Are anti-inflammatory foods really the key to great-looking skin?

What do salmon, flaxseed and cinnamon have in common? These are all foods renowned for their anti-inflammatory properties. And according to the TikTok wellness community, they're go-to foods for clear, glowing skin. However, dieticians have their doubts about the real effectiveness of these foods in combating skin issues.

These days, it’s not uncommon to come across TikTok videos extolling the virtues of anti-inflammatory foods. And one of the promised benefits is healthy, great-looking skin. To date, the #antiinflammatoryfood hashtag has amassed more than 50 million views on the Chinese social network.

An anti-inflammatory diet is made up of foods containing healthy fats (olive oil, walnuts, avocado), foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna, mackerel, flaxseed oil, chia and hemp seeds), fruit and vegetables, foods rich in fiber and antioxidants – particularly berries and cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, etc.), oilseeds, legumes, whole grains and certain spices, such as turmeric.

This diet is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. It can also protect against chronic inflammation associated with conditions such as diabetes, asthma and osteoarthritis.

For the TikTok wellness community, the foods that fight inflammation are also a source of benefits for clear skin. In a video, for example, a TikToker by the name of nastblog recommends three foods to cure acne: flaxseed oil, rich in omega 3; green tea, rich in polyphenols; and cinnamon, an anti-inflammatory spice. But is an anti-inflammatory diet alone really effective for achieving clear skin?

Be wary of online advice

For Florence Foucaut, a Paris-based dietician and nutrition expert, these foods can indeed provide a helping hand in achieving healthy skin, but they’re not the whole solution. Reacting to the nastblog video, the dietician warns that opinions shared on social networks should be approached with caution, and that only real scientific data should be relied on, as the only guarantee of reliability. 

“Yes, indeed, flaxseeds are rich in omega-3. The problem is that this influencer invites Internet users to consume them whole, by sprinkling them on a salad, for example. But to get these benefits, you need to eat them ground, and above all, keep ground flaxseeds away from light so they don’t oxidize.” She also recommends nut mixes, also ground for better absorption of omega-3s. 

Green tea or matcha tea are also among the ingredients claimed by influencers to have anti-acne properties.

“Green tea does contain catechins (EGCG), compounds known to have [anti-]inflammatory and antioxidant properties. And so does cinnamon,” adds Florence Foucaut. But she continues, “to benefit from these anti-inflammatory virtues, you’d have to absorb astronomical quantities of green tea and cinnamon every day, which is not at all possible on a daily basis”.

Misleading videos  

However, many before/after videos posted on social media seem to claim that incorporating these foods into your daily diet is enough to improve the skin’s condition. For people with skin issues, the dietician recommends a balanced and diverse diet.

“In fact, diet plays a key role in skin health, particularly when acne is present, and even more so if it is too rich in lipids.”

The dietician points out that there are other factors involved in improving skin appearance. “Other factors can play an essential role in having good skin, such as avoiding exposure to the sun, or taking certain prescription medications. Alcohol and tobacco consumption are also determining factors. Diet can help alleviate a pathology, but it cannot be the only key to healthy skin.”

To treat skin complaints, and before turning directly to an anti-inflammatory diet, the expert advises consulting a specialist.

“You need to see a dermatologist first, to diagnose the origin of the skin problem, then they will prescribe treatment if necessary and tell you if a change of diet is required.”

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