5 Expert-Approved Fats for Vibrant Skin

A little fat goes a long way toward beautiful skin.

January 20, 2016
healthy fats salmon avocado flaxseed
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"I use a good cleanser and moisturizer, but most of the real benefits come from what I eat," my friend replied at brunch recently after the server gushed about her vibrant, glowing skin that made her look a decade younger.

Her secret? She ate an entire avocado every day, added freshly ground flaxseed to her protein shake, and supplemented with a professional quality fish oil. I wasn't surprised she ordered wild-caught salmon over a bed of mixed greens that afternoon.

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More: 5 'Healthy' Foods That Wreak Havoc on Your Skin

The right fats promote glowing skin, while bad ones make you look old, wrinkled, and haggard. Among the signs you're not getting enough high-quality oils and fats include dry, itchy, scaling, or flaking skin.

Let's get the bad ones out of the way. Studies show trans fats found in vegetable oils and processed foods create oxidative damage, providing a surefire way to age your skin. Ditto for damaged fats like those scrambled eggs that sit on the buffet table for hours. Among their damage, these bad fats spark free radicals and inflammation that delivers a double whammy to healthy skin.

For glowing skin, upgrade your fats and eat plenty of them. "Smart fats include all kinds of anti-inflammatory fatty acids," Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, and author of Smart Fats told me, "which can ultimately make your skin look more moist, reduce inflammatory outbreaks, and, as a bonus, give shine to your hair and strength to your nails!"

Studies confirm essential and non-essential fatty acids play separate and critical roles in proper skin function. These include monounsaturated fat, omega 3 fatty acids, and yes, some saturated fats. 

More: The Best Anti-Aging Alcohol for Glowing Skin

Narrowing them down to five rock stars proved challenging, but here are my go-to fat faves for glowing, radiating skin:

1. Avocado 
Rich in monounsaturated fat, avocado has rightfully earned its A-list reputation. Carotenoids, the antioxidants that give avocado its color, help prolong youthful skin appearance. Another study found the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin in avocado protect your skin from damage from both ultraviolet (UV) and visible radiation. Plus this fruit (yep, fruit!) comes loaded with fiber and hard-to-get nutrients like potassium. Whether you slice it on top of a salad or make guac with kale chips, avocado makes one heck of a versatile fat-rich food.

 

2. Extra-virgin olive oil 
Another monounsaturated fat winner that boosts healthy skin. One study found olive oil reduced premature skin aging triggered by repeated exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Sautée veggies in olive oil but drizzle extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar on your salad to increase fat-soluble nutrient absorption.

3. Coconut oil
Saturated fat isn't always bad, as coconut oil proves: Obviously, this isn't the same fatty acid composition as a fast food cheeseburger. Studies show coconut oil can treat skin infections. Coconut fights dry skin, bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Another study found it superior to mineral oil to relieve atopic dermatitis (AD), a chronic inflammatory skin disease. Apply coconut oil directly to your skin, but cook with it too. My favorite is to sauté shredded Brussels sprouts with coconut oil and pancetta (yum). 

More: 7 Diet Hacks for Fabulous Skin

4. Wild salmon
One study found the omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in wild-caught fish and fish oil could help prevent skin aging. Others show fish oil can reduce UV-triggered inflammation and psoriasis.  If you're not eating wild-caught fish several times a week, supplementing with a professional omega 3 becomes the way to go.

5. Flaxseeds 
Studies show the omega 3 alpha-linolenic acid, which your body transforms into longer-chain fatty acids, shows promise for many skin disorders, including atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, acne vulgaris, systemic lupus erythematosus, nonmelanoma skin cancer, and melanoma. A few teaspoons of freshly ground flaxseed make the perfect health-fat-and-fiber boost in your protein shake.

 

Ideally, you should have two to three servings of healthy fats at every meal, although men and athletic women can go up to four. Smart choices include a tablespoon of olive oil, a quarter of an avocado, four ounces of cold-water wild fish, five to 10 nuts, a tablespoon of nut butter, or 10 olives. 

My favorite? Almond butter, but avocado is a close second.

What's your favorite healthy fat for glowing skin and vibrant health? Share yours below or on my Facebook page.