Derm Topics

Nutrition and Skin Aging | The Expert Weighs In

Eat This, Not That! and SheFinds recently wrote articles about nutrition and skin aging. How strong is the science behind diet and aging skin? When should dermatologists address nutrition with their patients and what should dermatologists recommend?

For expert advice, I reached out to Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, director of the Skin of Color Division for the University of Miami Department of Dermatology and member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. Dr. Woolery-Lloyd will address how lifestyle factors influence dermatologic disease at Skin of Color Update 2022.

How strong is the science behind nutrition and skin aging?

Several studies have shown a connection between diet and skin aging and skin quality. In one study of 4025 middle-aged American women, investigators found higher vitamin C intakes were associated with a lower likelihood of a wrinkled appearance, higher linoleic acid intakes were associated with a lower likelihood of dry skin associated with aging, and increased fat and carbohydrate intakes increased the likelihood of a wrinkled appearance. These associations were independent of age, race, education, sunlight exposure, income, menopausal status, body mass index, supplement use, physical activity and energy intake.

In another study of over 2700 Dutch women, a red meat and snack-dominant dietary pattern was associated with more facial wrinkles, whereas a fruit-dominant dietary pattern was associated with fewer wrinkles.

A large international study of 453 subjects in Greece, Sweden and Australia found that there was less actinic skin damage with a higher intake of vegetables, olive oil, fish and legumes and a lower intake of butter, margarine, milk products and sugar products. In another analysis of the data, researchers found a high intake of vegetables, legumes and olive oil appeared to be protective against cutaneous actinic damage and a high intake of meat, dairy and butter appeared to be adverse.

Are there foods that seem to accelerate skin aging and, if so, what are they?

Based on the studies listed above, increased intake of the following items has been implicated in accelerated skin aging:

    • fat
    • meat
    • dairy
    • butter
    • sugar

Are there foods that seem to decelerate skin aging and, if so, what are they?

Based on the studies listed above, increased dietary intake of the following items may decelerate skin aging:

    • dietary vitamin C
    • dietary linoleic acid
    • fruits and vegetables
    • olive oil
    • legumes
    • fish

How strong of a role does nutrition play in slowing down skin aging in comparison with topicals and other treatments?

This has not been studied specifically so it is hard to make any comparisons between the effects of a healthy diet and topical agents on skin aging. However, both appear to be helpful when it comes to skin aging.

Do you recommend dermatologists address nutrition with their patients? If so, to which patients and in what manner?

Yes. Although we need more research in this area, studies to date suggest that diet can impact the skin. I think it is reasonable to recommend the findings above including a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats and sugars.

How often do you address nutrition with your patients, and what do you tell them? 

I discuss nutrition with my patients regularly. Almost all acne patients ask about the role of diet on their acne. In acne patients, I recommend avoiding dairy, whey and high glycemic foods. I also frequently discuss diet and offer similar recommendations to patients with hidradenitis suppurativa. Many patients interested in a comprehensive approach to slowing skin aging also ask about how diet plays a role and I discuss the data presented above.

How have patients responded to your recommendations regarding nutrition?

Patients are excited to learn about how their diet may affect their skin. Often patients have started to modify their diet before their visit because of their own concerns about how their diet affects their skin. 

Any other advice or tips you have for dermatologists with regards to counseling their patients on nutrition for skin aging?

I think it is helpful to offer evidence-based recommendations on how diet can affect the skin. More research is needed but patients are receptive to learning the research and how they can incorporate these recommendations into the management of their skin concerns.

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