Health & Lifestyle

Why what is in your fridge rather than your face cream is what gives you beautiful skin 

Looking for that summer glow? Forget slapping on the fake tan, the first step in your skincare routine starts with what’s on your plate.

Because the truth is, what’s in your fridge matters just as much as what’s in your bathroom. 

I’m uniquely placed to know because I’m the UK’s first and only dual-qualified dermatologist and nutritionist, with more than 15 years of experience working in both the NHS and private practice.

Want to get your best skin ever? Here’s what I advise — from the supplements that are worth taking, to a simple, scientifically backed skincare regime and, of course, recipes to give your skin exactly what it needs.

Dr Thivi Maruthappu (pictured) is the UK¿s first and only dual-qualified dermatologist and nutritionist, with more than 15 years of experience working in both the NHS and private practice

Dr Thivi Maruthappu (pictured) is the UK’s first and only dual-qualified dermatologist and nutritionist, with more than 15 years of experience working in both the NHS and private practice

What skincare can do (and what it can’t)

As much as I love skincare, we have to be realistic about what it can — and can’t — do. 

No cream in the world will undo the impact that smoking, excessive alcohol and sun exposure can have on your skin and that’s partly because the skin has evolved to be a barrier. 

Its job is to repel water and prevent the entry of harmful toxins and bacteria.

As it is so good at its job, it can also keep skincare ingredients out. The truth is that most ingredients in off-the-shelf moisturisers and serums simply aren’t small enough to penetrate the skin barrier.

In my clinic, I turn to research-backed skincare to help tackle signs of premature ageing and improve skin tone and texture. 

Skincare products don’t have to break the bank, and there are many excellent cost-effective treatments.

My must-have ingredients

When it comes to glow, these are some of my favourite ingredients, because they deliver results. Look on the back of your skincare bottle for the following . . .

Dr Thivi Maruthappu says that we have to be realistic about what skincare can - and cannot - do

Dr Thivi Maruthappu says that we have to be realistic about what skincare can – and cannot – do

Retinoids: Increase cell turnover, collagen production and combat pigmentation, while also shrinking oil glands and helping the skin to appear smoother and more luminous.

Vitamin C: A powerful antioxidant which neutralises unstable compounds called free radicals that are associated with premature ageing. 

I usually recommend 10 per cent to 15 per cent concentration. If you have sensitive skin, start at a lower percentage.

Vitamin E: Another antioxidant which mops up free radicals caused by UV radiation. It also helps to retain moisture in the skin and can aid wound-healing as well.

Resveratrol: Found in grape skins, this is an incredibly potent antioxidant with anti-inflammatory benefits. 

An excellent ingredient to look for in an eye cream, where using retinoids might be too irritating.

Peptides: The building blocks of proteins, they act as messengers, tricking cells into thinking there has been an injury so more collagen is produced in the skin. This results in firming and smoothing.

Niacinamide: Restores and rejuvenates the barrier function of the skin. It is also an anti-inflammatory and so improves how well you can tolerate other ingredients such as retinoids.

Dr Thivi Maruthappu's SkinFood approach in many ways looks similar to the Mediterranean diet, but with a few key differences, such as the inclusion of gut-friendly foods, and anti-inflammatory spices, used in Eastern cultures for centuries to benefit skin health

Dr Thivi Maruthappu’s SkinFood approach in many ways looks similar to the Mediterranean diet, but with a few key differences, such as the inclusion of gut-friendly foods, and anti-inflammatory spices, used in Eastern cultures for centuries to benefit skin health

Alpha and beta hydroxy acids: These break down connections between skin surface cells and act as exfoliants. 

Avoid overuse as they can damage the skin barrier. They give a temporary improvement in smoothness and clear blackheads and breakouts. Use once or twice per week to smooth and brighten.

Hyaluronic acid: A natural component of the skin, it draws in moisture from the environment to plump and soften, resulting in smoother, better hydrated skin. 

Apply to damp skin, otherwise it can dry your skin out.

Routine manoeuvres

One of the keys to good skin is consistency. You don’t need expensive creams, you just need a quick and easy regimen. Mine looks like this . . .

Morning

1 Cleanse with your cleanser of choice.

2 Apply an antioxidant vitamin C serum ideally containing ferulic acid to stabilise vitamin C.

3 Moisturise and apply SPF to the face, neck and back of the hands.

Evening

1 Double-cleanse to remove SPF, pollution and make-up.

2 Apply retinoid product over the face and neck.

3 Apply a richer antioxidant moisturiser and eye cream, for example containing resveratrol.

Supplements worth taking

When I was in my 20s, working long and busy hours as a junior doctor, I used to take at least 15 different supplements a day. I was convinced the more I took, the healthier I’d be.

