Nutrients for Healthy Skin: Inside and Out
Vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients can give your skin
the youthful glow of good health
By Colette Bouchez
Reviewed by Charlotte Grayson Mathis, MD
Of all the news coming from the beauty community, the
loudest buzz may be about the power of vitamins, minerals,
and other nutrients to give skin a more radiant, healthy, and,
yes, youthful glow.
The excitement is focused not only on creams and lotions you
put on your skin but what you put into your body as well.
Health experts say that vitamins and minerals in all forms play
an integral role in a healthy complexion, whether the source is
food, supplements, or even a jar of cream.
"Your skin is the fingerprint of what is going on inside your body, and all
skin conditions, from psoriasis to acne to aging, are the manifestations of
your body's internal needs, including its nutritional needs," says Georgiana
Donadio, PhD, DC, MSc, program director at the National Institute of Whole
Health in Boston.
If you feed your skin from the inside and out, experts such as Donadio and others
say you can't help but benefit.
So which nutrients do you need to keep your skin healthy and looking its best?
According to the experts interviewed by WebMD, plus new information from the
American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the following vitamins, minerals,
antioxidants, and other nutrients nourish your skin, whether you take them in
supplement form, apply them directly to you skin, or make sure you get enough
from the foods you eat.
The Vitamins That are Good for Skin Nutrition
Vitamins C, E, A, K, and B complex can all help improve skin health. Here's how:
Vitamins C and E. Among the most important new dermatologic discoveries is
the power of vitamins to counter the effects of sun exposure.
In research presented at the 2002 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of
Dermatology, Duke University researcher Sheldon Pinnell and colleagues
demonstrated that "appreciable photoprotection can be obtained from topical
vitamins C and E."
"Topical Vitamin C can prevent the consequences of prolonged sun
exposure which can lead to skin cancer," says Karen E. Burke, MD, in a
news release. "Supplementation with natural Vitamin E in 400 mg per day
has been noted to reduce photodamage, wrinkles and improve skin
This research has been backed up by a more recent study. The Journal of
Investigative Dermatology reported in February 2005 that people who take
vitamins C and E in the long term reduced their sunburns from exposure to UVB
radiation. Further, researchers saw a reduction of factors linked to DNA damage
within skin cells, leading them to conclude that antioxidant vitamins help protect
against DNA damage.
Vitamin C and E help by reducing the damage caused by free radicals, a harmful
byproduct of sunlight, smoke, and pollution. Free radicals gobble up collagen and
elastin, the fibers that support skin structure, causing wrinkles and other signs of
aging. When these two vitamins are combined in a lotion, they can be highly
protective against sun damage, says the American Academy of Dermatology.
This doesn't mean you can gobble vitamins or lather on lotion, then bake safely
in the sun. The link between tanning and skin cancer is indisputable and
dangerous. (Always wear a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 25 and limit your
sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.) But you may be able to help your skin
stay healthier and supple by making sure you get enough of these antioxidant
To make sure your diet includes plenty of vitamin C, eat citrus fruits and
vegetables rich in vitamin C such as bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and leafy
greens. These foods can replace the loss of the vitamin through the skin. You
can also take vitamin C supplements, up to 500 to 1,000 milligrams of per day,
according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
You can also try a topical vitamin C cream to encourage collagen production, just
as your body does naturally when you are young. The trick here is to use a
formulation containing the L-ascorbic acid form of vitamin C, the only one that
can penetrate skin layers and do the job.
You can find vitamin E in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, olives, spinach, and
asparagus. But it's difficult to get a lot from food, so many people take a
supplement. (Be aware, though, that some recent research warns that large
doses of vitamin E can be harmful. Stay with 400 international units per day or
less to be on the safe side.) Used in a cream, lotion, or serum form, vitamin E
can soothe dry, rough skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
More Vitamins for Healthy Skin
Vitamin A. If your vitamin A levels are up to snuff from the foods you eat, adding
more probably won't do much more for your skin. That said, if those levels drop
even a little below normal, you're likely to see some skin-related symptoms,
including a dry, flaky complexion. That's because vitamin A is necessary for the
maintenance and repair of skin tissue. Without it, you'll notice the difference.
Fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamin A.
