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The skin is the largest organ in the body. It is the most comprehensive barrier to external threats and keeps foreign objects out.
The skin consists of multiple protective layers, namely, the top layer called the epidermis, the middle layer called the dermis, and a deep layer called the hypodermis or subcutis. These skin layers house nerve fibers, sweat glands, blood and lymph vessels, and hair follicles. (1)
Common Skin Issues
Acne, wrinkles, and dry or oily skin are the common skin problems about which people complain.
Skin blemishes occur when a gland in the skin becomes blocked, sebum (an oily substance that moisturizes the skin) builds up, or a pustule forms and leads to inflammation.
While the formation process of skin blemishes seems simple, the reasons the skin forms blemishes or acne are complicated.
Unlike the occasional pimple, acne is typically a chronic condition that lasts for long periods.
There are three main categories of acne:
- Mild acne occurs in individuals who have a few blackheads or whiteheads from clogged skin pores.
- Moderate acne covers more areas of the face than mild acne does. It can include raised bumps called “papules,” which often do not have any visible pus under the skin, and “pustules,” which contain yellow pus.
- Severe acne involves a large area of the skin and can also include red and painful nodules. Severe acne can lead to scarring.
The formation of pimples is usually related to hormonal changes. One hormone, specifically androgen, begins to increase in the body during puberty.
Such an increase often triggers your skin to produce more oil. The oil can mix with dead skin cells and clog pores, leading to blemishes. Thus, pimples can also develop in other areas of the body with oil glands, such as the back and chest.
Aside from hormones, other factors such as taking medications, stress, and using certain skincare products can worsen breakouts.
As you inevitably age, your skin begins to shape as directed by gravity. Everybody would love to have plump skin well into their 60s and 70s, but that simply isn’t how life works.
Skin cell proliferation declines as you get older, which means your skin will not regenerate as quickly as it did during the youthful years. This decline leads to a gradual thinning of the middle layer of the skin, the dermis.
The dermis is made up of a network of elastin and collagen fibers, which are structural proteins that keep your skin firm and taut.
With advancing age, this network tends to loosen and give way to form depressions or creases on the skin surface. These fine lines and wrinkles become more visible with advancing age as there is a progressive loss of collagen and elastin.
The body is unable to produce enough of these structural proteins, triggering a loss of skin elasticity. The less elastic the skin, the more it is likely to wrinkle. The skin healing process also becomes more difficult and slower with age.
The activity of the sebaceous glands underlying your skin also diminishes over time. Thus, there isn’t enough oil secretion to keep your skin adequately lubricated, resulting in untoward skin dryness.
Not only does aging skin produce less oil, but it is also unable to hold moisture. Dry skin wrinkles more easily than well-moisturized skin. (4)
Wrinkles can appear more prominent over time due to muscle contractions in the face from smiling or squinting. Those who are always exposed to the sun may also notice more wrinkling.
Photoaging, or aging skin from UV rays, is common. Sun rays can break down collagen fiber, resulting in less skin elasticity (as can smoking).
3. Dry or Oily Skin
Skin complexion is, well, complex. Everybody has their own unique layer of skin. Some individuals have dry skin, some have oily skin, and others have a seemingly perfect mix of the two. Many factors you simply cannot change, play a role in your skin type.
Dry skin occurs when the skin is unable to retain moisture correctly. This can be caused naturally by aging or climates and also by specific medical conditions, harsh skin products, and frequent washing. (5)
Dry air, especially in the winter, is a large contributor to inadequate skin hydration, which is common among those living in the Northern Hemisphere.
By contrast, skin that produces too much oil can cause a consistent, “wet” and shiny appearance. Oily skin is a result of the overproduction of oil by the sebaceous glands.
While dry skin can be a struggle to deal with, oily skin can be difficult to keep clean.
Hormones and genes play a big role in the way oil glands work. (6)
Both dry and oily skin can lead to skin problems, including cracks, itchiness, redness, blackheads, pimples, and “greasy” skin.
Finding a balance between dry and oily skin can improve skin texture and reduce the uncomfortable symptoms associated with a lack of hydration or overproductive oil glands.
Interestingly, a lack of hydration can cause oily skin in some individuals.
How Diet Impacts Skin Health
Aside from the factors mentioned previously, your skin problems might also be tied to one other large factor in your life – your diet.
While dietary habits and their relationship with skin health have not had the best clinical luck in the past, there is some evidence showing a connection between what you eat and drink and your skin health.
Foods that reduce acne outbreaks
The relationship between acne outbreaks and diet is still unclear, but scientists are slowly uncovering pieces to the puzzle.
A high-glycemic load appears to be related to acne occurrence. (7) High-glycemic foods include white bread, ice cream, candy, potatoes, and soda.
Frequently consuming fatty foods, sugar, sausages, burgers, pastries, and cakes are associated with an increased risk of developing acne. (8)
By contrast, some studies found that a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids was related to a reduced number of acne lesions, blackheads, papules, and pustules and had a therapeutic impact on acne vulgaris. (9)
To reduce your odds of developing acne and support your skin during an outbreak, focus on consuming foods with low glycemic loads and high omega-3 fatty acids, including:
- Red lentils
- Kidney beans
Foods that fight wrinkles and aging
Because wrinkles and fine lines are a natural part of the aging process, there is no magic cure to diminish them forever. However, some research shows that consuming specific nutrients may prevent the appearance of wrinkles and may also help your skin look younger.
Specifically, the intake of a nutrient called coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) limited the deterioration of elasticity caused by seasonal changes and reduced the signs of aging. (10)
One small study found reduced wrinkle appearance and improved skin smoothness after supplementing with CoQ10. (10)
For aging in general, many believe that consuming a diet high in antioxidants is one way to fight cell damage. While this theory is still highly debated, eating foods high in antioxidants is always beneficial for your health.
Foods high in CoQ10 and other antioxidants include: (11)
- Rainbow trout
- Canola oil
Foods that improve dry and oily skin
Many find that excessive oil production on the skin can be corrected by proper hydration. For this reason, the treatment for both dry and oily skin can be quite similar.
Proper hydration is a requirement for the proper functioning of all organs, including the skin. (12) The University of Wisconsin points out that while more studies are needed to tie drinking water directly to healthy skin, water is clearly the best place to start.
“The fact is that skin is an organ, and just like any other part of the body, your skin is made up of cells. And skin cells, like any other cell in the body, are made up of water. Without water, the organs will certainly not function properly or at their best.” (13)
In addition to staying hydrated with water, fatty acids may also help keep the skin from drying.
One study showed that a deficiency in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid) had been linked to dry skin. Another study found that the consumption of linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid) was associated with a lower risk of skin dryness in older populations. (14)
Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables that contain a high amount of water for hydration and foods high in DHA and linoleic acid, including:
- Sunflower oil
- Cod liver oil
In addition to these recommendations, you can promote your well-being by incorporating whole foods into your daily diet and reducing processed food intake. Keeping your diet and gut clean will support your overall health and grant your skin the ability to function at its best!