It didn’t work and learning about nutrition has transformed my approach to supplements. 

Her top 10 SkinFoods include avocados, beans and lentils, berries and dark-green leafy vegetables (full list below)

Her top 10 SkinFoods include avocados, beans and lentils, berries and dark-green leafy vegetables (full list below)

I’ve come to appreciate the variety, complexity and importance of vitamins contained in real food and, as a result, I now take fewer supplements. That said, vitamin supplements can help in specific situations . . .

Omega-3: Found in oily fish, walnuts and flaxseeds, omega-3 fatty acids are critical in maintaining healthy skin moisture levels and promoting wound healing. 

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, or don’t eat oily fish at least twice a week, a 500mg EPA/DHA fish or algae-derived omega-3 supplement might be a good idea.

Iron: I am obsessive about checking iron levels in my clinic, because many women aren’t aware they’re lacking iron and experience dry, itchy skin and hair loss. 

Iron is found in red meat and green, leafy veg, but it isn’t always easily absorbed. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, or have symptoms of low iron, have your levels check by a doctor.

Vitamin D: Performs numerous key functions in the skin such as helping cells divide and renew, fighting infections and supporting the normal function of the immune system, as well as promoting wound healing.

It’s also key to hair-follicle function and supports normal hair growth and development. 

We should all take vitamin D during the winter months (October to March) — 400–1,000 IU daily. (IU stands for International Units) — and also in the summer if you have darker skin or don’t get much sun.

Oily fish like salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids which are critical in maintaining healthy skin moisture levels and promoting wound healing

Oily fish like salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids which are critical in maintaining healthy skin moisture levels and promoting wound healing

Key to the SkinFood approach are anti-inflammatory spices including turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, garlic and ginger

Key to the SkinFood approach are anti-inflammatory spices including turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, garlic and ginger

Tomatoes also feature on Dr Thivi Maruthappu's list of the top ten SkinFoods

Tomatoes also feature on Dr Thivi Maruthappu’s list of the top ten SkinFoods

Vitamin B12: The only vitamin exclusively found in animal products (meat, fish and dairy), so if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, I would recommend taking a daily 10mcg B12 supplement. 

I have seen plant-based patients with a B12 deficiency that’s led to symptoms such as a sore tongue, mouth ulcers and areas of darker skin pigmentation. 

Low levels of B12 can also contribute to hair shedding. If you’re experiencing any symptoms, see your doctor for a blood test.

Vitamin C: The queen of antioxidants, helping prevent the UV- and pollution-induced damage that leads to premature ageing and hyperpigmentation. 

It also helps wounds to heal, so can help with acne scarring or after cosmetic procedures, and promotes the production of collagen, the protein that makes skin firm, so may help prevent wrinkles.

Take 500mg to 1,000mg daily for a month at first to see if you notice a difference.

Food to get you glowing

Over the years I have met patients who have tried every type of diet: gluten-free, dairy-free, Paleo, Atkins, keto, Pagano, but they still weren’t getting the results they wanted for their skin. 

After listening to them, it became my mission to come up with something targeted to skin health that was sustainable and enjoyable.

Berries of different kinds, including blueberries, stawberries and blackberries, are a good source of antioxidants

Berries of different kinds, including blueberries, stawberries and blackberries, are a good source of antioxidants 

Dr Thivi Maruthappu advises that we eat prebiotic foods which help feed the helpful bugs in your intestine (asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, onions, asparagus and garlic) and probiotic foods, which contain good bacteria (live yoghurt, sauerkraut or kefir), daily to support gut health

Dr Thivi Maruthappu advises that we eat prebiotic foods which help feed the helpful bugs in your intestine (asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, onions, asparagus and garlic) and probiotic foods, which contain good bacteria (live yoghurt, sauerkraut or kefir), daily to support gut health

Nuts and seeds are an excellent source of oils which are essential for skin health

Nuts and seeds are an excellent source of oils which are essential for skin health 

I put my scientist hat on and spent many hours reading scientific papers to find out which foods and nutrients would not only support skin health, but our overall well-being too. 

Hundreds of papers later, I came up with what I call the SkinFood approach.

In many ways it looks similar to the Mediterranean diet, but with a few key differences, such as the inclusion of gut-friendly foods, and anti-inflammatory spices, used in Eastern cultures for centuries to benefit skin health.

Its four key principles are:

My top ten SkinFoods 

If you are allergic to nuts, try seeds, or go for oils such as avocado or olive oil instead. 

Each of the foods in this list support skin health either because of the key nutrients they contain or as a result of their impact on gut health.

