“Great skin is something a lot of women chase their entire lives,” said Ashley Johnson, a licensed aesthetician at Samaritan Plastic, Reconstructive & Hand Surgery in Corvallis. “It starts with acne in the teenage years and ends with wrinkles, sometimes with no break in between the two. But your body is a system and everything is connected which means that what you eat can certainly affect what is happening with your skin.”
During the teenage years, sebum is a main contributor to acne. According to Johnson, sebum is important to skin function, creating a barrier that keeps skin moist and protecting skin from infection. It also transports antioxidants across the skin and has anti-inflammatory properties. The amount of sebum the body produces is determined by genetics and varies with age, with production peaking during puberty and declining in the senior years, particularly after menopause for women.
Acne, which typically starts during puberty, is caused when the increased sebum production creates an environment that can harbor acne bacteria. The bacterium grows and causes inflammation — pimples. And according to an article in the Archives of Dermatology, acne isn’t limited to teens. The article reports 79 to 95 percent of adolescents and 40 to 54 percent of people older than 25 have facial acne. The condition often persists until middle age.
Wrinkles, Johnson reports, are a combination of intrinsic genetic factors that determine how “well” you age, and environmental factors like sun exposure and smoking.
So given the genetic and environmental factors of acne and wrinkles, how can diet affect your skin health?
For those who struggle with acne, a study in the Archives of Dermatology analyzed the incidence of acne, which is widespread in western civilization but considerably lower in non-westernized societies. The study examined the diet of two societies with no reported acne. The diets were high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and fish, and low in fat. Eating dairy, alcohol, coffee, oil, sugar and refined grains was negligible or absent. The non-westernized societies also had a high level of physical activity and low incidence of chronic disease.
“There isn’t enough evidence that points to one food like chocolate or carbohydrates as contributing to acne because there just aren’t enough well-conducted studies,” said Johnson. “However, there have been several studies that have observed societies as they modernize, and as diet changes, acne incidence increases.”
Numerous studies have looked at what nutrients affect skin wrinkling, dryness and thinning. The vitamins, minerals and antioxidants present in foods like fruit, vegetables and healthy fats are consistently associated with fewer wrinkles and less age-related dryness. Johnson reports that saturated fat and sugar are most often linked to a higher likelihood of wrinkles.
“In general, what’s good for you is good for your skin,” said Johnson. “A whole foods, Mediterranean-style diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meat and healthy fats is high in nutrients that are good for your skin no matter what your age.”
To encourage beautiful skin beyond the kitchen, Johnson recommends washing your face no more than twice a day, using sunscreen and a moisturizer appropriate for your skin type every day, and using a skincare product that contains retinol, which can help both wrinkles and acne. Additionally, products that contain benzoyl peroxide can be helpful for acne.
“Finding great skin can be discouraging for many women, but there are so many tools that can help, whether you’re struggling with acne or wrinkles or both,” said Johnson.
Get a free, professional skin evaluation and find out how to put your best face forward.