Today I’m going to be answering the question ‘does diet cause acne’ and other common queries surrounding diet and acne.
We all seem to be suffering with problematic skin in one way or another, whether it’s acne, eczema, scarring, or psoriasis there’s not a corner of the UK that’s safe from skin struggles. We spend approximately £300 billion per year on keeping ourselves looking our best, but are products and potions really going to be the answer to our skin problems?
I spent the last 14 years fighting acne, oily skin, and uneven skin tone with countless products and treatments, and nothing worked. It was all a complete waste of time that caused a huge amount of disappointment and heartache. What was the answer to my problems? My diet of course! All these topical lotions and treatments only ever really cover up the symptoms temporarily, or in some case, not at all. We need to stop looking for that miracle product that promised a clear complexion and turn our attention onto finding the root cause of our body imbalances. Only then will we be able to achieve the clear skin of our dreams. See, acne doesn’t just happen, it’s a symptom of a deeper imbalance within the body. It’s your body’s way of telling you that something is off kilter and when your body is imbalanced it’s prone to disease.
A healthy diet and good digestion aren’t optional for healthy skin, they’re essential!
A healthy diet and good digestion aren’t optional for healthy skin, they’re essential! If you want to change the outside I’m afraid you won’t get very far without changing the inside. Healing your body from the inside out is the only way that will bring those permanent results.
IS YOUR DIET CAUSING ACNE?
If you’ve ever been to the doctors about your acne then you’ll have probably have been told that diet and acne have no connection and there’s no point giving up sugar/dairy/gluten as it won’t have any affect on your acne… My GP was more interested in putting me back on The Pill and referring me for Accutane than giving me some sound advice on nutrition. Lucky for me, my GP’s recommendations fell on deaf ears as I knew my diet had everything to do with my acne. Years of avoiding vegetables and eating a completely nutrient deficient, inflammatory diet meant that everything from my digestive system to my hormones were paying the price.
HOW TO EAT FOR ACNE
Give yourself the challenge of drinking 2 litres of water, eating lots of vegetables a day and enjoying a nutrient rich diet containing lots of healthy fats, organic cuts of meat and eggs, wild caught fish, 1-2 portions of nuts/seeds and lots of herbs and spices and avoiding these 4 food groups as much as possible.
If you don’t feel you can do this, then don’t beat yourself up about it. Just make a conscious decision to eat more vegetables a day and make some smart switches with your grocery shopping such as swapping white rice for quinoa, cows milk for almond milk and coffee for chicory root or herbal tea. As you begin to feel more energise and your skin starts to glow you’ll find yourself not wanting all the unhealthy snacks that used to be such a huge part of your day and eating healthier will come naturally to you.
DIET AND ACNE: TIPS FOR CLEARER SKIN
- Eat plenty of veg a day
- Enjoy the food you eat
- Avoid processed food that contains ingredients you don’t recognise
- Dairy (cows milk) free as much as possible
- Gluten/grain free as much as possible (quinoa and amaranth are fine)
- Reduce alcohol consumption
- Eliminate refined sugar
- Cook your meals/avoid raw foods
- Eat LOTS of healthy fats (organic meat, ghee, eggs, avocado, coconut)
- Chew your food well
- Be savvy with supplementation if you follow a diet that restricts key nutrients (i.e vegetarian/vegan/raw)
This list of ‘rules’ may seem quite long for someone whose trying to promote stress-free eating habits, but hear me out. It’s all pretty much common sense. DON’T eat tonnes of foods that contain ingredients you don’t understand. Instead, eat lots of foods that ARE ingredients a.k.a wholefoods and ensure each meal contains a full spectrum of quality nutrients; protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO GIVE EVERYTHING UP FOREVER
You don’t have to choose between having clear skin or enjoying the foods you love. You just have to be smart about it
I’m a big believer in complete balance as part of a healthy diet. I spent the best part of a year strictly gluten free, dairy free, refined sugar free, natural sugar free (including fruit!) and mostly grain-free as I’d developed some unhealthy obsessions and a totally irrational fear that all all foods except meat, fish and green vegetables were making my acne worse. To my friends and family, I was the healthiest person they knew, yet I didn’t feel like it. Not by a long way!
