Diseases, Nutrition
Skin problems – what you need to know

Skin is the largest body organ and it acts as a barrier interacting with the outside environment. This barrier protects us, helps us to regulate body temperature, prevents the invasion of foreign particles and pathogens, prevents excess water loss, protects us from oxidative stressors, and allows the sensations of touch, heat, and cold. 

Fast reading:

  1. Skin problems - causes
  2. Skin micronutrients
  3. Top nutrients required for healthy skin
  4. Skin problems - skin microbiota
  5. Skin problems - lifestyle
  6. Skin problems - supplements

Skin problems - causes

Skin problems such as acne, eczema or psoriasis are often a manifestation of underlying health issues. The problem lies not in a lack of a particular soap, an anti-bacterial remedy or a corticosteroid immunosuppressant cream. You need to look deeper, “underneath” the skin. When I have clients with skin problems, we look at their wellbeing holistically, we don’t focus exclusively on skin itself, we look beyond that. To heal your skin, you may need to address possible underlying causes. Skin problems are often partly be determined by our genetics, our biochemistry and partly by our environment including the quality of food we consume, the air we breathe-in, the pollutants and toxins we are exposed to. So, if common skin disorders can be influenced by environment, factors such as nutrition and lifestyle might be sufficient in order to prevent and even reverse or reduce the flare-ups. Therefore, we want to focus on what we can influence, and we want to find our triggers and our soothers. Below you can find info on nutrients with a special role in skin health and on what to pay attention to when skin problems affect your life. Managing your skin health with nutrition, improving digestive function, reducing stress and optimizing lifestyle habits can provide benefits not only for your skin, but for your overall well-being. 

Skin problems

First, take into account that your skin problems could be related to: 

  1. Allergies (IgE driven reactions to foods and airborne allergens), food intolerances (poor functions of certain digestive enzymes), food sensitivities (IgG driven reactions)
  2. Hormonal imbalances (acne is often a result of hormonal imbalances)
  3. Autoimmune disease 
  4. Gut health issues (dysbiosis, infection)
  5. Poor nutritional status (low levels of vitamin A, vitamin D or zinc)
  6. Exposure to toxins and environmental pollutants
  7. Use of skin irritants (cosmetics, perfumes, chemicals)
  8. Compromised skin barrier
  9. Genetics
  10. Chronic stress 

Skin micronutrients

Certain nutrients are particularly important for healthy skin. Macronutrients such as amino-acids, lipids and carbohydrates are building blocks of the skin and are essential for its structure and function. 

In addition to macronutrients, skin needs micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals to properly regulate its function. In this section, we will focus mostly on micronutrients. 

These include vitamins A, C, E, and K2, zinc, biotin, sulfur, pantothenic acid (B5), niacin (B3), silica, selenium, and the omega-3 fatty acids. When we lack these nutrients, our skin can manifest it by dermatitis, rashes, acne, poor wound healing, raised bumps on the backs of the arms, and loss of skin firmness. Many nutrients act in concert with other nutrients so a deficit of one can make the other less effective. Thus, focusing on one nutrient only, might not entirely address the problem. 

The best way to get these nutrients is by eating real, whole-food sources, eating colorful foods, and diversity of foods; and by avoiding processed foods, added sugars, food additives, foods from the packages. 

Healthy skin

Top nutrients required for healthy skin

Vitamin A for skin problems

Vitamin A: lack of it causes the skin to be rough and dry which often first appears as rough, raised bumps on the back of the arms. Vitamin A-rich foods include liver and cod liver oil, kidney, cream and butter (pastured cows), and egg yolks (pastured chickens). If you take cod liver oil, it will provide you with vitamin A and vitamin D.

Vitamin C for skin problems

Vitamin C plays an important role in the regulation of the structural protein collagen, which is necessary for the extracellular stability of the skin. Inadequate vitamin C levels can contribute to the development of hyperkeratosis pilaris, the common problem with the follicles being damaged when collagen formation is impaired. True deficiency of vitamin C is uncommon but we often consume low quantities of it, particularly in a diet with a low fruit and vegetable intake. The highest sources of vitamin C include bell peppers, guava, dark leafy greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kiwi, citrus fruits, strawberries, cilantro, chives, thyme, basil, and parsley.

Vitamin E for skin problems

Vitamin E is a potent fat-soluble and anti-inflammatory agent, found in our skin. Our bodies store vitamin E in our fat cells, and we depend on adequate dietary intake to maintain optimal levels. Adequate levels of this vitamin in the skin may prevent inflammatory damage from sun exposure. Food sources of vitamin E include spinach, turnip greens, chard, sunflower seeds, almonds, bell peppers, asparagus, collards, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and olive oil.

