Welcome to Ask Curology, penned by one of our in-house medical providers in response to your questions about all things skincare. This week: some say you are what you eat. There’s a link between your skin and your diet. But do reverse aging diets work? We’re here to break down the good and the bad of anti-aging foods.
As I’m getting older, I’ve noticed some big changes in both my diet and my skin. I started getting into clean eating a few years ago, and I’m a total nerd for nutrition. I feel like I’ve tried every diet out there: keto, paleo, vegan, you name it. If there’s a diet that has the potential to make me look and feel younger, I’m so there. So far? I feel great — but don’t look so different. Can you tell me what foods I need to eat (or not eat)?
It’s good to hear from a fellow nutrition geek! I love learning about nutrition, too, and also wondered if our diet can have an impact on how our skin ages. You and I both know that one of the best things you can do for the overall health of your body is to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. But the relationship between diet and aging is very complex! Other lifestyle choices and genetics can play a role in how we age. And if you’re hoping to improve signs of aging, changes in your diet probably won’t be enough.
Eating too many sweets can be bad for your skin. It may accelerate signs of aging (and can make breakouts worse). When we eat high-sugar foods, the sugar in our bloodstream can combine with a protein or fat via a process called glycation. The glycation process leads to the formation of AGEs, which stands for advanced glycation end products. AGEs promote the cross-linking of collagen fibers. This weakens our skin structure in a way that can’t be effectively repaired. Simply put? The less sugar you eat, the less damage you do to your skin.
You might think to avoid fried, greasy foods — but grilled and roasted foods aren’t off the hook, either. These methods of food preparation can also produce AGEs! When we eat foods prepared with these methods, the AGEs may cause damage to the collagen in your skin. Although there has not been a lot of research on the role of diet and aging skin, if your goal is to minimize AGEs in your skin, try steaming or boiling your veggies rather than grilling them!
Some people assume that drinking alcohol makes you look older. There’s actually no strong evidence that moderate alcohol consumption accelerates skin damage. But let’s be clear: consuming too much alcohol can certainly impact our skin. Ever found you look red-in-the-face after a drink? That’s because alcohol can trigger flushing (especially in those with rosacea). Alcohol is also a diuretic. This means that it signals your body to get rids of lots of water as your body tries to break down and get rid of the alcohol. Although dehydration does not generally have a direct impact on your skin, adequate hydration is key for an overall healthy body (and skin!). According to the CDC, if you’re doing three things: making water your main choice of drink, drinking water when thirsty and drinking water with meals, you shouldn’t need to worry about dehydration.
Aging skin loses collagen over time, so it makes sense to assume that eating collagen is good for your skin. If only things were that simple! The truth is, there isn’t sufficient medical evidence that proves collagen supplements can improve skin elasticity, firmness, or wrinkling. Collagen is also a large protein, so applying it directly to your skin won’t help either. Instead, it may be helpful to seek out antioxidants for skin benefits (like vitamin C and green tea, which I’ll get into next).
If you want to boost your collagen, vitamin C serums are a great place to start. But can a diet high in vitamin C help to slow down aging? Maybe! Taking a daily multivitamin and eating your daily servings of fruits and veggies is great for your overall health. There is some evidence to suggest that oral intake of vitamin C through food or supplements may help to slow signs of aging such as wrinkling and age-associated dryness. But only a small fraction of the vitamin C we eat is biologically available and active in the skin.
Green tea may have skin benefits when applied topically, including anti-inflammatory and UV-protective effects. It’s rich in antioxidants, so drinking it is likely good for your overall health. There is not, however, enough evidence to conclude that drinking green tea has a direct effect on slowing the skin aging process. Instead, try skincare products with green tea extract, like the Replenix Power of Three Cream by Topix.
Linoleic acid is one of two essential fatty acids for humans. We need to obtain it through our diet — the human body can’t produce linoleic acid on its own. Olive oil, nuts, seeds, and eggs are all high in linoleic acid, as well as beef, poultry, and pork. Good news: medical evidence suggests that eating foods rich in linoleic acid may help to slow signs of aging (specifically age-associated dryness and skin thinning). So if you want to practice an anti-aging diet, it may make sense to focus on foods with this ingredient.
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Keep in mind, Nerd, that diet alone is not enough to keep your skin healthy. UV damage is one of the biggest contributors to accelerated aging. Make sure to practice sun protection (like wearing sunscreen with at least SPF 30). You can also build a nightly skincare routine with ingredients for your skin. If you need help getting started, our guide to skincare through the decades explains how to build your routine.
If you want to make things really easy, you can sign up for a free trial of Curology. We’ll send you a prescription-strength cream with a mix of 3 active ingredients to treat signs of aging like fine lines, dark spots, and skin texture. We make other skincare products, too — like a gentle cleanser and rich moisturizer — which you can also try for free. Just FYI: while you can try the products at no cost, you’ll pay $4.95 + tax to cover the cost of shipping and handling.
I hope this helps! If you have more questions, feel free to reach out to your Curology provider for some 1-on-1 advice, or sound off in the comments.
All my best,
Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.