The more you believe certain foods will cause acne breakouts, the more likely it will come true.
Why? Because I wasn’t happy. All the stress and anxiety I caused myself over my diet was making me self conscious and miserable. I knew that unless I worked out a way to stop my anxiety over my food choices, I was never going to be truly healthy.
IS ORTHOREXIA MAKING YOUR ACNE WORSE?
Orthorexia is an eating disorder where the sufferer is obsessed with eating healthy foods or solely foods that they feel is safe or correct for their body/skin type. Orthorexia is becoming more and more of an issue in today’s society, and those who suffer from acne are at a high risk from developing the disorder. When your skin feels like it’s behaving in a way that’s totally out of your control, your diet and what you eat is one of the few variables you are able to control.
If you relate to any of the points below then it’s essential that you address your issues and reach out for support if you need it.
- You like to prove you’re healthy by posting your healthy meal choices on social media
- You are constantly cutting foods/food groups out of your diet
- You feel guilty if you eat any foods that you don’t consider ‘healthy’
- You feel anxious at the thought of eating away from home where you can control the food being served
- You spend more that 3 hours a day thinking/cooking/talking about healthy food
- The more you eat well, the less you enjoy life
- You get stricter with your diet when you have a breakout
- You look down on others who don’t eat as healthfully as you
- You feel a great sense of satisfaction when you eat the way ‘you’re supposed to’
I don’t often talk about it to anyone, but orthorexia is something I struggled with in the earlier stages of my natural acne healing and is one of the reasons it took me so long to fully heal. My own personal battle with this disorder isn’t something I really discuss openly but coming out the other side of my battle with Orthorexia made me realise the importance of eating a balanced, non-restrictive diet – a diet that includes chocolate, chips and wine!
How you feel is an essential part of being healthy. If the idea of cutting your favourite foods forever is going to make you stressed, anxious and miserable, then it’s not worth it and you won’t see the benefits in your skin. The more you believe certain foods will trigger acne, the more likely that it will. Why? Because stress is the number one worst thing for acne and if you’re stressing about a burger you’ve just eaten, then it’s much more likely that the stress is causing your breakout rather than the burger itself.
How you feel is an essential part of being healthy.
Don’t be so hard on yourself and allow yourself to relax over your food choices. The best thing you can do for your skin is enjoy a healthy balanced diet, predominantly free from refined processed foods and rich in plenty of vegetables and fruits, but still allow yourself a glass of wine on a Friday night or a bowl of chips when you go out for dinner with friends and even (shock horror) allow yourself a bit of ketchup on the side!
As long as you stick to a mainly healthy, predominantly cooked diet, then the occasional treat is not going to cause a full face of acne the following day. I PROMISE YOU. I know how hard this can be to accept, I’ve been there. At a time when my skin was at its worst, I was over analysing and obsessing about every single thing that I ate, believing that my diet caused my acne breakouts. When in fact, no amount of diet restrictions was going to make my acne go away even faster. Most of us with long term acne are suffering from chronic inflammation deep within the body and while your overall food choices are the foundation to clear, healthy skin, the odd treat is NOT going to have a disastrous effect on your face.
Don’t be so hard on yourself and allow yourself to relax over your food choices.
Charting my basal body temperature and tracking my skin via my Clue app was one of the ways I was able to change my mindset, break away from Orthorexia and slowly stop believing that my food choices were causing my acne. By taking my temperature each morning and logging when I got a breakout on my phone, I was clearly able to see that my breakouts occurred exactly halfway through my cycle (day 14) and 4/5 days before my period was due. I was also able to pin-point key issues within my cycle that pushed me to give my hormones a bit of extra love via supplementation and lifestyle changes and stop obsessing over my diet.
