One of the problems with nutrition solutions today is social media gives everyone a public platform. Some influencers recommend high-cost products because they believe in them. Many recommend costly options because they get a piece of the action. Others suggest lower-priced, natural options while also heralding the benefits of various routines and procedures to keep your skin and hair healthy. It can be confusing to know what advice to follow.
We’re not here to tell you which option is best for you. That’s a personal decision you should make based on research and experience. We are here to tell you that better nutrition and healthy eating habits will make your beauty strategies more effective and longer-lasting.
Today, we’ve gathered eight of the most significant changes you can make to your nutrition to do precisely that.
8 Nutrition Changes for Healthier Skin and Hair
1. Repair Your Hair With Vitamin C
No matter what good care you take of your tresses, the regular stresses of a life split your ends and frizz the middles. Your cells degrade when they’re exposed to oxygen, just as metal rusts. This is called oxidative stress. It doesn’t cause damage to your hair, but it can make existing damage worse.
Vitamin C helps your body resist and recover from infections and damage. That’s why you load up on it to boost your immune system while you’re sick. Having plenty in your system helps your hair suffer less from oxidative stress and repair that damage more quickly.
Good sources of vitamin C include strawberries, peppers, oranges, limes, lemons, brussels sprouts, blackcurrants, and any juice made from citrus fruits.
Note: Your body doesn’t store vitamin C like it does many other nutrients. You only need a serving or two on any given day, and maybe a third if you’re under the weather. Excess vitamin C just gets flushed out of your system.
2. Reduce Wrinkles by Boosting Collagen
Young skin is elastic. It retains its shape, doesn’t wrinkle, and bounces back from the various things we inflict on it every day. As we age, our skin loses its elasticity, which is why it begins to wrinkle in places our skin folds a lot, like around the eyes and the corners of our mouths. Later on, it begins to sag.
This all happens because the collagen content of our skin decreases as we age. Collagen is the critical component in skin elasticity, so as our skin has less of it, wrinkles begin to form. It’s an unavoidable part of the aging process, and nothing medical or beauty science has come up with so far can stop it completely.
However, you can increase the collagen available for your skin by eating foods rich in it. With more collagen for your body to work with, you can slow the wrinkling process and smooth your skin out. It will keep you looking younger for longer.
Good sources of collagen include oranges, leafy green vegetables, green tea, citrus fruits, berries, avocados, and most seeds, nuts, and legumes.
Tip: While you’re at it, quit smoking. Nicotine destroys collagen just by touching it, which is why so many smokers look older than their nonsmoking peers. You should quit smoking anyway, so there’s yet another reason.
3. Get Spicy for Healthier Skin and Hair
One of the better ways to ensure your skin and hair stay healthy is to maintain your overall health through better nutrition. One fun way to do that is to increase your intake of certain spices.
Spices contain trace amounts of micronutrients your body needs. For millennia, our ancestors chewed spices as a primitive form of nutritional supplement, and there’s no reason you can’t do the same with your cooking. Take this excuse to experiment more in the kitchen, try new foods, and make your skin and hair glow without going too deep into supplements and other chemical cures.
You can also find spice supplement products, such as gel capsules loaded with a megadose of a spice or teas carrying large concentrations of an herb. These can be as effective as adding spices to your menu planning, but they’re not nearly as much fun.
Some of the best spices for health include turmeric, rosemary, ginger, garlic, cumin, cocoa, cinnamon, chili, and cardamom. Bonus points if you get most of your spices from an herb garden so they’re organic and you get the stress relief and daily activity of tending it.
4. Reduce Dairy to Cut Down on Blemishes
Adult pimples and similar blemishes can be deeply embarrassing and frustrating because we’re unclear about what’s causing them.
One common culprit is dairy goods. Industrial dairies give lots of hormones to their cows, making their bodies produce more milk so they sell more per cow and increase profits. These are versions of the same hormones that made you break out during puberty, and some of them leach into the milk, through the production process, and into you.
Dairy isn’t the only possible cause of blemishes, but it’s at the root often enough it pays to experiment with reducing it from your diet. Either cut out dairy for a few weeks or source your milk and ice cream from local farmers or organic producers who don’t use hormones. See if the blemishes fade.
