Eat Your Way to Better Skin

 The other day, while opening my mail, I was AB-solutely thrilled to rip open a package and see a brand new book, called Feed Your FaceDr Jessica Wu, a Los Angeles dermatologist and the author of Feed Your Face, sent it to me and I knew from the second I started reading I wanted to share her story and knowledge with you.   This week, we've touched on prepping for summer with my fav, fav, fav carefree chicken salad to get you bikini ready and a DIY foot scrub so your toes are ready for sandals. Now we're moving into makings sure your skin is smooth and blemish free, thanks to Jessica's advice! She's changing the way people think about skincare, asking you to really invest in the types of food you eat in order to see results on your face. Everything I believe and share with you! I asked her to answer a few of my pressing questions about what to eat, what to steer clear of, and the secret to young looking skin. 

How did you initially realize how important diet was for beautiful skin? There’s quite a bit of research showing the link between eating certain foods and skin health.  Sadly, most dermatologists don’t learn any of this in their medical training—I certainly didn’t! I discovered it by treating my patients and by reading the original scientific studies. My patients are the reason I wrote Feed Your Face. Since opening my dermatology office 15 years ago, I would ask my patients about their skin care habits; many of them told me that certain foods made their complexion better or worse.  So I kept track of which foods helped or hurt different skin conditions, and I identified some definite patterns.  Despite what I had been taught at Harvard Medical School, I found a definite link between diet and skin.  It’s more than just “eat your veggies” or “don’t eat junk food.” There is specific research linking certain foods with skin conditions like acne, rosacea, rashes, wrinkles, and even skin cancer. However, no one had put this information together in a realistic, easy-to-understand way.  I wrote Feed Your Face to make it easy to choose the right foods for your skin, whether you’re a gourmet cook or whether you prefer to eat at restaurants. (You can even eat pizza and chocolate.)

What are the top five foods everyone needs to eat for better skin and why?

  • Tomatoes – for sun damage. For my LA patients and others who live in a sunny climate, try to eat cooked tomatoes every day.  Tomatoes contain a high concentration of an antioxidant called lycopene, which has been shown to fight sun burn and sun damage.  Lycopene is most easily absorbed when tomatoes have been cooked or processed into paste, juice, soup, and sauce, so try to incorporate cooked or sundried tomatoes into your diet.  And since lycopene is a fat soluble nutrient, mixing cooked tomatoes with a natural fat, like olive oil, helps your body absorb it even more.  You can even get your dose of lycopene in the form of pizza and Bloody Marys.
  • Green tea for dark patches and uneven pigmentation.  One major cause of dark pigmentation is UV rays from the sun.  So if you spend time outdoors, I suggest switching from coffee to green tea.  Green tea has been shown to protect skin against sunburn and sun damage—which we know will lead to blotchy pigmentation.  Both drinking green tea and applying it directly to your skin can protect your skin from sun damage.  In fact, one study showed that applying green tea directly to the skin 30 minutes before UV exposure reduced sunburn and DNA damage caused by UVB rays.  If you get sunburned this summer, apply cold green tea compresses to the burned skin.
  • Green and yellow vegetables to fight wrinkles and crows feet.  One study showed that those who eat more green and yellow vegetables (like spinach, green peppers, kale, yellow peppers and yellow squash) have fewer wrinkles, especially around their eyes.  This is likely due to the higher concentration of antioxidants in these vegetables.  Antioxidants keep your skin looking young by protecting collagen from damaging UV rays and pollution. Eat plenty of green and yellow veggies if you eat red meat, since saturated fat can cause inflammation and weaken your skin’s collagen.
  • Green beans for healthy hair and nails.Green beans are high in silicon, a naturally occurring element that’s found in the earth.  (Important distinction:  I’m talking about silicon, not silicone that’s found in some breast implants!) Those who take silicon supplements have stronger bones as well as stronger hair and nails.  Choose organic green beans, which retain more silicon from the soil.
  • Fish for acne and rashes.  Omega-3 fatty acids (especially a type called DHA or docosahexaenoic acid), commonly found in fish, are a natural anti-inflammatory, so I recommend eating more fish for my patients who have acne breakouts. Omega-3s may also help decrease oil production and clogged pores.  Cold water fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.  If you’re not a fish-eater, try a fish oil or algae oil supplement (but check with your doctor first).

What's your go-to meal for beautiful skin? Fish tacos and guacamole is my favorite warm-weather meal. Both fish and guacamole contain omega-3s, which fight inflammation and have been shown to improve skin conditions like acne, dry skin, and eczema rashes. Have a tall glass of iced green tea on the side, and finish with fresh strawberries and a square of dark chocolate for dessert.

How do you avoid wrinkles? Avoid sugar like the plague!! Sugar is public enemy #1 of healthy, youthful skin.  But not just candy and cookies.  Beware of hidden sugar in many packaged foods including crackers, chips, cereal, salad dressings, and sauces (even ketchup!).  Also, watch the sugar content in juices and sweetened drinks, which can be high in sugar. When you eat sugar it gets broken down into glucose. The glucose reacts with your skin proteins, triggering enzymes that destroy healthy collagen and elastic tissue. Eating a high sugar diet speeds up this process. The end result: your skin gets weaker and less supple, and more easily wrinkled. To keep your skin strong and firm, be sure to eat plenty of protein.  This is because collagen, which gives the skin its structure and firmness, is made of protein.  So is elastic tissue, which helps your skin bounce back when you frown and squint.  If you don’t eat enough protein, skin gets thinner and wrinkles more easily, just like a piece of linen wrinkles more easily than a thick piece of velvet.  Be sure to eat a high protein diet (chicken, fish, lean meats, or soy at each meal) to keep your skin strong and flexible.

How long does it for healthy eating to show on your face? Some skin conditions, like acne, rosacea, and rashes, respond quickly to dietary changes. Many of my patients see improvement within a few weeks. (You can see the before and after photos in Feed Your Face!). Sun damage and wrinkles may take several months to see the results. Of course, it’s also important to continue using the right skin care products, including sunscreen.

What are some positive side effects of certain foods that would surprise us? Eat yogurt to control dandruff. This is because dandruff is often caused by an overgrowth of yeast. Probiotics, found in yogurt, have been shown to improve flaking and itching associated with dandruff. Choose Greek yogurt, which is higher in protein for strong hair. Eat kiwi to soften fine lines and wrinkles. Many people take Vitamin C tablets or drink orange juice when they want to boost their immune system and avoid catching a cold, but Vitamin C is also essential for making collagen.  Kiwi contains more vitamin C than oranges, plus it’s much lower in sugar, which is better for your skin. I also recommend using a Vitamin C Serum (like my new Dr Jessica Wu Skincare Vivid Intense 15% Vitamin C Serum, $24.99 at Costco.com).

Actress, model, active humanitarian, & Mom! Author of 'Everyday Chic'.