Skin care starts from the inside and works its way out. Of course how you treat your skin externally certainly has significant results—and might have a more immediate payoff (say, a sheet mask that instantly boosts hydration or a peel that fades dark spots ASAP). But supporting skin health from the inside has long-term benefits. That's where the real power is.
It's a concept we call cellular beauty, and it means skin health can only be optimized when you start at the cellular level: From there, glowing skin will follow.* Ideally, for years and years to come.
To start you on your cellular beauty journey, we found the seven most important ways to keep your skin cells performing their best—from lifestyle habits to supplements.*
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals in the body. Free radical damage—caused by pollution, sun, stress, food, and many body processes—is the leading cause of premature aging, dark spots, dullness, and elasticity loss. We often encourage using topical antioxidants for targeted areas (personally, I use an antioxidant serum every day on my face and decolletage), but ingesting antioxidants means systemic, full-body benefits.*
And what about combining these strategies? "Using both oral and topical antioxidants can optimize cells to absorb oxygen radical waste," says board-certified dermatologist Zenovia Gabriel, M.D., FAAD. "You can help do that by taking oral antioxidants."*
You can consume these in antioxidant-rich colorful foods—like berries, salmon, dark greens, carrots, and nuts—or supplement them. A few of our favorite antioxidants:
- Astaxanthin: a potent antioxidant, it protects the skin's collagen layer and has been shown to help reduce fine lines and age spots and support skin hydration.* Additionally this unique carotenoid has been shown to help combat UV photodamage.*
- Vitamin C: This essential water-soluble vitamin helps support your natural production of collagen.* And it does so in two ways: first, by spurring collagen production, and the second, by stabilizing the collagen you already have.*
- Vitamin A or beta-carotene: Vitamin A is critical for skin repair and maintenance.* Beta-carotene, a carotenoid and vitamin A precursor, helps to reduce free radical damage that occurs due to skin damage caused by sun exposure.*
- CoQ10: CoQ10 is a fat-soluble antioxidant coenzyme found throughout your body. As mbg’s director of scientific affairs Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., R.D.N. explains, “CoQ10 is found ubiquitously—hence the name, ubiquinol, the active form of CoQ10—in every cell of your body.” Ferira adds, “In your cell’s mitochondria, ubiquinol is a vital part of cellular energy production from nutrition we consume daily. A real multitasker, ubiquinol is also a powerhouse antioxidant.”* Thanks to these targeted antioxidant actions at the level of skin cells, CoQ10 has been clinically shown to support skin elasticity and smoothness, while combating wrinkles.*
Take a smart supplement.*
Sometimes, we just need a little help caring for our skin internally. In these cases we turn to smart supplements that nourish and encourage skin cell health and functions via impressive bioactives working together to support your skin’s hydration, elasticity, and rejuvenation.* Take mindbodgyreen’s cellular beauty+: It’s a one-of-a-kind cosmeceutical supplement deeply rooted in clinical research, to support inner beauty for your outer glow.* Truly, there is no other dietary supplement that combines these four premium, curated, science-backed botanicals and bioactives in one product.
Allow me to explain: In this formula, we included several of the hero antioxidants mentioned above—formulated with the most bioavailable forms at levels with clinical results. To start, there's astaxanthin (specifically, AstaReal®, a highly researched astaxanthin extract sustainably derived from green algae), an phytonutrient that’s clinically shown to protect skin cells and help preserve the collagen layer: It has photoprotective and anti-inflammatory properties, shown to help reduce fine lines and age spots, and supports skin hydration, elasticity and smoothness.*
Then we layered in ubiquinol (as Kaneka ubiquinol®), which is the most bioavailable, bioactive form of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10).* It’s the best-of-the-best as far as this antioxidant goes. As I’ve noted, CoQ10 is necessary for cellular energy production—but endogenous levels of CoQ10 decline with age, and thus we see changes in cellular function and rejuvenation. Ubiquinol is clinically shown to increase CoQ10 levels.*
There’s also premium pomegranate whole fruit extract (as pomma+®), which is harvested in sunny California orchards. The extract is good for promoting cellular resilience and has anti-inflammatory properties for healthy aging, such as skin photoprotection from UV damage.*
Finally, there’s the much beloved phytoceramides. Ceramics are naturally occurring lipids in your skin barrier that decline with age, and due to external factors such as UV damage. Phytoceramides have been clinically shown to reduce wrinkles, while significantly improving natural levels of skin hydration.*
You can consider this curated combination where vanity and longevity meet.*
Support your gut microbiome.
