Great skin is rarely about what you put on it, says nutritional therapist Karen Geary – instead try looking at what you’re eating
I am writing this on the hottest day of the year so far – and across the UK I know as much skin as possible is being exposed. We often think that the best way to get great-looking skin is with a tan or with expensive skin creams. It is true that vitamin D from the sun is a health essential – but as we all know, too much sun can cause long term damage. The truth is that looking at what we eat is by far the best way to keep skin looking great.
Foods containing vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, berries, peppers and greens of any type, are mildly protective from the harsh exposure of the sun – vitamin C is a powerful anti-oxidant.
These are recognisable by the red, orange and yellow pigments. Find them in vegetables such as carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, red and yellow peppers, as well as wild-caught salmon. You will have probably heard of lycopene, a special type of carotenoid found in tomatoes and red cabbage. Carotenoids promote healthy skin cells and they act as a type of anti-oxidant.
There are more than 8,000 different classifications of polyphenol, including ones you will probably have heard of such as flavonoids and ellagic acids. They are considered a lifespan essential, given their wide-ranging properties. Polyphenols are mainly found in the dark-coloured plants; think purple berries, pomegranate, purple grapes (and red wine!), dark green leafy veg, very dark high quality chocolate, coffee (yes!) and also in herbs.
Herbs are extremely powerful, and by weight they pack a massive dose of nutrients in themselves – peppermint, oregano, star anise, sage, rosemary and thyme are all high in polyphenols. From a skin point of view, polyphenols protect against too much sun exposure, as they are free radical scavengers. They also increase circulation.
Three-quarters of the dry weight of skin consists of collagen and it’s pretty much everywhere in the body. It keeps skin firm and plump-looking, but unfortunately the body prioritises collagen going to other cells before it gets to hair, skin, and nails!
It drops naturally as we age, and collagen has become popular as a supplement.
You can get collagen naturally from bone broth – never waste the bones from your Sunday roast, boil them for a few hours with some cider vinegar, herbs and seasoning.
Once cooled, you get that gelatinous goodness (skim the fat off the top if you like), and use as a soup base or freeze for later. You can also get collagen from liver and tough cuts of meat when they are cooked very slowly. If you do this, always buy high quality, such as grass-fed with no other additives. If you prefer marine collagen supplements, be extremely wary of how these are produced and research well.
I shouldn’t need to say this, but water is 50 to 70 per cent of your body weight. The answer to ‘how much is the right amount to drink’ is complicated, however. It depends on what you eat, how much you weigh, your exercise levels etc.
Rule of thumb – check your wee! Your urine should be pale yellow to colourless. If it’s darker, then get drinking.