The link between food and acne is growing stronger as more studies come out confirming certain foods connection to acne. Here’s a look at some surprising ways foods may affect your skin and trigger acne, and how you can cut down on them.

The Acne-Food Connection: Foods that can trigger acne

Dairy: Dairy is a common acne causing trigger that most people tend to ignore because from a young age we were taught that calcium is critical to building strong bones to grow. While that is true, dairy contains an abundance of the hormone IGF-1, which is created for infant cows and not humans to consume. Infant cows grow up drinking their mother’s milk and this produces big, strong cows while it causes acne on the surface of our skin. The milk we drink that makes up the majority of our daily dairy intake is created by cows containing high levels of hormones that can push the oil glands in our bodies into overdrive. The growth factor IGF-1, which is an insulin-like growth factor is passed to the milk, aggravating acne and worsening it.

Dairy also causes our skin to produce excess sebum (oil), which leads to irritated skin, clogged pores, and bacteria. Milk and dairy products also leads to an insulin spike in humans that cause the liver to produce even more IGF-1, leading to an increase in acne. A number of studies have documented the strong link between the consumption of dairy and an increased occurrence of acne. The dairy effect is well documented in recent studies. In the last decade or so, a number of studies have found a strong link between the consumption of milk and increased occurrence of acne. For example, one such study analyzed the diets of 47,355 women and found a strong connection between milk and milk products intake and breakouts. Another study of 4,273 teenage boys who drank milk broke out more often, and more severely, than those who didn’t drink milk. At least five other studies have confirmed that, in general, the more milk you drink, the worse acne you’ll get. Gradually cutting out dairy and milk products can seem difficult at first, but working on cutting back by one meal at a time can be worth it in the long run when you are seeing clear skin!

Processed Foods: Additives, preservatives and synthetic colors in preserved foods may contain toxins that can trigger acne breakouts. Eating this food excessively can stress the liver and the superfluous toxins unfiltered by the liver can add to the aggravation of the acne.

Peanuts: Peanuts contain an androgen, which can make acne worse by increasing sebum production. Consuming too many peanuts means an increase in omega-6 fat in your body. This can cause your body to have trouble stopping inflammation because omega-3s are required to halt inflammation. Acne-safe alternatives to peanuts include other nuts such as almonds and cashews, which don’t affect androgen levels.

Soy: Are you experiencing breakouts along your jawline and mouth? This might be due to your consumption of soy. Studies have shown that the natural estrogens found in soybeans mimic natural estrogen levels, throwing off your hormones. Soy is also a common allergen.

Sugar: Everyone has probably heard that sugar can be a culprit of acne production, but are there studies that back this claim? It’s been proven that sugar aggravates hormonal acne to some degree, but it’s important to understand hormonal genetics first to understand this claim. Acne prone skin is highly sensitive to male sex hormones. They increase sebum production and skin cell growth. Along with this natural hormone, IGF-1 (the insulin like factor found in milk) is another hormone linked to acne. IGF-1 has been found to increase acne severity, increase sebum production, and increase pore size. You’re probably wondering how this has a connection with sugar? Well, both IGF-1 and insulin are linked to blood sugar levels. So as you eat carbohydrates, and especially sugar, your blood sugar levels increase. These elevated insulin levels increase IGF-1, the insulin like factor.

Sugar also promotes inflammation. Studies have shown acne patients have higher levels of inflammation than those with healthy skin. This depletes antioxidants and leaves the skin vulnerable to inflammation, making it more likely that you get acne. Increase in inflammation is the reason food allergies, gut problems, and some foods aggravate acne. In one recent study 29 young, healthy males were given 2, 12oz cans of soda per day for 2 weeks. After 3 weeks, their inflammation levels went up 105%. Another way sugar can cause acne breakouts is through Candida, a type of yeast that lives in the skin and digestive track that can grow out of control with the intake of sugar. Candida overgrowth can cause gut problems and indirectly contribute to acne.

Night Shade Vegetables: Vegetables such as eggplant, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes all belong to the same botanical family of plants that are shown to cause an inflammation and even allergic reaction for many people to the skin. The reason why nightshades are problematic for many people is due to the glycoalkaloid content. Overconsumption of these edible species can actually be poisonous to anyone, and it is possible that the low-level toxic properties of nightshade vegetables contribute to a variety of skin irritations over time.

Gluten: Gluten can be a huge factor contributing to acne flare ups. This is because we all create a substance called zonulin in the intestine in response to gluten. Glutinous proteins, found in wheat, barley, and rye, known as prolamines can make your gut more permeable, which allows partially digested proteins to get into your bloodstream that would otherwise have been excluded, any of which can sensitize your immune system and promote inflammation, which can contribute to worsening acne. Once gluten sensitizes your gut, it then becomes more permeable and all manner of gut bacterial components have direct access to your bloodstream, thereby further challenging your immune system.

