Diet has as much impact on skin aging and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles as does your genes and lifestyle. This is especially true for women, whose skin ages 25% faster than that of men between the ages of 40 and 50 when oestrogen levels fall. Oestrogen boosts the production of collagen and elastin fibres to promote skin thickness, elasticity and hydration. As oestrogen declines, so does the synthesis of collagen and elastin fibres, which become increasingly matted and tangled. As a result, skin loses its resilience and elasticity to become thinner with increasing dryness, slackness and wrinkling. These effects are hastened by the damaging effects of sunlight and can be influenced – for good or bad – by your diet.
Diet protects against skin wrinkles
In an American study involving over 4000 women, aged 40 – 70 years, a team of dermatologists who compared nutrient intakes against signs of skin aging found that:
- a high vitamin C intake reduced the risk of a wrinkled appearance by 11%
- a high intake of essential fatty acids reduced the chance of skin dryness by 25% and the likelihood of developing marked skin thinning (atrophy) by 22%
- a high fat intake increased the chance of a wrinkled appearance by 28% and of skin thinning (atrophy) by 37%
- a higher carbohydrate intake increased the chance of looking wrinkled by 36% and of having significant skin thinning by 33%.
These associations remained after taking other confounding factors (such as age, race, education, sunlight exposure, income, menopausal status, body mass index, supplement use, physical activity, and energy intake) into account.
The overall conclusion was that good intakes of vitamin C and essential fatty acids, plus lower intakes of fat and carbohydrate were associated with better skin-ageing and a more youthful appearance.
Vitamin C reduces skin wrinkles
Vitamin C – ascorbic acid – is essential for the synthesis of collagen in the skin, and is also a powerful antioxidant, quenching the free radicals that promote wrinkles. Most animals make their own vitamin C, but we lack the enzyme (l-gulonolactone oxidase) needed for its synthesis. The goat, for example, normally produces between 2g and 13 g of vitamin C per day with synthesis dramatically increasing during stress and illness.
Quite why humans have either lost, or never acquired the ability to synthesize vitamin C is one of the greatest mysteries of human biochemistry. It’s thought to result from a genetic accident, hundreds of thousands of years ago. According to some scientists, this means we all suffer from a genetic disease, hypoascorbaemia, of which the final and potentially fatal result is scurvy. This genetic defect also increases our risk of a number of other common illnesses such as viral infections, raised cholesterol and atherosclerosis. In the skin, lack of dietary vitamin C is associated with poor collagen production and premature ageing.
Women over the age of 40 with the highest dietary intakes of vitamin C are significantly less likely to have a wrinkled appearance and senile skin dryness than those with low intakes.
Collagen reduces skin wrinkles
Hydrolysed collagen drinks can reduce skin wrinkles by providing ready-made collagen. This form of collagen acts as a signal telling skin cells to make more collagen. You can read more about the science behind hydrolysed collagen drinks here.
Collagen capsules that provide a dietary collagen boost are also popular and are usually combined with hyaluronic acid, which improves skin hydration, plus antioxidants to boost their anti-aging action.
Prunes reduce skin wrinkles
Another study assessed diet and sun-related skin damage in over 450 native-born Greek, Australian and Swedish adults and compared these with those of people who were born in Greece but later moved to Australia. This helped to determine how much their skin ageing was related to heredity, how much to diet and lifestyle, and how much to their environment.
As expected, those living in Sweden had the least signs of ageing in sun-exposed skin, as they were subjected to less UV exposure, but 32% of the differences between each group was predicted by the foods they ate.
Among the native Australians, those drinking the most tea and eating the most fruit and vegetables had the least wrinkles, with prunes, apples, melons, celery, asparagus, cherries and fruit salad offering the best protection.
Overall, those with higher intakes of vegetables, legumes, garlic and olive oil displayed less wrinkling in sun-exposed areas of skin, while a high intake of meat, dairy, butter, margarine and sugar increased skin ageing.
The most likely explanation is that protective foods supply antioxidants, including vitamin C, carotenoid pigments and oestrogen-like plant hormones (isoflavones and lignans) that have beneficial effects on collagen production, to slow skin ageing.
