Acne is one of the most common skin conditions in the world, but very little is known about factors that influence its development. We do know that is more common in developed countries than in less industrialized regions of the world, which supports the evidence that acne can be affected by: our genes (genes vary widely from person to person, but also from culture to culture), our environment (pollution, toxicants), our lifestyles (how active we are, our stress levels), and our diet.
While there is little we can do to change our genetics, there is some compelling evidence that how we live our lives (environment, lifestyle, diet) can affect the expression of our genes. Since changing our diet is a fairly simple way to improve the quality of our lives, it’s also valuable to consider it in overcoming our acne. What’s good for our bodies, will generally also be good for our skin.
diet & acne
The relationship between diet and acne has been a contentious and controversial topic in the medical community as well as in the skin care community. Proponents of the acne diet believe that what we put into our bodies can directly influence the way our bodies function, and therefore can affect our skin; at the other end of the spectrum are those who believe that no matter what we eat, it will not impact our acne. There is certainly evidence for both sides of the debate when looking at individual cases. However, enough compelling research has surfaced that indicates there is still a significant correlation between what we consume regularly, and the health and appearance of our skin.
While there is no cookie cutter acne diet for everyone, there are some simple guidelines to follow when changing your diet to help your skin.
low & high glycemic foods in the acne diet
When you regularly consume a diet high in glycemic load, it causes the body to release a higher amount of insulin; excess insulin can then result in an overproduction of sebum which can increase your risk of acne. have found that acne patients have higher fasting blood glucose levels than those without acne, and that following a low glycemic diet improved acne along with several other acne-related parameters such as the reduction of free androgens. It follows that the acne diet should include high amounts of low glycemic foods, and habits that increase our insulin sensitivity while reducing our insulin resistance.
dairy in the acne diet
Some preliminary evidence suggests a possible link between consumption of dairy and the prevalence of acne. For example, some have surfaced indicating a strong association between high intakes of full-fat dairy products and acne in adolescence, while others have found an between skim and low-fat dairy and acne. Even consumption of (the watery part of milk that remains after the formation of curds) appears to increase the risk of developing acne. Many people self-report that after eliminating dairy from their diet, they either experienced a marked improvement in their skin, or their hormonal acne went into complete remission. Others have reported no such effects. The evidence appears to be circumstantial, but still strong enough to encourage people to consider a trial elimination.
zinc in the acne diet
Some test tube studies have shown that zinc can kill acne-causing bacteria, reduce the inflammatory response to bacteria, reduce the effects of some hormones on the skin, and act as an antioxidant in the body - it is for these reasons that zinc has enjoyed a long history of success in treating acne in some patients. One study published in found that low serum zinc levels were associated with a higher prevalence of severe acne. Similarly, another compared the serum zinc levels in 50 patients with acne and 38 controls, and found statistically significantly lower zinc levels in acne patients with advanced or severe acne compared to the control group. As the research stands, it appears to indicate that as zinc levels decrease, acne severity increases.
While zinc supplementation may not be as effective as more recent synthetic treatments in clearing acne, one of the conducted on the topic showed that zinc supplementation can significantly reduce acne lesions.
Increasing our consumption of foods high in zinc (spinach, seeds, beans and mushrooms), or supplementing with 30-40mg of zinc picolinate or zinc methionine, may drastically improve acne.
antioxidants in the acne diet
While the consumption of antioxidant supplements has not been conclusively shown to improve individual biomarkers of health, there are studies indicating that antioxidants may improve the prevalence of acne. However, it may not be the antioxidants themselves that are responsible, but other compounds present in the foods we eat.
For example, omega-3s, zinc, selenium, and vitamins A and E are thought to inhibit potentially damaging oxidizing agents in the body. Some show that self-administration of these antioxidants for an extended period did reduce overall lesion (acne) count, particularly in relation to . However, it is important to note that these observations are only suggestive, and more clinical studies are needed to solidify antioxidants’ place in the acne diet. Regardless, supplementation, or ideally, increased whole foods consumption of antioxidants, are generally considered safe to try.
summary of the acne diet
Plenty of whole foods; this means fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains. Eating a variety of foods, in a variety of forms, adds diversity and complexity to our diet, giving our bodies the necessary building blocks for clear, healthy skin.
It’s not necessary to completely eliminate entire food groups, but reducing our consumption of high glycemic foods (pastries, cookies, white bread, candy) and dairy can certainly help reduce potentially skin-aggravating insulin spikes, as well as inflammation.
Think in moderation – it’s what you do most of the time that counts. Having a cookie isn’t going to make or break your skin!
While some skeptics remain unconvinced that our diet can play a significant role in our acne, there is an abundance of research that indicates otherwise. Keep in mind that something doesn’t have to be 100% true all of the time, for it to be significant and relevant to some individuals; also keep in mind that small changes may yield small results, but even a little bit of progress is better than none at all! If you’re still confused about what a good acne diet looks like, and you need some foods to include, check out .
Don’t forget, you’re more than your acne.