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As women, we can spend a lot of time on covering up our skin with clothing and accessories, adding color accents to our face, and blending in blemishes. We even tattoo meaningful designs, and we lather on lotions and suntan oils to protect or highlight our sun-kissed pigments. But what if we invested into healing our natural foundation, the skin that has protected and clothed us from day one?

I was recently reminded that skin is our body’s largest organ.  The epidermis contains outer protective layers, while more deeply hides the dermis layers, comprising of hydrating capillaries that diffuse the nutrients necessary for the functionality, strength, and wellbeing of our outer skin. Those nutrients, as you can guess, come from what we eat. When we’re not getting the right protein, energy, fats, vitamins, and minerals, preferably from a variety of foods, rather than a variety of supplements, then our skin will not have the building blocks needed to maintain its vitality. Our diet may not be the cure-all to every skin ailment: droopy, wrinkly, dry, or itchy tendency, but it can help to prevent problems and proactively support a strong foundation when striving for a smooth and healthy glow.

Your skin really does act in your favor, keeping your internal temperature in check as your personal air conditioner, while also teaming up with the sun to turn vitamin D into an active form that our body can use, all the more reason to do our part too. So Darlings, in addition to your outer skin nourishing regimen, here are some ideas for using food as thy medicine to bring out your best skin from the inside out, by giving it the essential tools to heal from its daily stresses:

  • Hydration: If you find that your skin is continually dry, it may be hydration that’s the culprit. Even when you’re getting plenty of water, other factors can be counteractive including too much caffeine. Do you find yourself getting thirsty in the afternoon or forgetting to drink water before that post-work run? Try adding a cup of water to your morning routine and replacing the mid-morning extra cup of joe this week with green tea, a less caffeinated option.

  • Antioxidants: Especially with all the sun exposure during the summer, our skin cells use up its antioxidants and we need to replenish them as much as we should apply sunscreen. While you normally think of vitamin C and E as just that, vitamins, they actually endure the oxidative stress so your cells don’t bear the damage: hence “antioxidants.” You can get vitamin C by adding lemon to water, still snacking on those sweet strawberries while they’re in season, and asking for a side of steamed broccoli at dinner tonight. What’s great about vitamin C is that it also strengthens connective tissue for cellular growth by also playing a role in collagen formation. Vitamin E, on the other hand, is fat-soluble so you can find it in the oils you cook with and use in homemade salad vinaigrettes (olive oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil). Or try snacking on almonds, and adding some avocado to your next sandwich.

  • Vitamin A and retinoid derivatives:  The Recommended Daily Allowances for adult women is 700mcg/day, something easily done when incorporating vitamin A rich foods into your meals. Vitamin A affects gene expression and is important for immune function. While you may not be a big fan of cod liver oil, you can get vitamin A or its retinol equivalents in eggs, milk, sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, and most any fruit and vegetable that has an orange pigment. Try adding pumpkin seeds to your spinach salad this week.

  • Zinc is also an important ally that you can maximize in your diet to give your skin a strong structural foundation, aid in enzymatic action for wound healing, and give you a natural protection from the sun. Work on adding some foods high in zinc like oysters, lean meats, beans, or yogurt to your meals this week.

  • Essential fatty acids (EFA) are those that our bodies cannot make but your skin needs to thrive. These include alpha-linolenic (ALA, omega-3) and linolenic (LA, omega-6) fatty acids. They help comprise the membranes of our cells and regulate immune reactions. If deficient in EFAs, the natural water-binding barrier of your skin’s outer layer can be damaged, giving you dry skin due to excessive water evaporation. Because our diets are typically higher in LA (soybean oil, safflower oil, sesame oil) due to their higher use in processed foods, I suggest focusing on the ALA-rich foods by eating walnuts, flaxseed, and of course cooking up some fish, like salmon and tuna.

Now, if you find your skin continues to be excessively dry and itchy no matter what lifestyle changes you make, it may be due to an aggressive immune response of the underlying dermis layer, called atopic dermatitis, or eczema, a medical condition that should be seen by a doctor. Research has shown that strong food allergies actually can cause excessive reactions in the skin, leading to chronic dryness and itchiness.  You may find it useful to eliminate any allergy-producing culprits (potentially milk and milk products, nuts, eggs, sea fish, and gluten-containing foods) from your diet but that’s for your allergist to help you decide.

For all that our skin does to keep us protected, may we do more than just cover it up. May we nourish every layer of the dermis and epidermis from the inside out, using food as our medicine to fight for our skin’s health.

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