According to Acne.org acne affects 25% of men and 50% of women at some point in their adult life.
Often we will look for a quick fix to get rid of these blemishes. Over-the-counter remedies are used to zap zits or if it is particularly bad we will seek the help of dermatologist for a prescription. These acne treatments may clear up your face, but they do not get to the root of the problem, and often they come with side effects.
So what could be causing these breakouts?
After puberty, exocrine glands under the skin known as sebaceous glands excrete sebum. Dead skin cells get stuck to this oily substance and then block the pores of the skin. This blockage causes a pimple to form. Sebum also emits bacteria which results in infection and inflammation. This is why pimples are red and inflamed.
The release of sebum is controlled by hormones. Fluctuations in these chemical substances cause your body to produce more sebum thus causing breakouts. These changes in the production of oil have been attributed to genetics and stress, but they also have been linked to diet.
A high intake of sugar and refined carbs can increase insulin production leading to a hormonal imbalance and more sebum production.
Caffeine can play a part in acne production by triggering stress hormones. Coupled with an increase in the hormone cortisol it can decrease your immunity to fight off the bacteria produced by sebum.
So How Can You Improve Your Diet?
Incorporating foods that have certain nutrients will help to heal your skin from the inside out:
Vitamin A maintains healthy skin. Good sources include sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, winter squashes, lettuce, cantaloupe, fish, liver, and tropical fruits. Be cautious in using high doses of vitamin A supplements since they can be toxic at levels above 10,000 international units. Topical treatments are another alternative to getting adequate vitamin A. Retinoids should be used with caution because they weaken the skin’s internal UV protection. Sun exposure should be limited and sunscreen should be worn when using these treatments. They are also harmful to unborn fetuses so pregnant women should not take them. Talk to your doctor before beginning vitamin A treatments.
Aside from strengthening immunity vitamin C helps to produce collagen. This protein keeps your skin firm. Good sources of this vitamin are citrus fruits, broccoli, and cauliflower.
Although there are no reported studies on the positive effects of vitamin D, this nutrient may produce proteins that have antibacterial properties. Cathelicidin and defensins fight against the sebocytes that excrete oil. You can get a blood test to check your levels. Supplements may be recommended depending on your status. I like taking Seeking Health’s Liquid D3 drops. You should talk to your doctor before starting any supplement program.
B Complex vitamins
These 8 vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, B6, biotin, Pantothenic acid, and B12) are the catalysts for energy production from food digestion. Along with increasing immunity they are needed to maintain healthy skin. Additionally, a deficiency in B12 has been linked to acne. The following are good sources of each vitamin:
- Thiamin: pork, ham, dark green leafy vegetables, almonds, and pecans
- Riboflavin: yogurt asparagus, dark green leafy vegetables, chicken, fish, eggs
- Niacin: chicken, turkey, salmon, canned tuna packed in water
- Folate: leafy greens (spinach and turnip greens), fresh fruits and vegetables
- B6: poultry, seafood, bananas, leafy green vegetables
- Biotin: liver and egg yolks, salmon, pork, and avocado
- B12: animal foods, shellfish, such as clams, mussels and crab, fin fish and beef
- Pantothenic acid: yogurt, avocado, sweet potatoes, mushrooms and broccoli
Magnesium is a mineral needed to carry out many chemical reactions in the body. It maintains nervous system functions, balance hormone levels, and increase the production of cells and proteins, all of which helps to prevent acne. Magnesium also reduces inflammation by lowering the amount of inflammatory proteins in the body specifically the levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). Good sources are nuts, seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, and meats.
Calcium helps to regenerate cells and produce antioxidants which combat inflammation and reduce acne. Dairy is a good source of calcium, but sometimes conventional milk and its by products may increase acne production in certain individuals. If you are eating dairy and have acne I would suggest an elimination diet to determine if this is what is causing the break out. As a precaution, I would recommend sticking to to non dairy sources such as sardines, almonds, and dark leafy greens.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These polyunsaturated fats work to reduce inflammation in the body. They may also inhibit bacteria secreted in the sebum. A deficiency in this nutrient may cause dry skin and a inflammatory sebum resulting in a break out. Good sources include cold water fish (salmon, sardines, and mackerel), chia and flax seeds, nuts, and leafy green vegetables.
Is an anti-oxidant which means it prevents cells from being damaged or oxidized. It also protects omega fatty acids and vitamin A from oxidation. Vitamin E can be found in seeds, nuts, olives, leafy green vegetables, and mango.
Copper is a catalyst for body functions such as connective tissue formation. Together with vitamin C and the mineral zinc, copper helps to develop elastin, the fibers that support the skin from within. A deficiency of this mineral is rare. Good sources include organ meats, oysters, clam meat, shellfish, green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Acts as an antioxidant. It works with vitamin E to prevent cell damage. The selenium content of the food depends on the amount of this mineral in the soil. Good sources are Brazil nuts, organ meats, shellfish, meats, and poultry.
Water is an essential nutrient for the body. It keeps skin hydrated and flushes out toxins. You should strive to drink at about 2 liters which is equal to about eight, 8 ounce cups a day.
Zinc is found in the skin and is needed for growth, healing, and immunity. Studies show it can kill bacteria secreted by sebocytes. They are not as powerful as antibiotics, but zinc is useful since bacteria do not develop a resistance to this mineral. It also reduces the inflammatory response cause by the bacteria. Good sources include nuts, red meats, and oysters.
Eating a balanced diet with limited caffeine and sugar intake should help to give you the nutrients needed to stop these break outs. This means increasing your intake of whole foods consisting of vegetables, organic hormone free, grass fed meats and pasture raised eggs. It may also include limiting your intake of dairy products.