The U.S. cosmetics industry raked in more than $32 billion in 2004, with sales of skin care products bringing in the largest share -- more than $8 billion. Americans are shelling out big bucks for expensive cosmetics to treat skin problems such as acne, wrinkles and dryness, but most consumers are overlooking the cheapest, safest and most effective remedies: healing foods.
A host of healthy, natural foods offer potent healing and preventative powers to remedy a wide range of skin troubles. These foods can dramatically improve skin for a fraction of the price of costly cosmetics or dermatologist visits:
Green Tea-- Green tea is rich in antioxidants that reduce inflammation and protect cell membranes. It has been proven to reduce the damage of sunburns and overexposure to ultraviolet light, which in turn reduces the risk of skin cancer. Green tea is also high in polyphenols -- compounds that eliminate cancer-causing free radicals.
Recent research by scientists at the Medical College of Georgia shows that the polyphenol most abundant in green tea -- EGCG -- also acts as a "fountain of youth" of sorts for skin by reactivating dying skin cells. In addition to its skin-healthy properties, green tea is also high in vitamins C, D and K, as well as riboflavin, zinc, calcium, magnesium and iron.
Salmon-- Salmon -- along with other fatty fish, walnuts and flaxseed -- is high in healthy fatty acids that are key for achieving healthy skin. Essential fatty acids such as omega-3s help keep cell membranes healthy by keeping out harmful substances as well as allowing nutrients to enter cells and exit with waste products. Omega-3s also reduce the body's production of inflammatory agents that can damage the skin.
Increasing consumption of omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods such as salmon will help keep the skin supple and youthful. A 1:1 ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3s is ideal, but the ratio in the typical American diet is more like 20:1, so boosting consumption of salmon and other oily fish can help bring that ratio closer to 1:1. Salmon is also rich in protein, potassium, selenium and vitamin B12.
Blueberries-- Blueberries are considered by many experts to be the highest food source of antioxidants, which target free radicals that can wreak havoc on skin cells. The antioxidants and phytochemicals (plant sources of nutrition) in blueberries neutralize DNA-damaging free radicals, reducing cell damage. When skin cells are protected from damage and disintegration, the skin looks younger for longer. Blueberries are also an excellent source of soluble and insoluble fiber, vitamin C, manganese, vitamin E and riboflavin.
Carrots-- Carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A, which is a required nutrient for healthy skin. They also contain high levels of antioxidants, which prevent free radical damage of skin cells. Vitamin A is required for developing and maintaining skin cells, and a deficiency of the vitamin can cause dry skin. Carrots are also a superior source of fiber, biotin, vitamins K, C and B6, potassium and thiamine.
Water-- Drinking plenty of water -- at least your individual minimum intake -- will help keep your skin young and healthy-looking. Water in caffeinated or sugary beverages does not count; water intake must be from pure, clean water, which rejuvenates skin cells. Water both hydrates cells and helps them move toxins out and nutrients in. Nutrition expert Liz Lipski, PhD, CCN, says when the body is properly hydrated, it sweats more efficiently, which helps keep the skin clean and clear.