Your skin microbiome, we are learning, plays a huge role in our overall health. A weak skin microbiome has decreased ability to protect you from damage, infection, stressors, and external aggressors. We are still learning the best ways to fuel and nurture this microbiome with topicals, and the available research suggests using skin-barrier protecting creams and products can help sustain healthy flora.
While it's vital to support your skin microbiome for optimal skin health, it's equally important to do so with your gut microbiome. There's something called the gut-skin axis, and it plays an important role in our overall skin health: It all boils down to the permeability of the lining of your gut. When your microflora isn't balanced, it can cause what functional medicine doctors often call leaky gut, which allows particles to "leak" out and stimulate the immune system to produce an inflammatory response in the skin of predisposed individuals.
Avoid inflammation triggers.
Inflammation wreaks havoc on the skin—resulting in premature aging and skin conditions like acne and eczema. But a little bit more on how inflammation comes about. Inflammation is your body’s reaction to aggressors. Inflammation's purpose is to help heal and fight whatever is causing the irritation. The problem arises when your body doesn’t have a break from said inflammation, i.e., a prolonged state of oxidative stress. Chronic oxidative stress leads to damage, as the cells are adequately allowed to repair and rejuvenate themselves.
Inflammation is often the result of free radicals. Free radicals "activate pro-inflammatory genes, which unleash a cascade of progressive inflammation," explains Jessie Cheung, M.D., board-certified dermatologist. "[This causes] immune cells to recruit other immune cells to the damaged sites, creating more oxidative stress and cellular injury."
So, for example, consuming inflammation-causing foods sets off an internal response that results in a cell-damaging vicious cycle. While everyone's triggers are going to vary, there are a few common culprits like alcohol, foods with a high-glycemic index, sugars, dairy, and whatever allergens you may experience individually. Additionally, things like pollution trigger free-radical damage in the body, setting off this response in skin cells. And while we’ll get to internal factors affecting your cellular health in a bit, things like stress and lack-of-sleep can also induce an inflammatory response in the body.
Now, we can’t avoid all inflammation-triggers all-together—but we do want to be mindful that we are not chronically overloading our body and cells with free radicals by limiting our exposure to things we know cause damage.
Mind your mental health & sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene and mental health go hand-in-hand, and thus I like to pair them together. Let’s start by talking about sleep. Sleep is the most critical time of the day for your body and skin to repair itself. This is because as your body enters the REM cycle, a plethora of skin-supporting hormones are released, such as melatonin and HGH (human growth hormone). “Melatonin is critically important for your skin and plays a significant role in skin repair from environmental exposure, UV light, stressors, pollution, and so on," says hormone expert and board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D.. "If you're not resting, you're not generating that melatonin, and your skin isn't repairing itself." And the release of HGH helps rebuild body tissues and spurs increased cell production to replace cells that were damaged throughout the day.
Now, let’s say you’re not sleeping—this likely causes an uptick of stress. And on the flip side, stress often causes sleepless nights. Now, the stress hormone is called cortisol. "Cortisol plays a significant role in our collagen and elastin. So those supportive tissues in the skin really give us that supple youthful appearance," she says. "Well, cortisol breaks those tissues down, so you'll see accelerated fine lines and wrinkling. But the other thing is that it also impairs repair."
If sleep hygiene and mental wellness concerns are doing a number on your body and skin, look for stress-management techniques such as breathwork, exercise, and meditation. (Meditation has been shown to strengthen the skin barrier—yes really.) And of course, visit a professional should you need to.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the best ways to support skin health is keeping hydrated. Listen, this advice makes me roll my eyes just as much as the next person—but there is often a reason that cliches are as such: It’s because they hold up. Yes, there is some truth to why those with the most beautiful, glowing skin almost always say that drinking lots of water is how they maintain the glow. (Of course, they likely do other things than just drink water—remember tending to your health is holistic.)
We obviously know that water is essential for all human function. And its effects show up prominently in your skin. One study found that drinking 9.5 cups of water a day for four weeks actually increased the skin's density and thickness.
Consume healthy fats.
The right balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is essential for skin health. It's been found to improve skin barrier function, inhibit UV-induced inflammation, and hyperpigmentation, attenuate dry skin and itch elicited by dermatitis, and accelerate skin wound healing.
“Think of aging skin cells as slightly deflated balls. Omega-3 fatty acids support the walls of these cells, making them bouncy again.* To get plenty of omega-3s, eat fatty fish and walnuts,” says naturopathic physician Kellyann Petrucci, M.S., N.D.
The bottom line:
What you consume and how you live your life can, and does, affect how your skin cells function. So if you want that healthy glow we all so covet, looking at the cellular level is where you need to start. There are certain lifestyle choices you can make, like watching what you eat, but you can also find a smart supplement that helps you achieve it more effectively.*
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.