Acne is a very common skin condition. Unfortunately anyone can get acne, but it is most common in teens and young adults. An estimated 80 percent of people between ages 11 and 30 have acne outbreaks at some point. These are very tricky times as the teenage years in particular are typically characterised by not getting enough sleep, compromised nutrition and often a subpar or non-existent skincare regime.
We are seeing a rise in adult acne conditions as well, which normally points to internal issues linked to the gut and its impact on the body & skin. This has been largely overlooked in the past but it is fast becoming the future in body & skin health.
Unfortunately, the Western diet has become fast, processed and lacks in nutrients. It is high in inflammatory fats and low in fibre to fuel our bodies. Lack of education, misleading food labels deceiving consumers, poor diet and lifestyle habits can cause chronic inflammation and upset the balance of friendly gut bacteria. The link between diet and acne has been controversial in the past, but recent research shows that diet can play a significant role in acne development. We now know, as skin treatment therapists, that the choices we make when it comes to food play a big role in treating and managing inflammatory skin conditions.
Acne is a multifactorial disease with so many contributing factors including sebum & keratin production, acne-causing bacteria, hormones, blocked pores, inflammation from incorrect skincare and gut health issues.
Our skin is our largest organ and will always tell our story… When we look at the skin and see a problem, it is normally a symptom of an underlying cause, so it is essential that we treat the cause to effectively alleviate the symptom.
Refined carbohydrates and sugar (bread, crackers, cereal, pasta made with white flour, sweeteners, soft drinks, lollies, chocolate, etc) are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, which rapidly raises blood sugar levels. When blood sugars rise, insulin levels also rise to help shuttle the blood sugars out of the bloodstream and into your cells. High levels of insulin are not good for those that suffer from acne. Insulin makes androgen hormones more active and increases insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). This contributes to acne development by making skin cells grow more quickly and by boosting sebum production of iodine
Excessive milk and dairy consumption can be a trigger for acne. Cows milk spikes blood sugar, which can increase inflammation leading to pimples. It also increases insulin levels, which encourage the production of skin oils (sebum). A lot of the commercial milk we buy comes from pregnant cows, and contains other hormones that can also trigger the production of sebum.
Diets containing large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, like the typical Western diet, have been linked to increased levels of inflammation and acne. This may be because Western diets contain large amounts of corn and soy oils, which are rich in omega-6 fats, and few foods that contain omega-3 fats, like fish and walnuts. This imbalance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids pushes the body into an inflammatory state, which may worsen acne severity.
What to eat instead
While the foods discussed above may contribute to the development of acne, there are other foods and nutrients that may help keep your skin clear. These include:
Omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory and regular consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of developing acne Since acne often causes emotional distress, omega-3 and antioxidant consumption may be very beneficial for people with the condition. Think seafood, nuts and seeds.
Probiotics promote a healthy gut and balanced microbiome, which is linked to reduced inflammation and a lower risk of acne development. To increase your probiotics intake in your diet, add foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, micro-algae, miso soup, pickles and kombucha tea.
Green tea contains polyphenols that are associated with reduced inflammation and are a powerful antioxidant which will help to lower sebum production.
Turmeric contains the anti-inflammatory polyphenol curcumin, which can help regulate blood sugar, improve insulin sensitivity and inhibit the growth of acne-causing bacteria.
Foods rich in vitamin A, D, E and zinc play crucial roles in skin & immune health and may help prevent acne. Researchers have found that low levels of zinc are linked to more severe cases of acne. They suggest increasing the amount of zinc in the diet to 40mg per day to treat people with severe cases of acne. Meat, eggs, legumes and seeds are high in zinc. Spinach, carrots, sweet potato and broccoli are great sources of vitamin A. Vitamin D can be found in fatty fish, egg yolks and mushrooms. Vitamin E is contained in green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils and nuts & seeds.
The best diet advice in dealing with acne appears to be eating a wholesome, balanced diet that rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy protein sources, and whole grains.
Keep in mind that we have only provided a few examples of foods in each category above! There are many more not mentioned.