There has been much controversy over the years in regard to whether nutrients that are topically applied have any effect on the skin. If we take a minute and think about this logically; if something works for a specific function inside the body, why would it not have a similar effect on the skin? There is an old saying that goes: ‘You are what you eat’. This is true for the skin as well. As the body needs specific nutrients to function optimally, so does the skin. There are many nutrients that have positive effects in relation to skin care, however a few stand out above the rest. Vitamin C: The main action that vitamin C has on the skin is that it is a very powerful antioxidant which reduces the damage that is caused by free-radicals on then skin. Free-radicals are a harmful byproduct of ultraviolet rays (sunlight), pollution and smoke. Free-radicals cause damage to the skin by destroying collagen and elastin, the fibers that support skin structure and gives it it’s ‘plumpness’. The effect of these free-radicals is wrinkles and skin ageing. Vitamin C not only reduces the damage by free-radicals, but also stimulates the cells in the dermis to produce new collagen. Vitamin C furthermore inhibits tyrosinase (the enzyme that stimulates melanin) from triggering more melanin to be produced which decreases pigmentation problems. It is important to note that the form on vitamin C that is used in formulations is the tricky part. The only truly beneficial form, which has the ability to penetrate to the dermis of the skin, is L-ascorbic Acid. This is the only form that the body recognizes. It must be in this active form, at a low pH, as the skin will otherwise barrier it. To make sure your diet includes plenty of vitamin C, eat citrus fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C such as bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and leafy greens. These foods can replace the loss of the vitamin through the skin. You can also take vitamin C supplements, up to 500 to 1,000 milligrams of per day, however it is once again important to remember that it has to be the chiral form, to have a proper effect on the skin. Vitamin E: Vitamin E, as vitamin C is another powerful antioxidant with similar effects in regard to free-radical damage. In combination with vitamin C, when used in topical preparation as well as being taken internally, you are ensured of the best protection and prevention against free-radical damage and its long-term effects- ageing and skin cancer. Supplementation with natural Vitamin E in 400 mg per day has been noted to reduce photo damage, wrinkles and improve skin texture. The richest sources of vitamin E are vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, olives, spinach, and asparagus. It is, however not always possible to get adequate amounts from food sources and therefore an anti-oxidant supplement is recommended to ensure that you get the correct amount necessary. It is important to note that this vitamin if taken in high doses can be harmful and should be kept to 400 I/U or less per day. This is another reason why it is vital to use a topical preparation containing vitamin E. Vitamin A: Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and is essential for the maintenance and healing of epithelial tissues. The skin is a large ‘bundle’ of epithelial cells and therefore benefits greatly from vitamin A, both taken internally as well as applied topically. Vitamin A is a skin ‘normalizer’ and aids in the formation of a healthy stratum corneum as well as aiding at improving conditions such as skin ageing, acne, pigmentation and many others. Although it is rare in communities were a healthy, balanced diet is followed, vitamin A deficiencies can be seen immediately in the appearance of the skin among other things. Even a slight deficiency can lead to a dry, flaky,fragile and prone to wrinkles complexion. This occurs due to the fact that vitamin A is necessary for the maintenance and repair of skin tissue. Best sources of Vitamin A are animal sources such as egg yolks, organ meat (liver/kidneys), oysters and nonfat milk. Fruits and vegetables are also good sources of vitamin A, however one needs to consume a lot more of these to get the adequate amount for healthy skin maintenance. Another form of Vitamin A that is crucial for healthy skin is Beta-carotene. Beta-carotene helps prevent and reduce the skin’s inflammatory response, which in turn aids with minimizing the effect of UV rays on the skin. The best food sources are dark-coloured produce, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, broccoli and spinach. Vitamin B Complex The single most important B vitamin is biotin in relation to skin care as it is the nutrient that forms the basis of skin, nail, and hair cells. Even a mild deficiency can cause forms of dermatitis such