If you’re on a perpetual journey to healthy, glowing skin, skip the trip to Sephora, head to the seafood counter and get yourself some fresh salmon.
Salmon is jam-packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been said to prevent certain cancers and even alleviate menstrual pain. If those health benefits aren’t enough to sway you to add more salmon to your diet, maybe the skin benefits will change your mind.
“I consider salmon to be one of the superfoods for skin health,” Dr. Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York told HuffPost. She added that if there were absolutely no risks associated with eating too much fish (such as ingesting high levels of mercury), she would eat it every day “because that’s how good it is for your skin.”
For years, Dr. Nicholas V. Perricone has sworn by the benefits of salmon, crediting his complexion to the fish. “If you’re eating salmon now, or taking fish-oil capsules, I’ve helped you,” he said in a 2005 New York Times profile. (Celebrities like Victoria Beckham and Mariah Carey also eat salmon-heavy diets.)
The reason the omega-3 found in salmon is so great for skin, Nazarian explained, is because it helps to calm inflammation, which can lead to a breakdown of collagen and elastin, both of which keep skin looking youthful.
Skin has a natural oil barrier that sits on top of it to protect it from the outside world, helping skin retain moisture and stay hydrated, she added.
“When you have a high level of good fat in your body it feeds the skin and allows the skin to make this healthy oil and allows the skin to be healthier,” she said. “That’s what gives skin the glow.”
Dr. Melda Isaac, a board-certified dermatologist in Washington, D.C., echoed Nazarian’s point, telling HuffPost, “Omega-3 fatty acid is going to retain moisture in your skin,” which helps with maintaining the skin’s elasticity and keeps skin looking supple.
Isaac also noted that salmon contains vitamin D, which can have photoprotective effects, meaning it can help protect the skin against the negative effects of UV rays. Vitamin D is also great for skin cell growth and repair and helps protect against free radicals.
Salmon also contains something called astaxanthin, a chemical compound known as a keto-carotenoid, which gives salmon its pink color. It is also an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, Nazarian said.
“So that helps with the same sort of thing ― creates more collagen, calms inflammation, [and is] also a fantastic anti-aging agent,” she said. (A 2012 study found that astaxanthin actually helped improve the look of wrinkles, age spots and skin texture.)
If you’re wondering how much salmon you should eat in order to start reaping its benefits, Nazarian said one palm-sized serving three times a week is plenty.
“I think, frankly, if you’re going to eat it more than that, you’ll probably get sick of it,” she said, noting that adding lean meats and fruits to your diet will provide additional antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. (Isaac likes to have blueberries, which are said to be great for brain health, and tomatoes, which are another great skin food.)
Both wild and farm-raised salmon contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids, according to the studies published by the United States Department of Agriculture. However, if you’re worried about potential additives (including pigments), you can buy wild, organic salmon. According to Nazarian, as long as you’re adding that salmon to your diet, you will still get the benefits from the omega-3 fatty acids.
In terms of whether you should eat it raw or cooked, both ways are beneficial. Additionally, a USDA study noted that baking hasn’t been proven to cause any loss of omega-3s, though you probably don’t want to overcook it.
If salmon isn’t your thing, The American Heart Association notes that mackerel, herring, sardines and albacore tuna are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. If you don’t like fish at all, there are supplements available that both Nazarian and Isaac agreed are equally as beneficial.
Now that you know just how great salmon can be for your skin (and overall health), you can try out some of our favorite salmon recipes below.