How Diet Impacts Skin Health

April 9, 2020

woman eating a healthy diet for skin health

At U.S. Dermatology Partners, we know that many of our patients are struggling during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Chronic stress and limited access to nutrient-rich foods have caused many people to consume a less nutritious diet. Dr. Alexandra Theriault of the U.S. Dermatology Partners affiliate office, Apex Dermatology Group, in Denver and Littleton, Colorado, is very familiar with the health effects of poor nutrition, stating, “Changes in diet and daily routines can wreak havoc on our skin at the best of times. The science linking what you eat to how your skin looks and feels is a bit dubious, but any dermatologist will tell you that part of managing chronic skin conditions is managing diet. Everyone’s body processes nutrients differently, so helping people understand how what they eat or drink impacts their skin and overall health is an important part of what we do as dermatologists.” Keep reading to hear more from Dr. Theriault about how your diet could be impacting your skin health.

Is My Diet Leading to Breakouts?

The old saying, “You are what you eat,” may not be literally true, but the nutrients our body needs to create healthy cells, repair damaged tissues, and generally keep our bodies looking and feeling great are all derived from your diet. In this way, healthy skin is closely connected to healthy eating. However, Dr. Theriault warns patients to remember that everyone has different experiences with skin condition flareups, breakouts, and food allergies.

According to Dr. Theriault, “You’ve likely seen information on the web about how various foods can lead to breakouts, flareups of chronic skin conditions, and other adverse effects on your skin’s health. In some cases, this information may be true, but even people with the same chronic skin condition may not experience the same response to eating a specific food. In most cases, these responses vary dramatically from person to person. Your dermatologist can help you better understand the real, scientific basis for how nutrition impacts your skin health, but it’s always important to remember that eating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet is always your best option.”

Choosing Healthy Foods for All Skin Types

Taking a trip to the local grocery store or farmer’s market is not as easy as it once was with current shelter-in-place and social distancing orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, but many people are relying on high calorie, low nutrition comfort foods during this stressful time. While it’s okay to eat less nutritious foods as a treat, only eating these types of food is damaging to your whole-body health, and in turn, this will negatively impact your skin health. While everyone has different diet and nutrition needs that should be discussed with your primary care physician and/or a dietician, some basic healthy eating recommendations that can benefit anyone include the following:

  • Shop the perimeter – Around the outside perimeter of the grocery store, you’ll find fresh, nutritious fruits, vegetables, plant-based proteins, and seafood. The majority of your foods should come from these parts of the store.
  • Consume less nutritious foods in moderation – Sugary and processed foods from the interior aisles of your local grocery store should always be consumed in moderation as part of a well-balanced diet.
  • Eat clean – Healthy fruits and vegetables need to be thoroughly washed before eaten at all times, but this is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Carefully wash all fruits and vegetables with soap and water. Even oranges, bananas, and other fruits that will be peeled before eaten should be washed before you peel them. If you want to increase sanitation of produce, you can buy a fruit and vegetable sanitizer spray or mix your own using a combination of one part vinegar to four parts water with a splash of lemon juice. Spray your fruits and vegetables with this mixture, allow it to sit for a few minutes, and then rinse your produce as usual.
  • Avoid triggers – Even if there’s no scientific explanation for it, trust your skin. If you notice yourself having more breakouts or flareups after eating certain foods, like peanut butter, avoid it.

Chronic Skin Conditions with Food-Related Flareups

When working with a dermatologist to manage common skin conditions, Dr. Theriault says, “We almost always recommend keeping a journal to track potential triggers, including foods and drinks, as part of a maintenance plan for chronic skin conditions.” While everyone has different triggers, some foods that are often related to chronic skin conditions include:

  • Atopic Dermatitis (eczema) – citrus fruits, dairy, eggs, soy, tomatoes, nuts, beans, canned meats, chocolate, peas, shellfish, gluten, and soybeans
  • Psoriasis – red meat and dairy, gluten, processed or canned foods, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and alcohol
  • Rosacea – tomatoes, hot peppers, onions, eggplant, alcohol, hot drinks, citrus fruits, sugars and starches, beef, shellfish
  • Acne – dairy and high glycemic, processed foods

How Your Skin Health Indicates Overall Health Concerns

When people think about their skin showing signs of internal health concerns or adverse effects from their diet, they usually think of allergies. An allergic reaction to certain foods will often lead to rashes, hives, redness, swelling, and other negative effects that show up on the skin. However, allergic reactions are not the only time diet and whole-body health concerns are visible on the skin. In addition to allergies, your skin can also show signs of other whole-body health concerns like chronic illness, cancer, and diabetes. Some common ways your skin tells dermatologists what’s going on throughout your body include:

  • Rashes – Infections, diabetes, cancer, and hepatitis C have all been linked to skin rashes.
  • Skin discoloration – Skin that suddenly appears bronzed or tanned, may be a warning sign of diabetes and poor iron metabolism. Yellowing skin indicates liver dysfunction, and hormonal diseases like Addison’s disease can cause darkening of the skin.
  • Skin growths – Numerous acute-onset skin tags on the neck and armpits and yellowish growths on the eyelids may be signs of high triglyceride levels which is an effect of uncontrolled diabetes.
  • Skin texture changes – If skin suddenly feels dry or itchy it may be indicating a hormonal problem like hypothyroidism. Thickening skin on the knees has been linked to high blood pressure and kidney problems.

How to Prevent Adverse Skin Responses Related to Your Diet

In addition to learning and avoiding your dietary triggers, you should make sure to eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet. Skin cells and the process of cellular turnover are reliant upon vitamins and nutrients from foods, so eating a healthy variety of vegetables, fruits, and low-fat high protein meals can help keep your skin and whole body healthier. If you experience a severe flareup or breakout related to a chronic skin condition, we encourage you to consider scheduling a teledermatology appointment. These visits give us the ability to see the area of concern, make recommendations for skin care and treatments, and help you start feeling better without needing to leave home.

When it’s Time to Visit the Dermatologist

If your skin is adversely impacting your overall health, causing discomfort, or you just can’t seem to get flareups and breakouts under control, a dermatologist can help. If you live in the Denver or Littleton areas, Dr. Theriault would be happy to help with a telehealth visit to discuss your skin health at this tough time. U.S. Dermatology Partners are also here for you in a range of other locations. To get in touch with an office near you to schedule an online teledermatology visit, simply complete our virtual appointment request, and one of our dermatology offices will be in touch soon.

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