as eczema, dry, flaky skin and even ichthyosis. The best food sources are bananas, eggs, oatmeal, and rice, plus your body naturally produces biotin. Biotin plays an important role in creating a healthy glow to the skin, whilst hydrating cells and increasing overall tone. Niacin, a specific B vitamin, helps skin retain moisture. Niacin also has anti-inflammatory properties to soothe dry, irritated skin. In higher concentrations it can also work as a lightening agent to even out pigmented areas on the skin. Provitamin B (panthenol) aids in the healing of wounds as well as lessens skin inflammation making it an important ingredient in skin care products, especially acne related products. Vitamin B food sources are widely ranged and it is therefore important to follow a balanced nutrient filled eating plan as well as taking a good supplement. Vitamin K Vitamin K is the nutrient responsible for helping blood coagulate (clot). Vitamin K is often found in eye preparations as topically, it works to reduce dark circles under the eyes, which are caused by a pooling of blood in the area. It is also commonly found in preparations for the treatment of bruises for this same effect. When combined with Vitamin A in a skin care preparation, it is even more effective at reducing the dark circles. The best source of vitamin K is found in Lettuce leaves as well as other green leafy vegetables. Minerals:
- Selenium. This nutrient is a powerful anti-oxidant which as it not only acts as such, but also plays a role in antioxidant enzyme activity. Selenium assists a group of enzymes that, in combination with Vitamin E, work to prevent the formation of free-radicals and prevent oxidative harm to cells and tissues. It is widely distributed in foods such as meats, shellfish, vegetables and grains that are grown in selenium rich soil.
- Copper. Copper peptides are effective in skin regeneration as well as aiding in the removal of blemishes and scars. They help activate the natural human biological processes that rebuild and renew skin, nails and hair. Dermal collagen and elastin is rebuilt leaving a firmer, more elastic skin. The water-holding proteins in the skin (proteoglycans) are increased, resulting in a moist, naturally hydrated skin. Blood microcirculation is rebuilt, which gives the skin a better nutrient supply and in turn improves the colour. Oxidative damage is reduced as the skin’s naturally occurring anti-oxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase, is activated, which naturally combats free-radicals. The best food sources include organ meat, seafood, nuts and seeds.
- Zinc. Zinc works with your body’s natural proteins and aids in their fuctioning. It forms a part of all the skin and body cell’s genetic material. Zinc in skin care preparations aids in taming oil production and may be effective in controlling the formation of acne lesions. Zinc is vitally important not only in regard to skin care, but to all systems of the body as deficiencies lead to many problems including growth retardation. The best food sources for zinc are animal foods such as meat, shellfish and poultry. Legumes and whole grains (especially fortified) also contain zinc, however, the zinc is not as well absorbed by the body as in the case of animal sources.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid Alpha Lipoic Acid is known as the universal anti-oxidant as it acts as the anchor of the antioxidant network. It energizes skin cells, giving them more carrying capacity, which enables them to repair and regenerate more quickly and function more efficiently. Alpha Lipoic Acid is water and fat soluble and known to stimulate other vitamins such as Vitamin C and E to function better, supplying more anti-free radical power and DNA protection. It also functions to plump out wrinkles, smoothing the skin and when combined with Vitamin C, helps to even out pigmentation problems. It is present in the skin and can only be applied topically in skin care preparations Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) EFA’s are crucial to the production of skin’s natural oil barrier. Especially Omega-3 and 6 FA. They are especially important for skins that lack oil. They are (especially 3) found in cold-water fish, including salmon, sardines, and mackerel, flaxseed, and flax and safflower oils. When all of the above nutrients are present in a diet you are ensured that you will have the number one defense against skin problems as they all work to help prevent signs of ageing, oil problems, as well as all other problems as stated above. Also, remember that it is not just important to nourish the skin form the inside, but also to apply good skin care products that contain these nutrients, in combination with a SPF, to ensure that your skin and body has the optimal assistance to perform it’s function.