SKIN NUTRITION - Phytonutrients

Fast track your way to beautiful, radiant skin by creating a skin food diet. Boost your anti-aging skincare regime with these particular fruits and veggies.

The right foods can make your hair shine and skin glow from the inside out. In this Skin Foods Series, we're listing 'beauty nutrients' that can be added to your daily diet to improve your skin, hair and nails. And best of all, they can be found in everyday foods you can buy at your local supermarket. Not all superfoods are fancy!

First on the list are phytonutrients, also known as phytochemicals, possibly the most complex beauty nutrients on the list with scientists estimating over 5,000 of them are found in plant foods.

I'm prefacing this post with a bit of info on two key skincare words —antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. These words are mentioned a lot in the skincare industry, and here's why;

1. Antioxidant

Antioxidant-rich ingredients —be it in skincare or food, protect the body from oxidative stress that ages your skin. Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body, that leads to visible signs of aging. Free radicals are unstable atoms with an uneven number of electrons. Electrons like to be in pairs, so free radicals scavenge the body seeking out other electrons to become a pair. This causes damage to healthy cells, proteins and DNA.

Antioxidants are molecules that can donate an electron to a free radical without making themselves unstable. This causes the free radical to stabilize and become less reactive.

*Free radicals explained far more scientifically here by The International Dermal Institute*

A good dermatologist will recommend the use of antioxidants in skincare. “In my opinion, an antioxidant serum is a must for your skin-care routine,” says Lian Mack, MD, a board-certified dermatologist. “Antioxidants protect your skin by counteracting free radical production, and help reduce pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr Mack

“In my opinion, an antioxidant serum is a must for your skin-care routine” says Lian Mack, MD

2. Anti-Inflammatory

In his 2010 book The Wrinkle Cure, Dr Nicholas Perricone brought the knowledge that inflammation induces skin damage into the public eye. He states that the visible signs of aging can be reduced and even prevented by the daily use of antioxidant and/​or anti-inflammatory cosmeceu­ticals, coupled with a diet rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant foods.

Articles published in major news and industry magazines in the following years have further exposed the public to the concept that inflammation of the skin and other organs is the critical instigator in the development of diseases, cancers and aging.

Integrative medicine expert and wellness guru, Andrew Weil, MD, published his Anti-inflammatory Food Pyramid Diet because he believes that, “Without question, diet influences inflamma­tion.”

Other common skincare words mentioned in this post; antibacterial, antiviral, and antimicrobial are all pretty self-explanatory when it comes to health and skincare —especially in skin conditions such as eczema or acne.


Phytonutrients, or phytochemicals ("phyto" means "plant" in Greek) are naturally occurring chemical compounds produced by plants. They have powerful anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antioxidant properties believed to help prevent chronic disease in humans.

Plants use these chemicals to stay healthy. For example, some phytonutrients protect plants from bugs, disease and UV radiation. While others are needed for photosynthesis.

Research shows that phytonutrients play a vital role in skin health by protecting the skin from free radical damage, strengthening the skin barrier, and encouraging healthy cell division. They have also shown to improve the body's keratin infrastructure leading to thicker, glossy hair and stronger nails.

Scientists estimate there are more than 5,000 phytonutrients found in plant foods. While this list is in no way exhaustive, here's are our top ones, and what to eat to ensure you’re getting enough of them.


More than 600 carotenoids provide orange, yellow and red pigments in fruits and vegetables. The most common carotenoids in the Western diet, and the most studied, are alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene.

In humans, carotenoids act as antioxidants and provide UV protection. A 2007 meta-analysis found that beta carotene provided natural sun protection after 10 weeks of supplementation.

Research also shows that lycopenewhich is found in high amounts in tomatoes, protects the cells from oxidative stress too.

Good sources of beta carotene include;

  • carrots

  • tomatoes

  • sweet potatoes

  • dark leafy greens -kale and spinach

  • romaine lettuce

  • squash

  • cantaloupe

  • red and yellow peppers

  • apricots

  • peas

  • broccoli

Lutein and zeaxanthin are two other important carotenoids produced by plants that give fruits and vegetables a yellow to reddish colour. Just like other carotenoids they work as supportive antioxidants in your skin. However, lutein and zeaxanthin are best known for protecting your eyes.

Good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include;

  • kale

  • spinach

  • turnip

  • greens

  • summer squash

  • pumpkin

  • paprika

  • yellow-fleshed fruits

  • avocado

  • eggs


A large number of phytonutrients fall into the polyphenol category. Found in a variety of plant foods they can help your skin and health by reducing inflammation and acting as antioxidants in the body.

Types of polyphenols include;

  • Catechins & Tannins. Green tea is an especially good source of catechins and tannins, which may help prevent certain types of cancer.

  • Hesperidin. Found in citrus fruits, this flavonoid works as an antioxidant reducing inflammation in the body to help prevent chronic disease.

  • Flavonols. Quercetin is a well-studied type of flavonol. It has antihistamine, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. This flavonoid or plant pigment is found in colourful fruits like blueberries, tomatoes, apples, leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables. This compound alone supports the body's ability to respond to inflammation by inhibiting both the manufacture and release of histamines and other irritants. It might help reduce people's risk of asthma, certain types of cancer, and coronary heart disease.

  • Resveratrol is found in grapes, purple grape juice and red wine. It is a very popular skincare ingredient as it acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

"Chlorophyll works to purify the blood; when the blood is cleaner, it is better equipped to protect the body and it also helps to carry oxygen around the body more efficiently, which has the external effect of fresher, healthier-looking skin" Wendy Rowe


Chlorophyll is a green pigment contained in the leaves and stems of plants. It is vital for photosynthesis, which allows plants to absorb energy from sun light to convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and glucose. The nutrients found in chlorophyll include vitamin B, D, & E, calcium, and potassium, which are key for healthy hair and nail growth. In addition to aiding hair growth, chlorophyll has been found to actually slow down the progression of grey hair by continuously producing melanin in pigment cells in hair follicles.

Topically chlorophyll has been scientifically proven to increase the rate of healing wounds, which along with it's antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties make it an ideal treatment for acne and eczema sufferers.

Research shows that applying a gel containing chlorophyllin to the skin reduced signs of photoaging, which is aging that results from sun exposure. Results of a study showed that skin treated with chlorophyllin improved in a similar way to skin treated with tretinoin cream (a form of vitamin A) which is prescription cream that has been proven to combat the signs of aging.

Good sources of chlorophyll include;

  • spinach

  • collard greens

  • mustard greens

  • chlorella

  • spirulina

  • alfalfa

  • parsley

  • broccoli

  • green cabbage

  • asparagus

  • green beans and peas

  • matcha green tea


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4. A Weil, Living Better Longer, Time, 65 (Oct 17, 2005)

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8. Cho S. The Role of Functional Foods in Cutaneous Anti-aging. J Lifestyle Med. 2014;4(1):8–16. doi:10.15280/jlm.2014.4.1.8

9. Hidalgo-Lucas S, Bisson JF, Duffaud A, et al. Benefits of oral and topical administration of ROQUETTE Chlorella sp. on skin inflammation and wound healing in mice. Antiinflamm Antiallergy Agents Med Chem. 2014;13(2):93–102. doi:10.2174/1871523013666140626154458

10. Kang S, Fisher GJ, Voorhees JJ. Photoaging and topical tretinoin: therapy, pathogenesis, and prevention [published correction appears in Arch Dermatol 1998 Jan;134(1):38]. Arch Dermatol. 1997;133(10):1280–1284.


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