Loving the New Skin You're In

Experts offer solutions to dieting-related skin problems

Medically Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD on June 24, 2005
6 min read

You've finally made the commitment -- you're on a weight loss program. And you'restarting to see some results.

But if you're like many dieters, you may also see something you weren'texpecting: skin problems! While switching toa lower-fat, lower-calorie eating plan is good for your body, don't besurprised if your skin doesn't think so -- at least for the first fewweeks.

"In the beginning, even a healthy diet can stress your system, and thereis no question that it's stressful enough to impact your skin," says DavidGoldberg, MD, director of Skin Laser and Surgery Specialists of New York/NewJersey and a clinical professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai Medical Center inNew York.

One of the most common problems is a condition loosely defined as"dieter's acne" either breakouts that occur for the firsttime, or an acne condition that worsens when you begin a new eating plan.

"Part of it has to do with the overall change in the kinds of foods youare eating, which can stress the system initially," Goldberg says. "ButI also think it's related to the whole process of dieting, which can be verystressful. ... And there's no getting around it, your skin will show how youfeel."

When we're stressed, a cascade of hormonal activity takes place, some ofwhich can influence our skin. For those who have never had skin problems, thisactivity may be enough to initiate a breakout. If you start your diet with anoily complexion and occasional breakouts, Goldberg says, dieting can make itseem worse -- at least at first.

The good news: It's only temporary.

Once your body adjusts to your new, healthier food intake, and youemotionally accept dieting as a positive force in your life, Goldberg says,stress levels generally go down and your skin will calm down as well.

"The important thing is not to get stressed about your skin, which canonly make the breakouts last longer," says Goldberg.

In the meantime, he recommends keeping skin clean, wear as little makeup aspossible, and try an over-the-counter drying solution containing either benzoylperoxide or salicylic acid.

Acne may be a problem you face at the start of your diet. But if you stickwith your weight loss plan long enough, you may notice more lines and wrinkles,particularly on your face and neck.

Fat helps keep skin taut. And as we begin to lose that underlying support,our skin may react by looking looser and, possibly more wrinkled. This isparticularly true if you're over 35 when you start to lose weight.

"As we age, we don't make as much collagen, and what we do make isn'tquite as good as what our body produced when we were younger," saysesthetician Susie Galvaz, owner of Face Works Day Spa in Richmond, Va. Withless fat to support the skin from underneath, and less collagen to holdmoisture and water, Galvaz warns, lines and creases can follow.

"It's not uncommon for women to lose weight and gain years on theirface, particularly if they lose weight quickly, or if they don't take care oftheir skin while dieting," says derma-surgeon Rhoda Narins, MD, clinicalprofessor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center in New York.

But a slimmer body doesn't have to mean a more lined face, Galvaz says.

First, make sure you lose weight slowly. This gives your skin time to adjustto the loss, and that may reduce some of the droops and drops. Galvaz alsobelieves that firming creams are a must. And, she says, don't wait until linesand wrinkles appear to start using them.

"As soon as you begin your diet, begin using firming creams on yourface, and keep on using them while you're losing weight and you will definitelysee a positive result," says Galvaz, a dieter who has lost 120 poundsherself.

Dermatologist Amy Newburger, MD, says the two best skin firming ingredientsto look for are vitamin C and copper peptides.

"Both have been shown to stimulate collagen production," saysNewburger, director of Dermatology Consultants of Westchester, N.Y. "But,make sure you select not only the L-ascorbic form of vitamin C, but that it'sstabilized and offers a delivery system that can drive it down into theskin."

One of the most effective delivery systems is liposomes. These are tinyspheres that are used to encapsulate ingredients (like vitamin C) that on theirown are too large to get into the deepest layers of the skin. Because liposomescan penetrate skin layers, they enable the vitamin C to reach the cells wherecollagen is produced.

And no, you don't have to spend a lot for these products. Newburgerrecommends products from the Neutrogena Visibly Firm Copper Serum line andAvon's Clearly C Vitamin C serum ­ which you can get for under $20.

