Summer holidays bring out the hidden health freak in us. A beach holiday, with a dose of sun, sea, surf and lighter summer eating inspires us to healthier living. The problem is, once back into our work-a-day routines, our resolve to live healthier disappears as quickly as our tans. These skin foods and healthy eating hacks are designed to extend summer’s benefits all year long. While I’ve opted to mention the pick of the summer crop – tropical fruits, for example that yell summer livin’ – you can easily substitute for other fruits in season and local to you.
Natural Eats for Skin Food Treats
We’re all familiar with the adage, don’t put on your skin anything you wouldn’t be able to eat. There’s much truth in this as some age-old skincare recipes from grandma’s time drew on kitchen cupboard staples for their ingredients. But even the most natural skincare product wouldn’t serve your insides too well as by law it, to be placed on the market, it would need certain preservatives (naturally-derived ones we hope) to ensure its consumer safety and product stability over time. Also, no one ingests essential oils, for example, but they are considered ‘natural’ ingredients and are commonplace in many natural skincare formulations.
It’s far easier to determine what is ‘natural’ when it comes to foodstuffs. I am lucky living in the Mediterranean with excellent farmers’ markets outside my door and local produce from field to fork in a few minutes and miles. This means I can eat well to save my skin quite easily. If you focus on buying whole, raw foods preferably from local suppliers, farm shops and markets that are transparent about the provenance of their food, you’ll be well on the road to enjoying the benefits of true skin food.
Junk the junk and anything that’s over-packaged, over priced and pumped full of inexplicable ingredients (same mantra applies to how you purchase skincare too by the way), and you too can start to adopt an eat-well, live-well, super skincare routine too. You don’t need to be an expert chef, but you will need to learn how to cook from fresh, raw ingredients, daily and take as much care about what you eat as you do browsing beauty counters. The same rules apply – skincare should be as unadulterated as possible, and the fewer ingredients per lotion or potion the better.
As someone promoting responsible, ethically-minded, natural skincare I am not going to pull the wool over your eyes; the truth is, external skincare formulas can only do so much because…truly healthy natural skin starts within! What you eat is probably the single biggest factor in determining the health of your skin. Skin cells take around 28 days to form, grow and reach the outer skin layer or stratum corneum (the scaly, horny outer layer we see, which is in fact dead skin cells ready to shed). This means that any new eating or skincare regimen will take a month to show results. Get started now not during your holiday and keep up the good foods on your return. A surefire way to beat post-holiday blues is to keep that holiday glow forever.
7 Skin Foods for DIY Natural Beauty
Here are 7 (one-a-day for a week) skin foods and related tips on how to eat to treat your skin to super health. Cleanse your inside, where the skin cells grow, and you’ll be well on the way to a glowing summer and winter too.
1. Lemon Juice Morning Spritzer
Juice half a lemon into a mug and top up with warm water, adding a sprinkle of ground ginger powder or a small slice of fresh root ginger, some fresh mint leaves or even a pinch of Ras el-Hanout (Middle Eastern spice mix). Steep for a couple of minutes and sip to kick start your digestive system. Lemon juice is a natural detox ingredient and gets the metabolism going. Ideally, wait half an hour after drinking before eating breakfast. If you want a whole lot more info on the benefits of drinking lemon water, see here.
2. Wheat-free Breakfasts
Wheat slows down your gut’s performance. Even if you’re not celiac nor needing a strict gluten-free diet, eat wheat in moderation, or cut out altogether if you can. Wheat can slow down the absorption of vital nutrients like minerals and vitamins which will never find their way to nurturing your body let alone the skin – the organ fed by the smallest blood vessels, the capillaries. One meal wheat dominates is breakfast, especially winter comfort ones. In summer, it’s easier to be tempted by fruit and healthier breakfasts. But try to avoid cereals and over reliance on bread for breakfast, unless gluten-free or oat or buckwheat varieties, all year round. Aim for protein which will sustain you longer. Eggs and bacon aren’t the evil they’re made out to be and a good cooked breakfast every so often can set you up for day out on holiday. If you’re heading my way to the Mediterranean, you might come across some local alternatives for breakfast fare but apart from a treat one day, do stay away from the pain au chocolate and Spanish churros. Think instead of trying Middle Eastern and Eastern Mediterranean breakfast ingredients like chickpeas, buckwheat, feta, or Greek yoghurt and figs or other seasonal fruit with a drizzle of organic local honey. Chia seed ‘porridge’ is also a good option.