For people who eat more meat and dairy foods, it’s not so much what they are eating that increases skin wrinkling as what they’re not eating, however. Those who eat a lot of meat and dairy tend to eat less fruit and vegetables as a result, and if you don’t get your 5-a-day, you obtain fewer of the antioxidants that protect against premature skin ageing.
Despite their brown, wrinkled appearance, prunes have one of the highest antioxidant levels of all fruit. Prunes were so good for the skin that people with a good intake of dried prunes showed 42% fewer signs of skin ageing than those with low intakes after all other diet and lifestyle factors were taken into account.
Dark green leaves reduce skin wrinkles
Dark green, leafy vegetables, which have a high level of antioxidant carotenoid pigments, such as spinach, provide significant protection against skin wrinkling. In the previously mentioned study, involving over 400 older people living in Greece, Australia and Sweden, those with good intakes of green leafy vegetables showed 21% fewer signs of skin ageing than those with low intakes.
Another study involving over 700 Japanese women found the extent of facial wrinkling was significantly decreased in those with a higher intake of green and yellow vegetables, after taking other factors into account such as age, smoking, weight and lifetime sun exposure.
Carotenoids are yellow-orange-red antioxidant pigments, found in sweet potatoes, carrots and hidden in green leaves, which protect fruit and vegetables from sun damage. As they are fat soluble, carotenoids become concentrated in the skin when eaten, and provide some sun protection to us, too. A large intake of carrots can even turn your skin orange (carotenodermia) which is not harmful but looks rather like cheap fake tan.
Carotenoids offer significant protection against sun damage and help to protect against premature skin ageing and skin cancer.
Green leaves such as spring greens, spinach, watercress, parsley and curly kale are also a rich source of folate – a B vitamin needed for protein and DNA synthesis in rapidly dividing cells within the skin. These leaves also contain substances called indoles that promote the metabolism of oestrogen and have beneficial effects on skin ageing when oestrogen levels fall as the menopause approaches.
An antioxidant plant hormone called kinetin, which is derived from green leaves, promotes cell growth and is now included in many anti-ageing creams. Studies show it helps to reduce areas of hyperpigmentation (age spots), improves skin texture, colour, blotchiness and fine wrinkles as well as stimulating the proliferation of new, healthy skin cells. Kinetin, applied twice a day, strengthens the skin barrier to reduce water evaporation from skin by 26%. This improvement in hydration helps skin feel plumper and more youthful.
And, in a small, unpublished study, women aged 23 to 58 added one bag of raw watercress (80g) to their normal daily diet for four weeks, eating it raw in salads, sandwiches and smoothies or wilting it into pasta. Their skin was assessed before and after, with ten out of eleven showing improvements in texture, UV spots, redness and wrinkles. In one case, facial wrinkling improved by as much as 39 per cent.
Tomatoes reduce skin wrinkles
The vibrant red colour of tomatoes comes from an antioxidant carotenoid called lycopene, which protects the fruit from sun damage. Researchers compared the skin of healthy women (aged 21-47 years) who ate 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. They were exposed to UV rays during the trial and those eating tomato paste developed 33% less redness, 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 and wrinkles.
Lycopene is normally locked away inside tomato cells, so when eaten raw you absorb five times less of this vital nutrient than when eating the same tomato, cooked. The richest dietary sources are therefore tomato ketchup, concentrated tomato purée and passata (pizza sauce). And if you drizzle your tomato soup or pizza with olive oil, you boost lycopene absorption three-fold more as it is highly fat-soluble. Tomatoes are also rich in vitamin C, which boosts collagen production to help protect against wrinkles.
Pawpaw is another excellent source of lycopene, as this fruit stores it in a unique, liquid crystal form that is easily absorbed – and they taste great, too.
Red bell peppers are also good for your skin. Compared with yellow, orange and green peppers, red versions contain more vitamin C and significantly more carotenoid pigments, including lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin, which protect the fruit from sun damage.
Green tea reduces skin wrinkles
Over 30 per cent of the dry weight of green tea leaves consists of powerful flavonoid antioxidants such as catechins. These antioxidants are at least 100 times more powerful than vitamin C, and 25 times more powerful than vitamin E.
