SuperFoods for the Skin: Topical Nutrients that Prevent Aging

best nutrients for your skin
Dr. Geoffrey Harris, MD


Ask any dermatologist and they will tell you that the skin is the largest organ in the human body. And this important organ has the tough task of protecting us from our environment. Our skin has to deal with free radicals from normal cellular activity while managing the free radicals from ultraviolet light, injury and inflammation.

A good way to demonstrate the effects of the sun on your skin is to cross your arms and compare the top of one forearm to the underside of the other. It is easy to see the difference between the exposed skin and the protected skin. The key to minimizing the damage from the environment and the sun is twofold. The first important way to minimize environmental injury is prevention. Wearing sunscreen, a hat, long sleeves, and avoiding outdoor activities during the peak sun hours between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. are some easy ways to prevent skin damage. The second way to minimize wear-and-tear is to provide the skin with antioxidants that help prevent cell damage. The antioxidants and micronutrients in foods that help from the inside can also be used topically to provide skin protection and prevent aging.

Vitamin C is the most well-known antioxidant. There are many benefits to vitamin C in the diet. For the skin, vitamin C seems to work in conjunction with vitamin E. Studies have shown decreased redness after ultraviolet light exposure in subjects who received vitamin C and vitamin E supplementation compared with subjects who did not receive supplementation. Basically, vitamin C and E supplementation decreased sunburns.

This does not mean that vitamin C and E prevent sunburns. You still need sunscreen. The studies show that supplementation with vitamin C and E only helps improve the skin’s response to ultraviolet light. It is this response to ultraviolet light that causes the redness, inflammation, and DNA damage that leads to aging and skin cancer. There is still injury in the subjects who took a supplement with the vitamin C and E.

Many cosmacueticals have been adding vitamin C (ascorbic acid) to their formulations because it helps the skin. Topical vitamin C is absorbed through the skin and has been shown to improve ultraviolet induced skin damage, pigmentation and wrinkling. The most important factor in choosing a topical vitamin C is to find a topical product that provides a stable vitamin C in usable concentrations.

Research also shows that the best nutrients for your skin are in the same SuperFoods that nourish our bodies from the inside. And they can be used on the skin! Lycopene, a carotenoid found in high concentrations in tomatoes, is another antioxidant that prevents some degree of UV-induced skin damage when used topically. Studies of topical lycopene have shown it has a greater ultraviolet protective ability than a product containing a mixture of vitamin E and C. Topical spinach extract, pomegranate extract, green tea extract, soymilk, and broccoli sprout extract have also each been shown to decrease the development of skin cancers in mice exposed to carcinogens.

You may or may not want to add some of these SuperFood extractions to your sunscreen, but they certainly help.

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