Over-40 Complexions Can Benefit From These Expert Nutrition Tips

Turns out, your skin is what you eat.

by Cassie Shortsleeve
TZR/ Stocksy/ Shutterstock
nutrition for beauty

When it comes to your skin, eventually everything — age, life changes, the toll of environmental factors — takes its toll. And while you may not think as much about skin concerns like wrinkles or dark spots in your 20s and 30s, in your 40s, you may have started to wonder how exactly you can target these issues.

The first and obvious answer tends to be what you put on your skin: "anti-aging" preventative and correcting products. But other remedies, including what you put into your body (read: diet and hydration), matter too.

“The skin is the largest organ in the human body and requires both internal and external support; there is a link between what we put into and on our bodies,” explains registered dietitian nutritionist Maya Feller, founder of Brooklyn-based Maya Feller Nutrition and author of Eating from Our Roots.

In short: While topical products and professional skin care services can help boost skin health, so too can our diets. After all, practitioners have long known that nutrition — more specifically, rectifying deficiencies — is integral to things like wound healing, Feller says. And while more analysis is needed, a growing body of research is investigating potential skin health perks of nutritional ingredients such as collagen, vitamin C, prebiotics and probiotics, and more.

When we think about nutrition, we “often go right to the macronutrients: carbs, protein, and fat,” says Kristel de Groot, a health coach and founder of organic superfood powder company Your Super, who grew up with eczema and noticed from a young age that what she ate impacted her skin. “What we miss in conversation is often the micronutrients: your vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients and their ability to improve your health, from your skin health to your overall health.”

As of now, it’s way too early (with regard to research) to prescribe specific vitamin and mineral compounds for particular skin issues; plus, nutrition recommendations for dermatological concerns need to be individualized, reminds Feller.

The good news? Our organs are “designed to be really good at self-regulating. If you give them what they need, they’re going to do their thing, self-regulate, and be fairly healthy,” says central California-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Aegean H. Chan, M.D.

Not sure where to start? Here are six skin issues that could benefit from dietary tweaks.

Dry Skin

Sure, it might sound obvious, but one of (if not the) biggest fixes for dry skin is — well — staying hydrated. “Most people are a little bit dehydrated at baseline,” says Chan, and ensuring you’re properly filled up (make sure your urine is a very light yellow) helps to optimize the function of the skin, specifically its outer level called the epidermis.

“When we think about using a skin care product like hyaluronic acid, the molecule swells to 1,000 times its weight, and it pulls water from surrounding areas. And while it can pull it from the air, it is probably less likely to be able to swell to its full potential if the body itself is not fully hydrated,” says Cayli Cavaco Reck, founder of Knockout Beauty. “So you are maximizing your products with hyaluronic acid if you are hydrated internally.”

As for specifics beyond that, much of the research is still limited, but Ava Lee, founder and CEO of byAva, which specializes in ingestible beauty supplements for skin health, favors foods high in vitamin E — a popular ingredient in cosmetic products. The vitamin is a component of the skin’s oil, called sebum, which helps keep moisture locked in; it acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage; and vitamin E could be helpful for those with the inflammatory skin condition atopic dermatitis. Aim for 15 milligrams a day from sources high in vitamin E such as almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, or spinach.

For dry or cracked skin, Lee also reaches for foods high in zinc, a mineral that research suggests could help treat skin lesions. Oysters, meat, oats, or lentils are all good sources. About 8 milligrams a day is your goal — about the amount in 1 cup of oats or 3 ounces of blue crab or beef.

Fine Lines & Wrinkles

First things first: There’s no undoing years of tanning beds or skipped sunscreen days (and there’s nothing wrong with fine lines and wrinkles; aging is a privilege). But, if you’re finding marks pesky, know this: While more research is needed, the compounds in many fruits and vegetables, especially berries, called phytochemicals — anthocyanins, flavanols, flavonols, and tannins — have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that some research considers “promising” when it comes to protecting against damaging free radicals and maintaining youthful skin.

