Once upon a time, women either accepted looking older or opted for facelifts. But today, there are many tools to slow down and even reverse the signs of time, and most of us prefer taking daily steps to keep skin youthful over extreme surgical measures.
The number and variety of available products can make your head spin, but what really is the most important? "My decades of research have shown that inflammation, which occurs on a cellular level, is the single greatest precipitator of aging," says Nicholas Perricone, MD, the dermatologist who began popularizing the nutrition-beauty link 13 years ago with his first book, The Wrinkle Cure.
Many years and books later, Perricone continues to discover ways to keep skin youthful. He calls wrinkles, sags, and age spots "barometers," outward signs of internal inflammation. Triggers include environmental toxins, a diet high in refined and sugary carbohydrates, sun exposure, hormonal changes, stress, smoking, and alcohol consumption.
The solution begins with an anti-inflammatory diet (see "Dazzling Diet," p. 44). Key nutrients-inside and out-are the most powerful weapons in your beauty arsenal.
"I recommend that we take antioxidants and vitamins as supplements and apply them topically as well," says Perricone, because they work synergistically. Here are some of his favorites:
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA): A strong anti-inflammatory antioxidant, ALA is both water- and fat-soluble, so it can penetrate fatty cell membranes as well as watery cell interiors. It's the only antioxidant that boosts levels of our body's master internal antioxidant, glutathione. And, because it enhances conversion of sugar to energy, it can help you lose weight.
DMAE: Found in cold-water fish, DMAE is a strong anti-inflammatory that's necessary for the production of neurotransmitters in nerves that control muscles. It increases the firmness of skin and improves muscle tone, and can also improve mental function and even help reduce body fat.
Vitamin C Ester: Vitamin C is a key anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that's essential for building collagen and elastin, which support skin structure and keep it smooth. In the ester form, vitamin C is combined with a fat, which makes it more absorbable and gentler on the skin in topical products and on the stomach in supplements.
Astaxanthin: A strong antioxidant that gives salmon its pink color, astaxanthin reduces wrinkles and age spots; protects muscles; increases endurance; enhances the central nervous system; and promotes eye health. It also reduces inflammation and can help you stick with an exercise program.
CoQ10: Cells contain energy-generating components known as mitochondria. CoQ10-another strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory-is necessary for the mitochondria to produce energy. CoQ10 levels decline with age, yet efficient energy production is essential for all cells-including skin cells-to repair themselves.
Tocotrienols: Perricone calls tocotrienols a "super" form of vitamin E, with greater antioxidant and anti-inflammatory power than plain old "vitamin E." Tocotrienols protect against sun damage and increase the effectiveness of sunscreen.
Glutathione: Our internal master antioxidant, glutathione protects cells and helps eliminate toxins. It also plays an important role in reducing wrinkles by protecting against the degradation of collagen, a substance that gives skin structure and keeps it firm.
Some other popular antioxidant and anti-inflammatory ingredients, in both supplements and topical products, include Pycnogenol, pomegranate, and grape seed extract. And hyaluronic acid retains moisture and plumps up lines to minimize their appearance.
Perricone's favorite ingredients are found in many supplements and skin- care products available in health food stores. For example, some skin creams combine vitamin C ester, DMAE, and alpha lipoic acid to reduce wrinkles and age spots and improve texture and firmness of skin. Here are some of today's other hot trends:
Minerals: Cosmetics made with minerals have been available for years, but now you can find minerals in hair- and skin-care products, as well. They help cells regenerate, protect and nourish, and enhance moisture retention.
Stem Cell Boosters: By awakening dormant stem cells in skin, stem cell boosters rejuvenate, reduce wrinkles, and improve skin texture. They include extracts from fruit, seaweed, or herbs, as well as antioxidants, in serums or creams. Apply them underneath moisturizers.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs): We've known for some time that in supplements such as fish oil, EFAs reduce inflammation and plump up skin from within. Now, they're also available in Reviva Labs EFAs Cream, which helps strengthen and thicken delicate skin from the outside.
