Even though fine lines and wrinkles seem to wage a sneak attack, showing up at unexpected moments when your guard is down, your body’s been fighting off signs of aging for years. Has it had the right defensive tools? You may be armed with some of the most advanced weaponry—pricey creams, cutting-edge laser and LED treatments—but your skin is vulnerable without the right nutritional foundation.
Preventing lines, wrinkles and slackening skin from the inside is a novel approach to anti-aging for many women, and a smart one, judging by some of the latest scientific research on nutrition and skin. While genetic and environmental factors play a major role in visible signs of aging (don’t skip your sun protection), dietary choices determine how well your skin is equipped to form new skin cells and prevent damage from the start.
“The skin has the ability, like every organ, to heal,” says Jeannette Graf, Manhattan dermatologist and author of Stop Aging, Start Living. “The ability of cells to form properly and to maintain a healthy moisture barrier is dependent on internal factors. Some factors we have no control over, they may be genetic, but many we do, and this is where our diet comes into play.” The nutrients in your next meal will become the building blocks of new skin cells and new collagen—two essential components of skin that looks and acts younger than your years. For your most youthful-looking complexion, you may want to think twice about your next bite.
Whether your skin succumbed to wrinkles years ago or you’re still holding off your first fine lines, it will immediately benefit from a diet rich in foods that alkalize the body, says Graf. “Alkaline-producing foods nourish the skin’s basal layer, the layer that forms all of the other protective cells.” Our food not only provides nutrients, it influences the overall pH of our organs, skin included. The body’s target pH is a slightly alkaline 7.35 to 7.4, and when it becomes acidic (from an excess of acid-forming foods like sugar, caffeinated drinks, soda, red meat and alcohol), it struggles to function optimally. Excess acidity can cause mineral loss from bones and tissues, skin inflammation, poor skin tone, and damage to cells’ ability to produce collagen. To measure your own pH, look for saliva test strips at a health food store or online.
As the foundation of your age-defense diet, Graf recommends a three-to-one ratio of alkaline to acidic foods. It’s no coincidence that some of the most nutrient-dense and antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits on the planet are highly alkaline: leafy greens and seaweed are Graf’s must-haves, while Jessica Wu, Los Angeles dermatologist and author of Feed Your Face, recommends cooked tomatoes for their ability to protect against sunburn and sun damage, as well as green and yellow vegetables. Their advice is underscored by new research: a 2012 study by the University of St. Andrews School of Medicine in Scotland found that increasing your current fruit and vegetable consumption by about three portions per day made a visible improvement in appearance of health and overall attractiveness. And a Tufts University/U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that a diet rich in plant nutrients like carotenoids, flavonoids and lycopene may provide whole-body protection against aging UV damage. When filling your plate, you may want to adopt Graf’s mantra: “Beige is bad.” And score yourself beauty bonus points with the easiest pH-balancing strategy of all: drink plenty of water. “Water is the most alkaline thing you can have. And we need more of it because most of us are dehydrated. Squeeze lemon or lime into your water to make it even more alkalizing.”
Since your goal is to strike a balance, not go completely alkaline, you needn’t shun all acids. Protein, though acidic, is actually an essential component of collagen, and it should make up about 20 percent of your age-defense diet. “Collagen and elastic tissue are made of proteins, so I encourage my patients to make sure they eat plenty of protein,” says Wu. Look for lean sources, including salmon and spirulina, a blue-green algae that contains all essential amino acids. There’s another plus for protein: “Eating protein will also help your hair and nails grow stronger and healthier, since both are made of a type of protein called keratin,” says Wu.
To keep wrinkles at bay, limit how often you consume certain acidic foods, including refined sugars, colas, alcohol, and caffeine. Indulging moderately, with a fresh espresso or cappuccino (skip coffee that’s been sitting around in a pot for hours— it contains aging free radicals) is the way to go. Refined sugar and processed food both attach to protein (including collagen) in the body and break it down, leading to wrinkles, says Wu. In fact, a 2011 Dutch study showed a correlation between higher glucose (sugar) levels in the body and higher perceived age.
Getting choosy about the foods you allow into your diet has a major payoff when it comes to your skin’s appearance. Of course, there’s another obvious perk: With better nutritional balance, your entire body gets a performance boost. “If you want to look beautiful, and you want your skin to look younger, you can’t exclude one organ from another,” says Graf, “Every organ in your body benefits [from balance].” And a body that feels younger is one boost you won’t get from your night cream.
JOLENE HART, CHC, AADP, is a writer and founder of Beauty Is Wellness, a natural beauty and health coaching practice.
Whole foods are your best sources of age-defying nutrition, but these skin-supporting beauty supplements are a powerful second line of defense in the wrinkle war.
Jarrow Formulas Skin Optimizer
This supplement blends powerful antioxidants like vitamin C, pomegranate extract and alpha lipoic acid with cuttingedge GliSODin, a nutraceutical that boosts the body’s free radical defenses. $27.95/60 capsules, jarrow.com
Reserveage Organics Collagen Booster
This skin-firming supplement includes resveratrol, grapeseed extract, collagen and hyaluronic acid to support your body’s natural collagen production and encourage new cell growth. $39.99/60 veggie capsules, reserveage.com
Now Foods Vitamin D-3 2,000 IU
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for skin repair, says Graf, who recommends 2,000 IU daily for teens and 5,000 IU daily for adults, as well as a vitamin D level test from your doctor. $16.99/240 soft gels, nowfoods.com
Nutrition Now PB8 Probiotic
Good digestion is a component of youthful skin. “The gut is your first line of defense against all of the toxins that enter your body,” says Graf. The fewer toxins in your bloodstream, the lighter the aging burden on your body. $20.99/120 capsules, nutritionnow.com
Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega
These lemon-flavored soft gels contain anti-aging, anti-inflammatory omegas 3 & 6. “Omega 3 fatty acids help to repair skin’s natural ‘barrier’ layer that keeps in moisture. Dry skin looks more wrinkled, and [omega 3s] keep skin supple and soft,” says Wu. $27.95/60 soft gels, nordicnaturals.com