Eggs: Eggs are one of the most common allergens. Egg yolk contains large amount of protein that is usually the primary irritant to the body. High levels of a certain protein found in eggs produces more sebum, more androgen and too much keratin in the body which are among the major factors that cause acne breakouts.

Omega 6 Oils: Different fatty acids in the foods we eat can support inflammation or dampen it and too much inflammation inside your body can show up on your skin. Ages ago, omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3s were evenly represented in the human diet. But we tend to get a lot more omega-6’s now. You can address this imbalance by not using vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, and canola oil, buying beef and eggs from animals that ate while roaming in pastures, eating more fish rich in omega-3s, and even taking fish-oil supplements.

Additional studies have looked at whether the common Western diet may contribute to acne. Many people in Western cultures eat large amounts of refined carbohydrates and smaller amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. Researchers have found that in countries where people ate low-glycemic diets — consisting of vegetables, fruits and quality proteins — acne presented little or no problem.

Still, other studies show that eating foods high in vitamin A and beta-carotene can increase your resistance to bacteria and improve the overall health of your skin. Such foods include carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, apricots, kale and spinach [source: WebMD]. However, more research is needed to determine if eating such foods really promotes clear skin. Knowing what your acne trigger is can be difficult to discover, but removed one food group at a time can be helpful in the journey to clear skin in the long run.

Remove foods? No way!

Now that we have identified different types of acne-triggering foods (and hopefully you know which ones are specific to you), we want to give you a few tips on how to help eliminate it from/cut it back in your diet. Here we will be focusing on two of the larger tasks. Tips from both of these can be applied to a majority of the trigger foods we mentioned earlier.

Weaning off dairy

Dairy is a tough food to cut out, due to it being so familiar to most of us. If your acne is caused by dairy, your best chance is to wean off of it using replacements. Butter is another difficult dairy to let go of, but actually can be replaced quite easily. When cooking, use coconut oil instead of butter.

To replace milk, drink water instead! You can also try almond milk, coconut milk, or even soy milk if soy is not a trigger for you. Just watch the sugar content of these milk substitutes, some can be high in sugar.

Instead of directly replacing your dairies, try new recipes all together. Contrary to popular belief, it’s possible to replicate a creamy or cheesy flavor without dairy, which is why we recommend researching some popular vegan recipes for dishes and sauces. You’d be surprised how easy it is to cut out dairy with a few go-to meals.

Cutting out processed foods

Processed foods have become a normal piece of today’s diet. In fact, most of us wouldn’t know what is processed and what isn’t. Let’s take a look through some specific cases of how you can get rid of the processed in your diet.

First let’s start with breakfast. Cereal is one the biggest offender in our mornings, loaded with preservatives. If you need some type of breakfast bowl, try some cut oats that are minimally processed. Or if you’re bold, move into an entirely non-processed breakfast with an omelet, fruit, or veggies. Coffee is part of our breakfast too, and creamers/artificial sweeteners are to blame for it being on this list. Replace these processed add-ons and drink your coffee black.

Moving into lunch, stay away from sandwiches, burgers, fries etc. A large salad with a protein such as chicken, fish or beef is a great way to go. Make a homemade salad dressing with olive oil, coconut oil and a vinegar and you’ll get enough fat to stave off your hunger till dinner time. 

Lastly for dinner, we have a few suggestions. The first is to move away from processed oils like Crisco or other canolas. Instead, use cooking fats. Olive, coconut, and even lard are a great replacement for processed oils. Try eating a freshly cooked protein (fish, chicken, beef, etc.) and a large serving of vegetables and salad. Stay away from the pasta! Rather than boiling up a huge bowl of processed whole wheat or white pasta, grab a pasta slicer and a ripe squash or zucchini  to hand cut some veggie-pasta. For sauce, rather than using the pre-made, processed sauce, mix in some olive oil, garlic, and herbs. Try cooking enough dinner to has some left over for your lunch the next day.

The key to removing processed foods is just putting in a little extra work into preparation and finding the right ingredients. Doing so will help you take a step towards healthy, clear skin. Keeping a food diary is another way of staying on track to pinpointing what might be triggering your acne. Eliminating one food group a month and writing down the noticeable changes of texture and irritation to your skin can help narrow down the possibilities of what food groups are causing your skin trouble. We hope you found these tips helpful, if so leave a comment below!


Peanut Butter and Acne: 5 Reasons to Quit This Acne Trigger

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