Green tea antioxidants have a general anti-ageing effect on the circulation and skin, dilating blood vessels to improve blood flow to hair follicles, skin and nails. In a trial involving 40 women, those taking green tea extracts and using a green tea cream showed significant improvement in skin elasticity within 8 weeks compared to those using placebo.
In a 12 week study, 60 women drank either a beverage with green tea polyphenols (1402 mg total catechins per day) or a similar tea without catechins. When exposed to UV light, skin redness decreased significantly in the intervention group by 25% after 6 and 12 weeks, compared to those on placebo. Skin elasticity, roughness, scaling, density, hydration and overall skin quality also improved.
In the study involving over 400 older people living in Greece, Australia and Sweden, those with a high tea consumption showed an astonishing 54% fewer signs of skin wrinkling than those with a low intake.
If you don’t like drinking green tea, or find it keeps you awake, decaffeinated supplements are available.
Plant oestrogens reduce skin wrinkles
Oestrogen-like plant hormones found in edamame and other soy products, sweet potatoes and lentils boost collagen production, damp down inflammation and guard against the UV-mediated collagen degradation to help protect against wrinkles.
In Japan, where soy is a dietary staple, intakes of isoflavones are 50mg to 100mg per day for both men and women, compared with typical western intakes of just 2mg to 5mg isoflavones per day, which may explain why Japanese women are renowned for their lovely skin and lack of significant wrinkles.
Preliminary studies suggest that dietary isoflavones help to protect skin against sun damage, improve radiance while reducing wrinkle formation.
A study involving 30 postmenopausal women examined the skin effects of taking 100mg soy isoflavones per day for six months. Isoflavone treatment resulted in a 9.46% increase in the thickness of the epidermis in 23 patients, and a reduction in wrinkling in 21 women. The level of collagen in the skin dermis increased in 25 women (86%) and, in 22 women (75%) the number of elastic fibers increased. The number of dermal blood vessels significantly increased in 21 women. Another trial involving 26 postmenopausal women, of whom half took 40mg soy isoflavones and half took placebo, showed a significant improvement in fine wrinkles and skin elasticity after 8 to 12 weeks compared with the control group.
Probiotics reduce skin wrinkles
Isoflavones present in soy beans are mostly in an inactive form, bound to a glycoside sugar. When you eat them, they are broken down by intestinal bacteria to release the active plant hormones, genistein, daidzein and glycitein. Some people possess sufficient probiotic intestinal bacteria to metabolise daidzein to a more powerful oestrogen, called equol, which is also a potent antioxidant. Those who are equol-producers obtain significantly greater health and beauty benefits from eating edamame soy beans than non-equol producers.
In a study involving over 100 Japanese women who were non-equol producers, two-thirds received a soy supplement providing 10mg or 30mg equol per day and the remaining third took a placebo. Skin parameters were compared after 12 weeks and those taking equol showed significant reductions in crow’s feet wrinkling compared to the non-equol group.
Eating live Bio yoghurt or taking a probiotic supplement may help to improve the ability to produce equol.
Glucosamine reduces skin wrinkles
Glucosamine provides building blocks needed for the formation of collagen, elastin and water-retaining glycosaminoglycans within the skin and can improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. A study involving 53 females found that those taking a supplement providing glucosamine, amino acids, minerals, and antioxidants for five weeks showed a statistically significant 34% reduction in fine lines and wrinkles compared with those not taking the supplements. As a bonus, taking glucosamine may help you live longer, too.
Evening primrose oil reduces skin wrinkles
Evening primrose oil supplements are a rich source of gammalinolenic acid (GLA) which has beneficial effects on skin hydration and softness.
In one trial, healthy adults took 1500mg evening primrose oil, twice a day, for 12 weeks. At the end of the study there were significant improvements in skin hydration, elasticity, firmness and roughness in those taking evening primrose oil compared with those taking placebo.
Evening primrose oil can also be applied to the face to sink in for targeted results.
So, if you want to age gracefully, it seems that your skin thrives on selecting the same sort of healthy diet that promotes heart health, with a few selected supplements for additional benefits.
Nutritional approaches can help to improve thinning hair in later life, too.
Click here to find out how collagen drinks can reduce skin wrinkling.
See my review of evening primrose oil for hormone balance.
See my review of glucosamine supplements for aching joints.
Image credits: pixabay