Americans spend a fortune on skin care and health and beauty products. Many of these countless potions and lotions are aimed at women, though men use them, too. We've all seen the commercials claiming that ongoing application of a particular product will slow aging and wrinkle development, or even make them disappear before our eyes.
Now, marketers have gone to a new level, introducing "nutricosmetics" and supplement-enriched food products — even nutritionally enhanced gummy bears that manufacturers claim will make skin supple and lustrous.
Actors, models and other celebrity spokespeople attest to the great taste of the products that you can buy to capture eternal youth.
However, there is little doubt that money is better spent on real food for skin health —— building a healthy hide from the inside out. We can accomplish this through whole foods and seasonal diet choices rather than using the outside-in approach, which has comparatively little value. Furthermore, many skin products are of dubious quality and safety according to dermatologists, toxicologists and other objective health professionals.
Staying hydrated is among the most important requirements for healthy skin. In addition to drinking water, people can make sugar-free herbal teas, some of which — like plantain leaf and comfrey — nourish the skin. Some of the most important foods for skin health contain a range of quality protein. Protein has many roles in the body, and one of them is making collagen, the connective tissue that holds us together.
Fats also are important to skin health, and there is a growing body of evidence that the monounsaturated fats in olive oil promote better skin tone and elasticity. The omega-3 polyunsaturated fats from fish also lead to better skin elasticity and slower aging.
Often overlooked with regard to skin health is the potential we have within our culinary grasp to include foods that afford "photoprotection," shielding our biggest organ system — the integumentary — from light damage and ultraviolet rays. Foods rich in fat-soluble, antioxidant plant chemicals, such as lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin, are especially protective. Avocados and pistachios contain lutein and monounsaturated fats. Spinach and chard also contain lutein.
Calendula blossoms are a widely sold source of commercial lutein. We can break apart the flowers and sprinkle petals on salads.
Zeaxanthin comes from a range of vegetables, including corn. Zea mays is the botanical name for corn, from which zeaxanthin originally was identified. Lycopene is found in tomatoes and watermelon.
The fact that skin is best nourished from within won't deter many of us from applying something to soothe and protect it from chafing and weather vagaries. Ounce for ounce, olive oil is the least expensive and best daily moisturizer. Rather than containing a list of ingredients that are questionably effective, and oftentimes marginally safe, it's a whole-food remedy that contains the skin toner squalene, and it's been used for millennia inside and out.
Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Mederi Centre for Natural Healing and Ventana Wellness. He also teaches nutrition and environmental health at Southern Oregon University and College of the Siskiyous. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.