In this Ask the Expert piece, we’re taking a closer look at how diet affects our skin. By this point, most of us have blamed a breakout on a chocolate splurge or one too many sugary drinks, but it turns out the relationship between skin and food is even more complex than that. We met up with Elizabeth Geddes-Bruce, MD, MS to talk about the best foods for good skin and how different foods can cause it to be oily, dry, inflamed, hydrated, even younger-looking.

“Dermatologists have long known that nutritional deficiencies often first manifest by changes in skin quality, and yet, we frequently fail to discuss with our patients the many benefits that diet can have on their skin,” explains Dr. Geddes-Bruce.

“I’m a firm believer that the two are connected–what you eat can influence how your skin appears. I hear it from my patients all the time. And studies back up what they are saying–certain nutrients can protect against photodamage and premature aging, and others can accelerate damage and disease.”

So what exactly are the worst foods for skin? There’s a good chance that deep down, you already know. Read below to see Dr. Geddes-Bruce’s professional opinion on how some of our favorite food groups can affect our skin.

image via half baked harvest

Red Meat.

I see nothing wrong with indulging in the occasional hamburger or hot dog, but your skin will thank you if your day-to-day diet focuses on lean sources of protein. Not only are chicken and turkey high in niacin (a B vitamin that can protect against skin cancer) they are also lower in saturated fat content, which means they are less inflammatory than red meats. 


While gluten is getting a bad wrap in popular culture these days, it’s unlikely to be, by itself, terrible for your skin. What we do know is that gluten is most often found in carbohydrates, and a diet high in carbohydrates is associated with an increased chance of wrinkles. This leads us to the next point.


If there were one food to cut back on to improve your skin I would vote for sugar. Sugar speeds up the aging process by making the skin less elastic, which causes premature wrinkles and sagging. This happens through a process called glycation where the sugars bind to the collagen and elastic proteins in your skin and cause them to stiffen irreversibly.


If you struggle with acne consider a trial of limiting your dairy intake. Dairy products, especially skim ones, have been linked to acne in multiple population studies. We aren’t sure exactly why—it may be due to the hormones or the high glycemic load that causes spikes in blood sugar, then insulin, and leading to increased oil production. But make sure you keep up your calcium intake, which can be found in foods like spinach, kale, white beans, and soy.

Fresh fruit.

If you love fruit then you’re in luck, because it’s one of the best foods for good skin. It’s a no-brainer that fresh fruits are good for your skin. I try to have a little fruit with every meal. Fruits like oranges, strawberries, mangos, and papayas have high amounts of vitamin C. Vitamin C is essential to forming tight collagen fibers. It also works as an antioxidant protecting your skin from damage from UV radiation and pollution. And while many skincare products contain vitamin C, not all of them are formulated in a way that guarantees the vitamin C will remain stable and penetrate to the target areas. 

Raw vegetables.

The bolder the color, the better they are for your skin! Dark leafy green vegetables, as well as red, orange, and yellow vegetables, contain B-carotenes (a form of vitamin A), lycopene, and lutein—all nutrients that help protect the skin from damage from the sun. And while most vegetables are best in their raw form, you get increased amounts of lycopene by cooking tomatoes–so go ahead and enjoy that tomato sauce.


Depending on the type of fish (usually “fishy fish,”) a serving can be a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory in the body. A diet high in omega 3 fatty acids can improve dry and flakey skin conditions, as well as decrease sun sensitivity.

Red wine.

There’s been a lot of hype about the benefits of red wine because it contains a polyphenol called resveratrol. Resveratrol is an antioxidant that protects against skin damage. However, the benefits might be negated by the harms of alcohol on the skin, like dehydration and dilation of the blood vessels, which can flare conditions like rosacea. Overall, I would recommend you enjoy an occasional glass of red wine if you like it, but don’t drink it for your skin. Best to stick to green tea, which is a good alternative that is high in polyphenols.

Nuts and seeds.

Both nuts and seeds can be good sources of vitamin E, which is delivered to the skin in your sebum and helps protect cell membranes and promote healing. Nuts and seeds can also contain the trace minerals selenium, zinc, and copper, which protect against cell damage and promote healthy skin structure.

This post was originally published on June 3, 2020, and has since been updated.

Loved this post? Pin this graphic to come back to it later.

Share this Post

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments (16)
  1. 1
    peppermintdolly June 20, 2017 at 6:46 am

    Brilliant post! Loved going through it and the photos are gorgeous!


  2. 2
    underaytedray June 20, 2017 at 8:50 am

    I enjoyed reading this. I found it very educational and insightful because I never really give what I eat that much thought. I follow flavor where ever it goes. I’ve been thinking of a ‘diet makeover’ and this post just gave me the nudge I needed.

  3. 3
    Steph (Nourish ME) (@stephhartley4) June 20, 2017 at 11:10 am

    I always find that the more dairy I eat, the worse my skin gets! I didn’t know how beneficial green tea was for your skin though

    Steph –

  4. 4
    Angela June 20, 2017 at 11:54 am

    I find that sunflower seeds always give my skin a healthy glow. As soon as they run out, I notice a difference in my skin right away.

    Blush & Pearls by Angela

  5. 5
    Janet Fazio June 20, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    So happy to see this post. I am a firm believer that good skin starts in the gut.

  6. 6
    Michael @ Mile in My Glasses June 20, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    Wow, this is so interesting! Thank-you so much for this!

    I hope you’ve had a great Tuesday,

  7. 7
    Kassie June 21, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    So interesting! I have been thinking about cutting back on dairy to help my skin out a little bit. I love yogurt though, would anyone happen to know of a dairy-free alternative that would satisfy my breakfast needs, but not lead to the problems that skim does?

    • Katie June 23, 2017 at 1:47 am

      I think coconut yoghurt is supposed to be a good dairy-free alternative Kassie. I’ve also had luck with my skin by consuming fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, etc and drinking bone broth too!

  8. 8
    charolina June 23, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    Great post! Thanks for shared it!!!

  9. 9
    Of Ashes & Bones June 25, 2017 at 7:24 am

    I cut my sugar intake for a week, and I could already feel the difference it makes to my skin! thank you for sharing this. very useful

  10. 10
    Natalie June 27, 2017 at 8:34 am

    Interesting post! Thanks for sharing x

  11. 11
    Taylor July 20, 2017 at 9:01 am

    Love this series and love this post! Firm believer that what you eat greatly affects your skin!

  12. 12
    stenbok April 30, 2021 at 4:51 pm

    Useful post! I really need this type of article.. this is very useful for me.