A healthy diet and regular exercise have long been touted as the way to help us look after our bodies to live happier, longer lives.
But what we eat also has a huge impact on the condition of our skin.
That means looking at our skin can tell us a lot about our wellbeing – and just what we should be changing, not just to look better, but to live better.
Nutritionists and dermatology experts even reckon they can spot some vitamin deficiencies or serious illnesses just from the clues thrown up by our skin.
Elina Dunford, who runs a specialist clinic and the Bowl Of Goodness blog, says: “What we put in our bodies and any underlying issues can be spotted in a variety of ways.
“It’s all linked. Eating a balanced, varied diet – full of fresh vegetables and organic produce – really can be seen at face value.”
Dermatologist Nikki Watting agrees: “Our skin is our largest organ. There’s no doubt about it, when something is wrong with the body, it shows on the skin.”
Here, Elina and Nikki help us face up to some of the signs to look out for, and what they may be telling us.
Discoloured dark lips and deep mouth lines
Nikki says: “For many reasons, smoking should be avoided. Not only because of the damage it does to us internally and the higher risk of cancer, but there are also signs of it on the outside.
“What we call smokers’ lips are often categorised by darker lips and gums, which is called hyperpigmentation.
“This can happen almost immediately in some, or take years to show. It comes down to genetics, but it’s a clear indicator that someone smokes.”
Nicotine causes blood vessels to shrink and narrow, reducing blood flow and starving skin of oxygen and the nutrients it needs to remain healthy and supple.
Nikki adds: “Wrinkles around the mouth are also more prominent.
“The best thing you can do is stop smoking completely. This may not reverse damage done – try exfoliation over time or, in severe cases, laser treatment.”
Causes: Poor diet, infection, inflammation in the body
“Acne is an inflammatory condition,” says nutritionist Elina, explaining that calming inflammation in the body can ease the symptoms.
She says: “Omega-3 fats have amazing anti-inflammatory effects – so oily fish, olive oil and avocados are all great foods for skin.
“Turmeric and ginger are also natural anti-inflammatory foods, so see if you can sneak these in.”
Elina warns some foods can promote inflammation. She says: “These include conventional dairy products, alcohol, caffeine and refined vegetable oils high in omega-6 fats and trans fats – such as sunflower, corn and palm oil .
“If you’re suffering a lot, look closely at what you’re consuming.”
Causes: A hormonal imbalance and stress
“If you’re prone to bad skin purely around the chin area, this is a clear indicator your hormones are not being regulated well,” explains dermatologist Nikki.
“Hormones called androgens stimulate the production of sebum, which is the oil responsible for clogging pores. That’s why you often see acne flares during menstruation and puberty.
“The hormones that cause this type of acne are oestrogen and progesterone, which both fluctuate widely throughout the menstrual cycle month.”
Stress hormone cortisol can also lead to flare-ups.
Nikki says: “I would advise drinking lots of water, which will flush out toxins and keep skin hydrated – which makes a massive difference.
“But if your stress levels are not manageable, or if you are finding pimples all month long around your chin rather than just at your time of the month, I would suggest going to your GP for some tests.”
Nutritionist Elina adds: “Increase your intake of omega-3 essential fatty acids to help balance your hormones and to benefit from their anti-inflammatory effects.
“Good sources include oily fish, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts.”
Dark circles, saggy eyelids and deep wrinkles
Cause: Too much sugar
Elina says: “If you find your face is ageing quicker than it should, you need to avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates – or limit your intake.
“This includes white bread, white rice, white flour and so on, which all contribute to premature ageing and deep wrinkles.
“Sugar destroys collagen in our skin, making it age faster.”
Nikki agrees: “Excess processed sugar in your diet – even in small amounts – can cause dark circles, wrinkles, dehydrate skin and can fast track the ageing process.
“When sugar enters your blood stream, it binds to proteins. That includes elastin and collagen – which are both proteins and are the building blocks of the skin.”
Dry skin patches/psoriasis
Cause: Underlying liver issues
Nutritionist Elina says: “The liver is the body’s main detoxification organ. Its job is to break down harmful toxins so they can be expelled safely from the body.
“It also removes other unwanted substances, such as ‘used’ hormones – so when it’s not working optimally, hormone imbalances may occur.”
Dermatologist Nikki adds: “Severe dry skin, cuts which do not heal quickly or repeated dry patches – including conditions like eczema and psoriasis – are all signs something isn’t operating as it should.
“If you’re fighting an illness, this could be a blip. If it’s a recurrent issue and you’re finding you are prone to illnesses, I would highly recommend going to the doctor to check your liver function.”
Elina says: “Turmeric is excellent for liver enzymes. To support liver function, include plenty of brassica veg such as broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and dark green leafy vegetables – kale, spinach and watercress.
“Fibre clears toxins too – go for fruit, veg, whole grains and beans.”