Topical vitamin A is the form that makes a real difference in your skin. Medical
studies show a reduction in lines and wrinkles, good acne control, and some
psoriasis relief, all from using creams containing this nutrient. For example, in
research presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of
Dermatology in 2003, researchers from France showed that topically applied
retinol plus vitamin C demonstrated a "reversal of skin alterations induced by
chronologic aging and photoaging."
In another study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, doctors found
that foods high in beta-cartotene—a form of vitamin A—appeared to reduce the
risk of psoriasis.
The prescription treatment for acne called Retin-A is derived from vitamin A. The
less potent, over-the-counter formulations are sold as retinols and used as anti-
Vitamin B Complex. When it comes to skin, the single most important B vitamin
is biotin, a nutrient that forms the basis of skin, nail, and hair cells. Without
adequate amounts, you may end up with dermatitis (an itchy, scaly skin reaction)
or sometimes even hair loss. Even a mild deficiency causes symptoms.
Most people get enough biotin without even trying. It's found in many foods
including bananas, eggs, oatmeal, and rice, plus your body also makes some
biotin on its own.
But recently, greater attention is being paid to topical preparations containing B
vitamins. These creams can help give skin an almost instant healthy glow while
hydrating cells and increasing overall tone. Niacin, a specific B vitamin, helps
skin retain moisture, so creams containing this nutrient can help your complexion
look plumper and younger in as little as six days. Niacin also has anti-
inflammatory properties to soothe dry, irritated skin. In higher concentrations it
can also work as a lightening agent to even out blotchy skin tone.
In one study presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of
Dermatology in 2003, a topical form of vitamin B was shown to dramatically
improve aging in human skin.
Vitamin K. As the nutrient responsible for helping blood clot, Vitamin K won't do
much for your skin from the inside. But studies presented to the American
Academy of Dermatology in 2003 showed that topical vitamin K works well to
reduce circles under the eye as well as bruises. In research published in the
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in 2002, doctors from the
University of Miami School of Medicine found that skin treatments with vitamin K
cream after laser surgery significantly reduced bruising. When combined with
vitamin A in a cream, vitamin K can be even more effective for those dark circles.
In a study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, doctors from the
Nippon Medical School in Tokyo found that the topical application of a gel
containing a derivative of vitamin K, as well as vitamins A, C, and E, was
effective in reducing dark under-eye circles while also decreasing wrinkles.
Selenium. A number of scientists believe this mineral plays a key role in skin
cancer prevention. Taken in supplement form or used in a cream, this mineral
helps protect skin from sun damage. If you do spend any time in the sun,
selenium could help reduce your chance of burning.
In studies in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 1996,
researchers showed that skin cancer patients who ingested 200 micrograms of
selenium per day had:
- fewer malignancies
- reduced risk of death from skin cancer
- decrease in overall mortality
In still more research published in the French journal Photodermatol
Photoimmunol Photomed in 1991, researchers found that oral selenium as well
as copper helped reduce the formation of sunburn cells in human skin. The best
dietary sources of selenium include whole-grain cereals, seafood, garlic, and
Copper. Still another important mineral is copper. Together with vitamin C and
the mineral zinc, copper helps to develop elastin, the fibers that support skin
structure from underneath.
A deficiency of this mineral is rare, and doctors caution that supplements can be
dangerous. So it is generally not advised to consume extra copper. But topical
applications of copper-rich creams aren't associated with the same kind of
problems. What's more, they have been found to firm the skin and help restore
some elasticity, according to four studies presented at the American Academy of
Dermatology Annual Meeting in 2002.
The research, conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, found that when
compared with a popular skincare treatment and a placebo, a cream containing
copper peptides demonstrated rapid, visual overall improvements in skin
roughness, clarity, fine lines, wrinkling, and overall photodamage. In similar
studies, this same team of researchers found that copper peptides noticeably
improved skin elasticity and thickness.
Zinc. The third skin-friendly mineral is zinc, important if you have acne. In fact,
sometimes acne itself is a symptom of a zinc deficiency. Taken internally or used
topically, zinc works to clear skin by taming oil production and may be effective in
controlling the formation of acne lesions or help those already on your skin to
clear sooner. Food sources of zinc include oysters, lean meat, and poultry.
