You can slather, scrub, and massage anti-aging creams and serums into your skin all you want, but one thing will remain true: what you put inside your body is just as important as what you put on top of it. The powerful antioxidants present in the following foods help neutralize free radicals and reduce sun damage while giving your skin a super-sized dose of the vitamins and antioxidants that fight wrinkles and give you a youthful, natural glow. Ready for your shopping list? Check out the best picks for your skin, with expert commentary from David E. Banks, MD, Director of The Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery in Mt. Kisko, NY.
If you’re concerned about sun damage (past, present, or future), try sipping on more green tea. “Both animal and human studies have credibly demonstrated that topical green tea formulations reduce sun damage and protect against skin cancer,” explains Dr. Banks. How? Free radicals alter cell genetic code, resulting to mutated proteins. When mutation happens, cancer may develop. By neutralizing free radicals and reducing inflammation rather than by blocking UV rays, drinking it (or applying it topically) alongside sunscreen gives sun damage and skin cancer the ultimate one-two punch.
The two vitamins that make almond milk a skin-friendly super food are vitamin E and vitamin B12 (also known as riboflavin). Vitamin E keeps free radicals (caused by everything from pollution to sun damage to stress) from depleting your natural supply of collagen and elastin, both imperative in maintaining firm, supple skin. “As you get older, your body is unable to replenish your supply,” which, says Dr. Banks, is the primary cause of fine lines and wrinkles. While vitamin E goes to work on those free radicals, vitamin B12 is busy hydrating and nourishing, encouraging oxygen flow to the skin, hair, and nails, and producing niacin, which aids in circulation. One thing to keep in mind: free radical damage is irreversible—so the sooner you start pouring some almond milk in your cereal, the better.
Your body is made up of between 60-70% water at any given time, so no wonder getting plenty of H2O is vital for a glowing complexion. Less than stellar water consumption is the primary cause of dry skin, and you’re likely reaching for heavy creams and lotions to replenish that moisture. “However, creams and lotions don’t strike at the root of the problem,” says Dr. Banks, meaning you’re spending unnecessary time and money on an issue that can be fixed for pennies a day. Aim for 6-8 eight-ounce glasses a day to keep skin moisturized and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
“Eggs are an excellent source of protein and essential fatty acids, which can help retain water and stay moisturized,” says Dr. Banks. Water retention might be bad for weight loss, but it’s good for your skin—especially if you’re trying to hide fine lines. Their biggest contribution: vitamin A [which you might know as ‘retinol’ from reading anti-aging articles], which encourages new cell growth and wound healing.
Why walk down the supplement aisle when you can just eat a tomato? The pasta-bound fruits are packed with vitamins A, B, C, K, alpha- and beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene—all great antioxidants and help the skin maintain healthy levels collagen, says Dr. Banks. They’re also super sun stoppers: in a UK study, people who ate five tablespoons of tomato paste a day experienced a 33% increase in sun protection.
Remember that whole speech about beta-carotene? You can include carrots in that conversation. But within its bright orange flesh are carotenoids, organic pigments that help protect the skin from everyday pollutants and subsequent wrinkles. “Our skin is up against a lot of environmental factors every day like sun radiation and toxins, which combined with stress, leads to weakened defense against damaging free radicals that attack our skin,” explains Dr. Banks. Shave a few into your salad for a quick burst of this skin shield.
Skin experts say you can remove makeup, cleanse, and moisturize the skin with plain old olive oil. But when you drizzle some on your bread your skin gets a boost of antioxidants and skin plumping fatty acids. In fact, a 2012 study discovered that consuming 2 teaspoons of the stuff a day was associated with 31% fewer signs of aging compared to people who only ate about a teaspoon.
Swap your normal happy hour drink for a glass of red wine, rich in skin-friendly polyphenols and cancer-fighting antioxidant resveratrol. “It has anti-inflammatory properties which can protect the body from various diseases caused by inflammation,” explains Dr. Banks. Beyond healthy skin, you’ll also get a brain boost—red wine is known to promote brain health, memory, and the prevention of dementia.
“In just one sweet potato you will find more than 200% of the recommended daily value of vitamin A,” says Banks. You’ll also get three grams of fiber, which keeps your digestive tract healthy. But what does that have to do with your complexion? “A healthy and functioning digestive track can help keep your breakouts to a minimum,” he says. If only we knew that as teenagers.
This green veggie is the top of the list when it comes to beauty superfoods, says Dr. Banks. “Kale is full of antioxidants that are a great way of reducing wrinkles because they slow down the ageing process.” It’s also rich in wrinkle-fighting vitamin A and has been proven to be helpful in averting a host of skin diseases. It’s also one of the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients that absorb and neutralize free radicals caused by UV exposure.