Diet for Acne: Foods that May Help
Eating your way to better skin when you have acne: an elimination diet may help
If you have acne, avoiding certain foods may help. This certainly won't work for everybody, but some people have been helped with an acne "detox "diet. This page provides more details on foods to avoid.
If avoiding certain foods can help your skin, can eating more of other foods help?
We don't have the same level of evidence to say for certain that specific foods will help in the treatment of acne. Having said that, though, there are a few promising human studies, and there are many promising laboratory studies. Since these foods have many other health benefits, I recommend adding more of them to your diet.
Fiber from fruits and vegetables: eating more foods that are naturally rich in fiber may help
The main foods I recommend eating more of are those that are naturally high in fiber. This includes more fruits and vegetables. Focusing on foods that are rich in fiber also means replacing refined carbohydrates (such as white bread) with whole grains, such as old-fashioned oats, brown rice, bulgur, and others.
Why do I consider fiber (the kind that's naturally found in foods) such an important nutrient for patients with acne?
First, foods that are high in fiber naturally act to stabilize blood sugar levels. Whenever you eat a meal, your food is digested and broken down for energy. That means that your blood sugar will naturally rise after a meal. Ideally, you want a slow, steady rise in blood sugar. Fiber does that well; it slows down the release of blood sugar into your bloodstream, and keeps those levels steady.
What happens if you eat a meal with little or no fiber? Like a big bowl of mac and cheese? Without any fiber, your blood sugar is more likely to spike to high levels. Those spikes can then trigger a rise in certain hormones that can lead to acne.
Other nutrients can help slow down those sugar spikes, including protein and fat. But fiber is a favorite, because it works so well AND because it has other important roles. One of the most important is keeping a healthy gut.
Another reason to eat more foods that are naturally rich in fiber: good gut microbes love fiber, and good gut microbes help reduce skin inflammation
A healthy gut is important for your overall health and for your skin health. That's becaue your gut actually contains trillions of microbes. Many of these are considered "good" microbes, because they help us in many ways. Some have been shown to help calm down inflammation in the skin.
Foods that are rich in fiber do a great job of feeding the good microbes, which is just one of the reasons that fruits and vegetables are considered so important for healthy skin.
Probiotics are also being studied in acne. Probiotics are "good" microbes that you consume, either via foods (such as yogurt with live active cultures) or via supplements. In one small study, volunteers who consumed a probiotic supplement daily for 4 weeks had an improvement in their acne. [Jung 2013]
Antioxidants: eating more foods rich in antioxidants may help reduce the skin damage from free radicals
Acne is due to inflammation of the skin. That inflammation is visible: many acne patients develop red inflamed bumps, or even pus-filled bumps (pustules), on their face, chest, and back.
That's why researchers have studied treatments that reduce inflammation.
Some of the inflammation in acne is due to free radicals such as reactive oxygen species. These are molecules that can cause damage to the DNA, proteins, and cell membranes in our skin. In acne, some of our own immune cells actually produce some of these free radicals. We know that this causes damage; patients with acne actually have higher blood levels of a chemical that measures the level of oxidative damage.
How do you quench the damaging effects of these free radicals? One potential way is by consuming more antioxidants via your foods.
A number of laboratory and animal studies have supported the use of antioxidants in fighting the inflammation in acne. Human studies are limited, though, so more research is definitely needed in this area.
Because of this promising data, though, I strongly recommend foods that are naturally rich in antioxidants. This includes more fruits and vegetables. It also includes other great sources of antioxidants that you may not think about, including herbs, spices, and green tea.
Zinc and acne: why more red kidney beans may be a good thing for your skin
Zinc is a mineral that plays an important role in many of your body's functions. That's because zinc acts as a cofactor (a necessary ingredient) for many of the enzymes that control the vital processes of the human body.
Zinc is also known to have several powerful anti-inflammatory effects. In laboratory studies, zinc has helped stop the movement of certain inflammatory cells. In other studies, it's helped reduce the production of inflammatory cytokines, which are chemical messengers that play a role in promoting skin inflammation.
Since it has anti-inflammatory effects, could zinc have a role to play in the treatment of acne?
Researchers have studied this question. Some studies have found that patients with acne actually have low levels of zinc in their bloodstream. Because of this, researchers have conducted studies of zinc supplements for the treatment of acne.
The results? Some of these studies did find that zinc was helpful, and in some cases the results were even similar to taking antibiotics by mouth. BUT there are still too many unknowns in this area. For one thing, some of the studies had serious flaws. Some gave patients supplements of zinc, but didn't take into account how much zinc these individuals were consuming through their diet. (As I discuss later on, there are several foods that are known to be great sources of zinc.)
In this case, there are still too many unknowns in this area for us to recommend zinc supplements without a thorough knowledge of your medical history and possibly testing. There are other important considerations also: there are several different forms of zinc, and several different dosages that have been studied. In some forms, and at some dosages, patients have experienced some notable GI side effects, including nausea and vomiting.
As more studies are done, we may have some more definitive recommendations, but at this time, I focus on obtaining zinc from food sources.
Foods that are known to be good sources of zinc include certain vegetables, such as spinach and kidney beans. Seafood is another great source, including shrimp and oysters. Pumpkin seeds and flaxseeds are other great sources.
Omega-3 fatty acids: could salmon twice a week or flaxseeds daily help your skin?
This definitely seems like an area worth studying more. Multiple studies have shown that eating more omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, relative to omega-6 fatty acids, is beneficial when it comes to reducing inflammation.
There's been very limited research done in the area of acne, though. One study from the 1960s found that adolescents who consumed large amounts of fish and seafood were less likely to develop acne.
A more recent study found some preliminary but promising results. In a small randomized trial, patients with acne were given omega-3 fatty acid supplements for 10 weeks. They were compared to a group that received no supplements. After 10 weeks, the group consuming the supplements showed less acne, with less inflammatory lesions. Skin biopsies also showed less inflammation. [Jung 2014]
Given these promising results, this is definitely an area that warrants further research. In the meantime, I encourage more omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, especially because they've shown great overall health benefits.
That translates to more salmon, sardines, and herring. But seafood isn't the only source of omega-3 fatty acids. Other strong sources include walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and soybeans.
Jung JY, Kwon HH, Hong JS, Yoon JY, Park MS, Jang MY, Suh DH. Effect of dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acid and gamma-linolenic acid on acne vulgaris: a randomised, double-blind, controlled trial. Acta Derm Venereol. 2014 Sep; 94(5): 521-5. doi: 10.2340/00015555-1802
Jung GW, Tse JE, Guiha I, Rao J. Prospective, randomized, open-label trial comparing the safety, efficacy, and tolerability of an acne treatment regimen with and without a probiotic supplement and minocycline in subjects with mild to moderate acne. J Cutan Med Surg. 2013 Mar-Apr; 17(2): 114-22.