How a healthy gut microbiome can give you better winter skin

An Asian woman is sitting on the sofa, holding a cup and drinking soup. She is wearing long sleeves.
Eating certain gut-healthy foods in the wintertime can help combat a slew of skin problems, nutritionists say. (Getty Images)

In the cold winter months, many of us struggle with a host of skin-related issues - from dryness and flaky skin that itches, to a lacklustre complexion. But, as we continue to discover more about how our gut health affects our overall wellbeing, what we eat could be the key to maintaining better skin even in the winter.

A growing number of nutritionists and dermatologists say that our gut health is directly linked to our skin health. This connection is known as the ‘gut-skin axis’ and focuses on the impact that the gut microbiome has on our skin, which is the largest organ of the body.

Award-winning nutritionist and gut health specialist Dr Lucy Williamson explains: “Our skin provides an important barrier to infection, and it also has its own ‘skin microbiome’.

“If our immunity is low and gut health poor, we’re more susceptible to acne because our gut microbiome has a vital role in regulating our immune system. What goes on in our gut is often mirrored in our skin microbiome too.

“In other words, a happy gut will also lead to happy skin.”

You are what you eat

One woman, beautiful young woman sitting on sofa in living room and woman applying moisturizer on her face, she has a towel on her head.
In the winter, we tend to struggle with different skin issues like drier skin and more lacklustre skin. (Getty Images)

It has long been known that what you eat can affect your skin. Dermatologists often advise patients to maintain a healthy diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables, in order to keep their skin in tip-top shape.

However, in recent years, gut health has come into sharp focus for scientific fields, with numerous ongoing studies being conducted and revealing new ways that our gut affects our overall wellbeing.

Surveys show that more people are prioritising their wellbeing this year, with gut health at the front of mind for many. With 2024 in full swing, it’s the best time to look into whether what you’re eating could improve or worsen your skin - particularly as we head into the coldest months of the year.

Skin expert Rebecca Elsdon, who owns skin health clinic Re/Skin, tells Yahoo UK: “Nutrition, gut health and skin health are closely related and it is becoming more accepted that the gut-skin axis relationship needs to be addressed when treating skin conditions.

“Inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, rosacea and eczema very often are linked to an unhealthy gut microbiome leading to chronic low-grade inflammation. The gut is responsible for nutrient absorption from the foods we eat.”

How poor gut health shows on your face

Eating certain types of foods, particularly foods that are high in salt, sugar and fat, have been known to cause skin conditions like acne.

But the impact of eating foods that don’t contribute to a healthy gut can be even more evident in your face, according to nutrition and functional medicine expert Farzanah Nasser at medical grade skincare brand AlumierMD, who explains that poor gut health can lead to dry, dull skin and even accelerated skin ageing.

“For example, a lack of natural ceramides and fatty acids from our diet can cause skin dryness,” she tells Yahoo UK. “Meanwhile, good absorption of nutrients from a varied diet can lead to healthier fats in the skin. This will result in nourished, hydrated, fresh-looking skin.”

She adds that consuming foods high in antioxidants is key to helping skin defend itself from “both internal and environmental damage”.

“Ample levels of antioxidants will defend the skin from both internal and external damage, leading to a brighter, more radiant complexion.”

What should I eat to improve my skin?

In order to improve your gut health and, as a result, maintain better skin health this winter, Farzanah recommends starting by adding more fruits and vegetables to your day-to-day diet.

“Increasing plant-based foods in your diet can increase short-chain fatty acids and have an overall effect of reducing inflammation in the body and skin,” she explains.

High angle view of a large assortment of healthy fresh rainbow colored organic fruits and vegetables
Eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables is healthy for the gut - and for the skin. (Getty Images)

“Combine this with effective skincare that respects the skin’s microbiome and together they can have a huge impact on skin health.”

Dr Williamson adds: “Eating fermented foods little and often has been shown to really help acne - probably by their beneficial impact on our gut microbiome, our immunity, and therefore, our skin.

“Also, foods rich in zinc can be wonderful for skin health. Although we get zinc from many animal proteins like dairy and eggs, it’s also plentiful in gut-healthy beans and pulses. So, try and reach that 30-plants-a-week target!

“Remember this includes pulses, beans, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, herbs, and spices.”

She also emphasises the negative effect that stress has on our skin health. “It’s really important to know that carrying too much tension will always show itself in our skin health because stress, among other things, reduces the rate at which we replace dead cells - which is happening all the time with our skin - and reduces our immunity via the gut microbiome.”

Watch: Keys to Improving Your Gut Health

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