  • Avocados
  • Beans and lentils
  • Berries
  • Dark-green leafy vegetables
  • Fermented foods, such as kefir
  • Salmon
  • Tofu
  • Tomatoes
  • Turmeric
  • Walnuts and cashew nuts

1 Eat to GLOW (Greens, Lean proteins, Oils and healthy fats, Wholegrains).

2 Eat prebiotic foods which help feed the helpful bugs in your intestine (asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, onions, asparagus and garlic) and probiotic foods, which contain good bacteria (live yoghurt, sauerkraut or kefir), daily to support gut health.

3 Include anti-inflammatory spices including turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, garlic and ginger, in your meals.

4 Moderate your refined sugar and alcohol intake. While the Med diet loves red wine, it can cause psoriasis and rosacea flare-ups and also accelerate skin ageing.

Fundamentally, this is an anti-inflammatory way of eating, because inflammation lies at the heart of every skin concern, from eczema to premature skin ageing.

Here’s what to aim for:

About half your plate comprising fresh vegetables/fruits with some pre- and probiotic foods and spices.

Equal amounts of wholegrains and lean protein. If you want to include some dairy products such as cheese or yoghurt, go ahead.

Don’t skimp on skin-loving healthy fats. These can be from healthy oils, as well as nuts and seeds, which contain nutrients and vitamins.

Light and Bright Rainbow Noodle Salad with Crispy Tofu

Tofu is a complete source of protein, meaning it has all the amino acids required for repair and regeneration.

Serves 2–4 

  • 300g block of extra-firm tofu 
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce 
  • 1 tbsp cornflour 
  • 150g wholewheat soba noodles 
  • ½ cucumber, julienned 
  • 1 red pepper, julienned 
  • 1 carrot, julienned 
  • 100g edamame beans (I use frozen, thawed) 
  • ¼ red cabbage, thinly sliced 
  • 4 spring onions, thinly sliced 
  • A handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped 
  • ½ red chilli, finely chopped

DRESSING 

  • Juice of 1 lime 
  • 2cm fresh ginger, grated 
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1 tsp miso paste 
  • 1 tsp sesame oil 
  • 1½ tbsp soy sauce 
  • 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup 

Preheat the oven to 220c (200c fan oven) Gas 7. 

Cut drained block of extra-firm tofu into 2cm cubes and coat in olive oil and soy sauce. Sprinkle over cornflour and mix well until evenly coated.

Place on a baking sheet in the oven for 20 minutes, tossing halfway through.

Cook noodles according to the pack instructions. Drain, rinse, and leave to cool. 

In a salad bowl mix cucumber, red pepper, carrot, edamame beans, red cabbage, spring onions, coriander leaves, red chilli and the noodles.

Mix dressing ingredients and pour over the salad. Top with the crispy tofu and a handful of chopped cashew nuts.

The Ultimate Skin Fuel Salad

Serves 2

  • 75 g baby spinach
  • 40 g cashew nuts
  • 100 g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • ½ cucumber, cut into chunks
  • 2 pre-cooked salmon fillets
  • 200 g of cooled, cooked grains of choice

DRESSING 

  • 1 tbsp miso paste
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp honey
  • ½ cm fresh ginger, grated
  • ½ tsp grated garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Mix baby spinach, cashew nuts, tomatoes, sliced avocado, cucumber, in a large salad bowl. 

Flake salmon fillets into the salad along with grains of choice. 

In a small bowl, whisk together dressing. 

Pour half the dressing over the salad and toss. 

Store leftover salad dressing in the fridge in a sealed jar and use within four days.

Chocolate Cherry Brownies

Makes 12

  • 6 de-stoned Medjool dates
  • 75ml olive oil
  • 70g sugar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 60g wholewheat flour
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150g pitted chopped cherries
  • 50g chocolate chips
  • 30g sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 170c (150c fan) Gas 3. 

Place dates in a bowl, and cover with boiling water. Soak for 20 minutes. 

Warm olive oil, sugar and honey in a pan until liquid. 

In a bowl, mix flour, cocoa and salt. 

Put dates in a food processor with two tablespoons of the liquid. Blend. Stir this into dry ingredients, add eggs, vanilla and warmed sugar. Stir well. 

Add cherries, chocolate chips and almonds. Stir again. Pour into a lined, 20cm tin and bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool.

  • Adapted from SkinFood: Your 4-Step Solution to Healthy, Happy Skin by Dr Thivi Maruthappu (£14.99, Piatkus). © Dr Thivi Maruthappu 2023. To order a copy for £13.49 (offer valid to 17/07/23; UK P&P free on orders over £25), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.

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