When researching the relationship between diet and acne, you will likely run into the consensus that ‘It’s complicated.’ During the 1930s, doctors acknowledged a connection; then two influential studies ‘proved’ otherwise and the theory was relegated to myth. Researchers have only during the past 15 years or so again investigated the link between acne and what you put in your mouth, and while little is conclusive, the evidence is strong – your diet can probably cause acne or exacerbate breakouts.
But before we start – never rely only on the Internet for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. These guidelines are only for informational purposes. If your skin condition is serious, visit a dermatologist 👩⚕️.
It’s important to remember that changing only your diet will not eliminate acne completely. Many people have seen improvement on a sensible acne diet 🥗, but to prevent breakouts, a gentle, regular skincare routine is also important. More on that later.
First, let’s review some of the changes you could make to your diet to supplement that routine.
Acne, Sugar and Glycemic Indices
There are many theories regarding the link between diet and acne, but one of the most pervasive ones that research also supports is the connection between acne vulgaris and blood sugar fluctuations. To understand this – a bit of theory first.
Your body’s blood sugar level rises and falls based on the carbohydrates you eat 🍣. These levels are determined by a food’s Glycemic Index (GI) and its Glycemic Load (GL). We like the Glycemic Index Foundation’s explanation of these terms the best.
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a relative ranking of carbohydrate in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels. … How high (blood glucose) rises and how long it stays high depends on the quality of the carbohydrates (the GI) as well as the quantity. Glycemic Load (or GL) combines both the quantity and quality of carbohydrates.
So, the idea is that you may improve your skin condition by eating fewer foods with a high glycemic load, and more fiber-rich, unrefined foods.
What Are Simple Carbs?
Simple or refined carbs are highly processed foods such as white bread 🍞, white rice 🍚, fast foods, most breakfast cereals, and most sugary stuff – the list is long. These tend to be low in fiber and they all have a high GI, meaning they are quickly digested and metabolized into sugar.
A diet with a high glycemic index is associated with increased inflammation in the body, weight gain, and a host of other health issues, including acne vulgaris.
What Are Complex Carbs?
Very simply put – most unprocessed food, including most fruits and vegetables and foods rich in fiber have a lower glycemic load, which means they are digested and metabolized slowly, resulting in no sudden spike in your blood sugar. Instead of eating chips 🍪 or pretzels, snack on Brazil nuts 🥜, or pumpkin seeds, for instance. These are the type of acne foods you want to include in your diet.
What Does High Blood Sugar Do, Exactly?
When blood sugar levels suddenly jump up, your body has to produce more insulin to regulate this process, which is where acne comes in. Whenever a lot of insulin is released, it triggers an inflammatory response in the body, and together with this, oil production in the skin – two of the three main culprits behind acne.
Increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, such as spinach, whole grains, and legumes will prevent sudden spikes in blood glucose. So, following a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and eating enough portions per day of unprocessed, fiber-rich foods may help you get rid of acne vulgaris.
But no conversation about diet and acne is complete without discussing supplements.
Get Your Daily Dose of Zinc
A recent review of the literature says that zinc is promising, perhaps even great treatment of acne due to its lack of systemic side effects, low cost and, of course, efficacy to treat this skin condition. Supplementing with zinc 💊 is good, especially with another acne-fighting nutrient, vitamin C, which will help reduce inflammation and support the immune system. However, you could ingest enough of this great mineral by sticking to a great acne diet too 🤔.
Which Foods Contain Zinc?
Most meat, including fish 🐟, contains a significant amount of zinc. Spinach, nuts, and legumes are also excellent sources; so basically – eat many of the complex carbs.
Dairy is also known for its elevated zinc levels, but there is some debate in the research community on whether or not especially milk is good for your skin. Some sources say that the hormones in milk 🐄contribute to oil production, but much more research is needed in this regard.
How Does Zinc Help For Acne?
Another, older article explains why zinc seems to work, saying that there’s a …
…preponderance of evidence (that) suggests zinc has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects and that it may decrease sebum production.
This means the data indicates that zinc reduces the main underlying cause of acne -systemic inflammation – due to its antioxidant action; it also kills bacteria, including P.acnes 🦠, and it decreases oil production in the skin.
But we love the next nutrient for various reasons – Omega 3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 Fats Are Good for Your Heart and Your Skin
Fat is not all bad – some types of fats are essential for your overall health.
Different Types of Omega-3
There are three different varieties of Omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (AHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). All three have essential functions in the body, but EPA and DHA 🐟 fats typically provide the best-known health benefits. Much of a Western diet includes Omega-6 fats, which are commonly found in more processed food. The ideal ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 consumption is 2:1. Currently, in the North American diet it is 20:1. This could explain a lot of health issues, not only acne.