If so, you know what’s happening. If not, experiment with some other possibilities or talk to a dermatologist.
5. Eat Lean Proteins for Healthier Hair
Your body needs protein to maintain hair health because hair and nails are made out of the stuff.
Good lean meats deliver a solid dose of both iron and protein, which means they help you have lustrous, beautiful hair. Be smart about which proteins you choose, though, since many types of meat carry health risks that outweigh getting that sheen.
Focus on white fish, tofu, poultry, pork loin, Greek yogurt, and beans for most of your protein. These deliver the good stuff with less of the drawbacks. If you want to treat yourself, opt for a cut of grass-fed beef, which has a healthy serving of protein and iron; just don’t overindulge.
Tip: Bonus points for cooking your lean proteins in a cast-iron skillet to increase the iron content of the food.
6. Improve Skin Tone With Fatty Acids
The right kinds of oils and fats can give your skin a healthy glow. But the key there is “the right kinds.”
As we know, bad fats like the ones in your McDonald’s cheeseburger and harmful oils like what they cook the french fries in can hurt your health. They leave your skin and hair oily and can have severe repercussions for your heart. You want the good ones.
Omega-3 fatty acids are the best fats and oils for your skin, hair, and heart. They help your body produce collagen to maintain that coveted glow.
Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, soy, spinach, salmon, peanut butter, oysters, oatmeal, mackerel, kale, flax seeds, and cauliflower. You can also get them by cooking with canola, cod liver, flaxseed, and soybean oils to infuse other foods with this healthy element.
7. Reduce Eye Circles by Balancing Sodium and Potassium
Everyone gets those dark circles under their eyes that some call “raccoon circles.” They often occur after a night of too little sleep, too much alcohol, or both. These fade after we get some rest.
If you have dark circles no matter how much sleep you get, your face could be retaining water. The extra water weighs down and discolors the skin under your eyes. It can be unsightly and even alarming. This kind of water retention happens when your sodium and potassium are out of balance.
Sodium stimulates your body to hold on to water, which is why survival kits include salt tablets to help stave off dehydration. Potassium stimulates your body to release more water. Eat more potassium for a while and see what happens with the bags. If they don’t improve, reduce your sodium and up your potassium intake.
Good sources of potassium include oranges, honeydew, grapefruit, cantaloupe, bananas, and avocado. Salt, or foods containing salt, is the fastest and easiest way to get more sodium into your diet.
Note: Don’t use supplements for this. High doses of either potassium or sodium can impact your circulatory health and should only be used as interventions as directed by a doctor. Instead, make changes to your diet so you can adjust, check, and fine-tune your amounts safely.
8. Choose Whole Grains for Lusher Hair
The American diet is often high on carbohydrates, owing partially to the scientifically inaccurate Food Pyramid, which suggested far more servings than the human body should get. That had more to do with the power of farming lobbyists than the truth of good nutrition, but we digress.
Even though we should have fewer carbs in general, the more important part is to get our carbohydrates from whole grains instead of processed flour. This is good for a lot of reasons, one of which is giving your hair a better body.
When your body grows new hair, it uses silica and zinc as the basic building blocks. A lack of both can cause prematurely thinning hair. More of both can help restore hair that’s beginning to thin. Whole grains contain zinc and the silica source is vitamin B7.
If you challenge yourself in the coming year to phase out your processed carbohydrate foods, replacing one a month with a whole-grain version, you’ll find yourself well on the way to lusher, brighter hair.
Good sources of whole grains include whole-wheat bread, whole oats, steel-cut oats, quinoa, millet, bulgur wheat, buckwheat, and brown rice.
While you’re making these minor changes to what goes inside your body, also consider some larger-scale changes. Eating a balanced, nutritious diet is one of the best, least expensive, and most effective ways to improve your beauty overall. Healthy bodies look better than unhealthy bodies, and a good diet is a part of having one.
Incorporate what we talked about today, but make it just one part of an overall healthy lifestyle. Your diet is the foundation of that health, along with exercise, stress management, and plenty of sleep. If you see to these things, your need for beauty products decreases. If you don’t have these things, beauty products can only help you so much.
Gina Perrone is a New York-based journalist who writes for beauty blogs and publications.