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What foods create clear skin?

Having clear, glowing skin is a goal for many people. While factors like genetics, hormones, and lifestyle play a role in skin health, diet is one area that can have a major influence. Many studies have found links between certain foods and clearer skin. Eating a diet rich in skin-supporting nutrients can help reduce acne, inflammation, and other problems that lead to dull or problematic skin.

What causes acne and skin problems?

Acne forms when pores become clogged with excess oil and dead skin cells. This creates a breeding ground for bacteria, leading to inflammation and breakouts. Hormones, genetics, and stress also contribute by increasing oil production and inflammation. Other common skin issues like eczema, rosacea, and dullness can be caused by irritation, sun damage, dehydration, or nutrient deficiencies.

While you can’t change your genetics or completely eliminate stress, your diet can make a difference. Certain foods provide nutrients that support your skin’s natural processes, while others may contribute to clogged pores and inflammation. Focusing on a nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory diet can be one of the most effective natural ways to improve skin health.

How do foods affect your skin?

The nutrients found in whole foods have a variety of protective mechanisms for your skin:

  • Antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E counteract skin damage caused by free radicals from sun exposure and pollution.
  • Essential fatty acids like omega-3s strengthen the skin barrier to lock in moisture and protect against irritants.
  • Vitamins and minerals provide the raw materials for your skin to function and heal itself.
  • Plant compounds fight inflammation and bacteria within pores to prevent breakouts.
  • Adequate protein intake supports skin cell regeneration and wound healing.
  • Probiotics and fiber improve gut health and reduce inflammation that manifests on the skin.

Meanwhile, ingredients like sugars, refined grains, and unhealthy fats can spike blood sugar levels, promote inflammation, and weaken the skin over time. Paying attention to how foods impact your skin from the inside out is key for a clear complexion.

The 15 best foods for clear skin

Focusing on the following nutritious foods will provide skin-enhancing benefits:

1. Fatty fish

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring are fantastic for skin health thanks to their abundant omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s strengthen the skin barrier, increase hydration, calm inflammation, and may even reduce acne. Aim to eat fatty fish 2-3 times per week.

2. Avocados

Avocados are packed with healthy fats, vitamin E, and potassium which moisturize, protect, and boost skin cell regeneration. The compound glutathione in avocados also has antioxidant properties to combat skin damage. Enjoy avocado on toast, in salads, or as guacamole.

3. Walnuts

Walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, vitamin E, and protein for glowing skin. Zinc is especially important for wound healing and fighting acne, while vitamin E and protein help strengthen the skin barrier. Add walnuts to oatmeal, salads, or yogurt for extra nutrients.

4. Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of skin-enhancing vitamin E, zinc, protein, and selenium. Vitamin E acts as a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant within the skin. Enjoy sunflower seeds as a snack, in trail mix, or added to salads or oatmeal.

5. Sweet potatoes

Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes provide a hefty dose of beta-carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A. Vitamin A promotes faster cell turnover for a “glowing” effect and may also reduce oil production. Eat baked sweet potatoes as a side dish or base for tacos.

6. Red or yellow bell peppers

Like sweet potatoes, red and yellow bell peppers are an exceptional source of beta-carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A. Vitamin C in bell peppers also promotes collagen production and protects against UV damage for smoother, springier skin.

7. Broccoli

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli contain sulforaphane, a sulfur compound with potent anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits. Broccoli is also rich in vitamins A, C, and E for antioxidant protection. Enjoy it roasted, steamed, or in stir-fries.

8. Tomatoes

Tomatoes contain all-star nutrients for skin including vitamin C, vitamin A, and lycopene. Studies show lycopene can protect the skin against sun damage and aging due to its antioxidant properties. Add tomatoes to salads, salsa, soups, sauces, and more.

9. Soy

Edamame, tofu, tempeh, and miso are soy-based foods that offer isoflavones to combat wrinkles and improve skin elasticity. The genistein in soy also inhibits UV damage and skin cell degradation. Try roasted edamame or tofu stir-fries.

10. Dark chocolate

The cocoa in dark chocolate provides potent antioxidants called flavanols that protect the skin against sun damage. However, balance is key since chocolate can cause breakouts if over-consumed. Stick to a square or two of chocolate with at least 70% cocoa.

11. Green tea

The polyphenols in green tea are incredibly protective compounds for the skin. Studies show green tea polyphenols reduce inflammation, fight acne bacteria, and may help prevent skin cancer when consumed orally or applied topically. Sip on green tea throughout the day.

12. Fatty fish

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring are fantastic for skin health thanks to their abundant omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s strengthen the skin barrier, increase hydration, calm inflammation, and may even reduce acne. Aim to eat fatty fish 2-3 times per week.

13. Turmeric

The active compound curcumin in turmeric has been studied extensively for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. Research finds that turmeric can improve skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, skin aging, and more when taken orally or used topically.

14. Bone broth

Bone broth made by simmering bones and connective tissue is gelatin-rich to “seal” the skin’s barrier and retain moisture. It also provides collagen, amino acids, and minerals that your skin needs to stay firm and hydrated. Drink a cup of bone broth daily or use it in soups and stews.

15. Water

Staying hydrated keeps your skin cells plump and prevents dryness or flakiness. Drink plenty of water daily and eat hydrating foods like cucumbers, watermelon, celery, and berries which have high water content.

Foods to avoid for clear skin

Just as important as loading up on skin-healthy foods is limiting dietary irritants that can promote acne and inflammation:

  • Added sugars: Excess sugar spikes blood glucose and insulin levels, which can amplify acne and inflammation.
  • Refined carbs: Avoid refined grains like white bread and white pasta, which have a similar effect as sugar on blood glucose levels.
  • High glycemic index foods: Stick to low glycemic foods like whole fruits instead of fruit juices to stabilize blood sugar.
  • Trans fats: Eliminate sources of trans fats like fried foods, margarine, and processed baked goods that promote systemic inflammation.
  • Dairy: Some research links dairy, especially low fat dairy, to increased acne risk.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol causes inflammation and dehydration, leading to dull, dry looking skin over time.

Sample meal plan for clear skin

Here is an example of what a skin-friendly day of meals could look like:

Meal Foods
Breakfast Oatmeal made with almond milk, topped with walnuts, sunflower seeds, and berries
Lunch Spinach salad with avocado, salmon, and balsamic vinaigrette
Snack Bell pepper sticks with hummus
Dinner Black bean burrito bowl with brown rice, salsa, spinach, and guacamole
Dessert Dark chocolate square

Focus on getting a variety of vitamin C foods, omega-3s, antioxidants, plant compounds, and probiotics into your routine for overall skin health.

The bottom line

Diet and nutrition have a profound effect on your skin’s health and appearance. The best approach is to load up on fresh whole foods like fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, lean proteins, and anti-inflammatory spices.

Key nutrients to focus on include antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E, omega-3 fatty acids, anti-inflammatory plant compounds, and probiotics. Limit added sugars, refined carbs, unhealthy fats, and other inflammatory foods.

While genetics and lifestyle also play a role, nourishing your body with a spectrum of skin-supporting nutrients can reveal your most clear, glowing complexion yet.