This is the final part of a 3-part series on how to get rid of acne. It covers:
- Why most mainstream information about diet and acne is not useful
- Foods that cause acne/foods that help with acne
- A better way to think about diet and physical health in general
- The relationship between dairy and acne (My experience)
- Other lifestyle habits you can use to improve your skin naturally
Here are parts 1 and 2 of this series:
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this information is all based on my personal opinion and experience – it is not medical advice.
Diet and acne – Does diet affect acne?
Mainstream advice on diet and acne will usually tell you one of two things. Either:
“Yes, diet affects acne and you should avoid foods like chocolate, pizza, french fries, etc.”
“No, diet does not affect acne at all and you shouldn’t worry about what you eat when it comes to your skin”
As is usually the case… it’s best to just ignore mainstream advice.
The truth is that in terms of scientific evidence, the relationship between diet and acne is extremely inconclusive.
Experimenting with your own diet is just as likely to help with your acne than trying to follow advice you might get from the media or from “listicles” on the internet.
The answer is going to be different for every person, and we are left to figure it out for ourselves (this isn’t a bad thing though).
Are there foods that cause acne and/or foods that help with acne?
In my experience there are no particular foods that cause or help with acne, with the exception of ONE which I discuss below.
But the truth is that the question “Are there specific foods that cause/help with acne?” is the wrong question to ask.
Foods are nothing more than a combination of macronutrients, vitamins and minerals. Nutritional science is far from perfect, but there’s no reason that any one food would have the magical quality of improving or worsening acne for every human being who eats it. (And if there was, the science would have found it by now).
I can say from experience that in general when my diet is better, my skin is better. In general when my diet is worse, my skin is worse. When I was eating an ‘ideal’ diet I had little/no acne.
I expect this will be the case for:
- People with mild or mild-moderate acne
- People like me who have had more severe acne but have gone through one or more accutane treatments
If you have moderate or moderate-severe acne, dietary changes will probably only make a small difference – if any. The less severe acne is, the more an indirect lifestyle change (like diet) will have an effect. The more severe it is, the better off you are with some form of prescription medication (see Part 2).
A better way to think about the human body, diet, and physical health
Often we are taught to think of the human body as something that responds to ONE input with ONE output. This is especially true with health and diet – the internet and clickbait articles has only made this worse. We are swamped with articles like:
“10 foods that improve focus”
“9 power foods that boost immunity”
“8 foods that burn fat”
“15 foods to improve your memory”
“6 healthy foods that are secretly making you fat”
and so on.
Not only is this annoying – it’s not a useful or accurate way to look at diet and physical health.
The truth is that the workings of the human body are incredibly complex and there’s a lot that we don’t understand. But it’s clear that the body’s biological processes are all interrelated, often in ways that we wouldn’t think about.
For example, poor digestion can affect your breathing, which then affects your mental state. Your physical posture can affect your hormone levels, which then affects your mood. If you hurt your shoulder, you may experience pain in your elbow or wrist. Everything is connected.
When it comes to the body, one input will usually result in multiple outputs. This is especially true for physical health.
- A single good thing for your health will have many positive effects
- A single bad thing for your health will have many negative effects
This is especially true with diet, as food is the most important input our body gets besides air and water. Your diet consists of everything you consume and you do literally become what you eat.
- You have more energy
- Your digestion improves
- You lose fat
- Your joints hurt less
- You have better skin
On the other hand, try eating fast food for a week. Have you seen Supersize Me? After seven days Morgan Spurlock has gained weight, feels tired and depressed, and is basically dying in a hundred different ways.
As another example, try sleeping 4 hours a night for a week. Almost certainly:
- Your mood will be worse
- You will gain fat and lose muscle
- You will have less willpower
- Aches and pains will hurt more
- You will be mentally foggy
The body’s systems are all connected – this principle applies in general across the board for physical health. The more you experiment with the variables in your own life, the easier it is to see this.
In light of this, there is always the possibility that a general improvement in diet could help to treat acne.
