Growing up, you may have heard that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. And it’s true — who you are is more important than how you look.
But that doesn’t mean self-care, including skin care, is selfish. And the old cliché might also apply when you’re working on your outward appearance.
“When it comes to skin and the surface of skin, people may think they need to treat it with topical ointments,” says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, the CEO of New York Nutrition Group and partner with Seeds of Change. “A lot of what we see on the outside is a product of what’s going on inside. Food is a part of that.”
Michele Green, MD, a New York-based cosmetic dermatologist, agrees.
“Diet primarily impacts the levels of varying hormones in the body, and hormones regulate many of the natural processes that occur within the body,” Green says. “This means the overall health and appearance of the skin are, inevitably, closely related to hormone fluctuations that are influenced by diet.”
Green says loading up on certain foods and eliminating others can help improve your skin.
That said, the best foods for you will depend on your skin type. This strategy is similar to how you might choose a different moisturizer than your friend with another skin type.
Here’s what three experts dish on what to eat based on your skin’s needs.
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How to diagnose your skin type
Before you start filling your grocery cart, you’ll need to figure out what skin type you have.
Green suggests starting by not using any products after cleaning your skin and taking note of how it looks after several hours. There are a few clues that can help you determine what type you have.
In general, the main skin types are:
Within these skin types, there can be other issues, like acne, flaking, or dullness.
According to Green, if your skin looks:
shiny, you have oily skin
flaky, red, or irritated, you have dry skin
oily in some areas and dry in others, you have combination skin
Best and worst foods for dry skin
If your skin is dry, it may be thirsty.
“We want to think about hydration,” Moskovitz says. Drinking 2 liters of water each day can help, but Moskovitz says you can also get water through fruits, like watermelon.
Green says you can also hydrate your skin through fatty acids, like those found in:
And you’ll want to keep your intake of dehydrating foods and beverages to a minimum.
“Excess caffeine and alcohol can be drying,” Moskovitz says.
Everyone’s tolerance levels are different, but she suggests limiting yourself to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day (about two to three 8-ounce cups of coffee) and following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source when it comes to alcohol.
But dry skin isn’t simply a product of dehydration.
“Deficiencies in [vitamins A and C] can contribute to dry skin,” Green says. She suggests increasing your intake of:
Best and worst foods for oily skin
Moskovitz says it’s tempting to nix oil from your diet if you have oily skin. But that’s not necessarily the best route.
“People automatically assume oil creates more oil,” she says. “Anti-inflammatory oils… can actually reduce it.”
Some foods with anti-inflammatory oils include:
But Moskovitz advises her clients to limit oily, ultra-processed foods, like fries, and keep added sugar intake to a minimum (or below 10 percentTrusted Source per day).
Green agrees and says a few simple swaps can go a long way in controlling oily skin.
“Preventing overproduction of sebum and combatting clogged pores can be as easy as substituting whole wheat grains for refined carbs and opting for poultry or fish instead of… red meats,” Green says, adding that substituting sugary foods for those with naturally-occurring sugars, like fruit, can also help.
Best and worst foods for combination skin
Since combination skin is a mix of dry and oily, Moskovitz says integrating the meal plans for both types is a good place to start.
People with combination skin don’t need to ditch carbs entirely. But Green says it’s important to pay attention to which types of grains and wheat you’re eating.
“Carbs can cause inflammation and can throw off the delicate balance of someone with combination skin,” she says. “When choosing carbs, opt for [those that are] high in protein and low-glycemic, such as brown rice or quinoa.”