A Dermatologist and Dietitian Just Listed the 5 Worst Foods That Age Skin Faster
If you want healthy skin, you've got to nourish your cells with goodness. These are foods to avoid if you don't want to accelerate aging skin.
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Plenty of us have been there: You over-indulged in pizza, or fried food, or drinks last night. In the morning, your skin just feels…blah. Your face is showing larger pores, or is puffy and splotchy (and even seems to tingle with a mild burn). All this could be one way your system is confirming that yes, you overdid it a bit, and you need to get back in balance. (A huge glass of water might be a great first step.)
Just as there are anti-aging foods for skin—over time, undisciplined choices in what you eat and drink can show up in your complexion. Two holistic clinicians spoke with The Healthy to reveal what the worst foods that age your skin…and, the characteristics they have in common.
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What’s the scientific reason some foods make your skin age faster?
Dr. Dana Ellis Hunnes, a registered dietitian and author, and Dr. Jessica Krant, MD, a dermatologist and lifestyle medicine doctor, say the foods that make your skin age faster tend to have a few things in common: They’re highly inflammatory, they lack fiber and antioxidants, and they often come from animal sources.
Eating inflammatory foods increases inflammation markers in your body. These markers shorten tiny DNA structures called telomeres that are found at the end of chromosomes, causing your skin to age significantly faster.
Second, Dr. Ellis Hunnes explains that not eating enough whole plant foods that are high in antioxidants (like fruits and vegetables) can ramp up skin aging. Antioxidants protect your body from harmful free radicals that are often found in the skin-unfriendly list of foods below. Without antioxidants, free radicals can increase and spread inflammation throughout your body, which makes healthy skin cells age faster.
According Drs. Krant and Ellis Hunnes, these are the five worst foods most likely to accelerate the toll time takes on your skin. (And on that note, read up on some of the antioxidant-richest foods…)
Sugary sodas and sweets
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Refined, processed sugars found in packaged foods—like sodas, sweets, and candy bars—trigger inflammation.
A 2010 dermatology study also found that sugar ages skin by causing the cross-linking of collagen fibers. To translate, this causes wrinkles and makes our skin drier and less elastic.
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Some dairy products are high in saturated fats and contain dangerous trans fats that are inflammatory and promote the aging of skin. As Dr. Krant tells us, “Research shows the standard Western diet consisting of meat and dairy, which contains cholesterol but no fiber, causes inflammation and skin to age faster.”
Dairy may also be the issue if you can’t figure out why you keep having breakouts. The milk protein casein triggers inflammation and clogs up pores, which causes acne and other skin conditions that can speed up the rate at which our skin cells age.
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Bacon, pepperoni, salami…from sandwiches to pizza, these slices go on some of the most savory items you can sink your teeth into. Unfortunately, for all they provide in flavor experience, they lack in nutritional value.
Processed meats are loaded with sodium, which can cause puffiness. Plus, they contain preservatives called “nitrates” that trigger inflammation. Also, processed meats use up vitamin C, essential for collagen production and healthy skin.
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Mmm…fried foods (cue Homer Simpson voice). So good to eat, but so bad for your skin.
When foods are fried in hot oils, they release free radicals that damage skin and cause it to lose elasticity rapidly. What’s worse is they contain dangerous trans fats and hydrogenated fats, which reduce cell fluidity, overwork the liver and promote inflammation.
Dr. Ellis Hunnes says, “I recommend avoiding trans fats, which are known to be very detrimental to health. You’re best to stick with whole foods as close to nature as possible.” (Find out how bad fried foods really are.)
Examples of ultra-processed, refined carbohydrates are packaged white bread, donuts, pastries, cookies, chips, and “instant” foods, to name a few. (Er, that’s looking at you, instant ramen.)
Dr. Krant explains that these junk foods drive inflammation, lack nutritional value, and contain little to no fiber. Increasing fiber can promote the generation of beneficial gut bacteria, which can benefit the body’s entire system and yield healthier skin.
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- Dr. Jessica Krant, MD: Board Certified Dermatologist, Lifestyle Medicine Certified Doctor, and certified Life Coach in NYC.
- Dr. Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD: Senior Dietitian at UCLA Medical Center and author of Recipe For Survival: What You Can Do to Live a Healthier and More Environmentally Friendly Life.
- Experimental Dermatology: "The role of telomeres in the aging of human skin"
- Nutrients: "Diet and Skin Aging—From the Perspective of Food Nutrition"
- Annual Review of Food Science and Technology: "Skin Health from the Inside Out"
- Clinics in Dermatology: "Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation"
- National Cancer Institute: "Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk"