I'm a dermatologist – the 5 foods that could be wrecking your skin

I’m a dermatologist – these are the 5 foods that could be wrecking your skin

  • Drinking too much alcohol can make your skin dull and bloated or wrinkled
  • Experts say sugar can also trigger an aging process as well as breakouts  

Eating a diet full of fruit and vegetables may give your skin a fresh glow.

But some foods and drink, although delicious, can lead to breakouts, dry skin and even wrinkles. 

‘There are certain foods or ingredients that I recommend reducing in your diet for optimal skin health,’ says London-based consultant dermatologist, nutritionist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, Dr Thivi Maruthappu.

Here, she’s shared five items that she suggests could be ruining your skin. 

Experts say glycation is where sugar molecules attach to other molecules, such as proteins and fats. One of these affected proteins is collagen and it can cause a loss of skin elasticity creating wrinkles


Drinking too much alcohol not only gives you a hangover, it’s also terrible for your skin. 

Alcohol’s diuretic effect — which encourages the body to pass more liquid as urine — leads to the loss of fluid and nutrients that are vital for healthy-looking skin. 

As a result, skin can look dull, grey, bloated and puffy within 24 hours of drinking, as well as wrinkled due to a loss of elasticity. On top of this, alcohol inflames the body’s tissue, which leads to red, blotchy and flushed skin.

However, limiting the amount of alcohol you drink or having water between alcoholic drinks can help prevent these effects, as well as hangovers. 

‘I generally advise keeping alcohol to a minimum where possible, particularly in the run up to a big event when you want your skin to look it’s best,’ says Dr Maruthappu.

What should a balanced diet look like? 

Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS

  • Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count;
  • Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain;
  • 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on;
  • Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options;
  • Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily);
  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts;
  • Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day;
  • Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day.

Source: NHS Eatwell Guide 

‘I know it’s boring but it really does help with redness, fine lines and skin concerns like eczema and rosacea.’

Refined sugar

It’s well known that eating too much sugar can cause weight gain and tooth decay, but scoffing too many slices of cake and bags of sweets might not be good for your complexion either. 

To much refined sugar can trigger an aging processes in the body’s cells, Dr Maruthappu warns.

She says: ‘Of course we can enjoy refined sugar such as cakes, biscuits or sweets in moderation and I’m partial to a scoop of ice cream myself.

‘But excess refined sugar in our diets can accelerate skin ageing through a process called glycation.’

Glycation is where sugar in the bloodstream attaches to proteins and fats to form harmful compounds called advanced glygcation end products (AGEs). 

With age, these compounds accumulate in the dermis — the second layer of skin — and destroy collagen, causing a loss of skin elasticity creating wrinkles. 

For some people sugar can also cause breakouts, according to Dr Maruthappu. 

Instead of tucking into sugary snacks, she suggests eating a few squares of dark chocolate, which contains skin-loving antioxidants called acanthocyanins which are thought to combat premature skin ageing. 

Skimmed milk  

Often thought of as the ‘healthier’ option, skimmed milk could be to blame for breakouts. 

Although it doesn’t affect everyone, the low fat milk can cause spots.  

Dr Maruthappu says: ‘Some research has shown that skimmed milk may contribute to breakouts, particularly if you are drinking more than a couple of glasses per day. 

‘It isn’t an issue for everyone with breakouts, but it can be a trigger for some.’

A study of 225 teenagers between 14 and 19 years-of-age, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in 2016 , suggested that the amount of low fat or skimmed milk consumed by participants with acne was significantly higher than those without acne.  

But this was not found to be the case with full fat milk.

Although there is no proof that skimmed caused participants acne, the researchers speculated it could be down to the hormones in skimmed milk.

Dr Maruthappu advises those struggling with breakouts to swap skimmed milk for a fortified non-dairy alternative, such as soya milk, for four weeks to see if they notice any improvement. 

Whey protein powder 

It may help you build muscle in the gym.

But whey protein powder can be a trigger for acne breakouts, experts say. 

Dr Maruthappu says: ‘This doesn’t apply to everyone.

‘But if you’ve seen an increase in pimples since starting a whey protein powder try swapping for a plant-based alternative.’

Whey protein contains higher levels of IGF1, a growth hormone which is found in dairy that can be a trigger for breakouts and oily skin, experts say

This is thought to be because whey protein increases the production of a hormone called Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF1), which promotes bone and tissue growth.

But IGF1 can also be a trigger for breakouts and oily skin, in some cases. 

Plant-based protein powders, however, don’t trigger this effect, says Dr Maruthappus.

Excessive caffeine  

A cup or two of coffee per day is fine, but if you’ve got a serious coffee addiction it might affect your skin. 

This is because drinking too much caffeine can cause premature skin ageing.

‘Excess caffeine can contribute to dehydration as it acts as a diuretic, causing you to pass more urine,’ says Dr Maruthappu.

‘The knock on effect can be dehydrated skin.’

Caffeine can also increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can contribute to flares of eczema and breakouts, according to Dr Maruthappu.

She says: ‘Swap [coffee] for green tea instead, it contains lower levels of caffeine in addition to incredible antioxidant compounds that support skin health by neutralising free radicals that contribute to premature skin ageing. 

‘Focus on what foods are great for your skin — vibrant colourful fruits and vegetables, whole grains to support gut health and the gut-skin axis, nuts seeds and healthy fats from oily fish to help keep skin smooth and supple.’

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