5 Foods That Can Cause Acne
The foods you eat not only impact the skin but also many other areas of your life. Many people are left looking for years for different ways to help their skin issues, only to find out when they start working with me, how much their diet could have been contributing to acne or other skin issues all along. Learn more about how how avoiding certain food ingredients can help you on your clear skin journey, from the inside out.
Growing up as a teenager, I was a strict vegan. I thought it would help me to be the healthiest version of myself, and I was passionate about animal welfare.
At the time, there weren't nearly as many yummy milk alternatives as there are today, I was basically left with either creamy soy milk, or the wateriest, bitter tasting rice milk.
Naturally I chose to drink daily the better tasting of the two (the soy milk) with cereal and in my coffee or tea.
By the time I was 17 my acne which had started around 15 to just be a pest and around my cycle, had then become unmanageable, seriously painful, and I was starting to see some major scars on my cheeks and forehead.
My mom tried everything to help me, from the gynecologist who suggested birth control to the dermatologist who put me on antibiotics, prescription retinoids and other medications. He also suggested birth control. Each medication would help a bit for a while, but my acne would always come roaring back.
It wasn't until my mom took me to an esthetician she had heard about whom had great success with acne, that I was able get some relief. The first thing she asked about when finding out I was vegan was if I drank soy milk regularly, which I responded, " ummm yes I sure do".
She told me to switch to the rice milk or cut out "milks" and tofu all together, otherwise her treatments wouldn't work enough. Food or nutrition was never something my doctors had talked to me about. They just told me to use "oil free" drugstore skincare products with their prescriptions.
I followed the esthetician's advice, and within 3 months I was fully clear and working with her on peels for my left over scarring.
"The first thing she asked about about when finding out I was vegan was if I drank soy milk regularly..."
Fast Forward to adulthood, after I became an esthetician and wanted to learn how to become an acne expert:
After my personal experiences clearing my acne with the esthetician as a teenager, I was absolutely fascinated and dead set on learning all the ins and outs of acne, how it develops, what triggers it from the environment, and especially how certain foods can be triggers for breakouts or helpers in getting clear.
Now over a decade and dozens of cleared faces later, I'm happy to share with you 5 of the main foods that contribute to acne.
1. Hydrogenated Oils
1. Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils: These include but are not limited to Canola, Refined Sunflower and Soybean oils.
These oils were not developed for human consumption until the 20th century. They are very high in omega-6 which our bodies tend to already have plenty of with out them, often contain high loads of trans-fat, and most importantly they oxidize very easily.
Unstable fatty acids like these when eaten end up not only in fatty tissues, but end up in your cell membranes.
Because of their fragile and unstable nature, these fatty acids break down to harmful compounds creating inflammation in the body, triggering the acne cycle in the the cell lining of pores.
So not only are these detrimental to overall health, they trigger acne when eaten.
The most common sources of these hydrogenated oils in the diet are in:
margarines and "vegan" butters
packaged baked goods
certain packaged snacks
2. Seaweeds and algae
While seaweed and different algae have shown to have great health benefits topically and internally, unfortunately they also are naturally high in iodine which is a large trigger for breakouts in acne prone individuals.
What happens is when seaweeds are ingested and broken down by the body, the iodine enters the blood stream and is then excreted through the sweat glands. Iodine irritates the lining of pores and follicles in the skin which then triggers the acne cascade.
Foods commonly found with seaweeds and algae:
health supplements including multivitamins and "green powders"
seaweed snacks (duh)
spirulina is an algae and a common acne culprit too
As I had described in my personal story about soy, it often leads to breakouts in acne prone individuals.
Soy is naturally estrogenic, meaning it promotes estrogen hormones in the body. While this can be a positive thing for post-menopausal women, in people prone to acne, this food is a major cause of breakouts.
Common sources of soy in foods:
soy sauce and tamari
meal replacement shakes
Peanuts and peanut butter, like soy, promote certain hormones in the body when eaten. Unlike soy which stimulates estrogen (female hormones), peanuts contain an androgen (male hormones) like substance which leads to acne if breakout prone.
Dairy is probably the most researched of foods with a link to acne.
Milk is a particular culprit. According to one study shared by the American Academy of Dermatology, "Women who drank 2 or more glasses of skim milk a day were 44% more likely to have acne than others." And in the same study an increased rate of acne was found when the subjects drank everything from whole milk to skim milk as well, but the rate increased with skim milk consumption especially.
While milk from grass-fed cows has tremendous nutritional benefits, for those who are acne prone, it unfortunately also contains natural growth hormones intended to help baby cows grow, which trigger the acne cascade.
Whey protein is also a huge acne offender because it promotes testosterone spikes in the body which is a big trigger.
Not ALL dairy is equally acnegenic though. I do believe small amounts of cultured yogurts and grass-fed butters can be tolerated for some of my Clear Skin Program clients, but I have them reintroduce them after at least 3 months off dairy completely to see if they will be a trigger, which sometimes they are too.
So keep in mind that everyone is different so will react to different foods and environmental factors differently. But if you are acne prone and struggling, along with reducing or removing these 5 foods from the diet, I also recommend keeping a food journal and marking in it when you break out as well, to see if there are correlations.
And you can always join my Clear Skin Program for full guidance and a proven path to getting clear.
I'm always preaching against using coconut oil on your face because of it's super comedogenic properties, and the issue of heavy oil use disturbing the skin's natural moisture barrier (you can read my previous blog post here: "Can Face Oil Replace Moisturizer" if you want to learn more about that).
But thatdoesn'tmean that I hate all things coconut oil, or find that all of it's uses are bad for the skin. Coconut oil has many benefits to the skin, but they may just not be in the way you'd think or often read about.
AAAHHH yes... the oh so common question "what order do I use these?", "is it ok to put this on first?."
It may seem so simple, but when I need a client to use multiple serums per day to achieve the results we're aiming for, the proper order of all your skincare products can seem like a lot, and be overwhelming for a lot of clients and people in general.