Essential fatty acids, or EFAs, are an important component of any healthy diet. They help to build up the lipid-based cell membranes that hold in water and nutrients. In the case of the skin, those lipids also form an oil barrier that protects the skin from UV damage and pollutants.
Without EFAs, skin-cell membranes and that overall protective barrier can’t work effectively. The skin ends up overly exposed, dehydrated and prone to produce a more harmful type of sebum, leaving it dry, inflamed and blemished.
The EFAs you need to keep your skin looking great are primarily omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 is found in tons of foods, including poultry, grains and cooking oils, so you’re probably getting plenty of that. Omega-3s are somewhat harder to come by; you’ll find those in cold-water fish, like salmon and sardines, along with flaxseed and safflower oils, kidney beans, walnuts and spinach. Some skin experts also recommend another EFA, gamma linolenic acid (GLA), for its anti-inflammatory effects. GLA is founds mostly in plant oils.
You might find it helpful to take an omega-3 or GLA supplement to improve your skin health. You’ll find those in most grocery stores, and definitely any natural-foods store.
Antioxidants are widely believed to be beneficial for both cardiovascular health and cancer prevention. They’re found in all sorts of foods, including fruits, vegetables, seafood and oils. Antioxidants’ free-radical-fighting activities destroy molecules that can damage healthy cells, and as it turns out, they’re as great for skin cells as they are for every other cell in the body.
While many different antioxidants can be beneficial to the skin, two in particular get lots of attention:
Vitamin C — Builds collagen for plump, tight skin. Find it in whole grains, apples and citrus fruits. Aim for 75 milligrams a day.
Vitamin E — Protects cell membranes and “boosts” skin-based nutrients that fight off UV damage. Find it in wheat germ oil, almonds, and peanut butter. Aim for 15 milligrams a day.
Other skin-beautifying antioxidants include selenium, thiamine, beta-carotene and zinc.