Over the space of 2 years, I tried everything from the paleo diet, giving up eggs, alcohol,nightshades, going totally vegan and most shockingly a 4 day WATER-ONLY ‘cleanse’ followed immediately a 15 day juice-only cleanse. All these ‘diets’ had their restrictions and it was only when I finally let go and stopped being restricted by my food choices, was I able to chill out, allow my stress levels to balance out and finally start seeing improvements in my skin. It took me a long time to stop being obsessively afraid of food, and even now I still occasionally find myself worrying about a ‘bad food choice’ I made and I have to consciously reign my thoughts in but overall, I’ve learnt that being ‘too healthy’ actually has more unwanted side effects, such as increased stress, anxiety and unhealthy obsessive habits that can contribute to hormone imbalances, acne and other skin problems than a couple of ‘off diet’ treats a week.
REPAIRING YOUR GUT TO HEAL ACNE
While many people see incredible benefits in their acne from just cutting out the crap and switching to a healthier diet, some of us aren’t that lucky. If you’ve recently come of the contraceptive pill or have spent the majority of your life eating a nutrient empty diet then you will need to make healthier food choices as well as some lifestyle changes to get your skin totally clear.
You gut health is essential to healing acne and many experts believe that poor gut function is the root of all illness and disease. If your intestines are eliminating wastes effectively, you will excrete them via bowel motions – ideally one to three times every day. However, most people do not achieve this so aren’t eliminating toxins efficiently enough which can cause a huge backlog in your system.
Berberine helps acne AND gut issues by improving intestinal permeability, reducing inflammation, reducing testosterone in women, improving insulin sensitivity and it’s also a natural antibiotic.
To get your digestive system back into peak condition I strongly recommend taking a high quality probiotic. This will help repopulate the good bacteria in your gut and promote a healthy digestive transit. Many people find that adding a quality probiotic to their routine hugely improves acne, however there is a small proportion of people that find traditional probiotics actually make their acne worse.
These people often have more challenging gut issues including SIBO, or Small Intestine Bacteria Overgrowth. This is where abnormally large numbers of bacteria are present in the small intestine and interfere with digestion of food and absorption of nutrients. SIBO can also lead to Leaky Gut Syndrome, or intestinal hyperpermeability, which is where the barrier between the inside of the gut and the rest of the body lets substances leak into the bloodstream, triggering the immune system and causing persistent inflammation throughout the whole body. OH HELLO ACNE!
Probiotics can cause mayhem for some people as probiotics are designed for your digestive system and a leaky gut means anything passing through can pass through the gut lining and cause further issues and inflammation, including the bacteria strains found in probiotics!
If you find that fermented foods or probiotics make your acne worse then I recommend focussing on healing your gut for 1-2 months before introducing any probiotics. One of the best ways you can repair your gut AND fight acne at the same time is a high fat diet (fat is extremely healing) and the supplement Berberine. Berberine helps acne and gut issues by improving intestinal permeability, reducing inflammation, reducing testosterone in women, improving insulin sensitivity and it’s also a natural antibiotic. One study even showed that Berberine improved acne by 45% in just one month! The recommended dose for Berberine is 500mg three times a day (some may find this dose too strong and need to reduce to 500mg twice a day) for 2 months only, then take a month off, and if needed do another 8 week course.
For more information in SIBO and gut health, check out Chris Kresser’s blog
So, when it comes to diet and acne, it’s important to be conscious of the food that fuels you but at the same time it’s equally as important not to stress about your food choices. Your gut health is an essential part of clearing your acne but at the same time, enjoying food from time to time that may be classed as an acne trigger is NOT going to set you back in your acne clearing journey. The bottom line is: don’t be afraid of food. Acne is so much deeper than the occasional piece of cake and as soon as you learn to love food again and relax into healthier mindset when it comes to eating, you will start seeing improvements in more aspects of your life than just your skin.
Peace, Love & Clear Skin