My new book, Eat Well Look Great, shows the amazing link between good nutrition and good looks, and how diet can affect the health of your hair, skin and nails. My book covers 40 different beauty superfoods that can help you look your best – whether eaten or applied directly to the hair and skin. These nutritional approaches can improve niggling beauty problems such as thread veins, acne, age spots and wrinkles through to cellulite, brittle or flaking nails, thinning hair and dark circles under the eyes.
How to get glowing skin
Carotenoid plant pigments can give your skin a healthy, slightly golden glow, and eating just two extra portions each day can make a positive difference to skin tone as well as providing some protection against sunburn. The foods that are most beneficial for healthy, glowing skin are carrots, pumpkins, papaya, mango, sweet potato, bell peppers and dark green leafy vegetables, especially spinach and kale. Plant isoflavones found in edamame beans and other soy products also help to improve skin tone.
Avocado for beauty
Avocado is a rich source of healthy, monounsaturated fatty acids, plus antioxidant carotenoids and vitamin E. Avocado oil also contains hormone-like phytosterols that have a regenerative effect on ageing skin. Avocado oil can improve dry, inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis and rosacea, damping down redness and inflammation. When applied as a cream containing vitamin B12 and avocado oil, psoriasis plaques improved significantly. Several studies suggest that the antioxidant pigments found in avocados (especially lutein and zeaxanthin) help to protect against premature cell ageing.
Berries for beauty
Berries contain relatively little sugar compared to other fruit and are packed full of unique anti-ageing antioxidants, such as ellagic acid, that protect the berries from sunlight. These same antioxidants have a similar effect on human skin to reduce sunburn and sun damage. Berries that are dark red, purple or black in colour have the highest antioxidant content. The vitamin C provided by eating berries also boosts collagen production in the skin and research shows that people with high vitamin C intakes have fewer wrinkles and less dry skin than those with low intakes.
Tomatoes for beauty
The vibrant red colour of tomatoes comes from an antioxidant pigment, lycopene, which protects tomatoes from sun damage. Tomato lycopene can offer the same protection to human skin, reducing the adverse ageing effects of ultraviolet light. Researchers compared the skin of women eating five tablespoons (55g) tomato paste plus 10g olive oil every day, for 12 weeks, with a similar group taking just the olive oil as a supplement. The volunteers were exposed to UV rays at the beginning and end of the trial, and those eating tomato paste developed 33% less redness (erythema) suggesting this simple dietary step offered a sun protection factor (SPF) equivalent to 1.3. Skin biopsies also showed increased skin levels of procollagen, which improve elasticity, in those consuming tomato paste and less damage to skin mitochondrial DNA which is linked to skin ageing.
Sweet potatoes for beauty
Orange fleshed sweet potatoes are a rich source of antioxidant carotenoids and oestrogen-like plant hormones called lignans. In scalp hair follicles, lignans inhibit an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase which converts testosterone to the stronger dihydrotestosterone (DHT) linked with hair loss and thinning. Studies suggest that high intakes of lignans are associated with a reduced rate of hair loss, and potentially with hair regeneration. Lignans are also found in lentils, flaxseed and pumpkin seed oil, and can reduce skin oiliness.
Nutritional oils for beauty
Several food-based oils can be applied to the skin as beauty treatments, including macadamia nut oil, argan oil, coconut oil and flaxseed oil.
Macadamia nut oil
Macadamia nut oil consists of 80% beneficial monounsaturated fats – one of the highest levels found in any food. Eating a handful of macadamia nuts per day has been shown to significantly improve inflammation, making them a good choice for people with dry, inflammatory skin conditions, dry hair and brittle nails.
When you apply a tiny amount of macadamia nut oil to your hair, skin and nails, it rapidly sinks in and helps to reduce blemishes, even if you have naturally oily skin. Macadamia oil mimics your skin’s natural oils making it an ideal treatment to moisturise dry areas, promote healthy cell membranes and support skin healing. It promotes the growth of soft, healthy, voluminous hair that feels and looks thicker and, as long as you don’t use too much, leaves your hair and skin with a satin sheen rather than an oily residue.
Macadamia nut oil is included in many shampoos, conditioners and masks to help repair damaged hair, nourish hair follicles, smooth roughened hair shafts and extend the life of hair colouring treatments. A small amount of macadamia nut oil can be used as a make-up remover to cleanse the skin and gently melt away even the most stubborn mascara. As an additional benefit, it acts like a serum to sink in and nourish delicate skin around the eyes.
Moroccan Argan oil
Moroccan Argan oil is one of the most prized and expensive oils in the world. Argan oil is a rich source of antioxidants which contribute to its reputation for reducing premature skin ageing. Argan oil can be applied neat to the skin, hair (including beards) and nails and is included in many luxury skincare ranges. It feels smooth and silky, is easily absorbed without leaving a sticky residue.
