dandruff
Food RX: Green Tea (but not to drink)
Topically, green tea can help naturally exfoliate a dry flaky scalp without dehydrating the skin, and a recent study found that it also works to slow the overgrowth of cells that cause flakes and itching. Steep two bags of green tea in 1 cup of hot water for at least 20 minutes. Once it has cooled, massage it right into your scalp then rinse (note: if your hair is color treated talk to your stylist before giving this a try!).
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.