Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
What Causes Skin Inflammation?
Inflammatory skin conditions are generally characterized as either acute or chronic. Acute skin inflammation can be caused by allergens such as poison ivy, exposure to irritants (think fragrances or household cleaners), infections, and even sun exposure. These usually resolve in a week or two, generally without any tissue damage.
Chronic inflammatory skin conditions are a different matter: caused by an ongoing inflammatory response within the skin itself, these conditions—such as eczema, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, or rosacea—are long-lasting and can cause tissue damage and other complications.
To reduce flare-ups, avoid or eliminate certain foods from your diet, including fatty red meats, fried foods, sugar, dairy, soy, and gluten. In addition, nightshades (such as tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers) are thought to worsen psoriasis. Eggs, citrus, nuts, seeds, shellfish, legumes, chocolate, and other foods are thought to trigger eczema. It’s also thought that foods high in histamines can exacerbate inflammatory skin conditions. These include alcohol, fermented or smoked meats, pickled food, canned fish or other canned foods, aged cheese, dried fruit, strawberries, tomatoes, citrus, legumes, cinnamon, chocolate, and wheat. And some studies show that obesity can worsen inflammatory skin conditions, especially psoriasis.
In general, an anti-inflammatory diet rich in antioxidants can help, especially if it focuses on foods that also strengthen and protect skin.
Best Foods for Skin Inflammation
Is rich in omega-3 fats, which have been shown to reduce inflammatory markers, support immune function, and improve inflammatory skin conditions. Some studies show that fish can fight inflammatory and autoimmune conditions that affect the skin, including psoriasis and lupus. Omega-3s also protect skin from dryness and itching and may decrease sensitivity to the sun. Salmon is also high in vitamin D, which may benefit people with psoriasis. And while some people with eczema may be sensitive to fish, research shows an early introduction of fish in the diet can decrease the risk of eczema in infants.
Are loaded with carotenoids, powerful antioxidants that fight inflammation and improve immune function. Beta carotene, in particular, has powerful skin-protective properties and can reduce UV sensitivity. Studies show that people with psoriasis have lower skin carotenoid levels than people without psoriasis, and other research suggests that beta carotene can prevent eczema flare-ups. Studies of people with eczema show similar results.
Other foods high in carotenoids include carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, mangoes, and papaya.
Are high in anthocyanins, antioxidant compounds that reduce inflammation and improve immune function. Some research also suggests that anthocyanins help regulate the interplay between inflammation and obesity, important because studies show a link between obesity and psoriasis. Blueberries are also high in quercetin, a flavonoid that can mitigate histamine, a compound in the body that’s involved in inflammation. Studies suggest that quercetin can reduce the symptoms of psoriasis and prevent its progression, and may protect against leaky gut, characteristic of psoriasis. Red cabbage, blackberries, and black plums are also high in anthocyanins. Other good sources of quercetin include leafy greens, apples, grapes, and onions.
4. Brown Rice
And other gluten-free grains are much better dietary choices than wheat, rye, or barley. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is related to eczema, rashes, and other inflammatory skin conditions, and some studies show that people with psoriasis who follow a gluten-free diet show significant improvement. In one study, four times as many people with psoriasis had celiac disease as those without psoriasis. Other gluten-free grains include oats, buckwheat, amaranth, teff, and, if you’re not sensitive to seeds, quinoa.
Is high in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that protects against inflammation and improves immune function. In studies, people with skin inflammation show suboptimal levels of vitamin C compared to unaffected people, and people with eczema in particular have significantly lower levels. Some studies also suggest that increasing your intake of vitamin C and other antioxidants can help reduce oxidative stress and improve psoriasis. Vitamin C is also critical for optimal collagen production, which can repair damaged skin and protect joints (especially important for people with psoriasis, since a progression of the disease can cause painful joints). And kale is also rich in carotenoids to protect against inflammatory skin conditions.
Is a good non-dairy source of probiotics, which can help reduce inflammatory skin conditions by impacting what’s called the gut-skin axis: in short, a disruption in the gut microbiota can lead to leaky gut, allowing toxins to be released into the bloodstream and exacerbating inflammation throughout the body. Research shows that probiotics help improve symptoms of eczema and psoriasis, and may also benefit rosacea and acne. Sauerkraut, like other fermented foods, is high in histamines, so if you’re following a low-histamine diet for skin inflammation, choose a high-quality probiotic supplement.
Try our Blueberry Mango Pie recipe