Undisputed facts: Breakouts suck, and finding a cure can take a really, really long time, regardless of your budget and specific needs. Thankfully, there is one remedy that can work for any and everyone: a healthy diet. That age-old mantra “you are what you eat” has always rung true, especially in relation to the look and feel of our skin.
Whether you’re dealing with the occasional pimple or living with cystic acne or psoriasis, packing more nutrients into your breakfast, lunch and dinner certainly never hurts. And unsurprisingly, there are certain foods that work better than others when it comes to naturally decreasing inflammation from the inside out. Ahead are seven that should’ve had real estate in your kitchen cabinets, like, yesterday.
First, know how to properly identify the condition. According to registered nutritionist and culinary consultant Peggy Kotsopoulos, inflammation can manifest in many different forms, from acne to a rash and more intense-looking conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
“In simplest terms, it’s discoloration of the skin (pink, red, purple or brown), no matter how big or small,” she says. “It may not feel like anything, or could feel itchy or provide a burning sensation.” As for what causes inflammation, the options are endless; ranging from diet to hormones, as well as stress, illness, environmental pollutants, UV exposure and even toxins in your skin-care products.
In addition to becoming a popular ingredient in beauty products, walnuts are also an ideal on-the-go snack for your purse. Kotsopoulos says their rich stores of omega-3 fatty acids not only keep your skin healthy and glowing but also reduce inflammation.
“And since inflammation leads to breakouts, walnuts make a nutty, tasty anti-acne treatment. Coupled with omega-3, walnuts are also rich in vitamin E and other powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, reducing inflammation and the incidence of breakouts. Plus, they provide moisture to the skin and prevent sun damage.”
Like walnuts, salmon is also a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered king among anti-inflammatories since they speed up the skin’s healing process. In addition to that, it’s also high in selenium (shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory properties) and cobalamin (vitamin B12).
Kotsopoulos says, “In high doses, cobalamin has also been shown to reduce inflammatory responses. But which type of salmon should wear the proverbial crown? The best choice is fresh wild king or Chinook salmon. They’re not only the best tasting of the group but also have the highest omega-3 content. Sockeye salmon also has a high omega-3 content.”
And always remember to get the wild kind—never farmed.
Though we wouldn’t recommend eating sweet potato pie every day, good old-fashioned sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A, which Kotsopoulos says is anti-inflammatory and helps fight off acne-causing bacteria.
“Vitamin A helps normalize oil production in the skin, making it an anti-acne superhero. Vitamin A and another one of sweet potato’s abundant nutrients, vitamin C, work hard both to fight inflammation and to heal it should it strike. In addition to its vitamins and antioxidants, it has a relatively low glycemic index, which helps maintain a steady insulin level and avoids inflammation associated with hormonal imbalance,” she also says.
Consider aloe a medical powerhouse in a pot! According to Kotsopoulos, it’s especially beneficial in the treatment of skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, rosacea and herpes and can be used to quickly heal wounds, burns and frostbite if applied topically.
“The anti-inflammatory properties may be partly attributed to the plant’s high concentration of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), a natural sulfur compound that helps alleviate arthritic joint pain and inflammation and improve joint flexibility and strength,” she says. However, keep in mind that MSM is only found in outdoor plants fed by rainwater or sulfur-rich water.
When you ingest aloe, it can also decrease the number and size of papillomas (wart-like growths on the skin) and reduce the incidence of tumors by more than 90 percent in the liver, spleen and bone marrow.
“Aloe is rich in polysaccharides, which also have anti-inflammatory properties and aid in the growth of new tissue. Polysaccharides have superior intestinal health benefits (such as improving digestion and reducing risk of colon cancer) and help your body absorb precious nutrients, helping to maintain your health and glowing complexion,” says Kotsopoulos.
To incorporate it into your skin-care routine, simply scoop out the gel from the inside of the aloe leaf and gently massage into skin. If you want to ingest it, blend the gel into your favorite smoothie.
Kotsopoulos says kimchi—a spicy, fermented Korean staple that adds a nice kick, as well as a healthy dose of probiotics, to your meals—also provides the same benefits as many probiotic supplements.
“Probiotics are essentially ‘good’ bacteria: they ensure that nutrients are delivered to your cells, they keep bad bacteria in check, and they reduce inflammation in your intestines,” she says. “Studies suggest that taking a probiotic supplement or eating probiotic-rich foods like miso or kimchi actually promotes clear, healthy skin.” A clear complexion begins in your gut.
In short: this fermented cabbage can replenish your GI tract and bring you closer to a clear complexion.
Olives/Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olives (and extra virgin olive oil) are one of the best-kept beauty secrets. According to Kotsopoulos, their high-antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties treat a large number of diseases and ailments.
“Olives are a rich source of vitamins A and E, both of which reduce inflammation and protect the oils on the surface of your skin from free-radical damage. Olives also help strengthen connective tissues, improving skin tone and protecting against UV radiation,” she says.
And when used topically, they can also repair cells, protect against damage, and soothe the skin, helping it renew and regenerate.
Though it’s not exactly an edible treat, lavender’s antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, painkilling properties are too good to not talk about.
“It’s also great for normalizing the skin, whether yours tends toward oily or dry and sensitive,” says Kotsopoulos.
She suggests pairing it with lemongrass or raw honey for a fragrant, healing skin-care blend. You can also apply a few drops of lavender essential oil directly onto blemishes with a cotton swab to eliminate them.