The One Nutrient Dermatologists Want You To Eat For Healthy Skin As You Age
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient – our body does not produce it on its own, so we must get it from the foods we eat, such as fruits and vegetables. Although best known for supporting immune health, the benefits of vitamin C for skin are important to consider, especially as you age.
You can apply vitamin C topically via serums and moisturizers, but skincare isn’t the only source of this nutrient. A diet rich in antioxidants like vitamin C may also have beneficial effects on the skin.
Here, Macrene Alexiades, MD, board-certified dermatologist and associate clinical professor at Yale University School of Medicine, based in New York, explains why she recommends eating more vitamin C for your skin health.
1. It can help protect skin from damage
Vitamin C is a well-known antioxidant. Antioxidants are compounds that minimize or neutralize oxidative stress, which is caused by a buildup of free radicals, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that, when left unchecked, can damage DNA and lead to negative health effects, such as cancer.
“Vitamin C helps protect your skin cells from free radical damage,” says Alexiades. This is important for skin health because the skin is subjected to a decent amount of ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun, which increases the risk of skin cancer.
UV light is a source of free radicals, so too much sun exposure can increase the risk of skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, a diet rich in antioxidants can help prevent free radical damage that leads to skin cancer.
2. It plays a role in preventing wrinkles
Free radical damage doesn’t just increase your risk of skin cancer, it’s also linked to aging skin, such as sun spots and wrinkles, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
UV radiation contributes to the production of free radicals in the skin, and it is a key factor in photoaging, according to a January 2020 review in Current Dermatology Reports. Photoaging, also known as extrinsic aging, involves premature skin changes caused by chronic sun exposure. Characteristic features of photoaging typically include loss of skin elasticity and wrinkles.
“As an antioxidant, vitamin C is one of the best vitamins for aging skin and may be key to maintaining a smooth, even complexion,” says Alexiades, adding that it also helps promote the production of collagen.
She also points out that vitamin C promotes collagen production, which can also help offset the effects of aging. Over time, your skin naturally loses collagen. Free radicals can accelerate collagen loss, but antioxidants help prevent it and keep your skin firm.
Another way vitamin C supports healthy skin is in wound healing, says Alexiades. In fact, vitamin C is involved in all phases of wound healing, according to 2013 research in the British Journal of Community Nursing.
This is mainly because it supports collagen production. Collagen is a type of structural protein found in skin tissue. Collagen formation helps stimulate new tissue growth, which is part of how wounds heal, according to the US National Library of Medicine (NLM). Vitamin C deficiency can even hinder wound healing.
Vitamin C is particularly important in preventing scurvy symptoms like impaired ability to heal wounds, according to a March 2020 review inNutrients. Scurvy is caused by a severe vitamin C deficiency in the diet. It mainly affects people suffering from malnutrition.
4. It supports the skin in all seasons
Vitamin C isn’t just important during cold and flu season. Alexiades says the antioxidant can support skin health all year round. “During warmer seasons, it can protect your skin from sun damage and soothe sunburn,” she says. “During the colder months, it can hydrate and brighten your skin.”
Vitamin C deficiency can also worsen skin conditions like atopic dermatitis, aka eczema, according to a July 2018 review in Frontiers in Physiology. Atopic dermatitis can have seasonal triggers.
Getting enough vitamin C throughout the year can help ward off symptoms. Topical application of vitamin C may also help, according to September 2018 research in Dermatological therapy.
How to eat more vitamin C
Although vitamin C is available in supplement form, the best way to get vitamin C is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, according to the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
“For more vitamin C in your diet, be sure to eat fruits like strawberries and pineapple and vegetables like dark leafy greens, kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli,” says Alexiades.
The following are some of the best vitamin C-rich foods, according to the USDA:
- Red bell pepper