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Is Your Diet Aging Your Face?

Try these three foods to help your skin stay in top condition.

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Ana Curbelo
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I know, I know. I shouldn’t have. My inner voice kept telling me I was just wasting money on marketing hype and pretty packaging. Though a dear friend swore that the expensive little jar of lilac-colored night cream she had been using for a month had smoothed her skin and reduced the lines around her eyes.

A couple of clicks on Apple Pay and the tiny jar was winging its way to me, just like all the other little jars and bottles in my bathroom that I had bought and that somehow didn’t erase the result of getting older and all those years I didn’t use enough sunscreen during my long time in Texas.

I guess I can take solace in that I’m not alone. Americans spent $14.2 billion in 2020 on antiaging lotions and creams, particularly those that promised to smooth wrinkles or fade dark spots, according to the latest industry figures.

But is the secret to beautiful skin really in one of those fancy products that we slather onto our face? Or, as more dermatologists are saying, could changing what we eat have a bigger effect on how our skin looks?

Not only are more patients asking their dermatologists for dietary advice these days, but a growing number of studies suggest that making changes in what we eat may improve our skin as we age. When I complained to my own dermatologist last year about continued flare-ups of redness and pimples, she didn’t hand me a new prescription or a product sample. Instead, she told me to eat more salmon and snack on more nuts—foods rich in powerful anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids that studies have found may help with a range of uncomfortable skin conditions, including acne, rosacea and eczema. 

What we eat may show up on our face in other ways, including more wrinkles and sagging as we get older, research suggests. A study of about 2,700 older adults (average age 67), published in 2018 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, found that women with the healthiest diet—lots of fruits and vegetables and low amounts of meat—had less wrinkling than those who ate more meat, fats and carbs.

If you ask stunning 73-year-old model and CoverGirl spokeswoman Maye Musk, who has two master’s degrees in dietic and nutritional science, about her beautiful skin, she’s adamant that it’s due to a healthy, mostly plant-based diet and staying out of the sun.

The mother of three—including Tesla CEO Elon—and grandmother of 11 says she avoids fad diets, juice cleanses, supplements and, especially, sweets, her greatest temptation. “I always follow science. I’m vegetarian at home and then when I go out, I will have meat, fish or chicken and take a third of it home,” she told writer Nicole Pajer for a February 2020 article featured in Parade magazine.

New York dermatologist Whitney Bowe, an assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, says a growing number of studies also indicate a powerful connection between our gastrointestinal health and our skin. What we eat affects our gut bacteria, which in turn play a role in various skin diseases as well as influence the effects of aging. The gut effects of the low-fiber Western diet, in particular, have been linked to greater skin aging and what some scientists call sugar sag.

Bowe explains that a high level of sugar in the bloodstream results in glycation, a process in which sugar molecules bond with other types of molecules, interfering with their function. The damaging effects of glycation are often seen in long-term diabetes, but studies suggest it also may affect normal aging, undermining the firmness and elasticity of our skin—in other words, more sagging.

Sugar is also a concern for Georgia dermatologist Lauren Ploch, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology. She tells older patients who are worried about their aging skin to avoid sugary drinks (soda, blended coffee drinks, processed fruit juice) and instead “Drink lots of water!”

As for that little jar of expensive night cream I ordered, it may not have made a big difference in my skin, but my dermatologist’s dietary advice did. After nearly a year of eating more fish and nuts, I haven’t had a major skin flare-up in six months. Diet may be only one part of the puzzle—and certainly a good moisturizer has its place—but eating healthfully may do more to help your skin stay in top condition and look better in the long run.

To that end, try to include these three foods as part of a healthy diet.

Fatty fish

Choices such as salmon, mackerel, trout and canned tuna are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, which research indicates can help with skin dryness and irritation, help protect against the sun’s UV light and promote skin healing. Aim for two servings of fish a week.


Nuts, in general, are nutritious and full of antioxidants, but a 2021 study of healthy postmenopausal women who ate 2 ounces of almonds daily for six months, published in the journal Nutrients, found that they had 20 percent fewer dark spots and an improvement in the appearance of their wrinkles, compared with a control group who didn’t eat almonds.

Brightly colored produce

Deeply colored fruits and vegetables—like blueberries, red bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes—have high levels of vitamins and antioxidants important for skin health, including flavonoids, which research shows may reduce the risk of acne and seborrheic dermatitis and protect against sun damage and glycation.

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