How Diet Affects Your Skin

healthy skinIs there a connection between what we eat and the health of our skin?

As with many health-related issues, the answer is: it depends. It depends on the specific food in question, your individual health situation and many other factors that are unique to you.

Beyond general advice to maintain a healthy lifestyle, eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated, we, as dermatologists, will rarely make specific recommendations about types of food to avoid or include to promote healthy skin.

Why? Because, in many cases, there’s little medical evidence to support such an approach. Perhaps the easiest way to explain it is to look at specific conditions:

Acne

There are a lot of myths about certain foods — such as chocolate or greasy fast food — causing or worsening acne. Studies, however, have shown an association between only a couple types of food and acne:

  • There’s some evidence that high-glycemic index foods (high-carbohydrate foods, such as white bread, processed foods, juice, soda, cereals — things we should limit anyway) may trigger acne breakouts.
  • There’s also limited evidence suggesting that certain dairy products, particularly skim milk, may be associated with acne, probably due to the effect of cow’s milk on hormones.

If patients tell me that when they consume dairy products made from cow’s milk, their acne gets worse, then I may make a specific recommendation to avoid those products and choose different forms of dairy. Or if they’re eating an overall unhealthy diet with a lot of processed fast foods, I’ll suggest some lifestyle changes for overall health. If their skin benefits, that’s a bonus.

Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema), Especially in Children

Parents often wonder if a food allergy is causing or worsening their child’s eczema. In a small number of patients, this may be the case, but for the majority of people, there’s not a connection. So, most of the time, we don’t feel an elimination diet is needed; it could, in fact, lead to more serious deficiencies if dietary restrictions are too severe. Once again, an overall healthy, balanced diet is best.

Hair Loss/Thinning

There are multiple reasons for someone to experience hair thinning, including underlying medical conditions, hormones, family history, and even nutrition in some cases. Our bodies need the basic building blocks to make hair, like iron and protein, and we get those in our diet.

As part of our work-up for hair loss, we’ll often check routine blood tests and recommend supplements if we see any deficiencies. Patients often ask about over-the-counter hair supplements, many of which contain biotin. We typically get enough biotin in our diet, and there’s limited evidence to show that biotin is helpful for dermatologic conditions like hair loss. I also caution patients about biotin supplements because they can interfere with certain laboratory tests.

Low Vitamin D Levels

Vitamin D is an important nutrient for healthy bones, and we get it in a variety of ways – diet, supplementation, and in the skin – but there are myths about how to get it safely. The best way to get vitamin D is through a healthy diet and/or via oral supplements. While our skin is able to make vitamin D following ultraviolet light exposure, it’s only a small portion of our daily intake. Because UV (either from the sun or indoor tanning beds) is known to cause skin cancer, we do NOT recommend UV exposure as a way to get vitamin D. If testing shows you’re low on vitamin D, consuming an overall healthy diet and taking supplements are the safest approaches to replenishing your levels.

Not all recommendations apply to everyone. If you have questions about your skin health, it’s important to see a board-certified dermatologist for professional advice that’s tailored to your individual situation.

Guest Blogger: Melissa Michelon, MD, Dermatologist

This blog post is part of our Simply Women initiative that caters to the unique health care needs of women and their families.

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