Vitamin K2 for skin problems

Vitamin K2 is an important player in protecting us from heart disease, forming strong bones, promoting brain function, supporting growth and development, helping to prevent cancer, ensuring healthy skin, and this vitamin is likely beneficial for preventing wrinkles and premature aging. Vitamin K2 is also necessary for the proper functioning of vitamin A- and vitamin D-dependent proteins. Vitamin A is essential for proper skin cell proliferation and cannot work properly if vitamin K2 is not available. Vitamin K2 is important in the treatment of acne, keratosis pilaris, and other skin symptoms of vitamin A deficiency. Good sources of vitamin K2 include butter and other high-fat dairy products from grass-fed cows, egg yolks, liver, natto, sauerkraut and cheese.

Zinc for skin problems

Zinc supports immune function, protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis, cell division, regulation of gene expression. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and protects against UV radiation. People with serious acne are found to have lower levels of serum zinc than healthy individuals. You can find zinc in animal sources including seafood (oysters, scallops, and other shellfish), kidney, liver, and red meat. Plant foods such as pumpkin seeds and other nuts can also be high in zinc, but zinc from these sources might be less bioavailable.

Copper for skin problems

Copper serves as an antioxidant, stimulates the maturation of collagen, and modulates melanin synthesis. Food rich is copper include beef liver, sunflower seeds, nuts, dark chocolate, chickpea, asparagus, kale, and goat cheese.

Biotin (vitamin B7) for skin problems

Biotin (vitamin B7) acts as a cofactor for enzymes that regulate fatty acid metabolism with fatty acids being critical for the health of the skin. When biotin intake is insufficient, fat production is altered, and the skin cells are the first to develop symptoms. Low biotin intake/levels can contribute to hair loss, dandruff, erythematous (red and inflamed) dermatitis around the mouth and other areas of the face and scalp. In infants, inadequately low biotin amounts might contribute to “cradle cap” and seborrheic dermatitis in adults. Biotin rich foods include egg yolks, liver, Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, almonds, and walnuts.

Sulfur for skin problems

Sulfur is a critical mineral for skin health and overall wellness. Sulfur is necessary for collagen synthesis, which gives the skin its structure and strength. Having enough sulfur in your diet can help maintain collagen production and keep your skin looking firm. Foods containing sulfur include egg yolks, meat, poultry, and fish, garlic, onions, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and kale. Fermented foods, like sauerkraut, with well bioavailable sulfur serve as an excellent source of sulfur and a healthy component of a diet for radiant skin.

Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) for skin problems

Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) is required for proper growth, metabolic function, energy production, for protein and fat synthesis, and is needed by many different types of skin cells for regeneration and growth. Vitamin B5 is also involved in the growth and differentiation of keratinocytes, which are essential for maintaining a healthy skin barrier. Keratosis pilaris (chicken skin) is a common skin condition caused by impaired keratinocyte growth, which may improve from increased pantothenic acid consumption. Pantothenic acid also significantly increases levels of glutathione in the cells, which acts as a potent antioxidant in the skin. Pantothenic acid can be found in various foods and some of the richest sources include liver and kidney, egg yolk, broccoli, fish, shellfish, chicken, dairy products, mushrooms, avocado, and sweet potatoes.

Niacin (vitamin B3) for skin problems

Niacin (vitamin B3) is a vital payer in cell metabolism acting as a coenzyme in energy producing reactions including the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, as well as anabolic reactions such as fatty acid and cholesterol synthesis. Niacin deficiency is uncommon, however in certain health conditions such as in celiac disease, IBS, Crohn’s disease impaired niacin absorption from the diet happens. Low niacin levels can lead to the skin-related symptoms such as dermatitis and scaling. Niacin rich foods include meat, poultry, red fishes such as tuna and salmon, and seeds. Milk, green leafy vegetables, coffee, and tea also provide some niacin. For most healthy people, a diverse diet with adequate meat consumption should be enough to meet niacin’s nutritional needs.

Silica for skin problems

Silica is required for normal collagen formation. It maintains the health of connective tissues by interacting with the formation of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), such as hyaluronic acid, which are structural building blocks of collagen tissues. Inadequate silica content can result in reduced skin elasticity and impaired wound healing. To ensure adequate silica intake include in your diet leeks, green beans, garbanzo beans, strawberries, cucumber, mango, celery, asparagus, and rhubarb. 

