Diet and Acne
There’s much more to healthy, glowing skin than the products we use on the outside. In this month’s journal we look how our diet can impact one of the most common skin concerns, acne.
What is Acne?
Acne is a complex skin disorder. To read more about understanding and treating your acne check out my previous journal post. This month we are deep diving into the role that your diet can have on the development of acne.
When it comes to diet and acne, it’s complicated. Our diet can influence both the causes and the triggers of acne. Each one of us is different, so what might be a trigger for one person might not for another. This adds to the complexity.
There are four main factors that cause acne:
- Excess oil (sebum) production
- Hair follicles clogged by oil and dead skin cells
What we eat can impact sebum production, inflammation and even possibly leave us more prone to bacterial infections.
Recent studies indicate that consuming certain foods, particularly ‘high GI’ foods, may worsen acne. The glycaemic index (GI) is a rating system for foods containing carbohydrates. It shows how quickly each food affects your blood sugar (glucose) level when that food is eaten on its own. High GI foods include foods and drinks high in sugar, many heavily processed foods, and refined carbohydrates such as white bread, potatoes, and white rice.
Foods with a high GI rating cause a sharp rise in blood sugar. A rise in blood sugar leads to a rise in insulin. This leads to an increase in insulin growth factor 1 (IGF-1). High levels of IGF can trigger a hormonal cascade that may exacerbate oil production and acne.
The role of high GI index foods and drinks in the exacerbation of acne may also partly explain why there is some evidence to show skimmed milk may worsen acne for some individuals. Skimmed milk has added sugars compared to whole milk. Other dairy based products such as cheese and yogurt have not shown a link with acne.
A balanced diet is not about cutting out high GI foods completely but thinking about how often and how much you have in your diet overall. It may also be worth keeping a food diary to understand how what you eat impacts your skin health, in particular how your acne is affected.
Can what we drink cause Acne?
Although drinking too much alcohol does not directly cause acne, it can lead to hormonal changes that may exacerbate breakouts. Alcohol can alter the immune system and cause stress to the body, increasing production of certain steroid hormones, such as glucocorticoids and adrenal androgens. These hormones stimulate the oil glands in the skin, beginning a process that can lead to acne. Alcohol also has diuretic effects and can dehydrate the skin, leading to an over-production of sebum to try and compensate.
Good health is not just about a good diet but whether our digestive system is working well to absorb the nutrients in our food. If your gut microbiome is unhealthy, then gut function can become unbalanced, which can cause so many issues, poor skin being one of them. If the gut isn’t functioning effectively then it can’t absorb the vital nutrients, vitamins, and healthy fats the skin needs to thrive. When your gut flora is unbalanced, inflammation builds up, which can result in redness, swelling and breakouts.
So, what should you be including in your diet to help skin health?
Anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids are great for calming the skin. Regular consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of acne. You can find omega 3 fatty acids in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, in flaxseeds, walnuts, free range organic eggs and in extra virgin olive oil.
Probiotics promote a healthy gut and balanced microbiome, which is linked to reduced inflammation and a lower risk of acne development. Yogurt, buttermilk, kefir are all probiotic-rich foods.
Drinking water can help to flush out toxins and bacteria, which can reduce the likelihood of clogged pores and breakouts. Keeping the skin moisturised helps maintain healthy skin cell rejuvenation and collagen production. This in turn helps acne heal and the reduces inflammation from acne pimples and acne scarring on the skin.
Antioxidants help fight the negative effects free radicals, which are linked to inflammation. Antioxidant rich foods are usually brightly coloured – think red peppers, aubergines, broccoli, tomatoes, blueberries, red grapes, and cherries.
Playing a key role in collagen formation and synthesis, vitamin C rich foods include peppers, strawberries, citrus, broccoli, spinach, kiwis, cranberries, and cherries. Vitamin C also helps with the absorption of the important anti-inflammatory vitamin E. Vitamin E can be found in sunflower seeds, almonds, salmon, hazelnuts, broccoli, spinach, and extra virgin olive oil.
Zinc regulates the production of certain inflammatory blood molecules and increases the repair of the tissue that forms the outer layer of the skin’s surface. Great sources of zinc include shellfish, eggs, lean red meat, pumpkin seeds, lentils, chickpeas, black beans, yoghurt, cashews, and hemp seeds.
At the moment there is no ‘cure’ for acne, however there are many treatments available to help control and manage the condition. It is especially important to treat deep, inflammatory acne to prevent long-term scarring. A skin assessment and a detailed medical history, including understanding your diet, are important to help determine the appropriate acne treatment plan for you. Speak to a dermatologist about developing a treatment plan tailored specifically to your needs.