For many of us, acne is a problem that persists into adulthood. We may deal with it daily or occasionally, but it’s something we definitely have to deal with and the best way to do that is from the inside out.
Acne is a skin disease – and like any other long-term illness, one of the best ways to address it is through making basic changes in our diet.
Making what we eat into a lifestyle has wonderful consequences for our health as well as appearance. In this article, let’s run through some foods that naturally fight acne and some other foods that can further aggravate flare-ups.
It’s a good idea to avoid these things…
Cows’ milk (or milk-derived products)
Statistically robust evidence isn’t conclusive in the exact mechanism of how dairy causes breakouts. While some dermatologists suggest avoiding skin milk and say whole milk is fine, others point towards the fact that artificially added hormones of dairy animals present in milk is the root cause of hormonal imbalances in dairy consumers leading to acne, and therefore suggest going dairy-free altogether.
Yet, despite the cloudy situation surrounding hows and whys, evidence seems to be conclusive in showing some kind of link between dairy and acne, whether it causes the acne or at the very least makes it worse.
In addition to this, 65% of the population is lactose intolerant – and if you’re one of the 65%, your acne could be a direct result of dairy.
Experts suggest cutting dairy out completely for about 3 months (as it takes at least a month for pimples to appear on the skin) and see what the results are for your skin. If you’re looking for radiant, clear skin, this may be worth a shot. Going dairy-free may just be key to enjoy skin that’s blemish-free.
The body rapidly breaks down sugar into glucose when it’s been ingested. This causes your insulin levels to spike, leading to an inflammatory state in the body. This state produces enzymes in the body that break down collages. Not only does this lead to wrinkles, this also aggravates inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, eczema and rosacea.
Both white and brown sugars are refined. Some healthier sweeteners include date syrup and date powder, applesauce, pureed bananas and butternut squash, and stevia (which is frequently sold ground into a powder).
Other alternatives are raw honey and maple syrup – but these may not be good for diabetics.
A frequently used alternative is agave syrup; however, agave is naturally high in fructose. The effects in the body post consumption may not be too different from refined sugar,
High glycemic food such as simple carbs
Simple carbs, much like refined sugar, produces the same inflammatory state in the body due to the spiked insulin level.
What you should avoid – white bread, pasta, candy, deep-friend food, packaged snacks, sodas, commercial jams, ice cream and the like.
What you should include – brown/multigrain bread, whole wheat pasta, nuts, beans and fibrous foods such as fruit and veg.
Junk and fast food
All junk and fast food need not directly cause acne… it’s actually the greasiness from the use of saturated, unhealthy oils and cheeses (dairy) that may aggravate acne. Additionally, processed foods are usually full of sodium which, much like table salt, causes puffiness and blotchy, swollen skin. Also, some of the preservatives used in processed meats have been known to destroy collagen (in addition to being cancer-causing).
One of the biggest take-home points then, is to avoid “inflammatory” foods (in other words, those foods that put your body in an inflammatory state). The logical progression from this is to include “anti-inflammatory” foods, that is, foods that help normalise the body from the inflammatory state. So make sure to incorporate the following in your day…
And it’s a great idea to eat these things…
Get your omegas
Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are transformational for your skin. While most people following a Westernised diet get more than enough of their quota of Omega 6 (mostly from meats and dairy), Omega 3 is actually the anti-inflammatory star of the show. We have to aim to get both these in roughly equal proportions – this means increase the portion of nuts and seeds (chia, flax etc).
Research shows three main benefits of green tea with respect to reducing breakouts; first off, it boosts your immune system and therefore leaves you less susceptible to breakouts in the first place. Secondly, it reduces the inflammatory reaction in the body – meaning even if you get a breakout, it may not be as swollen and red as usual. Finally, it regulates sebum production. When sebum is in excess, it traps dead skin cells and bacteria on the skin’s surface, thereby clogging pores and leading to acne.
Turmeric taken orally and applied topically is a panacea for acne. It is a potent antimicrobial which will have an effect both from the inside and the outside. Additionally, it’s also a wonderful antioxidant meaning it will be beneficial in reducing the oxidative stress on the body and provides anti-inflammatory benefits. Taking turmeric as a pinch in your food everyday will help keep your immunity up and your skin glowing.
Zinc may reduce acne
One of the most beneficial nutrients required to fight off acne is Zinc. Zinc plays a whole array of essential roles in our body. Most importantly, it boosts the immune system. Zinc supplements are often suggested by doctors to treat mild to moderate cases of acne.
In terms of diet, there are many plant-based sources of Zinc that can be easily incorporated into your diet. Some easily available sources are hemp seeds, pumpkin and squash seeds, sesame seeds, pine nuts, cashews, chia seeds, flax seeds, pecans and more.
Eating more fruit and veg – especially reds, yellows and berries
Although the link between Vitamins A and E with acne has not been studied is detail, one study proved that people suffering from acne may be deficient in these specific vitamins (and Zinc).
Now with fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, there is always a danger of toxicity, so supplementation is not advised (unless you’ve consulted with a reputed healthcare provider). On the other hand, incorporating fresh, organic fruit and veg which are naturally rich in vitamins and minerals is wonderful for your overall health, especially for those of us with acne.
In fact topical Vitamin A (retinol) treatments may also help in reducing acne.
Vitamin C is essential in collagen synthesis and is therefore crucial for skin health. Research also points towards the fact that Vit C reduces and reverses skin damage from environmental stressors such as the sun, pollution etc. Not only this, Vitamin C directly helps acne – it helps reduce the redness in your acne by modifying the way your immune system responds to acne-causing bacteria.
Amla, or Indian gooseberry is one of the richest sources of Vit C available. It can be had as a juice (which contains about 20 times as much vitamin C as orange juice).
Other foods for vitamin C are citruses, bell peppers (especially the red kind), strawberries, broccoli and spinach. You can even have a supplement after a doctor’s recommendation.
Often overlooked, improper digestion leads to skin issues such as breakouts. Having foods designed to help the digestive process, such as probiotics, help skin from the inside out. Probiotics have been known to address skin issues such as acne, eczema, premature aging and skin cancer as well.
Another essential mineral that should be in your anti-acne toolkit is Selenium. Selenium has two major effects on the body – firstly, it regulates a specific hormone that plays a role in preventing acne-related inflammation. Secondly, Selenium is an antioxidant that often protects other antioxidants such as Vit E in the body. Playing both these roles, oral selenium is encouraged in acne-sufferers.
While checking with a doctor is crucial before taking any supplements, you can instead incorporate selenium-rich foods in your diet. One of the best sources that provides both Zinc and Selenium (as well as a host of other macro and micro nutrients) is the humble pumpkin seed.
Water water water + cucumbers, watermelons etc
Water should not be overlooked in any list that talks about an anti-acne diet! Although it may not be the magic solution to acne many people seem to think it is, it has wonderful all-round benefits.
Some of the ways water helps skin is by moisturising it from the inside out – thereby preventing dryness. Water also helps flush out excess toxins from building up inside our bodies and on our skin. Water supports optimal functioning of the immune system. It is also essential in cell turnover. Our bodies are literally made up of water in a major way (about 70% to be precise). It only stands to reason then, that we need water for the proper functioning of every single system, organ, tissue and cell.
Water-filled foods such as cucumbers and watermelons taste great and are vital in our diets. These foods are made entirely of water, minerals and vitamins – perfect for any inflammatory conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis etc.