There are endless arguments about what constitute the “healthiest” or “best” diet – not worth getting into here.
Here are some diet basics that apply to everyone:
- Avoid sugar
- Avoid processed foods
- Eat more vegetables (as a human being it is basically impossible to eat too many vegetables)
- Eat whole foods (the less ingredients on the package the better – better still if there’s no package at all)
- Eat slow-digesting carbs (low glycemic index) over fast ones (high glycemic index)
Overall, I would encourage you to experiment with diet and see how different foods and food groups affect your skin.
Dairy and acne (My experience)
Update: I have since stopped eating all dairy, and my skin is better for it.
Although in general there are no specific foods that cause or prevent acne, in my experience there has been ONE exception to this rule: cow’s milk. Drinking both organic and non-organic milk and has consistently made my acne worse.
Other dairy foods, on the other hand, are fine. I can eat yogurt every day (as part of the greatest breakfast of all time) and not have any issues, but if I were to drink a few cups of milk this evening I would wake up tomorrow with noticeably worse acne.
I know this for sure because by chance I isolated the variable of drinking milk when trying to gain weight. If I drank a bunch of milk on a given day, my acne would always be worse. And when I drank no milk, it was better.
I don’t know why this is. It may be because of the hormones in milk, but again I drank just as much organic milk as non-organic. It may be the same for you or it may not. It remains a mystery to me, but I know one thing for sure – I’m staying off milk.
Other ways to improve your skin (How to get rid of acne ‘naturally’)
If you’ve been following along from the beginning of this series, I would highly recommend the acne.org 2.5% benzoyl peroxide treatment (Amazon) for mild to moderate acne and Accutane for more severe cases. Improving your diet and overall health will probably also help with your skin.
There are other lifestyle activities and habits you can do to improve your skin:
Start drinking fruit and vegetable juice
Aside from taking accutane, starting to consistently drink green juice (500ml-1L per day) has been the one thing that has done the most to improve my skin. On its surface, green juicing is nothing more than increasing consumption of vegetables. However, the amount of vegetables you can consume with a juice is far more than most people will (or can) eat in a given day.
In liquid form it’s easy to consume:
- 3 stalks of kale
- 2 carrots
- 3 stalks of celery
- a tomato
- an apple
without a major change in your diet. But eating this amount of fresh produce in solid form would likely require a massive dietary shift.
Get a tan/spend some time in the sun
According to research there is no correlation between sunlight and lessening of acne, but my experience has been different. Spending time in the sun – for me at least – seems to improve the condition of existing acne as well as prevent future acne from developing.
Getting a tan will also make your skin darker, making existing acne less visible. It depends on your skin tone and how much it changes – but this alone can be worth spending some time in the sun.
Lower stress levels
“Reduce stress” is repeated so often that it’s almost as banal as “Don’t give up” or “Be yourself”.
But there is a very easy way to reduce stress: meditate.
Sleep is similar to diet in that when you do it right there are many positive effects, and when you do it wrong there are many negative ones. In high school I probably slept an average of 6 hours a night.. not even close to enough and this likely made my acne worse. I used to have huge problems keeping a consistent and healthy sleep schedule – if you’re the same way then here are some tips on how to fix your sleep schedule.
To sum up:
- Diet may affect acne – the science is inconclusive and it’s up to you to experiment with your diet to find out what works and doesn’t work for you.
- However, a healthier diet will improve many aspects of your life, and one of those could certainly be your skin.
- Cow’s milk is the only food that consistently made my skin worse (it might be the same for you – test it out!)
- Green juicing has done more to improve my skin than anything besides Accutane and I would highly recommend it.
- Getting a tan can improve your acne, or at least make it less visible
- Meditation has been proven to lower stress levels – stress causes acne.
- Getting enough sleep is like eating a healthy diet – it will improve many aspects of your life and your skin might be one of them
I hope this series has been helpful for anyone looking to improve their skin. We’ve covered everything that I think is important, debunked some nonsense, and my hope is that you can learn from my experience.