Foods Containing The Healthy Omegas
Foods like walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds, also fatty fish 🐟 (think salmon, trout, mackerel, cod, and tuna) contain lots of Omega-3 fatty acids.
The other way to get your dose of Omega-3 fats (especially if you’re worried about mercury toxicity in fish) is a good supplement. Plant oils high in this essential fatty acid include walnuts 🥜, pumpkin seeds, soy foods, and so forth.
What Does The Research Say?
More controlled trials are needed but it seems Omega 3 fatty acids are so effective because they decrease inflammation throughout the body. This can keep both arteries and pores from clogging, and even improve your mental health. One case study report indicated that EPA and antioxidant supplements “have improved inflammatory acne lesions and global aspects of well-being.”
The Power of Antioxidants
Of course, we have to discuss antioxidants too. They are known to neutralize chemicals in the body called “free radicals.” These free radicals harm cells on the molecular level, which often leads to premature cell decay, but it can also trigger inflammation 🔥.
Recent research has found that, even though acne has many interrelated causes, it is primarily an inflammatory disease. This means if we can decrease inflammation, we stand a much better chance of attaining clear skin 🍃.
Which Foods Are Antioxidant-Rich?
Because of that, foods with antioxidants are top of the list to help fight acne. Fruits and veggies, especially berries and leafy greens, are among the best sources of antioxidants. Research has shown another of our favorite foods contains flavonoids, which are potent antioxidants—chocolate 🍫. Vegetables etc. can be delicious, but it’s great to recommend food that can satisfy your sweet tooth and help clear your acne at the same time! Well, sort of. (Remember, we don’t provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment instructions…)
Other research has unfortunately linked acne with increased dark chocolate intake ⚠️, so be cautious not to over-indulge. A bit every now and then won’t hurt, though, and besides, everyone knows that it’s good for the soul.
Vitamin A and Vitamin E Are Important
The last food groups we want to recommend are those with lots of vitamin A or vitamin E—bonus points if they have both! One small study demonstrated that people with acne, especially severe acne, tend to have vitamin A and vitamin E deficiencies. So, increasing your intake of both could reduce the severity of your acne or even prevent it.
If you have more pimples than blackheads, or even if you have cystic acne, we recommend boosting your vitamin A. It has antibacterial properties, so it could help limit the number of P. acnes bacteria 🦠 living on your skin or getting trapped in your pores.
Interestingly, topically applied vitamin A is not a long-term solution for everyone. Researchers noted that,
Vitamin A acid increased the rate of production of loose horny cells in the follicular canal, thus preventing formation of comedones [blackheads] and unseating existing ones.
However, relapses occur when treatment is terminated in some people.
Which Foods Contain these Vitamins?
Unlike many other foods on this list, which focus on dark, leafy greens, most foods with a good amount of vitamin A in them are orange 🥕. Carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, cantaloupe, apricots—all orange! Kale, spinach, and collard greens are also excellent sources of vitamin A, so there are still plenty of greens involved. Vitamin A can also be found in a variety of spices 🌶️, from cayenne pepper to paprika.
Vitamin E also falls into the category of antioxidants, of which the body prefers a specific type – α-tocopherol. Studies show that it is very good at destroying free radicals and protecting your body from premature cell decay and inflammation 🔥.
The Best Acne Treatment
Some studies suggest that there are foods that help acne, but diet studies are often less reliable than other forms of research, and even if you do find foods that help your own acne, they won’t clear it completely.
A Good Skincare Regime Is Very Important
For that, you need a skincare system 🍃 that takes care of your skin while fighting acne. Unfortunately, many acne products can actually cause more acne than they treat because they cause inflammation, which we now know is a big acne issue. Lots of acne products promise to provide immediate results, so they use ingredients that are too harsh. Acne goes away quickly, but then it returns worse than before because irritated skin is inflamed skin.
Exposed Skin Care 🏆 is different because we believe in long-term acne treatment. No one wants clear skin for just a few weeks. We want clear skin for life.
The best way to accomplish that is through gentle, consistent care. The Exposed 3 system combines natural and scientific ingredients that are designed to keep your skin healthy while they fight acne.
Our Basic Kit uses scientific ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, and natural ingredients like tea tree oil and aloe vera. Benzoyl peroxide and tea tree oil are both known as effective ingredients for killing p. acnes bacteria. Salicylic acid is an excellent exfoliating agent, and aloe vera protects the skin from damage and inflammation.
If you want to alter your diet 🍲 to include more vitamins, antioxidants, and healthy Omega-3 fats, you might see some mild improvement in your acne, and if you combine your new diet with the Exposed Skin Care system, you could see completely clear skin.