When it comes to a well-rounded skincare routine, it’s important to remember that what you put in your body matters. Your diet plays a big role in your skin health, and foods that are bad for skin can lead to premature aging, dehydration, and acne breakouts.
A healthy diet that’s plentiful in anti-aging foods, on the other hand, can help pave the way for a clear, youthful complexion.
Here are 11 of the most common foods that may be doing damage to your skin — and foods you can start eating instead.
Sugar is a huge culprit when it comes to skin aging. Why? Short answer, it damages collagen — the protein that keeps skin looking firm, youthful, and wrinkle-free.
Here’s how sugar can contribute to skin aging: when you consume sugar, it binds to the collagen proteins in your skin. This binding creates molecules called advanced glycation endproducts, or, AGEs. These AGEs damage collagen, resulting in decreased skin elasticity, which can make your skin appear thin and saggy.1
Eat this instead: low-glycemic fresh fruits, like apples, cherries, plums, and grapefruit.2 And try a collagen supplement to increase skin firmness.
2. Refined Carbohydrates
Like sugar, carbohydrates also lead to the development of collagen-damaging AGEs.3 Avoid high-carbohydrate foods, like white potatoes, white bread, and pasta, in your regular diet.
Eat this instead: brown rice, whole barley, millet, stone ground wheat bread, healthy fats, and proteins.4
3. Fried foods
French fries, chips, donuts, and other fried foods can all lead to the signs of premature skin aging. Why? Simply put, foods that are fried tend to have higher levels of free radicals.5
Free radicals are molecules with unpaired electrons. Electrons are meant to be paired, and when they’re not, they’ll scavenge your body, looking for a pair. This leads to a condition called “oxidative stress,” which, in turn, leads to inflammation and an acceleration in the aging process. Long story short, free radicals can lead to the visible signs of aging, like wrinkles, sagging, and dark spots.6
Eat this instead: Anti-aging foods high in antioxidants, like skin-nourishing vitamin C, can help stop the effects of free radicals.7 Try eating more spinach, kale, brussel sprouts or beets.
Research suggests there’s a strong link between acne breakouts and milk consumption.8 So, if you struggle frequently with acne breakouts, try skipping traditional milk in your cereal or coffee.
Eat this instead: Use dairy alternatives, like coconut, almond milk or hemp milk.
5. Gluten — If You’re Sensitive
You might be surprised to learn that gluten is one of those foods that are bad for skin.
Studies show that approximately 6 percent of the American population is sensitive to gluten.9 And no, gluten intolerance doesn’t just affect your digestion — it can affect your complexion as well. People sensitive to gluten may experience an increase in dryness, flakiness, inflammation, and itchy or bumpy skin.10
Keep in mind — gluten isn’t just found in wheat. It’s also found in barley, oats, and rye.
Eat this instead: Quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat and baking flours such as cassava or almond flour.
6. High Intake of Meat
Lean meat is a great source of protein, but eating too much meat may not be great for your skin. That’s because — wait for it — meat tends to have high levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs).11 Remember those?
Eat this instead: Eat non-meat proteins that are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which help keep skin moisturized.12 Try salmon, trout, or herring.13
7. Processed Meats
Bacon, pepperoni, and other cured meats are loaded with salt, which can lead to water retention. And yes, this water retention can show up on your face in the form of bags under your eyes.
Eat this instead: To avoid bags under the eyes, try home-roasted, pasture-raised turkey or chicken, which ensures that you control the salt content.
8. Certain Types of Vegetable Oil
If you’re used to cooking with canola oil or generic vegetable oil, it’s time to switch it up. Vegetable oil is high in omega-6 fatty acids, which are associated with acne breakouts.16,17
Now, omega-6 fatty acids aren’t totally bad. But it’s a good idea to balance them out with omega-3 fatty acids, which may help decrease acne breakouts and irritation.18
Cook with this instead: Avocado oil, olive and flaxseed oil, which are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids.19
You probably saw this one coming. Not only is alcohol dehydrating, it also generates free radicals22 that can contribute to the aging of skin. 20,21
Drink this instead: Good news — there’s an exception. Wine contains antioxidants, which do help minimize the effects of free radicals. So, go ahead and enjoy a glass now and then. But of course, it’s important to focus on hydration, so drink as much water as possible.
There’s nothing like a good cup of coffee to wake you up, but drinking caffeine has its downsides. Regular caffeine consumption can stimulate stress hormones, like cortisol.23 And when stress hormones are chronically elevated, they can trigger the production of age-accelerating free radicals.24 (Yep, those again.)
Drink this instead: green tea — it’s lower in caffeine and contains free-radical fighting antioxidants.
Eat And Drink To Skin Health
There are a lot of foods that are bad for skin. But the good news is, there are just as many foods that are good for your skin. Try switching up your diet with some anti-aging foods, and see if your complexion responds with a certain glow.