With the beginning of a new year, it’s time to reevaluate your diet—for your skin’s sake

When finalizing those resolutions for the coming year, you may want to make dietary changes a top priority—and not to squeeze into that slinky dress but to dramatically improve the health and appearance of your complexion. “The skin needs a balanced diet including proteins, antioxidants, multicolored vegetables, vitamins and unsaturated fat,” says industry-leading dermatologist Dr. Zein Obagi, founder of the Obagi Skin Health Institute and a range of skincare products. “A diet that is free of hormones, preservatives and artificial coloring or flavors is necessary in order for skin cells to work properly and maintain skin functions.”

Obagi also notes that the New Year is a time when people should take a look at their skin type and its needs and reassess their overall approach to skincare. He suggests a visit to your derm might be the best way to come up with an informed and targeted plan of action for treatment. “For example, most products that provide only moisturization should be avoided and replaced by products that stimulate skin cellular activity.”

The derm, whose Southern California practice keeps him busy at his institutes in Beverly Hills, Laguna Beach and San Gabriel, notes that “dieting is an art.” In order to positively affect your skin, Obagi suggests eating lots of berries for antioxidants as well as focusing on unaltered or chemical-free foods such as natural grains, fresh meat and fruit that is not too sweet or overly ripe. Saturated fats along with foods high on the glycemic index (like potatoes, carrots and oranges) are also no-nos, but increasing fiber and vegetable intake; avoiding sugar, carbs and dehydrating substances like sodas, caffeine and alcohol; and drinking lots of water “to flush out waste products and byproducts generated by your metabolism” are essential. Plus, he says, “Without proper hydration, the skin on your face can appear drab and sunken-in.” Coupling this comprehensive and overall approach to skin health (the philosophy for which Obagi has been known for the past 30 years) with exercise creates holistic results. “Exercise is needed with a low-sugar diet in order to avoid burning protein that is needed for healthy muscles and to force the body to burn fat instead of burning sugar or protein.” The doctor also notes that dairy products rich with hormones can negatively affect acne, so go for ones that are organic, unsweetened and unflavored—and always opt for whole milk, avoiding skim or reduced-fat options. And for the juicers out there, aim for juice combos that provide fiber, antioxidants and “real nutrients” like berries, tomatoes and grapefruits while staying away from ones that are high in glucose like oranges and carrots.

It’s important to note that changing your diet can jumpstart your entire system. And there’s good reason: “Sugar and carbohydrates are the major cause of the glycation process in the body, and therefore should be reduced or eliminated from the diet. The process can cause inflammation and all-body organ failure, which includes the skin.” Talk about a reason to put down the fries and put your skin first this year!