Can you really improve your skin through diet?

We have had quite a few requests from people wondering how they can improve their skin, so we asked our Consultant Dietitian Nutritionist Katherine Kimber……..

First things first, what is skin? 

Skin is a complex organ, that acts as a natural barrier between internal and external environments. It’s made up of a variety of different tissues, organised in three different layers: the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis. It holds a rich system of blood vessels, involved in tissues food supply, temperature regulation, wound healing, immune reactions and control of blood pressure.

How does nutrition help? 

Nutrition plays a role in strengthening the skins’ capabilities to fight against multiple aggressions like UV light and air pollutants. We know this because nutritional deficiencies are often associated with skin health disorders and we’ve seen over time that different diets can either positively or negatively influence skin condition. One of the biggest damages to the skin is UK light.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the link between skin health and nutrition, and what nutrients could be beneficial to skin health. It’s a relatively new field of interest in the world of skin health, but here is what we know so far.

So what nutrients can benefit the skin?

Vitamin C 

Vitamin C plays an essential role in collagen synthesis and protection against UV light damage. This is important because UV damage is the most common culprit of skin damage. Normal skin contains high concentrations of Vitamin C. Collagen is one of the skin’s main structural proteins, and it’s levels are thought to decline by 1% per year from your mid-20s onwards. Eating a diet rich in sources of Vitamin C can help to support this essential skin building block. Foods high in Vitamin C include fresh fruits and vegetables such as citrus fruits like oranges and orange juice, blackcurrant, peppers, broccoli, potatoes, strawberries.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble, essential nutrient with anti-inflammatory properties. It’s an antioxidant making it effective at combating the effects of free radicals produced by the metabolism of food and toxins in the environment. Vitamin E may also be beneficial at reducing UV damage to the skin. Good sources of Vitamin E include; plant oils – such as rapeseed (vegetable oil), sunflower, soya, corn and olive oil, nuts and seeds and wheat germ – found in cereals and cereal products.


This is used in the body as a source of vitamin A and needed for skin maintenance and repair. There is some research to support the benefits of this in protecting the skin against sunburn. Carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, mangos and papaya are some examples of beta-carotene rich fruits and vegetables.


Lycopene is a plant nutrient with antioxidant properties. It can also potentially help against sunburn and premature skin ageing. Lycopene is the pigment found in tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables, such as red carrots, watermelons and papayas.

Fish oils/omega-3 fatty acids

These are essential oils, meaning they need to be obtained from the diet as they can’t be made in the body. They are anti-inflammatory and consumption of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) totalling 4 g/day over 3 months has shown some protection against sunburn. The current recommendation is that in the UK we should be eating around two portions of fish each week, one of which should be oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and fresh tuna.

Polyphenol and flavonoids

Consumption of green tea polyphenols in small studies has shown to result in less UV damage and ageing, however, further research is required to understand how much and for how long.


  • Zinc is an important co-factor for many body processes including skin healing. Good sources of zinc include; Good sources of zinc include meat, shellfish, dairy foods such as cheese, bread and cereal products such as wheatgerm.
  • Copper is an important co-factor for elastin, a major protein that gives the skin its structure. Clinical studies have shown that copper aids in improving skin elasticity, reducing facial fine lines and wrinkles, and promoting wound healing. Good sources of copper include; nuts, shellfish and offal.
  • Selenium is thought to play an important role in reducing sun damage and therefore potential subsequent skin cancer risk. Good sources of selenium include; brazil nuts, fish, meat and eggs.


Protein is essential for cell growth and repair and therefore is necessary for replenishment and growth of new, healthy skin cells. Luckily in the UK, we don’t see many people who are short of protein as it is found in a wide variety of foods including meat, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts and starchy foods. If you’re concerned about dairy and acne, you can find out more here.

Do we need a supplement to maximise skin health?

If we’re eating an overall balanced diet that provides enough energy, protein, fats and a variety of different foods from each of the food groups, there should be no need to supplement our diet. A supplement may be beneficial if you’re not able to meet your dietary needs through food, your diet is restricted, or you’ve been diagnosed with a deficiency. It’s always best to speak with a healthcare practitioner before trialling any supplements. What we should be aiming for is a well-balanced diet that doesn’t cut out or restrict foods or food groups (unless there’s a medical need to do so), that is physically and emotionally satisfying, enjoyable and pleasurable.

And finally… 

It’s also important to not believe everything you hear, read or see. If something claims that it can “boost” your skin health, or make you “glow”, it’s likely to be fake news. Good nutrition can support healthy skin, but it can’t necessarily “transform” it. Plus, many people who eat very well balanced diets can have troubled skin. It’s not necessarily all down to diet and in some cases, there are no links at all. It’s important to remember that we’re all individuals and there are no quick fixes to good health. If your skin is suffering, talk to your GP as there may be an underlying cause. The environment, medication, hormones and genetics all play a role in our health and that of our skin, so make sure you get any ongoing problems checked out with a professional.

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If you have a specific interest or would like to see a particular product or nutrient reviewed, please email your request to Educating our customers in respect to the importance of nutrients and the idiosyncrasies between formulas and products is at the heart of what we want to achieve.

This post is meant for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or nutritional advice or act as a substitute for seeking such advice from a qualified health professional. In order to make the blog series easier to read, I have used a conversational tone in many places with personal pronouns, such as “I” and “you.” This is meant only to make it more pleasant to read, and is not meant to imply that the information constitutes any form of advice, whether personal or general.