Feed the skin you're in

Slathering on sunscreen every two hours will keep your skin protected from the sun’s harmful rays, but taking care of your skin is, well, more than skin deep. It’s an inside job – and determined, in part, by what you eat. If you keep your bathroom shelves stocked with fancy face creams and miracle makeup, you owe it to yourself to give nature’s bounty a fair shake, as well, by stocking your fridge and pantry shelves with these skin-enriching ingredients:

  1. Tomatoes. If you must have color, get it from this red-hued beauty, and not from the harsh rays of the sun. Tomatoes contain lycopene, a phytochemical that helps fend off free radicals, the skin-aging molecules that form when you spend too much time in the sun. If you don’t enjoy your tomatoes straight from the vine, cook some up in your favorite soup or stew, or enjoy them crushed with a garnish of basil over your favorite summer pasta dish. Cooking concentrates the lycopene, so pour on the pasta sauce. Not a tomato person? Cut yourself a slice of watermelon and enjoy a burst of beneficial lycopene.

  2. Flax seeds. Packed with omega-3 fatty acids, these seeds can help reduce skin inflammation and redness, and they also help keep skin hydrated. Be sure to use seeds, not oil, for maximum benefits. To release the omega-3s inside the seeds, grind them in a coffee grinder before you eat them, or you can buy pre-ground flax meal. Don’t know where to sprinkle your flax seed or flax meal? Start with breakfast. One to two tablespoons in your oatmeal or mixed in with yogurt and fruit is all you need. Ground flax seed can go virtually undetected in smoothies, soups and sauces, and also makes a healthy addition to meatloaf or baked goods such as muffins and quick breads.

  3. Dark chocolate. Dark chocolate – typically, with more than 70 percent cocoa content – contains flavanols, the main type of flavonoid in cocoa. Flavanols have antioxidant qualities that can help diminish skin roughness and protect against sun damage by reducing sun sensitivity. A couple of ounces of a dark chocolate bar or a spoonful or two of cocoa powder (non-Dutch processed) daily is all you need to reap the benefits. How sweet is that?

  4. Canned tuna. Hello, selenium! Tuna is loaded with this mineral, which helps preserve elastin, whose job (as it sounds) is to maintain skin’s elasticity. Selenium also helps reduce damage from the sun, and may even help prevent skin cancer. So the next time you have a hankering for tuna salad, go for it – your skin will thank you.

  5. Sweet potatoes. These orange-fleshed tubers are loaded with vitamin C, which stimulates production of collagen. What is collagen, and why should you care? Think of it as the underpinning of your skin – the cellular scaffolding that gives your skin its bounce and texture. When collagen breaks down, so does your skin: it sags and wrinkles. Sweet potatoes also are rich in beta-carotene, a carotenoid that converts to vitamin A, which is essential for cell production – including skin cell production. Some say carotenoids can even help boost your rosy glow. If you’re not sweet on these tubers, try carrots, mangoes and apricots (dried or fresh).

  6. Blueberries. Great news – they’re in season, and they’ve got dual skin-saving properties: vitamin C to boost collagen production, and antioxidants to protect your skin from sun damage. Eat them plain, blend them in a smoothie or add them to your morning oatmeal or yogurt.

  7. Spinach. Yes, really. Spinach is rich in antioxidants as well as omega-3 fatty acids, both of which do wonders for your skin. And then there’s the folate, which helps maintain and repair DNA and may reduce your likelihood of cancer-cell growth, including skin cancer. Bring back the spinach in your salad, throw some in with your morning scramble, or find new ways to eat your spinach – including in soup.

Skin-saving tips

In addition to a healthy diet that includes the skin-saving foods above, follow these simple steps to keep the skin you’re in looking its best:

  • Use sunscreen. Sunny or cloudy, just put it on – especially on your face. Make it part of your daily routine for all four seasons. Test your sun safety IQ by visiting the “Take charge of your health” section of myProvidence.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking decreases blood flow and therefore deprives your skin of much-needed nutrients and oxygen. It also damages the collagen and elastin that keep your skin firm. Not sure if you’re ready to quit? We can help.
  • Manage stress. It’s not a myth – increased stress can cause breakouts and other unpleasant effects on your skin. Find what works to reduce your stress, and stick with it.
  • Get enough sleep. Getting adequate sleep every night – seven to eight hours is recommended – can help give your body time to regenerate and rejuvenate. Too little sleep can bring on stress hormones, which inflame and irritate your skin, speeding up the aging process. Sleep deficits also cause dehydration, which can lead to a dull complexion and to greater skin sensitivity, as skin that hasn't properly rested isn't up to the task of fending off potentially harmful environmental pollutants.