A reader asks: Can you share tips on acne and skin care? Lately my skin feels very dry, and I have too many breakouts. What food/diet and homemade remedies would you suggest?”
Acne has many causes and can be related to hormones, digestive health, stress, the products you use, and your diet. Skin health goes far beyond what you’re applying topically. All the expensive exfoliating scrubs and cleansers in the world won’t undo what’s going on inside.
Beyond Skin Deep
The skin is often a reflection of overall health and the health of the gut, so if your skin is inflamed or acne-prone, or dry and scaly, take a look under the hood and fix yourself from the inside out. Many doctors prescribe oral or topical antibiotics to combat acne, but that doesn’t address the underlying cause and can cause many bad side effects in the long term.
Let’s talk food first. It’s well documented that the health of the gut reflects the health of the skin. If your skin is acne prone, take a look at your diet. If you’re subsisting on junk food, chemicals and preservatives, coffee, sugar, processed/refined foods, and refined vegetable oils, you’re basically eating an inflammatory diet that contributes to leaky gut. Leaky gut creates systemic inflammation and increased toxicity which is mirrored in the skin. If not breakouts on the face, it could be rashes or acne elsewhere.
Maybe you’re thinking, “I eat healthy. I have Kashi with skim milk, whole wheat pasta, and eat vegetarian.” Newsflash: cereals & grains can be major gut irritants, and a vegetarian diet is often high in grains and gluten products. Support the gut with probiotics and fermented foods and focus on organic proteins, veggies of all kinds, and good fats like coconut & olive oils, butter, and avocado.
Acne can also be due to hidden food sensitivities, most commonly dairy. Dairy can be very congestive and inflammatory and is a source of hormones that can disrupt hormones and skin health, even if organic. Eggs, soy, gluten, and corn are also culprits. Try cutting those out for 30 days and then reintroducing them one at a time to see if they cause reactions. Food sensitivities also contribute to leaky gut, so determining what you react to is important.
Hormones are also a potential culprit in acne prone skin. In women, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is a main cause of acne; one of the main signs is high testosterone and estrogen levels that can contribute to acne and facial hair. Testosterone is an androgenic (male) hormone that can produce excess sebum (oil) and contribute to oily skin and acne. Changing your diet and especially avoiding estrogenic foods (dairy, conventional meat & eggs, soy) and xenoestrogenic chemicals and cosmetics will help. Certain herbs such as vitex can balance estrogen-progesterone ratio.
Clean Up Your Environment
Consider your products and environment. Parabens, phthalates, and sulfate chemicals (including everything you can’t pronounce) in products can not only cause irritation but also have xenoestrogenic effects that further disrupt hormone balance. Only use natural products on your skin and in your home. I rely on coconut only for face, body, and hair moisturizing. Here’s my natural skin routine.
Be aware of what you use on your face, and don’t over-cleanse! Stripping your face of natural oils and overwashing can aggravate acne.
Now, let’s look at what you can do.
Combat Acne with these 9 Tips for Healthy Skin
1) Determine your foods sensitivities. Gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, corn are the most common acne-causing culprits. Avoid refined sugar.
2) Eat organic omega-3 rich proteins such as wild salmon, sardines, and chia. Walnuts and leafy greens, especially spinach, are great, too. Eat “clean:” no factory farmed meat, and eat pesticide-free produce; the non-orgainc counterparts lead to chemical toxicity and liver congestion, making for dull, puffy skin. Focus on tons of veggies and fruits, especially blueberries, citrus, and kiwi, for their antioxidants and minerals. The skin needs vitamin A (liver), zinc (beef, lamb, raw oysters), and good fats (omega 3s, coconut, olive oil, avocado, butter if no dairy sensitivity). Consider an omega 3 supplement.
4) Support the liver: it has to detox everything you eat, breathe, and apply to your skin, and when it gets overwhelmed and can’t process toxins, they back up in the system and cause symptoms. Acne & skin rashes are one such symptom. Do a twice yearly detox, and continue to support your liver every day. Here are 10 easy ways to support liver detox daily.
5) Super skin foods:
- organic liver (super high in B vitamins, A, and zinc, a deficiency in which contributes to acne)
- a superfood blend with spirulina and chlorella (I like Amazing Grass)
- Vital proteins collagen peptides, which is a great source of amino acids and collagen for joints, skin and hair (add 1 tbsp to smoothies)
- omega 3s and borage oil
- zincm necessary for skin health: hello, raw oysters!
- vitamin C is important for collagen production. Kiwis have more vitamin C than citrus; and fermented foods such as cultured veggies and kefir for probiotics.
- Oh, and drink lots of water! I also love green juicing for skin health: spinach, carrot, cucumber, celery, ginger, green apple is my fave.
6) Avoid toxic skin care products that contain a bunch of chemicals. DON’T strip your skin using chemicals if it’s oily: that backfires, because the skin will compensate by producing more oil. Check out how to use coconut oil to combat acne, and consider the oil cleansing method.
7) For fussy skin, this article on Mark’s Daily Apple has some great natural topical solutions: a manuka honey mask is anti-bacterial and a natural humectant (moisturizing); tea tree is great for topical acne but NOT to be used on dry skin; apple cider vinegar makes a great spritzer that normalizes skin’s PH and acts as a toner. Use coconut oil for a moisturizer for dry skin. It works wonders.
8) I am a big believer in DIY face masks. Store bought masks can be harsh and contain chemicals. I sometimes put yogurt and frankincense on my face, which leaves it buttery smooth. The mashed avocado-egg yolk is a good one (for hair, too). Zeolite clay mixed with powdered vitamin C, olive oil, and a little water is a great detoxer for skin. Post-mask I’ll slather on coconut oil for a dewey look. I also love to spritz with rosewater.
9) Finally, address stress levels! High cortisol causes acne and inflammation. Lack of sleep causes high cortisol. So get your beauty sleep and stop running yourself ragged.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.