What wouldn’t you do for clear skin? Americans spend billions on over-the-counter acne treatments every year, but those expensive scrubs, masks, and creams won’t fix any breakouts if it’s the inside that’s calling the shots.
Skin is how our bodies talk to us and if we don’t pay close attention to what we put into our bodies, any message we get will no doubt be in red.
So how do we make sure the gut-skin communication is flawless?
Research has shown that low-glycemic, high-protein foods play a significant role in improving acne. So, start with a clean, wholesome foundation, like a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables!
Here are 10 of the best foods to help make zits and blemishes a thing of the past.
Kale outshines the other members of the cabbage family because it’s the most nutrient dense.
High in fiber, this low-calorie superfood is packed with
- vitamins A, B-6, C, and K
The antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in kale work to reduce hyperpigmentation, which is the key to evening out your skin tone. Vitamin C also promotes collagen formation, helping to repair acne scars faster by increasing cell turnover rate.
To try: Add a cup of kale to your morning smoothie or lightly sauté it as a tasty side dish for lunch or dinner.
Retinol, a vitamin A derivative, is ideal for fighting acne and warding off wrinkles. There are hundreds of retinol creams and serums on the market that promise to make your acne disappear, but for those who are under age 30, this strong ingredient may be too harsh for the skin.
So, eat it instead! Or at least, the original form.
Beta-carotene, which gets converted into vitamin A, is one of the reasons sweet potatoes have their rich, beautiful orange color.
After eating sweet potatoes, your body will convert beta-carotene into vitamin A. This vitamin has properties that will act as a skin barrier against discoloration, inflammation, and clogged pores often brought on by free radicals.
To try: Sweet potato casserole is synonymous with holiday dinners, but serving them up as baked fries or a creamy bowl of soup is an easy way to get these benefits all year.
Fresh lemon juice works as a natural astringent, which is why it makes waves for tightening sagging skin and blurring blemishes.
However, using it as a topical treatment isn’t recommended. Straight lemon juice is too acidic and can damage your skin’s barrier, causing it to lighten or darken too much after exposure to sunlight.
But when lemon’s properties are packaged in a serum, squeezed into your water, over a salad, or part of your diet, it could work a bit of skin magic — as long as you include the peel. A 2014 study confirmed the protective and anticarcinogenic effects of citrus peel flavonoids.
Lemon helps with
- increasing collagen production
- blocking free radicals
- lightening acne scars
To try: Squeeze fresh lemon into a cup of warm water and drink it on an empty stomach every morning for radiant skin.
There may be a season for pumpkin-infused everything, but there’s a lot more to this gourd than pie and lattes.
Loaded with fruit enzymes, zinc, and alpha hydroxy acids, pumpkin can soften skin and restore pH balance. It’s why you also find it in many masks and exfoliating products.
But internally, all that fiber and zinc will do you good too. Zinc helps to regulate the amount of oil production.
To try: Whisk pumpkin puree into pancake batter for a fall-themed breakfast or simply roast the seeds, adding a little oil and a dash of salt. More ideas? Check out our favorite pumpkin recipes, including pumpkin risotto and a hearty chili.
Strawberries, cherries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries — don’t let their size fool you! These babies are bursting with vitamin C and antioxidants, which can also be found in bell peppers, kiwi, and broccoli.
Having vitamin C circulating in your blood is a powerful weapon against blotchy skin, while the antioxidants from the berries act like a combo attack against those pesky dark spots, stopping them from ever forming in the first place.
Berries’ health benefits may include
- improved brain health
- lower cholesterol
- healthy blood sugar levels
- reduced risk for heart disease and diabetes
- regular bowel movements
To try: Berries are a delicious snack on their own and they make for a colorful addition to oatmeal and yogurt, but if you’ve got a sweet tooth, go ahead and indulge in any of these berry-infused desserts with no added sugar! If you’re going for whole fruits, aim for about eight medium-sized strawberries per day or 21 cherries to hit the daily goal.
What do chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, and peanuts all have in common? These legumes are low-glycemic, so they’re associated with more consistent blood sugar levels and fewer acne flare-ups.
High glycemic foods, including chocolate, breakfast cereals, bagels, and white rice, may cause a spike in blood sugar. Research shows this not only leads to type 2 diabetes, heart attack, and stroke, it may also take a toll on your skin.
To try: Add them to soups and stews or sprinkle some on top of your salads for a nutrient-dense meal. Just when you thought beans were boring, here are 13 ways to enjoy them, especially helpful for vegans and vegetarians.
Papayas contain a digestive enzyme called papain. On your skin’s surface, papain is powerful enough to:
- exfoliate dead skin cells
- unclog pores
- fade acne scars
- hydrate skin
- prevent any future breakouts
For the inside, this exotic fruit does wonders too. Its vitamins and minerals improve skin elasticity and can help banish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Benefits of papaya
- vitamins A, C, and K
- B vitamins, including folate
To try: They’re fabulous in a tangy salsa, smoothie, sorbet, or curry. You can also try it topically as a rejuvenating mask for softer, brighter skin.
A cup of cooked quinoa has 17 to 27 grams of fiber, so you’ll experience less constipation. Pooping regularly eliminates toxins from your body, resulting in clearer skin and fewer dark spots.
To try: Quinoa tastes fabulous in a salad or as a side dish, but it also makes a great substitute for wheat flour in cookies, muffins, and other baked goods. Feeling adventurous? Try these quinoa black bean burgers.
Salmon with the skin is the best source for omega-3 fatty acids, but sardines, mackerel, and anchovies are also excellent choices.
Omega-3s protect your skin against sun damage, reducing your risk for developing skin cancer and brown spots brought on by prolonged periods of sun exposure.
Salmon is also a great source of
- B vitamins
To try: Bake it, steam it, or pan fry it. Make salmon the star of your next meal with these 45 creative recipes.
Vibrant fruits and vegetables are associated with greater health benefits, but don’t underestimate cauliflower.
This cruciferous veggie is packed with a powerful amino acid called histidine. Too much sunlight can make existing dark spots worse, but histidine prevents those harmful UV rays from wreaking havoc on your skin.
A cup of raw cauliflower also contains
- vitamins B6, C, and K
To try: You can dip cauliflower in hummus for a healthy midday snack, but try adding it to mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, or pizza crust for a healthy twist on some of your favorite comfort foods.
You can’t go wrong with incorporating more fruits, vegetables, and fish into your diet. One of the puzzle pieces to minimizing acne is consuming foods that naturally reduce inflammation, boost collagen formation, and block environmental toxins.
Here’s a reminder how food works: What you eat gets broken down and transported everywhere through your blood, so results aren’t going to happen overnight the way topical treatments might. Eating one meal of berries or salmon isn’t going to do the trick either.
Between your skin and you, it’s a relationship where food, products, and your mental health all work together. Food is just one point of the triangle to naturally fueling your skin with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients so it can be strong and healthy. Think of it like a foundation your body needs. There’s no stronger way to build that than from the inside out.
Princess Gabbara is a writer, editor, and storyteller who has penned stories for Billboard, Shondaland, Bitch Media, Vibe, Ebony, Jetmag.com, Essence, Bustle, Sesi, and Greatist to name a few. She was previously the things-to-do reporter for the Lansing State Journal, part of the USA Today Network. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram and visit her website.