Teenagers experience an enormous surge in hormones which coincides with a growth spurt, increased stress, and increased independence to source their own food outside of the home. This typically results in an increase in acne. Whilst there are many factors which contribute to acne breakouts, educating them about good nutrition for healthy skin can certainly help.
The following foods and nutrients should be a focus.
We know it’s important for protecting and repairing our skin, but teenage boys in particular have a higher zinc requirement due to it’s involvement of sperm production. Zinc deficiencies can cause also cause mood issues, recurring infections, poor growth and mental disturbances and are common in teens. Focus on shellfish, beef, pork, the dark meat in chicken or turkey and dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese in their diet.
Selenium and antioxidants
(Vitamins A, C and E) are all great for reducing inflammation and hence acne. Ensure that they eat all the colours of the rainbow with a great selection of fruit and vegetables, as well as lots of berries. Eating tuna, meat and chicken will boost their selenium intake.
Are important for hormone balance especially in female teens as it’s needed to break down hormones in the liver. Inadequate levels can lead to acne, mood swings and sugar cravings. Encourage them to eat whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, bananas, tuna, turkey and dark leafy green vegetables and ensure their magnesium levels are adequate as these are closely related.
Eating foods rich in healthy Omega 3 fats can result in smoother, healthier and glowing skin (and hair). They protect the skin against external damages which causes ageing, or inflammation (psoriasis and acne). They increase moisture content of the skin, assist in collagen formation, provide skin elasticity and manage fine lines. Omega 3 fats also nourish hair follicles to help with improved growth of stronger glossier hair. Omega 3 fats are mostly found in fish (fatty fish are best – tuna and salmon) as well as smaller amounts in chia seeds, walnuts, eggs, meat and dairy. If you can’t eat 3 servings of fish a week try taking a fish oil capsule daily. If you can’t eat fish, an algal DHA capsule (containing the algae that the fish eat to get their DHA) is ideal.
Sunlight and specifically UVB is required to stimulate vitamin D production. Research is positive that vitamin D can help to fight acne by making your skin smooth and strong, controlling your insulin response (which also controls acne), boosts your immune system, and calms inflammation which can also cause acne. Food sources of Vitamin D include fatty fish like salmon and Tuna. Smaller amounts are found in egg yolks, liver and fortified cereals and dairy (milk and cheese). Fish liver oils also contain Vitamin D. Vitamin D from foods is fat soluble and less bi active than sunlight. Ensure you eat your vitamin D source with some fat in your diet to absorb it.
Your hair follicles, nails, skin, muscles and eyes are all made of protein. Protein is also necessary for tissue repair and new tissue. It’s needed to replace work out or cells which have died. That includes the lining of the gut which is essential for good liver, immunity and skin health. The body also uses protein to make hormones, the balance of which are essential for good skin.
There are 22 different types that your body needs to function properly, some it can make itself, but there are 8 which you need to consume in your diet. These come from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk — all dairy, cheese and soy – basically anything that comes from the animal. Nuts and legumes (peas and beans) contain some but not all of the essential amino acids; these are known as incomplete proteins.Remember to spilt your protein across 3 meals per day. The body doesn’t absorb more than 20g per meal so anything extra will be excreted in your urine.
Avoiding refined foods and added sugars
There is now sufficient scientific evidence supporting an association between a low glycemic diet and reduced acne and inflammatory markers in the body (cytokines). Higher glycemic foods are carbohydrates which cause a spike in blood sugars. This then causes a spike in insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) in your body. This surge can lead to an excess of unwanted hormones, which cause your pores to secrete sebum, a greasy substance that attracts acne-promoting bacteria. High levels of IGF-1 can also cause certain skin cells to multiply and cause acne.
What does all this mean? Foods with lots of added sugar (soft drinks, lollies, chocolates, basically anything with a food label that has added sugar in it) should be avoided or minimised to 6 teaspoons (24 grams) per day. Also, high GI foods should be avoided – this includes most processed and refined foods, and added sugars. With several exceptions, a diet high in fruit and vegetables, fatty fish and other good fats, and healthy unrefined wholegrains is the key to reduced inflammation and acne.
This will keep blood sugars, insulin and IGF-1 spikes to a minimum. These have all been linked with acne breakouts, mood swings and lack of focus and energy (and weight gain). Encouraging teens to eat healthy the majority of the time and stick to occasional treats is key. Keep a steady supply of healthy snacks on hand for the hungry teen and try and encourage them to avoid the sugar laden snacks or energy drinks on the way home from school.
Plenty of water
Good hydration is key, as is looking after liver function to ensure that toxins are being filtered properly and waste removal is taking place efficiently.
Stress and sleep
Stress and sleep both have a large impact on the skin, and on hormone levels which can affect the skin. Ensuring that you’re getting sufficient sleep each night, and reducing stress to keep cortisol (stress hormone) levels nice and low as the day progresses, will really help with any skin concerns. Getting sufficient sunshine and exercise helps serotonin and melatonin levels (happiness and sleep hormones) in addition to providing vitamin D, all of which improve the skin.
Fibre is so important to help the body remove waste (which contains toxins). Fibre is also needed to remove excess hormones from the body after they are broken down in the liver. If the hormones aren’t removed from the body with the help of fibre, hormone imbalance can result. Ongoing hormone imbalance can then cause symptoms such as PMS, depression, stress and acne. Eating plenty of fibre to help remove excess hormones is ideal, as well as maintaining weight. It keeps you feeling full and slowly releases the sugars from your food into your bloodstream, which reduces insulin and cortisol spikes, as well as giving you long lasting energy.
There are two types of Fibre, both of which are important for healthy skin and hormone balance:
- Soluble fibre, which dissolves in water, can help lower glucose/ blood sugar levels as well as help lower blood cholesterol. This also acts as a prebiotic feeding your healthy gut bacteria which is essential for good health. Foods with soluble fibre include oatmeal, nuts, beans, lentils, apples and blueberries.
- Insoluble fibre, which does not dissolve in water, can help food move through your digestive system, promoting regularity, waste removal and helping prevent constipation. Foods with insoluble fibres include wheat, whole wheat bread, whole grain couscous, brown rice, legumes, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes.
Add fibre SLOWLY as too much all of a sudden will cause pain, wind and discomfort. Gradually increase to approximately 20-25grams of fibre per day (9-16 year olds) and make sure you eat a balance of both types of fibre.
Alcohol reduces the efficiency of the liver, which is responsible for removing waste from the body and breaking down hormones for removal. A well functioning liver is one which is not overloaded with processing processed foods, excess sugar and alcohol. When the body breaks down alcohol it also destroys a lot of nutrients in the body, such as B vitamins. This will deplete vitamin stores which are essential for healthy skin and other important functions in the body.
The teen years are often plagued with experimenting with fads, diets, detoxes and food restrictions, such as veganism or vegetarianism. At an age where the nutrient requirements are so high to support growing bodies and fluctuating hormones, it’s worth considering closely needs of the teen body and whether restricting any one food group is being balanced with appropriate nutrition strategies to meet nutrient requirements. Eliminating protein from the diet, and omega 3 healthy fats in the form of fish and dairy will affect the skin, hair and hormones, brain, as well as many other important bodily functions. If you are restricting food groups, always seek the support of a nutritionist or dietitian to ensure you are meeting all your nutrient needs.
A more detailed article on foods for glowing skin is available below:
More information such as this can be found in our nutrition guides which can be downloaded below