You’ve heard of the saying ‘you are what you eat’. Wondered if there’s any truth in that? Does your diet really provoke sensitive skin flare-ups? MH speaks to the experts.
WORDS RACHEL LIM
Motherhood speaks to Dr Mark Koh, head and consultant, Dermatology Service, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital; Dr Nisha Suyien Chandran, consultant, Division of Dermatology, National University Hospital; Dr Mark Tang, consultant dermatologist, The Skin Specialist and Laser Clinic, Mt Alvernia Medical Centre; and Dr Tan Hiok Hee, dermatologist, Thomson Specialist Skin Centre, to find out how our diet affects our skin.
What is “Sensitive Skin”?
“Sensitive skin” presents as red, itchy, sometimes scaly rashes. The commonest skin condition that leads to “sensitive skin” is eczema. Dr Koh elaborates, “Common sites of eczema include the elbows, behind the knees, neck, face, hands and feet. Sometimes, eczema can be provoked by contact with certain materials or chemicals, e.g. nickel, fragrance, hair dyes. This is known as allergic contact dermatitis. Excessive use of strong soaps, detergents and medicaments can sometimes provoke an irritant contact dermatitis, especially in individuals with overly ‘sensitive skin’.”
How does our Diet Provoke Sensitive Skin Flare-ups?
For most individuals, diet and food intake are unlikely to cause sensitive skin flare-ups. However, consider avoiding the following foods and/or eating habits to prevent aggravating any existing skin condition(s):
Food/drinks with high-glycaemic index
Acne can be worsened with intake of food/drinks with high-glycaemic index. “These foods are more rapidly absorbed and metabolised, causing a faster rise in blood glucose. These include sugary foods and drinks like candies, cakes, cookies and soft drinks, as well as refined-grain products such as white rice and white bread,” explains Dr Chandran.
Shellfish, seafood and alcohol
“In infants and young children, certain foods, e.g. cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, can sometimes cause hives, leading to itchy skin and scratching. For some adults, shellfish, seafood and alcohol can similarly trigger an eruption of hives,” says Dr Koh.
Hot, spicy food, alcohol and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Individuals with hyper-sensitive skin such as inflammatory rosacea or eczema should avoid certain foods such as hot, spicy food, alcohol and MSG. Dr Tang points out, “These foods can cause the skin blood vessels to dilate, leading to redness and flushing, which aggravates the redness and inflammation in the skin.”
Chemicals such as salicylates or artificial food colouring
Dr Tang adds, “Chemicals such as salicylates or artificial food colouring can also cause the release of histamine, which can lead to swelling and itch in the skin.”
Obesity and excessive dieting
Obesity and excessive dieting can lead to different skin problems. “Overweight individuals can suffer from oily skin, excessive sweating, fungal skin infections, acne and pigmentation problems, e.g. acanthosis nigricans. Excessive dieting can lead to dry, flaky skin especially if there are deficiencies of certain vitamins, e.g. vitamin B, and minerals such as zinc,” says Dr Koh.
How can our Diet Promote Healthy Skin?
All four doctors concur that a well-balanced diet with adequate representations of all food groups leads to healthy skin. Dr Tan outlines a list of six items you should include in your diet for good skin:
Sufficient water is essential to ensure cells are adequately hydrated as our skin is composed of 90 per cent water.
Green tea contains potent antioxidants and may prevent free radical damage to the cells.
Essential Fatty Acids
Omega-3 and Omega-6 are important for healthy skin and hair and have to be taken in through the diet because our body is unable to manufacture them. Oily fish such as salmon and tuna, and certain nuts and seeds such as walnut and sesame, as well as flax oil and soya beans, are good sources.
A lack of Vitamin A can cause very dry and scaly skin. Good sources include milk, butter, oily fish and eggs.
Besides being an antioxidant, Vitamin C is also required for the production of collagen. Citrus fruits such as lemons are good sources.
Iron deficiency can result in skin problems and itching. Good sources of iron would include red meat, liver, eggs, seafood and green leafy vegetables.