Lightening, Brightening Ingredients: Popular natural substances that help treat discoloration, brighten skin, and fade or prevent spots include kojic acid (found in some mushrooms), plant extracts such as Madonna lily, fruit enzymes, and some peptides. They're available in cleansers, moisturizers, toners, serums, and creams.
Peptides: The number of natural skin care products containing these multi-tasking anti-aging ingredients is on the rise. Peptides are potent combinations of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. They help skin to regenerate and retain moisture, and fight wrinkles by encouraging facial muscles to relax-a subtle Botox-like effect that is non-toxic and non-invasive.
Healthy Hair and Nails
For naturally healthy hair, style expert and aesthetician Stacy Cox-who helps clients look their best from head to toe at her Los Angeles spa, Pampered People-recommends products with these ingredients:
- To help retain moisture: argan oil, shea butter, vegetable glycerin
- For more shine: argan oil, coconut oil, jojoba extract
- To strengthen hair: silk proteins, coconut oil
- To treat a flaky or dry scalp: aloe vera, tea tree oil
- To nourish the scalp and support hair growth: avocado oil
For healthy nails, Cox strongly recommends avoiding the toxic ingredients found in conventional nail polishes, including toluene, formaldehyde, and DBP (dibutyl phthalate)-all three of which are banned from cosmetics in Europe, but legal in America.
Nutritionally, silica helps strengthen hair, nails, and skin. And there is some evidence that MSM (commonly used to relieve pain) improves hair growth.
The Health Food Store Advantage
With all of the nourishing ingredients available today-not to mention an increased awareness of the pitfalls of products that contain toxins and allergens-even the conventional beauty industry has started to catch on. But your local health food store still offers a better selection of products made with natural, non-toxic ingredients than any drug or department store. Plus, natural products stores are where you can find personal care items that are:
- Gluten free
- Free of animal by-products
- Not tested on animals
- Free of mineral oil, petrolatum, or lanolin, which can clog pores
- Scented with essential oils instead of synthetic fragrance, a common source of toxic phthalates
Most importantly, your health food store carries brands produced by companies that are environmentally responsible and believe in sustainable business practices. So you can feel great about looking great!
These days, everyone knows that an anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, and Alzheimer's. But did you know that it can also help give your skin a youthful-looking glow? In fact, according to Nicholas Perricone, MD, adopting an anti-inflammatory diet is the most important thing you can do to look beautiful. "Try it for just three days," he says, "and you will see a major difference in your skin, your thinking process, your mood, and your energy level."
To start, drink 8-10 glasses of pure spring water daily, along with antioxidant-rich beverages such as green tea. Skip processed, sugary, pro-inflammatory foods such as breads, cakes, pastries, sodas (or any sweetened drinks), rice and corn cakes, chips, and other starchy snack foods. Instead, make sure each one of your meals includes these wholesome components:
A high-quality protein, preferably cold-water fish-especially wild Alaskan salmon (not smoked), halibut, sardines, herring, or anchovies-which are anti-inflammatory. Most other proteins, except for those high in saturated fat, neither raise nor lower inflammation.
Low-glycemic carbohydrates that won't cause a rapid surge in blood sugar, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, and lentils. If you want grains at breakfast, stick with old-fashioned oatmeal.
Healthy fats, which are also found in cold-water fish, as well as in walnuts, seeds, and olive oil.
Handy Beauty Links
To find non-toxic beauty products: Search the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep Cosmetics Database of more than 78,000 products at cosmeticsdatabase.com.
To find fish that are low in mercury: Check the NRDC Consumer Guide to Mercury in Fish at nrdc.org.
Better Nutrition contributing editor, Vera Tweed is the former editor in chief of GreatLife magazine and the author of numerous books, including Hormone Harmony and the User's Guide to Carnitine and Acetyl-L-Carnitine.