Beyond Vitamins and Minerals: The New Skin Nutrients
Some of the more exciting new skin research looks beyond vitamins and
minerals to other nutrients that when taken internally or applied topically can
have remarkable effects on your skin.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid. A powerful antioxidant, hundreds of times more potent than
either vitamin C or E, alpha-lipoic acid may turn out to be a super boost for aging
skin. What makes it so special, say skin experts, is its ability to penetrate both oil
and water, affecting skin cells from both the inside and the outside of the body.
Most other antioxidants can do one but not both.
DMAE. Another powerful antioxidant, this nutrient has one of the strongest
appetites for free radicals. It works mostly by deactivating their power to harm
skin cells. It also helps stabilize the membrane around the outside of each cell so
that assaults from sun damage and cigarette smoke are reduced. As with alpha-
lipoic acid, DMAE is available in supplements and in topical creams.
Hyaluronic Acid. Made by the body, this nutrient's main job is to lubricate joints
so that knees, elbows, fingers, and toes all move smoothly and easily. Another
plus is its ability to hold water, up to 1,000 times its weight, which means more
moisture in each skin cell.
Top skincare lines now include creams with hyaluronic acid. It is equally powerful
taken in supplement form, though more research is needed to prove
effectiveness. The nutrient isn't readily available in food.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). If your skin is dry, prone to inflammation, and
frequently dotted with white heads and black heads, you may be lacking
essential fatty acids, nutrients that are crucial to the production of skin's natural
oil barrier. Without an adequate supply of EFAs, the skin produces a more
irritating form of sebum, or oil, which can result in problems.
The solution may be to balance two of the key EFAs, omega-3 and omega-6.
While most folks get plenty of omega-6s (in baked goods, cooking oils, poultry,
grains, and many other foods), omega-3s are often lacking. They're found mostly
in cold-water fish, including salmon, sardines, and mackerel, flaxseed, and flax
and safflower oils. Taking supplements, such as fish oil capsules or evening
primrose oil, may also help keep your skin smoother and younger-looking.
Skin Nutrition: The Bottom Line
Most people can get all the nutrients their skin needs from a multivitamin
and a healthy diet, says dermatologist Rhoda Narins, MD, of NYU's School
"You should get your basics in a multivitamin, and if you want to reap the
benefits of all these other nutrients, get them in food, or use topical
preparations," she says.
To some extent, Georgiana Donadio of the National Institute of Whole
Health agrees: "It's not a matter of running out and spending a lot of money
on vitamins. The idea is to use them in a very intelligent way that's
healthful to you. But don't ever think they are the whole answer to dealing
with a health problem, particularly aging skin."
SOURCES: Georgiana Donadio, PhD, DC, MSc, founder and director, National Institute of Whole
Health, Boston. Mary Sullivan, RN, executive vice president and co-founder, Olympian Labs,
Scottsdale, Ariz. Rhoda Narins, MD, professor of dermatology, NYU School of Medicine, New
York; president, American Society of Dermatologic Surgeons.
Placzek, M. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, February 2005; vol 124: pp 304-307. Clark, L.
The Journal of the American Medical Association, 1996, vol 276: pp 1957-1963. Mitshuishi, T.
Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, April 2004; vol 3. Sha, N.S. Journal of the American Academy
of Dermatology, August 2002; vol 47: pp 241-243. Grossman, R. American Journal of Clinical
Dermatology 2005; vol 6: pp 39-47. Qing, W. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, August 1994; vol
47: pp 829-836. Keller, K. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, October 1998.
Burke, K. Nutrition and Cancer, 1992; vol 17: pp 123-37. Perricone, N. Archives of Gerontology
and Geriatrics, July-August 1999; vol 29. Darr, D. Acta Derm Venereol, July 1996; vol 76: pp 264-
268. Eberlein-Konig, B. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, January 1998; vol 38:
pp 45-48. la Ruche, G. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed, December 1991; vol 8: pp 232-
235. Naldi, L. British Journal of Dermatology, January 1996. American Academy of Dermatology
2003 Annual Meeting. American Academy of Dermatology.
Reviewed on August 01, 2006
©2005-2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.
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