There is a saying that goes "great bodies are made in the kitchen not the gym". The understanding being that whilst you may spend hours on cardio or ab crunches you will only start to see real changes when you combine your exercise with the correct diet. The same is true for your complexion. You might be spending thousands on treatments and cosmetics, but without combining this with the right nutrition you may not be seeing that youthful complexion you are after.
Here at Thoclor Labs, we know that only 20% of the way you age is due to your genes and father time. The other 80% of the ageing on your skin and face is down to lifestyle factors like smoking and environmental damage (especially from the sun). This is further impacted by your diet, which can contribute to wrinkles and fine lines plus hyper-pigmentation and acne.
We have gone ahead and done some reading and research for you, and are happy to share today a few recommendations for nutrition, supplements and topical boosters. Not only will these changes leave you with a healthy, glowing skin but they will improve your overall health as well.
But first, a few things to avoid
- Sugar & high GI foods: Researchers have discovered a link between the amount of sugar circulating in a person’s bloodstream and how old they look. The reason for this is that excess sugar in the blood encourages a process called "glycation" which ages the skin.
Usually, when you eat food, the body breaks down carbohydrates into sugars like glucose and fructose. It then uses these sugars to fuel everything you do. Sometimes, however—particularly as we age, and when we consume too many sugary or high-glycemic foods—these sugars react with proteins and fats in an abnormal way, producing harmful molecules called “advanced glycation endproducts (conveniently acronymned: AGEs).” This process is called “glycation.”
Scientists have discovered the impact of sugar on ageing by studying diabetics. This group has the hardest time controlling their blood sugar and as a result, tend to age faster than those with normal blood sugar levels.
AGEs particularly affect things like collagen (which gives skin its firmness) and elastin (which helps skin bounce back after being stretched) leaving us with a range of complaints like age spots, fine lines, hardness of the skin, hyperpigmentation, dull skin, uneven skin tone, sagging, inflammation and even tumours.
And there is more bad news – if we introduce UV rays it accelerates glycation as the number of AGEs formed increases.
Some dermatologists now go so far as to recommend eating only foods that have a GI of 50 or below and avoiding all starch entirely. Rather aim for slow release carbs and pulses. So cut back on sugary foods, switch to low GI items in your diet and stay out of the sun at the hottest times of the day (we do need some sun for vitamin D production but timing is key). In this sugary category, we include sweet tropical fruits (which should be minimised) and recommend fresh fruit in moderation (except for berries as mentioned below).
- Braai-ed & barbequed food: Any food that is charred on the barbeque or grill has an increased number of AGEs. When you eat this food you add to those already in your body. As we saw above this leads to ageing in the skin. So forego that well-done blackened chop and opt for that slow-cooked lamb stew instead (I know…I also love those well-done chops).
- Dairy: Dairy may elevate hormone levels and contribute to acne according to Professor Nicholas Lowe, a London-based dermatologist. Also, cow’s milk generally contains more hormones than alternative sources like goat or sheep, so merely switching to another type of dairy may also help. People with inflammatory skin conditions like acne, psoriasis or eczema also do well to reduce both refined sugar products and dairy.
OK, so what should you eat (or drink)?
- Berries which are high in anti-oxidants. Why does this matter? Well, anti-oxidants protect the skin by limiting the production of free radicals. Free radicals are tiny reactive oxygen molecules that can cause damage to our skin cells, DNA, and collagen production which leads to premature ageing and in turn causing wrinkles, sagging and roughness. Our bodies do make some free radicals as cells turnover but most of them come from external influences like UV rays and pollution.
- Good fats (ditch the low-fat products) as these contain essential lipids that create a protective barrier around the skin cells and prevent moisture loss. Fats to include:
- coconut oil for cooking,
- almonds, Brazil nuts & walnuts
- oily fish like Salmon, which is also high in omega 3 (double win!)
- Tomatoes and food items made from them like salsa and tomato sauce – these contain lycopene and vitamin C. Lycopene boosts your skin’s natural sun protection whilst the vitamin C has a vital role to play in collagen synthesis.
- Green and yellow peppers help decrease the wrinkling around the crows feet area. Eat them cooked or use raw slices as a vessel to scoop up some yummy guacamole.
- Black coffee can help decrease your risk of melanoma (skin cancer) as the caffeine and polyphenols provide some protective benefits from UVB rays. Remember to skip the milk if you suffer from acne, psoriasis or eczema. Green tea also contains polyphenols so choose that if you are opting for the caffeine-free route.
- Water, not just drinking it but making sure you eat a diet loaded with fruits and vegetables that contain a lot of water. When your body lacks the water it needs your skin may look tired, dry and frazzled. To make sure your body is hydrated, and to rebalance the moisture levels in your system, include the following aqua-rich items in your diet:
- watermelon and cucumber
- broccoli and spinach
- apricots, pomegranates and avocados.
- Strawberries are not only high in water but one cup of these babies gives you 100% of the vitamin C your body needs for the day.
- Sunflower seeds or peanuts, wheat germ and almonds if you prefer, are great snack foods providing a healthy dose of vitamin E boosting your immune function and helping improve acne.
- Add bunches of leafy greens to your diet in salads and side dishes. Naturally high in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, they also contain excellent amounts of vitamins C and A which are important for the health of your skin overall.
- Lean beef, lean pork and oysters. Ok maybe not all in one dish together but these are great sources of iron and zinc. Iron from animal sources is absorbed and utilised by the body more effectively (according to the experts) than plant sources. Keeping the cuts lean also keeps the calories low.
- Dark chocolate and cocoa can help to prevent photo-damage on the skin caused by the sun. The flavanols in the chocolate (which are even more concentrated if you stick to just the cocoa powder) are powerful anti-oxidants. But the chocolate must be as dark as possible. Add a spoonful to your yoghurt or oats in the morning for a delicious treat.
