Nutrition with Jane McClenaghan: Love the skin you're in

Some healthy fats with every meal - nuts and seeds, oily fish, olive oil or avocado - are a boost to your skin health.
Some healthy fats with every meal - nuts and seeds, oily fish, olive oil or avocado - are a boost to your skin health.

OUR skin health can give us a reflection of what is going on in the inside. Dry, flaky skin; spots, zits and acne or itchy, red skin can be signs that your body needs little TLC.

Working on simple changes to your nutrition and lifestyle can help to restore your healthy skin barrier and nourish your skin from the inside, out.

From conditions like eczema and psoriasis, to the occasional spot or dry skin, the condition of our skin barrier can change throughout our lifetime, and in response to external triggers like the weather, pollution and creams, or internal imbalances like sugar, stress and hormones.

When I talk to clients about skin health, here are some of the factors I take into consideration:

1. Packing your diet with sufficient essential fats will help moisturise and nourish your skin. Omega 3 fats (found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines as well as chia seeds, flaxseed and walnuts) are the most important, but often these are the ones we lack in our Western diet. These essential omegas help to balance inflammation and redness, and support the subcutaneous layer of fat cells in the dermis to add plumpness, protection and cushioning, leaving the skin look radiant and hydrated.

2. From A to zinc. Signs of low vitamin A are reflected in our hair, skin and nails - dry skin, brittle hair and brittle nails are some signs of vitamin A deficiency. Retinol (a vitamin A treatment), is often used to treat acne. Top your vitamin A levels up with dairy products, fish, liver and eggs. Zinc is another essential ingredient for healthy skin. Found in meat, shellfish, nuts and seeds, we need zinc for skin healing and repair, a healthy sebum production and hormone balance.

3. Vitamin C is well known for its immune balancing effect, but did you know it is also an important ingredient for collagen and elastin production, helping to keep our skin supple and strong. Vitamin C also has strong antioxidant activity which can help to protect the skin against both internal and external damage.

4. A high sugar diet has been linked to acne and inflammation and is not good news for wrinkles either. Blood sugar spikes increase insulin-like-growth-factor (IGF-1) which can lead to an increase in sebum production and inflammatory cytokines. In a 2021 review published in the International Journal of Dermatology, researchers reviewed the evidence on the effects of diet on acne and they found high GI/GL food to be an acne-promoting factor. Switching to a low GI diet, low in sugar and refined carbs, higher in fibre and wholegrains has been shown to be beneficial for acne.

5. The gut-skin connection. Good health starts in the gut and when our digestive balance is off kilter, every other aspect of health, including skin, can be affected too. Imbalances like such as digestive insufficiency, poor absorption, dysbiosis and more can all show up in the skin. The gut microbiota deserves special mention when it comes to skin health because it is now well accepted and widely studied that altered gut microflora play an important role in a wide variety of skin disorders from atopic dermatitis to rosacea, psoriasis, acne vulgaris, dandruff and even skin cancer.


1. Drink enough water.

2. Some healthy fats with every meal - nuts and seeds, oily fish, olive oil or avocado.

3. Eat some probiotic foods - kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi or live yoghurt most days.

4. Eat dark green and orange coloured fruit and veg to top up your beta carotene levels, the precursor to vitamin A.

5. Top up your essential fats, zinc and protein with a little handful of seeds every day - sunflowers pumpkin, sesame, chia and flax.

6. Eat wholegrains, not white carbs.

7. Cut your sugar intake.

8. Use a daily SPF.