As well as protecting skin from environmental damage, argan oil antioxidants help to prevent the breakdown of elastin and collagen – the structural proteins maintaining skin plumpness and elasticity – to reduce stretch marks and wrinkles. It soothes dry, sensitive skin, damps down redness and improves patchy pigmentation by reducing the synthesis of the skin pigment, melanin. Argan oil moisturises dry skin, but is equally good for oily skin as it helps to normalise the production of skin oil. It can even be used as a base under make-up due to its non-oily nature. Tests on volunteers with oily facial skin show that twice daily use for four weeks significantly reduced greasiness and appearance.
Rosehip seed oil
Rosehip seed oil is a rich source of omega-3 essential fatty acids and also contains tretinoin – a vitamin A derivative used medically to stimulate growth of skin fibroblast cells to plump up and minimise fine lines, wrinkles and acne scars.
Rosehip oil has a light, non-greasy texture and is quickly absorbed into the skin, replenishing moisture and creating a protective barrier to maintain hydration. It is included in many skincare products used to treat dermatitis, eczema, acne and help combat the signs of ageing.
Researchers have found that applying rosehip seed oil directly to the skin helps to stimulate the growth and rejuvenation of healthy skin cells. Rosehip oil is therefore recommended by cosmetic surgeons to treat scars following surgery, injury, burns or radiotherapy. Rosa Mosqueta oil, which is obtained from an Andean rose helps to reduce redness, scar thickness and improves scar suppleness and elasticity.
When rosehip oil was applied daily to surface wrinkles, age spots and hyperpigmented areas in women with sun damaged facial skin, significant improvements were seen after just three weeks. Surface wrinkling reduced, skin became softer and smoother, with brown over-pigmentation almost completely faded within four months.
Coconut oil is a popular hair and skin moisturiser with antiseptic properties. Research shows that coconut oil creams significantly improve skin elasticity, smoothness and tone to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. In adults with rough, dry, scaly skin, applying coconut oil as a moisturizer, twice a day for 2 weeks, significantly improved skin hydration and strengthened its lipid barrier. Applying virgin coconut oil also improved symptoms in seven out of ten children with eczema, with 47% achieving moderate improvement and 46% showing an excellent response. Research also suggests virgin coconut oil can boost wound healing, by reducing water loss and making it easier for new skin cells to ‘leapfrog’ over one another into the healing area.
Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid which has a high affinity for hair proteins. It penetrates deeply into hair shafts, without disrupting its natural scale structure, and leaves a thinner film on the surface than other oils. One study found that coconut oil significantly reduced protein loss from both damaged and undamaged hair when used as a pre-wash and post-wash grooming product. Coconut oil treatments are particularly useful for preventing hair damage during combing.
Flaxseed oil is one of the richest plant sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid) and of oestrogen-like plant hormones known as lignans. The omega-3 fatty acids found in flaxseed oil are incorporated into cell membranes to make them more fluid and supple. In the skin, this helps to improve smoothness and elasticity as well as improving the ability to retain moisture and act as an effective barrier against allergens and irritants.
Because flaxseed oil helps to seal moisture into the skin, it is commonly added to body lotions, sunscreens and dry skin treatment creams. You can apply neat flaxseed oil to the face and body as a moisturising, evening treatment to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and combat dryness, blemishes and areas of irritation. Use oil from a freshly opened capsule, leave on your face for 15 minutes, then blot off excess with a tissue and apply your usual night cream. Studies suggest that, within four months, this can improve skin firmness, elasticity, texture and tone.
Applying a small amount of flaxseed oil to hair helps to promote hair growth and lustre, as well as reducing dandruff, scalp flaking and oil (sebum) production. Regular use makes hair more manageable, soft, shiny and reduces the static that causes ‘fly-away’. Use warmed flaxseed oil as a deep hair conditioner to lock moisture into the hair and control oil secretion. Alternatively, add a few drops of flaxseed oil with your regular conditioner and rinse well.
NB Medicinal flaxseed oil degrades on exposure to light and if not processed and stored properly quickly turns rancid. Liquid flaxseed oil must be stored carefully (eg in the fridge in opaque bottles). Avoid oil that is past its use by date, or which has a strong odour.
Eat Well Look Great provides information on 40 Beauty Boosting Superfoods, and helps you beat common beauty problems such as cellulite, thread veins, pimples, flaking or brittle nails, dandruff, lacklustre hair, thinning hair, chapped lips, bad breath and bags or dark circles under the eyes.
Image credits: Eddison Books/shutterstock