Can Diet Have an Impact on Skin?

January 5, 2024
| Created by Hannah Langley, MS, RDN, CD

Has your experience with acne, eczema, or psoriasis left you itchy, uncomfortable, and unhappy? Skin is our body’s largest organ, and its appearance can have a profound impact on our confidence and mental health. This article will examine the current research linking diet to skin health, particularly for eczema, psoriasis and acne. We’ll discuss dietary patterns that affect skin health, as well as individual ingredients that can have positive or negative impacts. 

Let’s start by setting realistic expectations – there’s no silver bullet for skin health. Adding one beneficial food, one supplement, or cutting down on one ingredient isn’t likely to make a drastic difference in your skin. Skin health is like a web of different components and truly noticeable changes may occur from tackling multiple points within that web. For practical and easy ways you can apply current research to potentially find relief, we’ll break things down into what nutrients and food to include more or less of.  

Include More

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Goal: minimize inflammation and maintain healthy cell membranes 

Underlying inflammation can contribute to skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and acne. The omega-3 fatty acids ALA, EPA, and DHA are essential in our diet and aid skin health in a few ways, including attenuating inflammation and maintaining healthy cell membranes that affect skin appearance. Foods rich in omega-3’s include seafood, plant oils, nuts, and seeds, particularly chia and flax seeds. Increasing food sources of omega-3’s should be a first line approach, though fish and algae oil supplements are readily available as a secondary measure. The optimal dose of omega-3 fatty acids is not known, but a recent review observed significant outcomes between 1200-1800 mg of EPA and DHA daily.  

Probiotic and Prebiotic Foods

Goal: promote and feed gut bacteria for a healthy microbiome 

Our gut microbiome, the healthy bacteria found in our gastrointestinal tract, plays a role in digestion, inflammation, immune function, metabolism, and acts as a major hub for nutrient absorption. As such, maintaining a healthy gut microbiome appears to have a large impact on skin health, particularly eczema and psoriasis; research is continuing to examine the connection between the immune system’s role in these skin conditions.  Foods that have been fermented, like yogurt, kefir, pickled vegetables, tempeh, kimchi, and sauerkraut, are probiotic, meaning they contain living bacteria that add to the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Prebiotic foods contain soluble fiber which feeds gut bacteria, aiding in a healthy microbiome. Soluble fiber is found in many plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grain, beans, and lentils. Making both pro and prebiotic foods a part of your daily nutrition habits is optimal for skin and overall health.  

Balanced Meals and Snacks

Goal: Maintain optimal blood sugar balance 

Some research links a high glycemic index diet, or consistent intake of foods that can cause a high spike in blood sugar, to acne and psoriasis/eczema flare ups. High glycemic diets may contribute to inflammation, but the exact connection between this diet and skin condition flare ups is unknown. Opting for foods that have a low glycemic index more frequently than those that have a high glycemic index may be beneficial; pairing carbohydrate foods with sources of protein, fat, and fiber is optimal for blood sugar balance no matter what your health goal is. Keep in mind that low glycemic index does not necessarily mean low carb, so be sure to eat enough complex carbohydrates to fuel your body and physical activity! 

Diverse food choices

Goal: Fuel for strong metabolic health 

Have you ever heard the recommendation to ‘eat the rainbow’ when it comes to fresh produce? Plant foods contain differing vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, which are beneficial compounds that give plant foods their color, taste, and smell. Many phytochemicals act as antioxidants, which help our body fight against the detrimental effects of free radicals from inflammation, air pollution, cigarette smoke, and as a natural byproduct of metabolism. Eating many different types of produce, grains, healthy fats, and protein helps ensure we’re meeting our unique nutritional needs! 

Eat Less

Excess Added and Refined Sugar

Goal: Minimize inflammation and fuel for strong metabolic health 

Chronic and excessive consumption of added sugar can contribute to inflammation and may not be optimal for blood sugar balance. Aim to make the foundation of your diet whole foods and opt for unsweetened or lightly sweetened versions of processed foods that make up the remainder of your diet.

Saturated Fat

Goal: Minimize inflammation and immune response 

Excessive saturated fat may promote inflammation, some types more than others. Palmitic acid is a particular type of saturated fat to limit consumption of, as research suggests our immune system has the potential to erroneously recognize it as a pathogen. Palmitic acid is in most plant and animal fat sources to some degree, but the highest concentration is found in palm oil, which may be found in many processed foods. This does not make palmitic acid inherently harmful to our health, but for skin health, we may want to be mindful of how much and often we consume foods with added palm oil.  

If you have questions about healthy eating habits, particular ingredients, or are looking for additional guidance on making lasting nutrition changes, your Harmons dietitians are here to help! Contact us at dietitian@harmonsgrocery.com