You’ve heard it everywhere, and here again: hydrate your skin by drinking around 2 litres of plain, natural water a day. In summer, this is easier to do as we perspire and actually feel thirsty. But don’t wait til you feel thirty as you’ll already be dehydrating by that time. And do keep up the water drinking resolution in winter too if you wish to keep skin plumped up and remain more fresh faced.
I wrote about the benefits of Sweet Almond Oil in natural skincare, but the nut is just as skin-friendly in food. Almonds are around half fat, but the ‘good’ sort of fat – mainly monounsaturated fats that help make healthy skin, heart, brain and hormones. Almonds are known for their vitamin E, a natural and protective anti-oxidant which can help aid skin repair and keeps skin supple. Almonds are common in our Mediterranean desserts, but while you may enjoy sweet treats on holiday indulging in patisserie, try to weave almonds into your regular diet, at breakfast, as almond nut butter and as almond milk; the latter is a good replacement for cow’s milk in most recipes and worth swapping for milk for some uses even if you aren’t allergic to dairy. Ground almonds can replace wheat flours in a lot of recipes, such as American-style breakfast pancakes. Take a small packet of skinned almonds with you when travelling as a quick snack to stave of hunger under way, and the inevitable sugary or starchy carb fix!
Coconut oil is one my favourites and does come into the category of slather on externally and eat for internal health – a true skin food in other words! I keep a jar of organic coconut oil in my kitchen and in my bathroom. It’s my go-to body lotion, hair conditioner and recently, also my main fat for cooking. Coconut oil, while a saturated fat, comprises medium-chain fats called triglycerides that are easily digested and also may help speed up your metabolism. Cook using coconut oil (as well as olive of course) as much as you can – it has a higher smoking point than most other cooking oils so will not denature (oxidize) at high heats (for frying fish for example) as easily. Coconut flesh can be added to numerous dishes from sweet to savoury. Coconut will create the sweetness in a dish so you don’t need any added sugar. Coconut water is perfect for rehydrating your body in summer as it’s not only refreshing, if chilled, but also choc with valuable natural sugars, electrolytes and minerals. What’s more, there is research on coconut water pointing to its anti-ageing, anti-carcinogenic and anti-thrombotic properties (one to drink on a flight, if you can find it airside!).
Another inside and out beneficial fruit, the avocado should be a staple in your kitchen when in season and its oil a feature on your bathroom beauty shelf. Its rich oil is a mix of polyunsaturated (good), saturated (less good) and lots of monounsaturated (oleic – as in olive oil and good) oils. This combo of fatty acids helps guard our skin from anti-oxidants (causing free radical) damage to our cells. Avocados are also an excellent source of vitamin E which helps keep skin smooth and supple and also can reduce scarring and in wound repair, as well as in relieving eczema irritation.
When working avocado into recipes, think beyond slicing it in salads. In a food processor, whiz it up with stoned dates and some nuts like almonds, along with some raw cocoa powder and a chopped, frozen banana a drizzle of maple syrup or honey and a dash of almond milk to water down and you’ve a chilled dessert that’s healthier and just as tasty as ice cream!
Mangoes sing summer! Their orange-red glow and luscious, juicy flesh is redolent of summer holidays, whether you’re heading to the tropics or not. Mangoes are fruit of the gods in my eyes, and wonderfully good for your skin whether you’re using mango seed (kernel) oil in moisturizers or eating their vitamin-packed flesh.
The mango’s colour is a clue to its powerful beta carotene content, which is converted by our bodies to vitamin A – beneficial for a clear complexion. Mangoes are also excellent sources of vitamin C, which is important in producing collagen (which we know as a ‘plumping’ building block in the skin’s connective tissue) and also quercetin, an anti-oxidant; both fight free radical production that damages skin cells. Mango seed oil, extracted from the fruit kernels, is a good emollient and also contains anti-oxidants. It is used as a natural protector against UV rays, and is therefore ideal to apply when you’re heading out and about in the sun on holiday.
To conclude: Try these skin foods and tips each week and make the most of summer to kick start a new healthier skin care habit; one that brings longer lasting benefits to your body (inside and out) than your brief summer holiday can.