Taking care of acne-prone skin should be easy, right? We wash our face religiously, partake in an anti-acne skincare routine, and do our best not to pick pimples. But taking care of the skin from the inside out is so important too! If you’ve done all you can for acne but still break out, using food to help with acne could be the missing key.

Read on to learn valuable tips and examples of the science behind diet + acne, and foods that will help improve acne.

Why The Right Foods Can Help With Acne

The correlation between acne and diet has been a controversial topic in scientific communities. Yet, there are recent studies that do point to a strong relationship between the two.

The Science

For more specific examples, take these instances in which vitamins can affect the skin.

According to NCBI, “Vitamin A plays an essential role in skin’s health. Vitamin A deficiency causes abnormal visual adaptation to darkness but also dramatically affects the cutaneous biology as dry skin, dry hair and broken fingernails are among the first manifestations of vitamin A deficiency.” 1

Furthermore, they state, “Numerous studies have revealed that clinical imbalances of specific essential fatty acids are associated with a variety of skin problems. Hence dry, itchy, scaly skin is a hallmark sign of fatty acid deficiency. More relevant to this review is a publication which suggested that the sebum of acne patients is relatively deficient in linoleic acid.” 2

So there is a great correlation between what we eat and whether it affects our skin positively or negatively.

What we eat can nourish the body in the right way and help prevent inflammation.

Considering the last quote, it suggests a deficiency in a certain fatty acid factors in why breakouts occur in acne patients. Fatty acids are relatively easy to add back into the diet!

Now that a bit of the science has been covered, here are the best foods to help with acne and why.

Using Food To Help With Acne: Best Foods That Clear Up Acne

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Tip #1

omega 3 fatty acids like salmon, sardines, and nuts are ways to use food to help with acne.

Specifically:

  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Nuts/Seeds

As mentioned previously, omega 3 fatty acids from salmon, sardines, and nuts/seeds are shown to improve acne. Consider this excerpt from a study done by NCBI:

“… acne is a rare condition in societies with higher consumption of omega-3 (n-3) relative to omega-6 (n-6) fatty acids” 3

To sum up what the same study had found, fish contain “high levels of n-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)” which then work to inhibit inflammatory mediators on the skin which can lead to really severe inflammatory acne lesions.

To keep this post easy to read, click here for the article link if you need a more in-depth look.

Salmon is a tasty and easy way to add omega 3’s into your diet. For a more inexpensive option to still get those omegas and lots of other nutrients that can benefit your skin, try sardines! These also contain less mercury in them since they are a smaller fish. This means you can enjoy a tin a few times a week.

Last, nuts are also an option, but there is evidence that getting “plant omega-3’s” from nuts might not be enough. “Fish omega 3’s” tend to be more active in the body and provide better benefits.

You are better off combining the two for optimal skin and body health!

Probiotics

Tip #2

  • Sauerkraut

For a quick explanation, “Acne lesions are associated with increases in proportion of Propionibacterium acnes…”4 on the surface of the skin. According to this study, they found, “environmental studies showed inhibitory effects of probiotics on P. acnes.”4 Therefore, getting probiotics in your diet is so good not only for your gut, but for skin and acne too!

You don’t have to take expensive capsules or supplements to get probiotics.

A great way to consume good probiotics that aid in digestion, prevent inflammation, and improve acne is by sauerkraut!

Look for raw sauerkraut or you can easily make your own! By choosing sauerkraut, you avoid excess sugar or dairy as opposed to choosing an option like yogurt.

Avoiding too much sugar is important, as you will learn a few sections below.

Zinc

Tip #3

  • Shellfish like oysters, crab, shrimp
  • Nuts
  • Legumes

Going back to good old NCBI, they have studied the effects of zinc and acne. They have said, “The results of our study suggest that zinc levels may be related to the severity and type of acne lesions in patients with acne vulgaris.” 5

Relative decrease of serum zinc level in acne patients suggests a role for zinc in the pathogenesis of acne vulgaris.

If acne patients have less zinc, we need to supplement with this mineral to help improve acne! Zinc is known to help inhibit p. acnes, the bacteria that causes acne.

Legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and beans are also a source of zinc, but zinc from this source isn’t as well absorbed as animal zinc in the body. But, “Processing methods like heating, sprouting, soaking or fermenting can help improve its bioavailability.

Antioxidants

Tip #4

Sticking to foods with antioxidants like the ones found in berries, avocados, grapes, green tea, etc. have benefits for the skin!

