“There’s a growing body of research showing that diet really does affect your complexion,” says Jessica Wu, MD, a dermatologist in Los Angeles and author of Feed Your Face. “What you eat can affect your hormone balance, cause acne, and create or lessen inflammation, which is associated with skin aging.”
When researchers in a 2012 study in PLOS ONE analyzed the diets of 1264 women, they found that a higher consumption of olive oil (more than 8.4 grams or 2 teaspoons a day) was associated with 31% fewer signs of aging compared to people who ate less than 3.8 grams (about 1 teaspoon). Olive oil beat out the other oils tested, including sunflower and peanut. Why? About 75% of the fat in olive oil is monounsaturated fatty acids, which may play a role in the youth boost. The antioxidant polyphenols in olive oil could also quench damaging free radicals. Olive oil deserves the first call in the list of food is good for your skin.
Curling up to a cup of green tea does a lot more than relax you. Green tea is filled with inflammation-fighting antioxidants, Dr. Perricone says. What’s more, research from Case Western Reserve University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham shows that drinking green tea may reduce your risk of skin cancer. And when you add a generous squeeze of citrus juice, the tea’s antioxidants get a boost of staying power, so they remain in and benefit the body longer, rather than being digested quickly and having much of the goodness go down the drain, according to Purdue University researchers.
A whole grain oatmeal is a better pick for breakfast over a bagel and jelly. That’s because the latter offers a double whammy for skin: refined, sugary carbs that prompt your body to make insulin and increase the production of hormones known as androgens. “Elevated androgens cause sebaceous glands in the skin to secrete more oil that gets trapped inside pores, causing pimples,” says Drayer. Instead of brown sugar, add natural sweetness to your oatmeal with chopped fruit.
Pumpkin’s orange hue is from carotenoids, wrinkle-fighting plant pigments that help neutralize free radicals in the skin, keeping them from damaging the cells that fast-forward aging. “Pumpkin is filled with vitamins C, E, and A, as well as powerful enzymes that help to cleanse the skin,” explains dermatologist Kenneth Beer, author of Palm Beach Perfect Skin. Plus, pumpkin has hydrating properties, Ionescu adds. Although the seeds make a great fiber-filled snack, you get the skin-saving antioxidants from the pulp.
One serving (3.5 ounces) of these little swimmers contains 1.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, making it one of the best sources of the fat. Fatty fish is particularly rich in the type of omega-3 called DHA, an anti-inflammatory. “Inflammation is now known as the root cause of acne,” says Dr. Wu. Packing your diet with these omega-3s (also found in salmon) can help keep your skin clear.
It’s one of the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients that absorb and neutralize the free radicals created by UV light—including the wavelengths that actually get through sunscreen and reach your skin, according to research in Clinics in Dermatology. Plus, just one cup gives you 134% and 133% of your daily value for skin-firming vitamin C and A, respectively.