Summer is in full swing and all that dry heat and Utah sun can do a number on hair, skin, and nails. These body tissues are designed to protect us, and there are three steps we can take to support them:
- Use sunscreen daily to protect the skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays. Reapply often when in water or sweating.
- Cleansing and moisturizing products will keep hair and nails in good shape. Choose gentle cleansers to avoid stripping skin of moisture, and moisturize skin and nails regularly.
- Enjoy a nutritious diet to support structural integrity and proper functioning.
As a registered dietitian I’m particularly passionate about number three. While there is no one food that’s particularly important, there are several nutrients that play a role in maintaining our hair, skin, and nails. Let’s review some big ones.
Proteins are the building blocks for our hair, skin, and nails. Keratin and collagen are two important proteins that you have likely heard of before. While collagen supplements are a hot trend these days, they are quite expensive and the science is not particularly strong that they actually reduce wrinkles. Instead, eat a variety of protein sources in order to get a good mix of amino acids. By choosing whole proteins (instead of supplement powders) you will also get other nutrients that are important for good health.
Take Action: Nuts, beans, soy, eggs, Greek yogurt, tuna, and turkey are excellent (and tasty!) protein choices. Be sure to include a protein-rich food at every meal and snack.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
A deficiency of omega-3s can cause rough, scaly skin. This indicates these essential fats play a key role in maintaining our skin barrier. Importantly, omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory and many skin issues including psoriasis, acne, and wounds are characterized by inflammation. Last but not least, there is some evidence to support omega-3s may protect us from sun damage.
Take Action: Eat seafood twice per week and add walnuts, chia, or hemp seeds to meals and snacks to increase your omega-3 intake.
Vitamin A helps protect the skin from UV damage and supports wound healing. The active ingredients in the acne medication Accutane and Retin-A skin creams are a form of vitamin A. These products help reduce acne and signs of aging when used topically. In the body, vitamin A plays a role in cell turnover and nail health.
Take Action: Carrots, sweet potatoes, cottage cheese, and milk are good sources of vitamin A.
Do you remember learning about scurvy and limeys? Scurvy, caused by a deficiency in vitamin C literally leads to your skin falling apart. That’s because vitamin C is crucial for the formation of collagen, a key structural component of skin. When British sailors were at sea for long periods of time, they would develop scurvy due to their limited diet. Dr. James Lind discovered that eating limes and drinking lemon juice would cure the sickness, and thus the slang term for the sailors, “limeys,” was born.
Take Action: All citrus fruits are a great source but so are peppers, kiwis, broccoli, and strawberries.
Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that prevents damage from free radicals caused by UV exposure. It does not appear that supplementation is helpful and in fact, too much vitamin E from supplements may actually cause harm.
Take Action: Add wheat germ, sunflower seeds, almonds, and peanut butter to safely and deliciously boost vitamin E intake.
Pale skin and brittle nails are both signs of iron deficiency. Maintaining adequate iron levels will restore skin and nail health, but similar to vitamin E, too much iron from supplements is bad for health. Your doctor will check iron status during routine visits so always check with her if you think you may be deficient.
Take Action: Regularly include iron-rich foods into meals and snacks such as dark meat poultry, lean beef, seafood, spinach, white beans, lentils, and fortified breakfast cereal.
These are molecules found in plants that are strong antioxidants. Like vitamin E, this means they protect against damage caused by free radicals.
Take Action: Plant proteins such as soy, black beans, nuts, and seeds are a great way to get polyphenols (a double benefit for skin—protein and polyphenols). Richly colored produce such as berries, cherries, grapes, and kale are also good sources.
Water makes up over half our body weight and is required for the health and functioning of every single cell. While drinking water alone is not enough to hydrate the skin, it certainly can’t hurt! With Utah’s particularly dry climate, it’s important to get hydration throughout the day.
Take Action: Of course, plain water is an excellent choice. Many foods such as fresh fruits, soups, broth, and smoothies are hydrating as well. My personal favorites are iced tea and sparkling water. Out stores just received new sparkling waters to try! Find them at your local Harmons or on eShop here and here.
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