How to make a budget skincare routine entirely from food
Guys, I just scored the best vitamin C skincare product on the market—for under a dollar. Seriously. 79 cents! No, I did not get some too-cheap-to-be-true counterfeit online. (I’m insulted you would even ask.) I got it from the grocery store. It’s…an orange.
I know that sentence may fill you with rage—especially if you’ve spent upwards of $100 on vitamin C serums in the past (which, hi, I totally have, too) or you’ve been fed the lie that foods and supplements don’t help your skin. Allow me to gently break the news: You don’t have to spend a ton of money on good, clean skin care, and you can, in fact, eat your way to healthier skin with the right foods. I’ve been doing it for years.
Before you scoff, you should know that I have tried all the skin care. And when I say all the skin care, I mean ALL. OF. IT. Accutane, antibiotics, steroids, and medicated creams. Drugstore stuff, indie stuff, expensive stuff, and the really expensive stuff. As a beauty editor, I used to get that $400 moisturizer—you know the one I’m talking about—for free. And guess what? None of the above worked. Some of the most lasting, impressive changes in my skin have come from food.
Before you scoff again, no, I am not suggesting a diet. You don’t (necessarily) have to cut out gluten or dairy or anything you don’t want to in search of clearer skin, unless your unique body has an intolerance or allergy to that food group. Eating your way to healthy skin is more about adding the right nutrients to your daily routine—like the omega fatty acids essential to the skin barrier, found in nuts and seeds, or the amino acids that form collagen, found in bone broth. Bonus: A lot of skin-healthy food can double as DIY face masks. Really, what more could you ask for?
Ahead, the affordable grocery store skin care I feed my face.
Want to boost your glow almost immediately? Get yourself some seeds. “Seeds are nutrient-dense and can be a good source of amino acids, which are the building blocks of collagen,” says Vivian Chen, a U.K.-trained physician and the healthy living expert behind Plateful Health. My personal favorites are sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, flax, hemp, and chia. I throw a tablespoon or two into my morning smoothie or sprinkle them over salads to get my daily dose.
“Hemp seeds are a source of complete protein, meaning that they contain all the essential amino acids that our bodies cannot make,” Chen says, “while flaxseeds and chia seeds are great sources of ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid.” Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for optimal skin barrier function and help seal in hydration, but—get this—the body can’t produce omega-3s on its own. It needs to get them from your diet.
“Flaxseeds help clear up acne due to hormonal imbalances, since they aid in healthy elimination and promote hormone balance,” adds Dr. Nadia Musavvir, a naturopathic doctor who specializes in skin health. “Pumpkin seeds contain zinc, which helps block DHT—a more potent form of testosterone—and balance oil production, making it particularly helpful for cystic acne.”
“Sunflower seeds are a good source of vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant that reduces oxidative damage, and oxidative damage can contribute to skin aging,” Chen says. “Vitamin E may also protect against UV [light], which we know can damage our skin.”
But the best thing about seeds? They’re super cheap. I filled up at the bulk station on my last Whole Foods run, and guess what I spent for a week’s worth of seeds? Twenty-two cents for organic flaxseeds, $1.02 for organic sesame seeds, and 84 cents for organic pumpkin seeds. That’s less than $3 total!
“Avocados contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help improve skin texture and elasticity as well as inflammatory skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema,” Dr. Musavvir says. Chen adds that they’re a rich source of vitamin E, and also “contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which can protect the skin from environmental stressors like UV light.” Avocados are delicious on toast, yes, but they’re just as good on your face. I mix a bit of avocado mash with honey and slather it on my skin for a 20-minute mask that’s good enough to (literally) eat.
I don’t consume dairy—I tend to get breakouts when I do—but I will occasionally scoop up a tub of organic yogurt from Whole Foods to use as a face mask. Yogurt is full of probiotics (yup, the same kind found in those trendy and expensive probiotic skincare products) and has a tiny amount of lactic acid (to promote gentle exfoliating and hydration). I swear, a dollop on my face for 15 minutes gives me the softest, smoothest skin.
Turmeric powder is a potent anti-inflammatory, and since nearly every skin issue in existence stems from inflammation, that makes it a must in any skin-healthy diet. I spice my veggie scramble with it in the morning and stir it into warm oat milk (with a pinch of black pepper) for a golden mylk latte at night. Combined with pure rose water, turmeric powder also makes for a redness-reducing face mask.
“Celery is a rich source of minerals, particularly silica, which is an important structural mineral for hair, skin, and nails,” Dr. Musavvir says. Celery is intensely hydrating, too, which is why I typically start my day with 16 ounces of straight-up celery juice. (Organic, of course.)
6All the greens
Eat a green vegetable, any green vegetable, and your skin will thank you. Kale! Spinach! Broccoli! You really cannot go wrong. All of the above are full of vitamins and minerals and typically have high water content, which means they’re hydrating, too. Cooked greens are especially healing to the gut, and a healthy gut translates to healthy skin. Confession: Sometimes I cheat and take an 8Greens supplement when I don’t get my daily allowance from food.
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“Apples contain quercetin, a potent flavonoid and mast cell stabilizer, which helps balance inflammation levels,” Dr. Musavvir says. “This can help improve various types of dermatitis and is great for immune health.” She notes that it’s important to leave the skin on your apples—don’t peel them—since that’s where “the good stuff is.”
Okay, another confession: When my acne was at its worst, I ate cloves of raw garlic since it’s said to act as a natural antibiotic. It had wonderful effects on my skin and not-so-wonderful effects on my romantic relationships. (Worth it.) While Dr. Musavvir wouldn’t go so far as to say that garlic’s antimicrobial quality “treats or prevents anything,” she does like that it contains sulfur. “Sulfur helps form glutathione, the body’s main antioxidant,” she tells me. “Glutathione has been called the ‘fountain of youth’ by some because it decreases pigmentation and wrinkle formation and increases skin elasticity.” For the record, she recommends cooking with it rather than eating it raw.
“Oranges are a good source of vitamin C, and vitamin C is an important cofactor for collagen synthesis and storage,” Chen explains. “They are also rich in carotenoids, which are powerful antioxidants.” You know what they say: An orange a day keeps the sometimes-irritating vitamin C serum away.
If you’re not regularly consuming bone broth, you and your skin are seriously missing out (vegans and vegetarians aside, of course). “Bone broth is rich in amino acids that help form collagen, as well as minerals and nutrients that help heal the intestinal lining to decrease inflammation levels,” Dr. Musavvir says. “This is important [for your skin] because inflammation promotes quicker collagen breakdown.” Bone broth also helps build up the body’s natural hyaluronic acid (HA) supply, so you can go ahead and skip that topical HA serum. Most grocery stores carry pre-made bone broth, but you can make your own using beef or chicken bones. I typically get these from my local butcher, who’s happy to part with the cast-offs. Total cost? No more than $5.
Sure, the above foods aren’t about to replace my go-to cleanser or SPF. But incorporating these inner skincare “products” means I need fewer outer skincare products—and that’s a win-win for my skin barrier and my budget.