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Eating for Skin Health: The Power of Antioxidants

Average read time: 5 minutes

Ongoing studies suggest that we can protect our skin from sunburn by eating a variety of antioxidants daily, which could help reduce your risk of skin cancer.

Eating for Skin Health: The Power of Antioxidants

Your skin is your body’s largest organ, and you should do your best to protect it against the sun in order to reduce your risk of getting skin cancer. Ongoing studies suggest that besides staying out of the sun, wearing sunscreen and protective gear, and avoiding artificial tanning, we can protect our skin from harmful UV rays through our diet.

We’ll shed some light on the kinds of foods you want to include in your diet to help your skin protect itself against the sun, and a range of skin conditions.

Skin conditions and your diet

Skin acts as a physical and chemical barrier between the outside environment and inside tissues of the body. Structurally, skin is comprised of two main layers, the epidermis and dermis. The epidermis, upper layer, is responsible for most of the barrier functions of skin, and the dermis is the structural and nutritive support network. Since each layer has its own special structure and role, the nutritive requirements of each should be considered.

Some of the functions of nutrition in skin health focuses on the effects of deficiency, since the structural components of the skin are supported by various nutritive factors, such as small peptides, minerals, and vitamins. The skin is also constantly exposed to high concentrations of oxygen, UV light, and oxidising chemicals, highlighting a function for antioxidant vitamins in skin function. Moreover, nutritional additives of the skin are important for inflammatory responses during wound healing.

The main food as fuel for skin cells is glucose. Abnormal glucose handling affects skin structure and appearance. Macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids; and micronutrients such as vitamins and essential minerals work together to maintain the barrier functions of skin. Amino acids, on the other hand, are essential for the production of both dermal and epidermal structures, producing the extracellular matrix proteins and enzymes needed for the synthesis of the epidermal barrier (Akalin & Selamoglu, 2019).

Changes in the appearance and functioning of the skin can, therefore, be associated with poor nutrition.

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers. It’s mainly caused by excessive UV exposure, which can be from the sun and other sources such as sunbeds and tanning salons. UV exposure generates molecules known as free radicals that damage the skin’s DNA and cell function. When damaged, these cells can mutate, which leads to the development of skin cancer. Luckily, most skin cancers are curable if detected early and treated during their early stages, before spreading.

Some typical signs and symptoms include:

  • Skin growths, scabs or sores that don’t go away/heal
  • Changes in existing skin spots
  • Pale or waxy skin patches
  • Scaly skin patches
  • Red or flesh-coloured moles

Skin cancer often develops where it can be seen, making it easier to catch early. Regular examinations of the skin for any signs of skin cancer can help you get the treatment you need in time to save your life. If you find anything suspicious, make an appointment to discuss it with your physician, dermatologist or a healthcare professional qualified to diagnose skin cancer as soon as possible.

What are antioxidants and how can they help your skin?

Our bodies are continuously subjected to oxidative stress. It is part of the body’s metabolic activities, and we are exposed to it by environmental sources such as pollution, tobacco, and alcohol. Oxidative stress, combined with free radicals, can lead to premature ageing and diseases like:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Cancer

Antioxidants have been found to prevent or delay some types of cell damage caused by free radicals and oxidative stress. Antioxidants are found in synthetic or natural sources and are present in fruits, vegetables, and supplements containing specific vitamins and minerals. Some substances, like glutathione, are produced by our bodies, while others come from following a healthy diet.

Antioxidants include the following vitamins and nutrients:

  • Vitamins A, C, and E
  • Selenium
  • Zinc
  • Carotenoids
  • Flavonoids
  • Glutathione

Each of these vitamins and nutrients plays a vital role in the functioning of your skin. Carotenoids, for example, are an essential part of the epidermis, while zinc is necessary for new cells to form. Selenium helps inhibit wrinkle formation and signs of ageing, and vitamin E acts as an anti-inflammatory agent for the skin. It is, therefore, important, to consume a diverse range of these regularly.

Sun-shielding superfoods to add to your diet

Skin cancer prevention is never guaranteed, but adding some of the superfoods in the table below (The Skin Cancer Foundation, 2017) to your diet can help your skin protect itself against sunburn, and, therefore, skin damage. We’ve included some recipe ideas to show you how simple it is to add more antioxidants to your diet.

Vitamin or nutrient

Why it’s good

Sources

Recipe idea

Vitamin C

Some of vitamin C’s properties make it toxic to cancer cells

Oranges, strawberries, broccoli, raspberries, and bell peppers

Lentil, Broccoli and Cheese Quiche

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is important for immunity and may reduce the chances of melanoma, which is a more serious form of skin cancer

Liver, fish oil, milk, eggs, leafy greens, orange and yellow vegetables


Knorr Peri Peri Chicken Livers

Zinc

Activates antioxidants and helps the immune system function better

Lamb, shellfish, beef, legumes (especially chickpeas and black beans)

Spicy Butternut and Chickpea Tagine

Beta carotene

Converts to vitamin A and can help protect skin from rection to sunburn

Orange fruits and vegetables, sweet potatoes, squash, mangoes

Flavourful Mango, Avo and Beef Strip Salad

Omega-3 fatty acids

Reduces inflammation and inhibits a chemical known for promoting skin cancer progression

Fatty fish, walnuts, flax and chia seeds

Salmon Steak

Lycopene

Protects the skin from sun damage

Watermelon, tomatoes, papaya, guava, blood oranges

Herby Chicken Stew with Tomatoes & Mushrooms

Polyphenols

Plant chemicals with anti-inflammatory abilities; reduce cell damage in UV-exposed skin

Green and black teas

Cold Brew Green and Mint Tea

To let your body make the most of these vitamins and nutrients, eat your meals and snacks during the daytime. Our skin cells have their own biological clock that can be disrupted by abnormal eating behaviours. Added to this, eating late at night impairs an enzyme that’s responsible for repairing damaged skin, so late-night eating increases your risk of permanent skin damage.

Eating foods that are rich in antioxidants is good for your overall health, not just your skin. So you’ve got nothing to lose by adding more of these super, sun-shielding foods into your daily diet! Remember, however, that you shouldn’t replace your sunscreen and protective wear with food. What you eat only offers additional protection for your skin.

FAQs

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are different vitamins and nutrients. Each of them plays a vital role in the functioning of your skin. Naturally, you’ll find them in fruits and vegetables, and synthetically in supplements.

Do antioxidants prevent skin cancer?

Ongoing studies suggest that besides staying out of the sun, wearing sunscreen and protective gear, and avoiding artificial tanning, we can protect our skin from harmful UV rays through a diet rich in antioxidants.

What are the signs and symptoms of skin cancer?

Some typical signs and symptoms of skin cancer include:

  • Skin growths, scabs or sores that don’t go away/heal
  • Changes in existing skin spots
  • Pale or waxy skin patches
  • Scaly skin patches
  • Red or flesh-coloured moles

Is skin cancer curable?

Most skin cancers are curable if detected early and treated during their early stages, before spreading.

Can a diet replace other sun protection measures?

No. What you eat can only offer additional support and protection for your skin.

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