Not everyone that eats a bad diet will get acne. But for those who have acne prone skin, eating the right diet will help in both the clearing of the skin, and in the prevention of new blemishes.
Let’s start by looking at which foods can cause acne.
Simple carbohydrates are the main food group that can cause acne.
The connection between simple carbohydrates and the skin is through a complex pathway of reactions in the body. These reactions lead to elevated levels of the male sex hormone DHT, and therefore increased sebum production. And when there is an increase in sebum production, there is always a much higher possibility of acne.
Simple carbohydrates include the following:
- Refined sugars (white sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup, high fructose syrup)
- White flours (bread, pasta, wheat tortillas, etc.)
- Fruit juices
- Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.)
Fruits are packed full of essential vitamins and minerals and are important in a healthy diet, but they are also very high in sugars.
When eating for clearing or the prevention of acne, it is better to consume fruits in their whole form and not fruit juices. As juices are significantly higher in sugars.
Whole fruits also contain fiber, which helps to keep the digestive system healthy. And when we have a healthy digestive system, we are less likely to have acne.
It is also beneficial in healing the skin to consume fruits that have a lower glycemic index (a value used to measure how much specific foods increase blood sugar levels).
Low glycemic index fruits include:
Always practice moderation! It’s okay to eat a variety of fruits with a higher glycemic index, just in smaller amounts.
Animal dairy (cow, goat, etc.) contains insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). An elevated level of IGF-1 is associated with insulin resistance, as well as an increase in 5a-Reductase Activity. Both can result in higher levels of the male sex hormone DHT, and therefore acne.
Allergies and intolerances
Foods that the body has an allergy or intolerance to contribute to inflammation, and therefore potentially a worsening of the skin.
One of the most common food intolerances is a sensitivity to gluten. Those with a gluten sensitivity may experience headaches, brain fog and depression, as well as acne from consuming foods that contain gluten.
Glutenous foods include:
Gluten can also be found in processed products, such as soy sauce, ketchup and ice-creams.
Why doesn’t everyone with a bad diet have acne?
Some people are acne prone, and others just aren’t.
It does not mean that someone who eats a diet high in acne causing foods and does not get acne that they’re necessarily any healthier. It just means that their imbalances will manifest in the body in a different way.
Oftentimes acne prone skin can also change with age. As a woman approaches the age of menopause, she may find that she no longer has any issues with acne.
Some women also find that after pregnancy they no longer have acne prone skin, even after eating the same foods as before. It can also be the case however that a woman finds an increase in her acne during and post pregnancy.
Do I need to cut out acne causing foods completely?
Whilst it is best to reduce acne causing foods in the diet, it is always best to practice moderation. For any of these food groups to be the sole cause of the acne, they need to be consumed on a regular basis.
So it is possible to consume these food groups in small amounts and in moderation, without them causing acne.
Foods that help to clear the skin
Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect which helps to clear acne lesions. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, sardines, chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts.
We need to consume good fats in order to build healthy levels of progesterone in the body. Progesterone is a hormone that helps to keep cycles regular, minimise PMS and to clear acne. Foods that contain good fats include coconut oil, cacao butter and dark chocolate, fatty fish, avocado, nuts and seeds, olives and olive oil.
Dark leafy greens are a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals, which make them a great supportive food in any healing regime. Some of the most common dark leafy greens include kale, spinach, swiss chard and bok choy.
Most dark leafy greens (with the exception of spinach and lettuce) are classed as cruciferous vegetables. Whilst it’s important to include dark leafy greens into a healthy diet, it is equally important to do so in moderation. As consumption of cruciferous vegetables in high doses over a long period of time can contribute to hypothyroidism.
Consuming good levels of protein in the diet is essential for healthy hormones. Low levels of protein intake has been linked to low estrogen, low progesterone and compromised thyroid function. Without healthy functioning hormones from a lack of protein in the diet, a woman can develop acne due to estrogen dominance.
Protein in the diet is also essential for blood sugar balancing. As protein lowers the glucose load of a meal and improves the blood glucose response. Keeping blood sugar levels in balance is one of the best ways to keep the skin clear.
There are many protein options for all diet choices, including vegetarian and vegan. Good proteins include meat and chicken, dairy, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, quinoa, tofu, legumes. It’s important to note here that dairy products can be a cause of acne, including both cow’s and goat’s dairy.
The best diet for acne
In summary, the best diet for the healing and prevention of acne is the following:
- High vegetable intake, with a variety of vegetables including dark leafy greens (aim for one cup of vegetables in each meal).
- High good fats.
- A protein source in each meal.
- Whole grains, preferably gluten-free.
- Whole low glycemic fruits (not juice).
- Only small amounts of natural sugars (honey, maple syrup)
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