Acne Woes: Foods to Eat for Healthy Skin
A fellow reader asked me this:
‘Hi Nat, What foods cause acne? Do you have any recommendations for someone who has skin that is prone to break outs? My friend told me to eat no sugar and more raw foods….’
As I started writing a response, I realised there was quite a bit to cover so decided to make it post instead! Sometimes, no matter how much love and appreciation you have for yourself or how often you remind yourself exterior appearances don’t matter, having acne makes you feel crap. I know all about it! I had a horn erupt from my chin the other week. But it’s OK! They go away eventually so hang in tight, ride them out and in the meantime, learn what you can do to have healthy skin!
The causes of acne are numerous, ranging from hormonal causes, hygiene, irritation to skin products, stress and inadequate detoxification. The following factors contribute the development of acne (i).
1. Excessive local skin cell production
2. Excessive sebum production (oil that is secreted from our skin and scalp)
4. Bacterial infection
Dietary choices can influence these factors. Research has found that diets high in sugar or more technically, high glycaemic index (GI) foods, contribute the formation of acne (ii). High GI foods include, sugary foods such as high-sugar chocolates, cakes, biscuits and lollies, as well as refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white pasta, chips, rice thins etc. In the body, these foods are broken down into simple sugars, where they then elicit the release of insulin. A diet that is consistently high in these foods elevate insulin levels which then enhance all of the acne-contributing factors listed above (iii).
Rapidly peaked insulin levels:
- Enhance sebocyte (the cells that produce sebum) and sebum production.
- Derange cell signals which regulate the growth of certain skin cells, known as keratinocytes, causing them to proliferate rapidly and thus contribute to the ‘bump’ we see in acne.
- Enhance inflammation, which also contributes to acne’s characteristic bump by making it swollen and tender
- Alters hormone levels by enhancing the production of androgens that in turn stimulate the synthesis of even more sebum (iii).
Also, foods high in sugar are a choice food source for bacteria, allowing them to proliferate, causing infection and the formation of white-heads.
With this mind, the first thing you can do to minimise break-outs is to limit your intake of refined carbohydrates. Instead, opt for low GI foods such as wholemeal pasta, dark rye bread and other grain varieties such as quinoa, spelt, buckwheat and amaranth. Increase your intake of colourful vegetables and healthy protein such as fish, lean meat, tofu and legumes. Incidentally, acne related to hormonal dysregulation, such as those experienced by women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) have been shown to be reduced in those that adopt a low GI diet (iv).
Secondly, the body has three main channels of elimination. These channels are in place so that the body can effectively get rid of toxins which we consume, inhale and absorb in our every day lives. These channels of elimination are the kidneys, digestive tract and the skin (v).
The main organ of detoxification is the liver, which then sends toxins to be eliminated via the kidneys in our urine or via the digestive tract in our stool (vi). Sometimes the emergence of acne suggests two things:
1. There is inadequate liver detoxification, contributing to a build up of excess toxins in the body (vii).
2. The primary channels of elimination (the kidneys and the digestive tract) are impaired, allowing the re-circulation of toxins throughout the body (vii).
When this occurs, the body will alleviate its toxicity burden by eliminating them through the skin, thus contributing to the formation of acne (vii). Therefore when we look at minimising acne outbreaks, we need to target the cause. You can enhance detoxification and elimination of toxins by doing the following:
Drink plenty of water, fresh vege juices and cleansing herbal teas. You might like to try cleansing teas such calendula, nettle, burdock and dandelion. These can be purchased from a health food shop.
Increase fibre by eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as nuts, seeds and other whole grains. Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables contain Vitamin C, minerals and phytochemicals such as beta carotenes, which are highly antioxidant and essential for healthy skin.
Increase your intake of liver-boosting foods such those that come from the cruciferous family. These include your broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, bok choy, pak choy, silverbeet, rainbow chard and kale.
Reduce your consumption of processed foods, which contain many chemical additives.
Increase your intake of healthy fats such as those found in fish, walnuts, brazil nuts, hazelnuts as well as seeds such as flax, pumpkin and sunflower. The fatty acids found in these foods are important in maintaining the health of all cells in your body, including your skin.
Other things you can do to minimise outbreaks:
Have a daily cleansing regime
As mentioned before, bacteria contributes to acne, so ensuring your skin is nice and clean will minimise outbreaks. Cleanse with a gentle cleanser and moisturise with a simple natural moisturiser. Plant oils such as rosehip and jojoba (pronounced ‘ja-ho-ba’) make great moisturisers as they are natural, easy to absorb and inexpensive. Toning with a floral water such as lavender or witch hazel can also help to reduce acne as they are naturally astringent.
Cleansing properly is particularly important if you wear makeup on a regular basis. Ensure you clean or replace your make up pads and brushes on a regular basis to prevent bacterial build-up.
Exfoliation and clay masks
Exfoliating or applying a face mask once a week or fortnight will help get rid of the everyday dirt, grime, residual make-up and dead skin cells can get missed in our day to day cleansing. You can make your own exfoliant by mixing a tablespoon of almond meal with water and honey into a paste or alternatively you can purchase green or kaolin clay for an easy mask. Natural clays can be purchased from a Perfect Potion store or Auroma.
A big thank you to Natalie the naturopath for creating this amazing article.