Treating the Skin from the Inside Out

Feb. 4, 2020


Olive oil being poured into a glass bowl
While many common skin conditions are directly related to inflammation and may be improved by diet, nutrition experts aren’t commonly used or called upon by dermatologists—the department of nutritional sciences' Martina Cartwright is on a mission to change that.

What if the plight of acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, or even the signs of aging could be improved by simple dietary changes? While many common skin conditions are directly related to inflammation and may be improved by diet, nutrition experts aren’t commonly used or called upon by dermatologists.

That could change with a recent review article from the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology that highlights new approaches to skin care and skin health, beyond drugs or topical treatments.

“The review is the first article to be published in a medical journal to discuss dermatology Medical Nutrition Therapy pathways in detail, describing how physicians in practice can utilize an registered dietitian to positively impact patient care,” said Martina Cartwright, lead author on the review and director of continuing professional education in the University of Arizona department of nutritional sciences.

Medical Nutrition Therapy refers to the collaboration between a physician and a registered dietitian in creating a comprehensive nutrition care plan to address specific health conditions. The concept is nothing new—Medical Nutrition Therapy has been successfully used to treat diabetes, hypertension, and other disorders.

“Registered Dietitians are essential to creating a nutrition plan that is tailored to a patient with a skin condition—one that fosters optimal nutrition by adding or limiting foods or nutrients that may affect the skin health,” Cartwright said.


Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting up to 50 million Americans annually, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). While the AAD does not advocate specific dietary changes in the management of acne just yet, emerging data suggests high glycemic index diets and frequent dairy intake are factors in acne severity.

Reducing or limiting certain dairy products, while shifting to an anti-inflammatory diet rich in probiotic foods may lessen the severity and appearance of acne.


As food allergies are strongly associated with atopic dermatitis, or eczema, a registered dietitian can help structure an elimination diet to identify dietary triggers.

For instance, in children, eczema flare ups can be linked to eggs, wheat, soy, and peanuts. In adults, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, shellfish, and pollen associated foods like tomatoes, chamomile, bananas, cantaloupe, honeydew, and celery may be triggers.


According to the review, spicy and hot foods may exacerbate rosacea, the same is true for both alcohol and caffeine. Additionally, histamine laden foods like cola, soy, and processed meats may exacerbate redness in some patients.


Psoriasis, which affects 7.5 million people in the United States, is often associated with cardiovascular disease and obesity. Weight management and waist circumference reduction can greatly improve psoriasis and Medical Nutrition Therapy methods can be applied and are often covered by insurance for conditions associated with the disease, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Reducing Inflammation Through Diet

Rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, red wine, as well as fish and olive oil, the Mediterranean Diet has largely been one of the most favored anti-inflammation diets for decades. In addition to reducing inflammation, according to the review article, it may improve skin tone, texture, and the appearance of older skin.

Waves of Change

The role of nutrition in dermatology is already garnering significant attention. A true champion for Medical Nutrition Therapy, Cartwright will be presenting “The Role of Nutrition and Skin Health” at the 2020 American Academy of Dermatology annual conference in Denver Colorado this March.

“The American Academy of Dermatology program will bring a lot of attention to this important topic and has already created a buzz among dermatologists and Academy watchers,” Cartwright said.

As for those interested in incorporating nutritional pathways into their existing treatment plans, Cartwright emphasizes, “People with skin issues should know that diet can play a role in reducing symptoms but is not a cure. An RD can help design a tailored meal pattern that optimizes nutrition and promotes skin health from the inside out.”