The skin is your body’s largest organ. It provides you with essential protection from a variety of everyday hazards. But did you know it can also tell you a lot about the state of your health? Just as our lifestyle can affect our overall health, so it can affect the health of our skin. Various lifestyle factors, from what you eat down to how much you sleep, can contribute to how you look and feel. That’s why looking healthy goes hand-in-hand with living healthily.
In this article, we’ll look into the different ways in which nutrition and lifestyle affect skin health, and provide some tips for how you can achieve naturally stronger and healthier skin.
The importance of a good diet to support overall health is well documented, but did you know it’s equally important for healthy skin? A poor diet, lacking in essential nutrients can affect the skin in various ways, from exacerbating acne and eczema to causing dry, puffy, red, or pale skin. A nutrient-deficient diet can even increase signs of ageing. This all happens because poor nutrition can alter the structure of the skin, compromising its ability to repair and rejuvenate itself, and protect you.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a healthy, well-balanced diet should contain a wide variety of essential nutrients and minerals to fuel you throughout the day and support a healthy body. Make sure you’re eating fruit and vegetables (400g is roughly your 5 a day), legumes, nuts, and whole grains and moderate your consumption of hypercaloric, processed foods as these are often high in salt, saturated fat, and refined sugars. If you’re looking to improve your diet for naturally healthier and stronger skin, why not try some of the following foods.
Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and herring are great sources of omega-3. Omega-3 helps to reduce inflammation (which can cause redness and acne) and keeps your skin thick, supple, and hydrated.
Foods rich in vitamins, especially vitamins A, E and C, such as avocados, bell peppers, and oranges. Foods rich in these vitamins are full of antioxidants which help to protect your skin from damage caused by the sun and environment. Vitamin C is also necessary for collagen production (collagen helps to keep your skin firm and strong), while a vitamin C deficiency can lead to dry, rough skin that is easily damaged and slow to heal.
Seeds and nuts which contain high amounts of nutrients essential for healthy skin, such as vitamin E, selenium (a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect against cancer, sun damage, and signs of ageing), zinc (which reduces inflammation, acne, and signs of ageing), and protein (essential for the production of collagen and keratin and is broken down into amino acids - antioxidants that protect skin cells from the harmful effects of UV rays).
Broccoli is packed full of important vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A and C, lutein, and sulforaphane. Both sulforaphane and lutein help to protect your skin from sun damage which can cause dryness and wrinkles.
Just as your diet can affect your skin, so can your drinking habits. Even mild dehydration can affect your skin causing dryness, flushing, redness, cracked skin and lips, or cold, clammy skin. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you drink enough throughout the day.
Did you know that if you feel thirsty it means you’re already mildly dehydrated? Therefore, to avoid dehydration it’s important to keep drinking periodically throughout the day, rather than waiting until you’re thirsty to have a drink. The recommended daily water intake for adults is at least 6-8 glasses of water a day (that’s roughly 1.2-1.5 litres). If you’re particularly active or live somewhere hot, you may need to drink even more than this to stay hydrated.
If you struggle to stay hydrated, try keeping a water bottle with you to drink from throughout the day. You could also try drinking a glass of water before each meal—some studies have even shown that this not only helps to prevent dehydration but can also help to prevent overeating.
If you don’t like drinking plain water, why not try a cup of tea or coffee? Contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that when consumed in moderation coffee can be just as hydrating as water (just watch your caffeine intake if coffee’s your drink of choice). Another great choice is green tea which not only keeps you hydrated but can also help to protect your skin from damage and signs of ageing thanks to the antioxidants it contains. Or you could try flavouring your water with fruits, vegetables, or herbs. Some popular choices of flavouring include lemon, strawberry, cucumber, and peppermint.
Finally, remember that some foods can also contribute to your daily fluid intake and help to keep you hydrated. This includes not only water-based foods such as soups and stews, but also many fruits and vegetables with a high water content such as watermelon, cucumber, and tomatoes.
Stress may be inescapable in the hustle and bustle of today’s competitive society, but managing stress is as important for skin health as it is for all-around health. Both acute and chronic stress can have a negative effect on your skin, from exacerbating existing conditions such as acne and eczema to causing dark circles and under-eye bags, dry or flushed skin, or increasing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
The relationship between psychological stress and skin health was analysed in a 2001 study, which revealed that stress can disrupt the epidermal barrier (the topmost layer of the skin that protects us from harmful substances and locks in moisture) and inhibit the skin’s ability to recover and repair itself. Stress also affects the skin by increasing cortisol production. Cortisol reduces the production of oils that act as a protective layer for our skin, leading to skin becoming dry, rough, and more easily irritated. Cortisol also stimulates sebum production—whilst sebum is essential for keeping skin moisturised and healthy, an excess can make skin more oily and acne-prone.
The best way to alleviate stressed-out skin is to address the stress itself and invest in some stress management techniques. Some find meditation helpful to cope with stress, but it’s not the only coping strategy. Breathing exercises can be helpful to deal with stress in the short term—next time you’re feeling worked up, try taking a few deep, slow breaths and see if you feel calmer. Hobbies and sports can also help to relieve stress by taking your mind off of what’s troubling you and promoting the release of endorphins (feel-good hormones). But just make sure you’re getting enough rest too—whilst moderate exercise can help, high volumes of high-intensity exercise could over-strain your body and exacerbate your stress response.
Sleep is essential for recovery and a lack of sleep inhibits the body’s ability to repair itself. In particular, it’s essential to get sufficient deep sleep as this is the stage in which the body is most relaxed and when tissue repair and regrowth and cell regeneration takes place. A lack of sleep, therefore, can lead to breakouts, red eyes, dark circles and under-eye bags, and an increase in signs of ageing such as wrinkles.
It’s widely recommended that healthy adults should aim for between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. However, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine roughly 70 million people a year experience some form of sleep disorder or disruption.
It’s not only the quantity of sleep that matters—ensuring you get good quality sleep is also essential. Sleep occurs in cycles, with each cycle lasting between 90 to 120 minutes. If your sleep is frequently disturbed, and you keep waking up in the night, you won’t spend enough time in the different stages of sleep, meaning your body won’t spend enough time in deep sleep to properly repair and recover from day-to-day. That’s why sleep is as important to health as good nutrition and exercise are.
If you struggle to get sufficient sleep each night you might want to look at your evening routine and sleep environment. Experts at the Sleep Foundation recommend stopping using electronic devices like phones and laptops at least 30 minutes before trying to sleep. This is because the blue light emitted by the screens of such devices suppresses the production of hormones (in particular melatonin) that signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep. Drinking warm, non-caffeinated drinks in the evening has also been shown to help with relaxation making it easier to fall asleep. And to ensure the sleep you do get is high quality, it’s recommended that you should keep your bedroom dark and cool (most doctors recommend keeping your room between 15.6 - 19.4℃/60 - 67℉).
Other tips to help improve your sleep hygiene include making sure you spend time outdoors each day (exposure to natural light helps to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm), getting in some exercise (but try to avoid intense exercise too close to going to bed), and limiting nap time to 20-30 minutes and avoiding napping late in the day.
Healthy skin goes hand-in-hand with a healthy lifestyle. And simply by practising a healthy lifestyle, you can see great improvements in the condition of your skin, even with minimal investment in skincare products. Try out some of the tips in this article for yourself and see if they help you look and feel healthier.
If you want to give your skin an added boost, visit the Scott Hamish store where you’ll find our full range of men’s skincare products. Browse our other blog posts to further expand your skincare knowledge, or follow us on Instagram at @scotthamish_global for more tips, tricks, and inspiration.