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How the Foods You Eat Can Help Keep Your Hair, Skin and Nails Healthy

When you’re trying to keep your hair, skin and nails looking their best, you can spend a lot of money and time on creams, lotions and other beauty products. From anti-aging treatments to deep conditioning to cuticle oils, countless products claim they can improve your appearance. 

While those methods might help, don’t overlook the impact of what you put inside your body. Good nutrition doesn’t just support your internal health. It’s also significant for the appearance of your hair, skin and nails. 

We connected with Alexandra Lessem, a family health nurse practitioner with Banner Health, to learn more about how the foods you eat can support beauty from within.

Nutrition certainly affects hair, skin and nails,” she said. “Poor nutrition with vitamin or mineral deficiencies can lead to hair loss, dry skin and thin or brittle nails. Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and other natural, whole foods can help ensure you have the nutrients you need for your skin, hair and nails as well as your overall health. It is important to eat a healthful diet – and not to eat too much, as being overweight can also contribute to skin, hair or nail problems.”

Nutrients that can make a difference

A healthy overall diet can help you look your best. “Include a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds to ensure you are getting many different vitamins and minerals,” Lessem said. “Avoiding highly processed, sugary and fatty foods as much as possible will also be helpful.”

There are a few key nutrients you’ll want to focus on:

  • Vitamin A: This vitamin promotes cell turnover that keeps your skin healthy and radiant. It can make your complexion smoother and help fight signs of aging.
    Find it in: Sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, kale and mangoes
  • Vitamin E: This nutrient may protect against signs of aging.
    Find it in: Seeds, nuts, spinach, broccoli and kiwi
  • Biotin (vitamin B7): Helps you produce keratin, a protein that’s the base for your nails and hair. Getting enough of it can help keep your nails and hair strong and healthy. 
    Find it in: Eggs, almonds, salmon, sweet potatoes and avocado
  • Zinc: Supports collagen production, which keeps your skin elastic.
    Find it in: Seafood, nuts, whole grains and dairy
  • Iron: Helps bring oxygen to hair follicles so your hair can grow. 
    Find it in: Meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans and spinach
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Help enhance the shine and strength of your hair.
    Find it in: Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts
  • Antioxidants: Antioxidants help protect your skin cells from damage. “Antioxidants are things such as carotenoids, tocophenols and flavonoids,” Lessem said. 
    Find them in: Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries), dark leafy greens (kale and spinach), deep-colored fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, green tea and dark chocolate.

Meals and snacks to try

It’s best to get beauty-boosting nutrients from your diet rather than supplements. That’s because they work together to promote overall health and beauty. “I do not recommend people spend tons of time and money on fancy supplements or other treatments. Most nutritional needs can be met following a healthful, balanced diet,” Lessem said.

Try these nutrient-packed ideas:

  • Salmon and avocado salad: Serve grilled salmon on a bed of mixed greens, topped with sliced avocado, cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of flaxseeds and dressed with olive oil and lemon vinaigrette.
  • Berry smoothie bowl: Blend Greek yogurt, berries, spinach and a banana. Pour it into a bowl and top it with granola, chia seeds and a drizzle of honey. 
  • Sweet potato and spinach frittata: Sauté sweet potato cubes and spinach in olive oil, mix them with whisked eggs, salt and pepper and bake until the frittata is firm and golden brown. 
  • Nuts and seeds trail mix: Combine almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds and dried berries. 

Common myths about food and beauty

Certain foods have reputations for affecting your appearance in good or bad ways. Here’s the truth behind some things you may have heard.

  • Chocolate doesn’t cause acne: While consuming too much high-sugar chocolate may not be great for your skin, dark chocolate with high cocoa content has antioxidants that can benefit your skin. Just don’t overdo it, since chocolate is high in calories. 
  • Carbs aren’t bad for your skin: Carbohydrates are an important part of a balanced diet and whole grains have nutrients that support your skin’s health. However, refined and processed carbs can have negative effects. 
  • Cutting fat doesn’t lead to clear skin: Healthy fats, like those in avocados and nuts, help your skin’s elasticity. You want to choose the right fats, not avoid them altogether. 
  • The connection between acne and dairy is different for everyone: Some people have clearer skin when they eat less dairy, but others don’t see a difference. “Some studies link dairy to increased acne, though, so if you are suffering from acne, it might be worth decreasing or stopping your dairy intake to see if that helps,” Lessem said.
  • Detox diets don’t purify your skin: Your kidneys and liver naturally detox your body. 
  • Collagen supplements may not help with wrinkles: There’s not a lot of evidence proving they work. Instead, try eating more foods that contain antioxidants so your body can make collagen.

Water is key

Staying hydrated can help keep your skin supple and healthy and prevent your nails from becoming brittle. When you stay hydrated, you provide your skin with the moisture it needs to fight environmental stressors. Dehydration can lead to dry, flaky skin that’s more likely to show signs of aging. 

Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day, not only when you’re thirsty. Also, choose foods like cucumbers, celery, oranges and watermelon that contain a lot of water. Soups and broths can also be good choices. Keep an eye on how much caffeine and alcohol you consume since they can be dehydrating.

“Drinking lots of water is beneficial, but if you live in a dry climate, moisturization is also very important for the skin and nails. I recommend using a good lotion or cream at least once a day – or more often if you’re prone to dry skin,” Lessem said.

Other lifestyle changes that can make a difference

Healthy living overall can help keep your hair, nails and skin looking their best. 

  • Exercise improves your circulation, which can help oxygen and nutrients reach your skin. 
  • Managing stress can help reduce its impact. Stress can contribute to acne, wrinkles and dull skin. 
  • Getting good, restorative sleep can help keep your skin looking and feeling healthy.
  • Remember to protect your skin with clothing and sunscreen to fight signs of aging and help prevent skin cancer.

When to seek help

You can make most of the changes that can improve the appearance of your hair, skin and nails on your own. “You should see a professional if there is a significant change in the condition of your hair, skin or nails,” Lessem said. Watch for increased hair loss or breakage, a change in the texture or color of your nails, or new rashes or changes in the integrity of your skin. 

“Conditions such as anemia, thyroid disorders or nutritional deficiencies can cause changes in skin or nails, so if something is different or doesn’t seem right, certainly have it checked out,” she said.

The bottom line

Choosing a healthy, balanced diet can help keep your skin, hair and nails looking their best. If you’d like to learn about more ways the foods you eat can support your appearance and your overall health, connect with your health care provider or reach out to an expert at Banner Health. A provider can help you create an eating plan that supports your goals and teaches you how to make changes you can sustain in the long run.

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