- Carrots are rich in anti-oxidant carotenoids which accumulate in the skin and protect against UV damage. Cook them for even better absorption.
- Not only is this superfood good at helping with inflammation in the body, but turmeric can also protect your skin from the sun – it’s a powerful anti-oxidant as well.
- Probably not something you would snack on but Aloe Vera juice or supplements are very good for the skin. The anti-ageing properties of this plant helps with wrinkles and skin elasticity, whilst in a gel it is very soothing for sunburn.
- Pomegranates are not only high in water but the “jewels” or arils inside are also rich in ellagic acid. This compound has been found to reduce wrinkling in response to UV radiation.
What about Topical Treatments or Supplements?
Whilst feeding your skin from the inside out is vital with the correct diet, you can also feed your skin from the outside in by using products rich in specific nutrients. Most of the recommendations mention vitamins that should be included in your diet as a starting point but here are some specifics to look for in your beauty serums and treatments
- Vitamin C as already mentioned is a powerful anti-oxidant and protects the skin from UV damage. It also boosts collagen production, aids in skin repair and reduces pigmentation.
In a serum – look for one with at least 20% vitamin C (ideally combined with Ferulic acid to keep it stable).
- Vitamin A or retinol is your skin’s multi-tasker. It boosts collagen, reduces inflammation and pigmentation whilst controlling spots and oil production.
In a night-cream – choose one with 2-3% retinol combined with hyaluronic acid (which stops the skin drying out from the vitamin A). It's best to use retinol only at night as UV rays destabilise it and it can increase your skin’s photosensitivity.
- Vitamin B (especially B1 and B6) is a great skin booster and can help to reduce pigmentation. Niacin and Pantothenic acid, in particular, aid with skin rejuvenation whilst brightening the complexion and assisting with both acne and rosacea.
- Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant that helps to hydrate and rejuvenate the skin. A great moisturiser it can prevent the signs of premature ageing.
- Vitamin K helps your skin look younger by reducing dark circles under the eyes and combating puffiness. Combine with other vitamins that improve collagen production to improve the overall texture of the skin around the eye.
- Minerals like zinc and sulphur are anti-bacterial and act as anti-inflammatories. Both are recommended if you are prone to oily skin or breakouts. Zinc is also one of the safest and most effective ways to protect your skin from long wave UVA rays. We recommend a natural sunscreen containing zinc rather than a sunblock which relies on chemicals to reflect the sun.
- Copper is another clever anti-oxidant that helps reduce fine lines and wrinkles by stimulating collagen remodelling. The metal has proven abilities to fight wrinkles, treat scars and combat hair loss.
Look after your gut health
Increasingly referred to as the second brain your gut is a vital component in your overall health and has a direct impact on the health of your skin. Your diet is the most important factor in getting a clear complexion because the gut microbiome, which is the bacteria living in your digestive system and intestines, influences your overall health which ultimately improves your skin.
According to Paula Simpson, a holistic nutritionist, “Modern food technologies and processing in the western diet have stripped away the good bacteria and enzymes that help build a healthy gut flora and skin microbiome”.
Some ways to improve your gut health include:
- Adding superfoods like ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg (oooh gluhwein anyone?) to your diet.
- Making sure to get enough antioxidants in your diet (we have mentioned a few ways above).
- Prebiotics (a type of fibre that ferments in your colon) and probiotics (natural detoxifying bacteria). Probiotics live inside your gastrointestinal tract and aid in digestion by essentially cleaning out the gut. They eat prebiotics, which is fibre found in certain foods in your diet. Probiotics can be added to your diet via foods like Yogurt or kefir, or via liquid supplements. We personally love Rafaa which is made in South Africa.
- Sleep and oxygen
- Water (as in being well hydrated) and exercise
Other ways to improve your lifestyle and combat ageing overall
- Maintain a healthy weight: excessive weight or waist size increases the formation of AGEs.
- Pump some iron: muscles use up glucose so an improved muscle mass can help to keep blood sugar levels lower, minimising the further production of AGEs.
- Reduce your alcohol intake: increased alcohol consumption enhances glycation.
- Don’t eat after 7 pm as your body needs to release anti-ageing hormones for repair work at night, and digestion diverts energy away from this task.
- Eat seasonally and buy local – food grown in season has more minerals. Source locally produced food so you can be sure its fresh and hasn’t been in cold storage for ages. Even better – grow your own tomatoes, peppers and herbs where you can for maximum nutritional value.
A study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that ageing effects in the skin – such as collagen breakdown and skin thinning – typically start to show up around age 35.
So it really is never to early to start making some of these changes. Your skin will thank you.
Ulrich P, Cerami A, “Protein glycation, diabetes, and aging,” Recent Prog Horm Res, 2001; 56: 1-21
Melpomeni Peppa, et al., “Glucose, Advanced Glycation End Products, and Diabetes Complications: What is New and What Works,” Clinical Diabetes, October 2003; 21(4): 186-187
Jeanmaire C., et al., “Glycation during human dermal intrinsic and actinic ageing: an in vivo and in vitro model study,” Br J Dermatol. July 2001; 145(1):10-8
Masamitsu Ichihashi, et al., “Glycation Stress and Photo-Aging in Skin,” Anti-Aging Medicine, June 13, 2011; 8(3):23-29
Lucy Elkins, “How giving up sugar can take 20 years off your looks,” Daily Mail, April 4, 2012
Raymond Noordam, et al., “High serum glucose levels are associated with a higher perceived age,” AGE, February 2013; 35(1):189-195
Various from http://www.dailymail.co.uk