How What You Eat Can Affect Your Skin

We can all agree that the ‘new normal’ of COVID-19 poses challenges to our social, working and school lives, and several skin conditions associated with face coverings have become increasingly common, as we discussed in our August blog, ‘Managing Mask-Related Skin Conditions in C19.’ While many people across the country are gradually becoming more accustomed to this ‘new normal,’ some of us are perhaps finding it more difficult to adjust our routines - and that might include our skin routines.

We were delighted with the brilliant feedback from our social media followers about the tips we shared last month, so before we open our doors on 1 October, we wanted to touch on another issue we’ve been hearing a lot about.

Since the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out initiative began in August, many of us have been varying our diets and incorporating more “treats” than usual – which is understandable, since c19 has brought with it challenges the likes of which the U.K. (and the world) has not seen in our lifetimes.

Now that the Eat Out to Help Out initiative has come to an end (although some establishments are choosing to extend the offer), we’ve noted that some people have reported an increase in flare-ups of certain chronic skin conditions, like psoriasis and eczema, which can often be triggered by ingredients in food.  Equally, itchy, irritated skin (pruritus), or urticaria (also known as hives) can come about as a result of eating particular foods; and while conditions like acne or dermatitis may not be resolved by a healthy diet alone, they can be triggered or worsened by consuming certain items.

Although this is not a comprehensive list, some of the more common food triggers are:

  • Junk food – Whether greasy fried foods or sugary sweets, highly processed foods tend to contain refined starches and sugars; and be high in saturated and trans fats - all of which can promote inflammation.
  • Citrus fruits - The citrus family of fruits includes grapefruits, oranges, lemons, limes, cumquats and mandarins.
  • Foods containing nickel – While we don’t often think of consuming metals, there are foods that can have naturally high levels of nickel, such as shellfish, certain grain, beans, lentils, peas and soya beans.
  • Spices – Some spices we might not consider particularly ‘spicy,’ such as cinnamon or vanilla can trigger skin reactions. Cloves, coriander, fenugreek, and garlic and vanilla are all common triggers.
  • Nightshades – Tomatoes, aubergine, courgettes and potatoes are all part of the nightshade family of plants.
  • Red meats, eggs and dairy – All three of these foods (especially eggs) contain a polyunsaturated fatty acid called arachidonic acid, which can be a trigger.   
  • Gluten – Some people may be familiar with Coeliac disease, an autoimmune condition, but you don’t have to have the condition to experience sensitivity or intolerance to the protein found in in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains.
  • Alcohol – As intake causes the blood vessels in the skin to dilate (even when drinking moderately), blood flow is increased, which is why some people get flushed skin. Alcohol consumption can also impair the immune system and disrupt the barrier function of the skin

While allergies to food can be serious, not all reactions of the skin to food triggers are food allergies, and this distinction can be very frustrating to patients trying to avoid a particular trigger - especially if their needs are not understood by others, for example, when sharing meals with the family. If that is the case, it may be helpful to encourage them toward resources that explain why you need to eliminate certain food triggers from your diet.

Frustratingly, some triggering ingredients such as gluten or eggs might be present in many different foods so it can be difficult to eliminate the trigger without trial and error, or significantly changing ones’ diet.

If you suspect a particular food might be triggering a skin condition, one thing you can do proactively is to start a diary, logging what you’re eating, and how your skin responds. You can either do this with an app on your smartphone, or the old-fashioned way by keeping a written journal.

Having an idea of which foods cause a skin reaction can be helpful, even should you decide to see a GP or if you are referred to the dermatologist, as the data you collect might indicate whole groups of foods that could trigger skin problems - for example, people who have a skin reaction after they eat tomatoes might also have reactions from other plants from the nightshade family.

While it will be disappointing to some of us to know we have to miss out on a certain favourite food, people are usually much happier knowing they can have a bit more control over flare-ups of their skin condition.

While most of us can safely enjoy a treat now and again, your skin (and the rest of your body) will usually respond best to a healthy and varied diet that includes lean proteins, lots of fruit and vegetables, and plenty of water.

We look forward to welcoming you to our state-of-the-art clinic next month.

For more information, or to book an appointment with Derma, please call the clinic or contact us via email here

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