De Groot likes açaí and maqui berries (smoothie bowl, anyone?), both of which are sky-high in antioxidants.

Feller also points to a small short-term study that found that 120 milligrams of a substance called hyaluronan (the aforementioned hyaluronic acid) per day in supplement form for 12 weeks was linked with a significant decrease in wrinkles and dry skin.

“The researchers concluded that hyaluronan may be used as a functional food to support the maintenance of skin health,” she says. Find it in bone broth, oranges, tofu, kale, and almonds.

Lee also swears by vitamin A — think: orange-y foods like sweet potatoes, salmon, carrots, or beets — for anti-aging perks. Some studies have shown that people with higher vitamin A concentrations in their skin tend to look younger than those with lower levels, though it's certainly not a wrinkles-versus-no-wrinkles situation.


For areas of darkening skin, consider adding color to your diet. Citrus fruits like lemon, oranges, and grapefruit are all high in vitamin C while orange foods like carrots and sweet potatoes are packed with pigmented beta carotene. Both nutrients could help with skin brightening and health, says Lee.

It’s not a quick fix, but some nutrition studies suggest that people who eat more fruits and vegetables, in general, also appear to have improved skin appearance (defined as facial wrinkling, skin elasticity, roughness, and skin color). There’s also some, albeit limited, research on the use of vitamin C as a depigmenting agent.

Loss Of Elasticity & Collagen

Did you know that vitamin C plays a crucial role in stimulating the production of collagen?

“Vitamin C helps with cell metabolism and with regenerating and skin cell repair,” says registered dietitian Vanessa Rissetto, CEO and co-founder of Culina Health.

But when it comes to replenishing the collagen we’ve lost from aging, Rissetto says that, overall, getting enough protein is key as it's a building block of our skin, nails, and hair. She suggests shooting for 100 grams a day, from sources like beans, tofu, eggs, chicken, fish, and beef.

Protein also helps with gut health, which has strong connections to the skin (more on that later). “When we think about ingesting collagen, the reality is that most collagen we're ingesting is not actually making its way to our face, but it's lining our gut, which will limit the amount of inflammation that we have,” says Reck.

Acne & Breakouts

Acne and breakouts can have many causes from hormonal fluctuations or allergies to environmental toxins; there’s no superfood that’ll fix a pimple.

But when it comes to diet, de Groot tends to think of skin irritations such as breakouts as signs of things in your body that are trying to “make their way out” — pointing to processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, and excess dairy or animal products.

In fact, research suggests a link between high-glycemic foods (sugar sodas, white bread, potatoes) and breakouts, says Chan.

De Groot also likes adaptogens such as maca, ashwagandha, and chasteberry for acne and breakouts. Some studies suggest that these herb, root, and plant substances influence oxidative stress pathways, inhibiting inflammation.


It’s true: Many skin conditions have inflammatory roots, including dry and itchy eczema and psoriasis, which causes scaly patches due to underlying systemic inflammation. There’s a lot that remains to be known about how exactly diet plays a role in inflammatory skin conditions, but “the gut-skin connection is very real,” says Chan.

In psoriasis specifically, research suggests that the gut microbiomes of people with the condition are significantly different than those without the condition.

Anti-inflammatory foods (olive oils, leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables) are always a good choice when it comes to calming down irritated skin. “When we are feeding our body the right foods, our body is using that food efficiently. When our body is fed foods that are inflammatory, the response begins in the gut, but we see it on the skin,” says Reck.

But probiotics (the “good” gut bacteria found in foods like kombucha or Greek yogurt) and prebiotics (the food of “good” gut bacteria, including garlic, asparagus, bananas, and chicory root) could also help your skin feel better.

“I think we're just scratching the surface of the data,” Chan says, “but I do think that there definitely is a link between the gut microbiome, the skin microbiome, and skin inflammation.”