7 Diet Habits Derailing Your Skin Health
Skincare is about so much more than finding the right acne wash. Among other factors, diet can play a significant role in the appearance of your skin. While the American Academy of Dermatology Association cautions against putting too much emphasis on diet for skin health (as in, removing a single ingredient like gluten probably won’t clear up your acne), they’ve concluded that a diet supporting overall health also supports good skin health.
Of course, there are things to do right when it comes to your diet and your complexion—like eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole, grains, and healthy fats. But there are also things you might be doing wrong. We tapped dietitians for dietary habits that set you up for undesirable issues like wrinkles, acne, redness, and more. For smoother, healthier skin, steer clear of these seven food choices.
1. Eating processed meats
Research shows that eating too many processed meats can be bad news for health in a variety of ways. Besides increasing your risk of colorectal cancer and cardiovascular disease, meats like bacon, hot dogs, and pepperoni could be putting a damper on your dewy glow.
“[These meats] contain huge amounts of salt, which when consumed often can result in your body retaining water,” explains Joanna Ayallore MS RD LDN, of Nutrition Kept Simple. “This leads to swelling and puffiness in your face, hands, and ankles.” Minimize the possibility of puffiness by sticking to lower-sodium, minimally processed meats like chicken breast or turkey.
2. Salting all of your food
Speaking of salt, you’ll want to keep the shaker off the table to keep your skin in top condition. “High salt consumption can trigger inflammatory responses in the body, including the skin, leading to chronic allergies and skin conditions like eczema,” says Wan Na Chun, MPH, CPT, RD. She adds that sodium’s dehydrating effects can lead to dry, flaky skin, resulting in a lackluster appearance.
Too much salt could even interfere with your body’s ability to create the look of youthful suppleness. “High sodium levels can weaken the skin by inhibiting the growth of collagen, a protein crucial for maintaining a youthful complexion and healthy-looking skin,” Chun says. “Collagen provides structure and elasticity to the skin, and its depletion can lead to more prominent lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin.”
3. Overindulging in alcohol
That shot of gin won’t help your skin. Over-imbibing alcohol creates inflammation, which drives multiple dermatological problems. “Alcohol can exacerbate skin conditions such as acne and rosacea as well as eczema and psoriasis,” says Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD, of Sound Bites Nutrition. Plus, since alcohol is dehydrating, it can create more pronounced wrinkles and fine lines.
Andrews also points out that alcohol can mess with sleep—a major factor in the appearance of your skin. “Poor sleep may lead to dark circles under your eyes and wrinkles,” she says. A 2015 study even found that good sleepers had significantly lower skin aging scores than poor sleepers. Reach for a mocktail instead of a glass of wine to get that all-important beauty rest.
4. Hitting the drive-thru too often
We get it: On busy days, a quick run through the drive-thru takes the stress off of dinnertime. But making fast food a regular go-to could have unintended consequences for your skin. “A diet high in unhealthy fat, such as fried and fast food, promotes inflammation that can affect the skin’s healing process and enhance aging,” says Stacey Bender, MA, RD. As much as possible, make fast food a once-in-a-while treat, rather than an everyday pit stop.
5. Loading up on sweets
Alas, sweets are no friend to your skin health. “A high-sugar diet accelerates aging of the skin through glycation,” explains Kathryn Piper, RDN, LD, of The Age Defying Dietitian. “This process produces AGEs (advanced glycation end products) that cause the skin to lose elasticity. The end result is an increase in fine lines and wrinkles.”
Deeper wrinkles aren’t the only issue you may encounter from too many cookies and candies. Saggy skin, acne, and rosacea are all aggravated by too much sugar, says Chun. A 2020 study, for example, found that adults who consumed more sugary foods and beverages were more likely to have acne.
6. Not getting enough omega-3s
As you make a plan to support your skin, don’t forget omega-3s! Skimping on these healthy fats could leave your skin sluggish and dull. “Omega-3s can reduce inflammation and slow down aging,” says Bender. A 2018 review found that omega-3s supported skin health by improving skin barrier function, inhibiting inflammation, and promoting healing.
Building meals around fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and sardines provides ample omega-3s. (Eating them is a whole lot better than rubbing them on your face, right?)
7. Not eating enough
One surprising possibility behind skin health probs? Not eating enough! “The biggest contributing factor to compromised skin health that I see as a women’s health dietitian is disordered eating,” says McKenzie Caldwell, MPH, RDN, LDN. Severely restricting your nutrients could create deficiencies that show up on your face. “With restricted eating patterns, many people are not getting enough protein, omega-3 fats, vitamin A, or vitamin D in their diet, all of which are extremely important in skin barrier maintenance, collagen production, and acne prevention.”
A yo-yo dieting cycle could also promote acne fueled by a rollercoaster of blood sugar. “A restrict-binge cycle can cause increases in cortisol and blood sugar imbalances, both of which are linked to the worsening of cystic acne,” Caldwell says.