The One Nutrient You Should Be Eating More of for Healthier Skin, According to a Dermatologist

Plus the types of snacks TikTok sensation Dr. Muneeb Shah says to skip to avoid collagen damage.

Dr. Muneeb Shah on designed background
Photo: Christian Henry Smith

Your skin is your body's largest organ—and it's very much influenced by the foods you eat. Or, so says Muneeb Shah, M.D., a dermatology chief resident in Wilmington, North Carolina. If you're already one of his more than 15 million TikTok followers (or follow him on Instagram), you know he not only posts practical advice about skin care, he also responds to claims making the rounds on social media. He's tested lip masks, shared his own skin-care hacks (putting Vaseline under his eyes is part of his nighttime routine) and more.

We were lucky enough to chat with Dr. Shah recently and dug in to how our skin is impacted by our diet.

EatingWell: Let's get to it: What are the best foods to eat for healthier skin?

Shah: The truth is most people don't follow consistent diets. But what we're finding is that there are consistent best foods for the skin. These include foods that contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids such as salmon, herring, avocados and walnuts.

EatingWell: So give us your best snack option.

Shah: Walnuts. But better yet, focus on what you want to avoid, such as high-sugar and high-glycemic snacks. These are the foods that can cause the most damage to collagen, a protein found in the skin.

(Side note: here at EatingWell, we believe all foods can fit into a healthy diet. So rather than avoid sugar or other high-glycemic foods completely, we suggest simply scaling back.)

EatingWell: What should we be doing every day for healthier skin?

Shah: Follow a healthy diet, exercise, practice mindfulness and use good skin-care products. And, to really see an improvement, wear a sunscreen of at least SPF 30. It should be a broad spectrum sunscreen, by the way, and you should reapply it every two hours. Here's what I tell patients: Put it on in the morning after you brush your teeth, and make it a habit. That's the best way to protect your skin.

EatingWell: Is there any truth to the claims that eating certain foods can cause skin flare-ups, like dairy for eczema or gluten for psoriasis?

Shah: Let's frame this as follows: A lot of conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, are caused by inflammation, and foods that cause inflammation tend to make these conditions worse. So highly inflammatory diets, ones that contain a lot of sugar and fatty acids that aren't omega-3s, cause more inflammation in the body. To avoid flare-ups, we suggest that people stick with an anti-inflammatory diet like the Mediterranean diet. After all, what's good for the heart turns out to be good for the skin, too.

EatingWell: Can eating certain foods reverse signs of aging or is all about prevention?

Shah: Prevention is key. Everything else gives you minimal incremental benefits, but it's still beneficial to fill your diet with such foods as olives, olive oil, fish and lean meats. And, while there's no fountain of youth, studies have shown that vitamins A and B3 [niacin] can decrease the risk of skin cancer. And vitamin A and beta carotene fight off free radical damage that contribute to collagen damage and aging. I would caution on taking a vitamin A supplement because you can overdose on intake.

EatingWell: Is it OK to use coconut oil on your skin?

Shah: It's one of the oils that has a lot of beneficial fatty acids that are helpful for the skin barrier. However, there have been some studies that show that it can be pore-clogging in some people. I will say that I wouldn't recommend that you use it if you have acne. My best advice: Don't use it on your face and reserve it for your body, instead.

EatingWell: Is there any truth to the claim that putting rosemary oil on your scalp can help with hair loss?

Shah: There was a study that compared rosemary oil to Rogaine 2%. The researchers compared individuals head-to-head and found similar benefits. So, while there are more studies that support the use of minoxidil (the active ingredient in Rogaine), if you're seeking a more natural approach, it's reasonable to put rosemary oil on your scalp as long as you dilute it. Also, there's data about oral pumpkin seed oil. In two studies, the oil has shown good hair regrowth results, so that's some really good news.

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