The Anti-Inflammatory Diet That One Derm Swears by for Skin Health

Photo: Stocksy/Boninstudio
When I went to hear famed dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, MD speak a few weeks ago, two things struck me. The first was that though his eponymous skin-care line, Perricone MD, is stocked with science-backed ingredients likely to bring about a glowing complexion, he spent the bulk of the talk advocating for anti-inflammatory foods as the most critical line of defense against aging skin. The second was that he doesn't believe in the aesthetic benefits of Botox which, if you've been to just about any dermatologist lately, makes him an outlier.

Outlier, however, isn't a position with which he's totally uncomfortable. Long before it was en vogue to put forth an integrative approach to skin health, Dr. Perricone was doing so. It started, as such stories often do, with his own health journey. Dr. Perricone jokes that when he left the army before starting his medical career, he said goodbye to his fatigues, but not his fatigue.

Inflammation was present not only in diseased skin, but also in otherwise-healthy, aging skin.

In search of relief from exhaustion, he began reading up on Linus Pauling's theories regarding vitamin C and the common cold as well as radical nutritionist Adele Davis' work, both of which led him to believe that vitamins could be the missing link in his regimen. "I was convinced that supplements would help my condition and began taking them," he says. "As I experimented, I started to feel more energetic." He also turned to exercise, which he says helped him become more physically fit, productive, enthusiastic, and mentally sharp.

Dr. Perricone was slowly building the foundation for a wellness-based lifestyle, and as a dermatologist, it wasn't long before he connected the dots between such practices and skin health, too.

"It's important to remember that chronic, sub-clinical (invisible to the eye) inflammation is behind skin problems from acne to enlarged pores," says Dr. Perricone.

In exploring this connection with skin health, Dr. Perricone became obsessed with inflammation, which was not yet the health buzzword it is today. He had noticed something odd—inflammation was present not only in diseased skin, but also in otherwise-healthy, aging skin. "I was puzzled about why this was occurring. Could inflammation be causing [age-related] changes?" he questioned. Most people, he tells me, see aging skin as a result of chronological age but what he came to discover was that this isn't true—a variety of lifestyle factors are actually at work. "[Eventually], I began to consider wrinkles as a disease, since inflammation was present when damage to skin tissue resulted in wrinkles."

This revelation kicked off Dr. Perricone's anti-inflammatory approach to skincare. "Because my field is dermatology, where signs of aging and disease are so very visible, I have made it my life’s work to intervene, to halt this inflammation and reverse its negative effects internally and externally," he says. "It's important to remember that chronic, sub-clinical (invisible to the eye) inflammation is behind skin problems from acne to enlarged pores, wrinkles, sagging, loss of tone and radiance as well as dry skin."

To mediate these effects, Dr. Perricone advocates for a three-tiered approach, the foundation of which is an anti-inflammatory diet. (Salmon! Lots and lots of salmon!) Dr. Perricone believes—and has even demonstrated—that adopting a strict anti-inflammatory diet can transform your skin in as few as three days. The second tier consists of his OG obsession—inflammation-reducing vitamins and minerals specifically geared twoards skin health. "The right supplements can keep us much younger than our chronological years," he explains.

anti-inflammatory skincare
Photo: Stocksy/Kirsty Begg

As a third line of defense, Dr. Perricone recommends the topical treatments for which he has amassed a cult following. Since navigating the beauty shelves can be difficult, I ask him which hero products he'd recommend for those looking to toe-dip in. He suggests looking for the ingredient Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), which he calls "one of the most powerful anti-aging, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories available." Apparently it has 400 times the potency of vitamin C and E combined.

He also touts the benefits of an ingredient involved in his latest product launch, the Essential Fx Collection, called acyl-glutathione, a proprietary form of a superstar antioxidant called glutathione. "It is almost impossible to overstate glutathione’s importance as the body’s primary antioxidant defense system," Dr. Perricone insists.

Since our conversation, I notice I've begun looking at my diet a bit differently than I did before—vanity sometimes motivates where the vague promise of "health" does not—and my skin does appear more youthful since I started packing my plates with Perricone's favorite fish and blueberries. I've also been using the Essential Fx Collection nightly, and I swear my pronounced marionette lines have plumped in the process. Perhaps it's placebo, but if so... who cares? Prioritizing anti-inflammatory behaviors certainly can't hurt. As Dr. Perricone says: "I've never seen beautiful skin on an unhealthy patient, and I've never seen skin to be ashamed of on someone of any age who is healthy." Rx common sense, for the win.

You know who else is obsessed with inflammation? Deepak Chopra—find out why he's now singularly focused on the phenomenon. Plus, good news for vegetarians—if you're not sold on salmon, dark chocolate works, too.

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