To keep the collagen you are making from breaking down, Newburgeralso suggests serums containing "pentapeptides" -- chains of aminoacids that help inhibit collagen breakdown and may promote its production. Herrecommendations include the Olay Regenerist line of products, most of whichsell for under $20, and Avon Ultimate Cream, for around $30.

"If you're dieting, these ingredients can make a difference in how yourface looks after all the weight is lost," says Newburger.

Galvaz says her own favorites are the new creams containing Matrixyl, acombination of pentapeptides and collagen that she says helps to bind moisturein the cells.

It can also help to take some of these ingredients internally [and not justapply them to the face], says Newburger. She suggests 1,000 milligrams daily ofester C (a form of vitamin C that may be easier to tolerate) along with 5micrograms each of copper and zinc. All three, she says, play an important rolein collagen production. (Don't forget to check with your doctor before addingany supplement other than a daily multivitamin/multimineral to yourregime.)

Galvaz also suggests adding supplements of vitamin E andevening primrose to your regimen, and says to be sure to take them at night.(Keep in mind that herbal supplements like evening primrose are not regulatedby the FDA; it's a good idea to ask your doctor about them first.)

"Our body does its most intensive skin-repair work at night, and I'vefound that taking these supplements in the evening appear to accelerate theireffects, particularly in making skin appear plumper and more moist," Galvaztells WebMD.

While protecting the skin on your face is important, dieting can also takeits toll on the complexion of the skin on the rest of your body. Among thebiggest problem many dieters experience is dry, flaky skin. This isparticularly true, experts say, if you're on a very low-fat diet.

"Part of the outer layer of skin is made up of fatty acids or lipids,and if you don't have appropriate fat intake, you won't make the normal amountof fatty acids," Newburger tells WebMD.

When that lipid layer is reduced, she says, skin can't hold moisture aswell.

The solution: Compensate by using a moisturizer that enforces the skin'slipid barrier from the outside.

"An ordinary body cream that simply makes your skin soft isn't going tohelp," says Newburger. "You have to use a product with a highconcentration of lipids, which can help replenish from the outside what you'relacking on the inside."

Ingredients to look for include sterol, cholesterol, lecithin, avocado oil,or soy.

"Plant lipids like soy are particularly good because they have acomponent similar to cholesterol which is perfect for sealing in moisture andreally protecting dry skin," says Newburger.

Additionally, she says, soy products can plump the skin, which makes it looksmoother.

What can also help: Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmonor other oily fish. Or, says Newburger, take a fish oil supplement. "And itcan be a synthetic supplement so there are no concerns about mercury," shesays.

Additionally, Narins says, making sure that you're drinking enough fluid canhelp offset some dry skin problems.

"If you were used to drinking lots of soda and juice every day, andsuddenly cut down, you may find that you aren't getting as much liquids as yourbody requires, and that can result in dry skin," Narins tells WebMD.

The solution here is the simplest of all: Drink more water.

"Don't overdo it, but if your skin is dry and you are feeling thirsty,then you do need to consume more fluids," says Narins.

Finally, all our experts agree that dieters should be extra careful to applya generous amount of sunscreen when spending time outdoors. "Even thoughyou will, hopefully, be getting more fruits and vegetables in your diet, still,when you are cutting your food intake you may not be getting the fullantioxidant protection your skin needs to fight off the damaging effects of thesun," says Newburger.

If dryness is a problem, look for a sunscreen that contains a moisturizer.If you use a self-tanner, which can be drying to the skin, choose one with abuilt-in moisturizer as well.

Show Sources

SOURCES: David Goldberg, MD, director, Skin Laser and Surgery Specialists of NY/NJ; clinical professor of dermatology, Mt. Sinai Medical Center, New York. Susie Galvaz, esthetician, owner, Face Works Day Spa, Richmond, Va.; author, "Ooh la la!" series of beauty books. Amy Newburger, MD, dermatologist, director, Dermatology Consultants, Westchester, N.Y. Rhoda Narins, MD, clinical professor of dermatology, NYU Medical Center, New York City; president, American Society of Dermatologic Surgery.

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