How to Eat Your Way to Glowing Skin (and a Happy Gut!)

gut skin axis

The secret to a gorgeous glow isn’t all in the skincare. The key is to nourish your skin from the inside out.

We’re all familiar with the skin hangover you get from going overboard on junk food. Breakouts? Check. Dark circles? Double check. What isn’t so clear is why the way we eat affects the way our skin functions so closely. We’re not just talking negative effects either; with the right diet, you can actually work toward healing skin issues, and slow aging.

But don’t just take our word for it! Nutrition and beauty expert Paula Simpson, who is also the brains behind ZSS Skincare, has spent her entire career exploring the deep connection behind the way we eat and the impact it has on our skin. We chatted with her to find out more about essential nutrients skin needs to stay healthy, why a skin condition could be a sign of poor gut health, and got the scoop on the best glow-inducing, wrinkle-fighting foods on the block!

EcoSalon: The road to beautiful skin can be tough! Why is it so important to start from the inside out?

Paula Simpson: Dietary toxins are often stored in skin tissue. A growing body of research suggests that many of the chemicals we ingest daily through food, water, and air can build up in our system, especially when the diet lacks certain nutrients impairing our natural ability to neutralize and remove chemicals. Over time they can overload our eliminative organs, causing toxins to be stored in the skin or fat tissue. The typical western diet is acidic and concentrated with simple sugars, chemicals, and preservatives. The combination of a poor diet, lifestyle and environmental pollutants can offset the skin’s natural balance affecting its function and overall appearance.

A plant based, low glycemic and antioxidant-rich diet (similar to the Mediterranean diet,) offers the best source of nutrition because it supports skin cell renewal and metabolism (which slows as we age), alongside antioxidant defense in skin tissue to protect skin from environmental aggressors and internal stressors (such as excess sugar), keeping skin firm and even in tone. This type of diet also provides the right balance of omega fatty acids to support strong skin cell membranes that plump and smooth out skin, bringing out a natural glow and shine to hair.

ES: Sometimes it can feel like despite eating a clean, healthy diet that skin conditions don’t improve. What could be the cause of this?

PS: There is a gut-skin axis. Many chronic skin conditions are correlated with digestive health (i.e. leaky gut syndrome, food allergens, harmful bacteria overgrowth within the gut,) that can depress skin immunity and offset normal skin function and structure. Numerous studies have shown a correlation between increased oxidative stress, bacterial overgrowth, and chronic skin conditions such as acne, atopic dermatitis, rosacea, and eczema. Consuming a plant-based, high fiber diet with lacto-fermented foods along with dietary supplements and pre/probiotics may help neutralize toxic by-products, defend the lining of the intestine, increasing the bioavailability of nutrients and protect against infectious microbes. Promoting the health of the digestive system and can be a primary defense to restore health and balance of your skin.

ES: Which simple easy sources do you recommend to get a daily dose of good bacteria to positively impact the gut-skin axis (and are any of them vegan)?

PS: Definitely! Plant-heavy diets, in general, improve microbial diversity. Focusing on plant-based foods with pre and probiotic rich foods can build and balance a healthy skin barrier and microbiome. Prebiotic foods help build good microflora, such as fermented sauerkraut, kim chi, kombucha, and pickled veggies. Probiotic rich foods include live-cultured yogurt, kefir, miso or kimchi!

ES: While that covers skin conditions, there’s one thing none of us can avoid – aging! What beautifying foods you can easily introduce into your diet to keep skin youthful?

PS: Wrinkles are rooted from within. Aging is, of course, a natural progression, but our diets and lifestyle we choose can make our skin age faster. The most visible effect of skin aging occurs when there is a weakening in the structural foundation of skin within the deeper dermal layers (collagen, elastin, and glycosaminoglycans). Visibly, skin becomes thinner losing its smoothness and structural strength and elasticity. When this connective tissue is healthy and strong, nutrients and oxygen can easily reach skin tissue while efficiently removing toxins and wastes. This is the site where new skin cells are produced then pushed towards the epidermal (outer) skin layer, keeping skin plump and healthy.

By adding certain protein-rich foods to your diet, you can promote a healthier rate of collagen renewal and protect your skin from premature aging. Mineral copper that is found in nuts, raisins, sweet potatoes, kidney beans, lobster, and oysters facilitates collagen production and therefore should be included in your diet. Lastly, be sure to include foods rich in Vitamin C as it is essential for collagen synthesis. Some top collagen boosting foods include; poultry, eggs (particularly egg whites,) cod, crab, lobster, oysters, oranges, tomatoes, lemons, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, sunflower and sesame seeds, almonds, raisins, adzuki, kidney, chickpeas, seaweed (spirulina, dulse).

Seeking out antioxidant-rich foods is also key! As we get older, our bodies become less efficient in neutralizing harmful free radicals that may permanently damage healthy cells (including skin cells.) Clinical studies have shown that catechins from green tea, anthocyanins from berries and red cabbage, bioflavonoids from citrus, carotenoids such as lycopene and lutein from tomatoes, and resveratrol from red wine offer potent secondary antioxidants that protect the skin cells from free radical damage. By including these types of foods more often in the diet, their additional antioxidant protection can support skin health particularly with regards to photoprotection.

ES: Are there any new superfoods on the block you think will be big this year in the beauty world?

PS: Spices are hot right now! Paprika is rich in zeaxanthin, which is a fantastic free radical fighter, especially when it comes to skin. Although other dietary sources include dark greens like kale and spinach, the purified and concentrated amounts from paprika pepper have been shown more effective to help protect the skin from premature photoaging and bring out a natural radiance and glow

Turmeric is another big one. It is a great detoxifier with strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin is the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, which gives it its yellow color and promotes liver and digestive health while calming the skin. Turmeric has also been used in the treatment of cicatricial alopecia, a scalp condition caused by inflammation that damages the hair follicles and prevents the growth of new hair. Try adding turmeric to foods more often. A dash of turmeric brings color and flavor to rice, soups, root vegetables or eggs.

Let’s not forget ginger, too. Active constituents found in the rhizome and root may offer a soothing and calming effect to the skin. When it comes to hair, ginger has long been used in ayurvedic medicine as a hair treatment. The antiseptic properties help to combat dandruff and the natural source of vitamins, minerals, and essential oils help to rebuild thinning dull hair.

Related on EcoSalon
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This is How to ‘Eat Beautiful’: A Cookbook for Your Skin
5 Ways to Improve Digestion (or ‘How to Poop Like a Pro!’)


Mayah Parmenter

Mayah Parmenter is a self-professed green beauty addict based in the UK, and writes primary at Call It Vanity. She's passionate about how modern beauty consumers can be a catalyst for change, and will try and convert anyone who will listen. Her number one weakness? Lipstick!