Selenium for skin problems

Selenium is a crucial trace mineral with numerous health benefits, for general health as well as the skin health. One of the most important jobs of selenium is being a component of glutathione peroxidase, an enzyme necessary for the antioxidant function of glutathione (master antioxidant in our body that protects against cellular damage from the free radicals that cause inflammation and aging and promote skin cancer). Individuals with acne have been shown to have low levels of blood serum selenium, as well as low levels of selenium-dependent glutathione activity. The richest food sources of selenium are Brazil nuts, organ meats and seafood, followed by muscle meats. Fish such as cod, tuna, halibut, sardines, and salmon are excellent sources, along with liver and meats like beef, turkey, lamb.

Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) for skin problems

Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) have anti-inflammatory properties and are essential in healthy skin. Adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease inflammation and to reduce the risk of acne and other skin problems by decreasing insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and preventing hyperkeratinization of sebaceous follicles. These fatty acids are abundant in cold-water fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, tuna, anchovies, and black cod. The added value of eating fish rather than taking fish oil is that apart from getting these omega-3s, you also get other nutrients such as vitamin D, zinc and selenium.

Skin problems -  nutrients

Skin problems - skin microbiota

You probably have heard about the importance of the gut microbiome to your health but did you also know that our skin is home to millions of bacteria, fungi and viruses that compose the skin microbiota. Skin microorganisms have essential roles in the protection against invading pathogens, the education of our immune system and the breakdown of natural products. When the skin barrier is broken, the skin is malnourished or when the balance between good and bad microbes is disturbed, skin conditions or even systemic disease can result. 

Certain common skin diseases associated with changes in the microbiota (termed dysbiosis, meaning an altered microbial state) include acne, eczema and chronic wounds. 

In order to preserve healthy skin microbiome, do not over-use skin products, unnecessary topical medications, detergents, skin irritants, or chemicals. 

Skin problems - lifestyle

Manage your stress. Stress can be associated with numerous skin conditions as the skin is influenced by many of the hormones and neuropeptides involved in the stress response, such as corticotropin-releasing hormone, adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH), cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. (Chronic) Stress compromises the effectiveness of the gut barrier as well as the skin barrier, impairing the integrity and protective function of these barriers. Stressful situations often trigger skin related flare-ups. If you are prone to feel stressed and you suffer from skin issues – managing stress will be essential for healthy skin. Find ways that work for you to deal with stress such as meditation, mindfulness, sports, a therapy and be consistent with practicing it. For example, have three “go-to” stress relievers that work for you such as taking a few deep breaths, stepping outside for few minutes, reminding yourself to just “let it go,” perking up your posture and carrying yourself confidently (stress can make you hunched over) or planning something you look forward to at the end of your stress-filled day. In addition, contact with nature, cultivating pleasure, connections, and making time for play and laugh are wonderful stress remedies. 

Increase ultraviolet exposure especially if you spend most of the time indoors. Ultraviolet light (from sunlight or alternatively UVA/UVB tanning beds) can be helpful in the management of psoriasis, vitiligo, acne, eczema, dermatitis, and lichen planus. In addition, sunlight promotes vitamin D3 synthesis and offers additional cognitive benefits of spending time outdoors. Be mindful that (too much) sun exposure (particularly if it leads to sunburn) can make skin conditions worse, and not all skin conditions (such as rosacea) benefit from ultraviolet light. If your skin condition worsens after sun exposure, then reduce sun exposure until your skin condition is under control.

Get enough rest and quality sleep. Quality sleep helps you regenerate, calm the nervous system and get the inflammation under better control. Prioritize a healthy sleeping routine, minimize electronic media and distractions around bed time. Go to bed around 10pm-11pm.

Incorporate regular physical activity to your routine but avoid overtraining, choose an activity you enjoy doing

Apply the 8x8x8 rule: 8 hours of sleep, 8 hour of work, 8 hours of rest 

Skin problems - supplements

Next to a healthy diet, which should serve as foundation of any therapy, there are certain supplements that may be helpful for people with skin complaints.

These include Vitamin C, quercetin, vitamin D, vitamin A, zinc, high quality multivitamin or group B vitamins, Cod liver oil or omega-3 fatty acids. 

Nothing works?

If you do all the right things: eat healthy, exercise, sleep well, do not use skin damaging products, have stress under control and yet your skin does not improve – dig deeper to find the reason why. Asses your nutritional status, check your hormones, your gut health, digestion, rule out allergies, food intolerances or autoimmunity. 

Information provided here is meant for educational purposes only, and does not constitute medical or nutritional advice or act as a substitute for seeking such advice from a qualified health professional.

Reference list

Category: Diseases, Nutrition icon May 7 2021
Author: Dr Joanna Krzeslak-Hoogland

Being inspired by the effect of nutrition, lifestyle and mind on our health, I am dedicated to help people on their journey to wellbeing.

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