There’s a reason why your skin feels a little off after a series of holiday parties, BBQs, or mojito-filled beach days: “What you eat affects your skin—for better or worse,” says Ariel Ostad, MD, fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. While a few indulgences won’t age you overnight, a continuously poor diet can accelerate the aging process of your skin (and teeth) over time. Here, 13 foods to consume in moderation in order to look as young as you feel.
A healthy liver means healthy skin. “When your liver is functioning well, toxins that could potentially affect the skin are expelled naturally through your body,” says Dr. Ostad. “But if toxins build up in your liver, and aren’t broken down properly, your skin can develop a variety of issues, like acne, sallowness, and wrinkles.” Drinking can also trigger rosacea outbreaks.
To top it off, alcohol is dehydrating and bad for your sleep, which was associated with accelerated aging in a Case Western Reserve University study. “Inadequate sleep is linked to wrinkles, uneven pigmentation, and reduced skin elasticity,” says Dr. Ostad.
Sugar overload may kick-start a process called glycation. The theory: When you eat more sugar than your cells can process, the excess sugar molecules combine with proteins, creating “advanced glycation end products” (appropriately referred to as “AGES”), explains Dr. Ostad. Ultimately, AGES may damage your skin’s collagen (the protein that keeps skin firm and youthful).
Unsurprisingly, too much sweet stuff is also bad for your smile. “Sugar sticks to your teeth, encouraging bacteria, decay, and discoloration,” says Brian Kantor, a cosmetic dentist who practices in New York City. If you treat yourself to something sweet, swish water around your mouth afterward to remove any buildup.
White wine falls into its own category because of its surprising dental damage. While a glass of red will give you instant “wine mouth,” the acid in white wine damages your enamel and makes your teeth more prone to longer-lasting stains. So if you always end your day with a glass of chardonnay, your teeth may be more vulnerable to those coffee stains the next morning.
Here’s what not to do: brush your teeth immediately after drinking (same goes for any acidic drink). Brushing already acidic teeth can further the erosion of your enamel. “You need to give your teeth time to remineralize after being bathed in an acidic beverage,” says Maureen McAndrew, clinical professor at the New York University School of Dentistry. “I’d wait an hour after drinking before lifting a toothbrush.”
That black char on your burger? It may contain pro-inflammatory hydrocarbons, which could present a problem since inflammation breaks down the collagen in your skin, explains Dr. Ostad. You don’t necessarily need to banish BBQ from your vocab, but at least make sure you scrape off the black stuff, and clean the grill afterward so you don’t contaminate your next meal.
You might not cook with salt, but that doesn’t guarantee your intake is low. “Many canned foods are preserved with sodium, which can make you retain water and cause a ‘puffy’ look,” says Ranella Hirsch, MD, former president of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology & Aesthetic Surgery, and dermatologist practicing in Massachusetts. Watch out for these 13 foods that are saltier than you realize, and if you need a quick fix, combat fluid retention with a moisturizer that contains caffeine (it’s known for reducing puffiness when applied topically).
Think: Deli meat, sausage, and bacon. “Many of these meats have sulfites and other preservatives, which can trigger inflammation in the skin, and accelerate the appearance of aging,” says Dr. Ostad. They also tend to be high in salt, which can make you look puffy. (Not to mention, processed red meats have been linked to heart disease.) Try swapping the deli meat on your sandwich for chicken or turkey. If you can’t say goodbye for good, use less meat, and load up on veggies.
“Fatty meat generates free radicals,” says Dr. Ostad. Free radicals are in search of missing electrons, they snag electrons from healthy cells, damaging them in the process. This damage ultimately affects your skin’s ability to protect itself and generate collagen.
While it’s fine to eat a burger here and there, don’t make it a daily habit. “You’re better off with leaner meats, like a turkey burger or chicken,” says Dr. Ostad. And remember to load up on antioxidants, both in your fridge and in your beauty bag: “Antioxidant-rich foods and serums help combat age-promoting free radicals,” says Dr. Ostad. Look for serums that have vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid).
Energy drinks may make you feel like you have the pep of a kid, but they have a not-so-youthful effect on your teeth. In fact, teeth exposed to energy drinks were stripped of more enamel than sports drinks, according to a General Dentistry study. Energy drinks were also found to be more acidic—no coincidence there. (Remember: Acidity makes your teeth more vulnerable to stains.) If you really need your energy drink fix, sip from a straw: “The less contact with your teeth, the better,” says Kantor.
All citrus wears away your enamel, but lemons may be the worst of the worst: lemon juice created the most dental damage, compared to orange and grapefruit juice, in a General Dentistry study. “Add the sugar in lemonade to the equation, and you have enamel wear from the acid, plus plaque buildup from the sugar, creating stains and decay,” says Kantor. As with energy drinks, sip from a straw if you must.
“Caffeine is like any other diuretic; it can make you excrete fluid, and deplete your body of moisture,” says Dr. Hirsch. And yes, that includes your skin: “Anything dehydrating can dehydrate your skin, making it look dull and aged.”
Good news: It’s simple to combat the consequences of one too many cups of coffee. “Moisturizer, hands down, is the easiest way to look younger instantly,” says Dr. Hirsch. Try one that has hyaluronic acid, a super-moisturizing ingredient that holds 1,000 times its weight in water.
In case the risk of heart disease isn’t enough to make you swear off trans fats for good, they may also be bad for your skin. “Trans fats promote inflammation,” says Dr. Ostad. (Inflammation is also bad news for your collagen.) Plus, the unhealthy fats may make you more vulnerable to UV damage, which is the number-one cause of aging, according a preliminary mouse study published in Lipids. Don’t be fooled by a label that says “0g trans fat,” as it can still contain under 0.5g of the artificial fat. Make sure to avoid products that list a partially hydrogenated oil on the ingredient label, too.
Caffeine isn’t the only reason drinking coffee can age you beyond your years—coffee is hard on your teeth. “Acidic beverages can create microscopic pores on the surface of the enamel, causing erosion overtime,” says McAndrew. Not ready to give up your java? (You shouldn’t: Research shows drinking coffee has several health benefits, including a possible link between coffee/caffeine and a reduced risk of skin cancer.) Just follow with a glass of water: “Water has a neutral pH, which washes away the acid,” says McAndrew. “Sugar-free gum can also reduce discoloration, since it boosts your saliva production, and saliva remineralizes your teeth.” (Remineralization helps protect your enamel.)
Thanks to the high tannin content, tea drinkers don’t get off stain-free, either. Good news, though: a new study published in the International Journal of Dental Hygiene found that the casein in milk reduced tea-induced tooth stains. Make tea au lait your go-to, and pass on the lemon: Much like the acid in coffee, citric acid makes your enamel more porous, and thus more susceptible to stains, says McAndrew.