Specifically speaking of Vitamin A and E, a study “found that patients with acne had significantly lower plasma concentrations of these antioxidants as compared with the control subjects…” 6

Reasons why adding in antioxidants help with acne include, “oxidative stress may be implicated in the origin of acne and that drugs with antioxidant effects (or antioxidant supplements) may be valuable adjuvants in acne treatment.” 6

“…resveratrol [an antioxidant] has been shown to have bactericidal activity against Propionibacterium acnes, which plays an important role in the pathogenesis of acne.” 6

Antioxidants are also effective in fighting free radical damage.

Choosing berries are an easy and tasty choice, as they are also low in sugar. This is essential for keeping the skin looking young and fighting acne. Speaking of, that takes us right into the next section!

Now that you know about using food to help with acne, let’s learn about the worst foods for acne!

Using Food To Help With Acne: Worst Foods That Cause Acne

Refined Sugars

Tip #5

This is something that I am really familiar with. I used to be addicted to sugar until I found out how much it could affect the skin in terms of premature aging and causing acne.

Excess sugar in the body causes inflammation and a spike in insulin. This in turn causes the release of the hormone androgen, which is a direct factor in causing breakouts.

It does this by causing the excretion of excess sebum, creating a sticky mess in the pores. This is the perfect recipe for a zit!

Furthermore, cutting refined sugars from the diet is smart as sugar also causes premature aging. Excess sugar in the system breaks down and stiffens the collagen fibers that keep your skin young and bouncy.

Of course, refined sugars like candy, sodas, cakes, etc. are definitely the worst culprits for causing breakouts. Yet, some everyday foods that you might think are fine actually can be causing breakouts too!

Read on for an explanation.

High Glycemic Foods

Tip #6

White bread, potatoes, rice, and yummy fruits like bananas. These are some examples of everyday foods that we think are fine, but they actually pretty detrimental for the acne fight!

This is because when eaten, these foods are broken down in the body to essentially the same sugars as mentioned above. High glycemic foods will cause the same insulin spike in the body that then turns into adrogen release and breakouts.

Here is a list of some high glycemic foods to get you started!

Dairy

Tip #7

Much like the reasons mentioned above, milk can cause a chain reaction in the body that produces breakouts.

According to NCBI, “In particular, dairy products have been incriminated. Milk-derived amino acids promote insulin secretion and induce hepatic insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) synthesis [10]. IGF-1 has been suggested as the pivotal driver of acne…” 7

Using Food Externally To Get Clear Skin

Tip #8

Click here for a post detailing how you can use salt externally to get clear skin!

When To Expect Clearer Skin

According to the dermatologist Harold Lancer, you can experience better skin in 72 to 96 hours by getting rid of sugar! “..their [skin] color will look better, their skin won’t be so oily and they won’t be so dry. Their circles will be reduced, perkier.”

You can probably expect to see better skin within a few weeks after getting rid of the foods that cause acne, and eating more of the foods that help with acne.

Overall Review of Using Food To Help With Acne

I hope you enjoyed learning more about the science behind skincare! This guide should be a great start to become educated on the journey to clear skin, starting from the inside out. Using food to help with acne is such valuable information, and getting your breakouts under control is in reach.

Let me know in the comments below which is your favorite food that you eat to help with acne!

Best, Mia

1,2: Pappas, Apostolos. “The relationship of diet and acne: A review.” Dermato-endocrinology vol. 1,5 (2009): 262-7. doi:10.4161/derm.1.5.10192

3: Khayef, Golandam et al. “Effects of fish oil supplementation on inflammatory acne.” Lipids in health and disease vol. 11 165. 3 Dec. 2012, doi:10.1186/1476-511X-11-165

4: Goodarzi, Azadeh et al. “The potential of probiotics for treating acne vulgaris: A review of literature on acne and microbiota.” Dermatologic therapy vol. 33,3 (2020): e13279. doi:10.1111/dth.13279

5: Rostami Mogaddam, Majid et al. “Correlation between the severity and type of acne lesions with serum zinc levels in patients with acne vulgaris.” BioMed research international vol. 2014 (2014): 474108. doi:10.1155/2014/474108

6: Kucharska, Alicja et al. “Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris.” Postepy dermatologii i alergologii vol. 33,2 (2016): 81-6. doi:10.5114/ada.2016.59146

7: Juhl, Christian R et al. “Dairy Intake and Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of 78,529 Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults.” Nutrients vol. 10,8 1049. 9 Aug. 2018, doi:10.3390/nu10081049

This content is for informational purposes only, and what has worked for me personally based on my own opinions. I am not a professional/medical doctor, and you should always consult your doctor or dermatologist on what will work best for you. The information presented here is not legitimate, official advice from a professional. If you choose to rely on any information from this blog, you do so at your own risk. Please refer to the “Blog Disclaimer” tab in the menu bar to read more information and the official disclaimer statement.

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