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Fennel citrus salad, high in vitamin C, is a recipe promoting skin health.

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It comes from the inside out. It’s only skin-deep and it’s all in the eye of the beholder. In spite of these old adages, our attempts to be beautiful and to defy age has sponsored a multi-billion-dollar skin care industry. Is youthful skin a product of those creams we rub into our faces, or does beauty really come from within?

Raising a daughter, I try not to put a lot of emphasis on her looks because as she grows up, I know society will do that for me. We’ve all experienced strangers commenting on our beautiful baby. Finally, I started to respond that not only was she beautiful, she was smart, too.

Culturally, we’ve decided not to leave our beauty up to the beholder. For some of us, beauty seems like the most important thing we can achieve in life. Skin care regimes and a bazillion makeup products, fillers, implants, lasers and plastic surgery abound in this country. “Vampire facials,” a platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP), where practitioners remove a participant’s blood only to reinsert it have become popular. The days-long recovery period during which people walk around looking perpetually sunburned doesn’t faze its victims. We’ve become obsessed with aging as youthfully as possible and while that seems reasonable to some extent, how far are we willing to go for beautiful skin?

Most of us have tried copious numbers of skin care products either to solve a problem or to fix our well-earned laugh lines. Very often, we search for the next magic bullet we can rub into our faces and look for immediate results. I’ve bought products doctors have recommended and have purchased things my friends use, sight unseen. I’ve even made rash decisions about skin creams based on their appealing names. If it’s called “Bye Bye Wrinkles,” count me in! Is the truth in the pudding, or in this case the serum, or does food play a role in getting us that youthful glow?

Jen Makes Herstory

It turns out foods are pivotal for good skin. Powerhouse and former Power Ranger, Jennifer Yen, created her own skin care line, Purlisse, based on her grandmother’s Asian remedies in 2007. The caked-on makeup applied on set took its toll and Jen suffered from nearly every skin issue imaginable. “I developed a lot of skin conditions like rosacea, adult acne, psoriasis [and eczema] … I went to several dermatologists, nothing worked, so I started using my grandmother’s Asian beauty rituals. I remember that my grandmother always had white tea brewed, but at room temperature. For us, she would pour tea right on our cuts and rashes as an antiseptic.”

We speak in between meetings, as she dashes from one to another. In addition to teas, Yen recalls that her grandmother would prepare the entire blue lotus root, which serves as one of the ingredients in her Purlisse cleanser today. She would brew it with white tea, steam the lotus root and then sautéed the seeds for the kids to eat. Another ingredient in her cleanser is soy milk. “[My grandmother] would wash her face with it because she believed it left her with this beautiful, creamy porcelain-like appearance,” Yen tells me.

In 2015, after the birth of her daughter, Yen again suffered from skin issues. A Chinese ritual called “sitting out” gave her time to heal and replenish. Her mother gave her foods like black chicken soup with black rice, black seaweed, black mushrooms and black sesame oil. She dined on black chia seed pudding with black Korean raspberries and as she healed, she came up with a new idea for her makeup line, Yensa.

Nature Nurtures

It hits me that I’ve never heard of so many dark foods in one dish and didn’t even know black chickens existed. In response to my question about black foods, Yen replies that they’re filled with antioxidants and are restorative. She cites that black seaweed is high in vitamins B and C and tells me that black sesame oil is high in amino acids. It’s even amazing as a hair oil, leaving hair black and shiny. Black rice, she says, is hydrating and it is reported to be good for aging, fine lines and breakouts.

Yen adds that once in a while, she would incorporate a smoothie, but that she ate mostly warm foods. There’s something to that, as most Asian cultures drink only room-temperature water, which is reported to be pivotal in skin health and longevity. It’s said that if we don’t incorporate this step, nothing else we do will matter. Drinking hot water on the daily is rumored to help with digestion in addition to a host of other ailments including high blood pressure and even the big C.

With research calling into question the use of parabens as a preservative in products (although I’ve had dermatologists recommend products that contain them), natural ingredients have sponsored the clean makeup revolution. Yen was ahead of her time incorporating them based on rituals handed down through generations, but she also works with the best biochemists and formulators in the biz to get it right. When asked how important eating is for skin, she declares that a good diet is “vital.” She steers clear of highly fragranced ingredients and mineral oil, which is derived from petroleum, as it’s not renewable.

In addition to all the black-hued foods that Yen focused on, steering clear of inflammatory foods like sugar, corn and soybean oil among so many others is helpful for skin quality as well. Focusing on healthy fats like avocados and olive oil can restore our natural glow. Healthy nuts and brightly colored fruits and veggies contain lots of those antioxidants we love. Seafood like wild-caught salmon is high in omega-3s, which reduce inflammation and are even said to make us less sensitive to harmful UV rays.

Vitamin E and zinc are good for skin as well, and can be found in seafood. Foods rich in beta-carotene like carrots and sweet potatoes help protect the skin and those that contain vitamin C like red and yellow bell peppers promote collagen.

Bad Booze Bears

The bad news for any of us who like to swill a pint or two is that Yen doesn’t drink alcohol and it’s not recommended by many skin gurus, if any. Collectively, the consensus is that alcohol is one of the number one things that dries out our skin and makes us ripe for wrinkles.

Dairy is a tricky slope for many when it comes to skin reactions and processed food is simply a vehicle for inflammatory ingredients. If you don’t know where to start, try adding or eliminating one food at a time without changing your skin care regimen to see what the effects are. Give it a good week to observe any changes.

Fennel Citrus Salad

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Ingredients

1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly on a mandoline or by hand

1 orange, sectioned

1 avocado

2 tablespoons lemon juice

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ teaspoon raw honey

Method

Arrange thinly sliced fennel on plate.

Over a strainer placed in a small mixing bowl, peel orange, removing the membrane between sections.

Place peeled orange sections in the strainer, allowing the juice to drip into bowl.

Add orange sections to fennel arrangement.

To the bowl with orange drippings, add lemon juice, olive oil, honey and salt and pepper.

Whisk until combined.

Dress salad, toss and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Top with fennel fronds and avocado just before serving.

Add arugula if desired.

Katharine A. Jameson, a certified nutrition counselor who grew up in Williamsville and Townshend, writes about food and health for Vermont News & Media. For more tricks, tips and hacks, find her on Instagram: @foodforthoughtwithkat