Eating to Reduce Acne: Healthy Pores Are More than Skin Deep

We’ve all seen the stereotype played out in countless films and TV shows, a beautiful, image-obsessed woman is admiring herself in the mirror when, *shock and horror* she finds her face is blemished by the unsightly presence of a zit! As we’ve watched this scenario played out time and again, perhaps we’ve chuckled or rolled our eyes, but almost certainly we’ve never laughed hysterically at it. While the idea of losing your cool over a minor skin blemish is ludicrous and ought to be funnier than it is, deep down I think we all identify a bit with that vain woman on the television screen. Image matters. We are all individuals and our idea of the image we need in order to feel comfortable varies from person to person, but we all want to be viewed in a certain way that only we know or can define. If you’ve got acne, chances are you’ve got image problems and that can be tough. So, let’s talk acne and ways to help reduce it with healthy lifestyle choices.

Major Contributors

Acne, like nearly all persistent and pesky conditions, is rarely caused or exacerbated by just one thing. For any one person there can be several contributing factors including genetics, hormones, medications, hair and skin products, stress, pollution, smoking, and diet.1 Now, some of these are unavoidable, such as pollution and genetics, but most of the others are changeable. The tough part is figuring out which factors are contributors and what you can do to help.

Start with What You Eat

At Wholesome Story, we’re all about what you put in your body, so we recommend you start your journey to clearer skin by examining what you put in your body to see if it could be contributing to your troubles. There are certain foods and patterns of eating that may contribute to acne, so changing what you eat could really help.

Studies show that a high-glycemic diet, i.e., a diet high in sugary foods and refined grains, is associated with worse acne.1-3 If you’re a junk food junkie who loves ice cream and cheese puffs, chances are your skin is trying to tell you to slow down on the refined carbs. You see, high-glycemic diets change our hormones, namely insulin and androgen, which can affect pores and increase acne.2 Maybe your breakout is your skin’s way of asking for water instead of soda or strawberries instead of candy.

Next up, cow’s milk has shown to increase the likelihood of acne…but not yogurt or cheese.1-3 You read that right, only the milk is troublesome, not the processed milk products. While there are a variety of theories as to why this may be, one possible reason is that cow’s milk contains hormones that some researchers believe could contribute to the issue.2 Regardless of the biological mechanism, researchers do agree that cow’s milk intake, whether skim, low-fat, or whole, is associated with acne. So, try switching out your cow’s milk for some plant-based milk on your next bowl of cereal or perhaps go for some yogurt and granola. The key is to stay away from unprocessed milk apparently.

And of course, try keeping your diet as clean as possible by reducing the amount of processed and prepackaged foods you eat. Inflammation is a key factor in acne breakouts and many of our favorite processed snacks are highly inflammatory.1 Swap out the deli meat on your sandwich for some tuna or chickpea salad, instead of those mystery-laden Doritos, try minimally processed potato chips made with healthy oils like olive, canola, or avocado oil, snack on fruit instead of fruit snacks, or make a bowl of banana nice-cream in place of buying ice cream. You get the idea.

How long do I have to eat like Gwyneth Paltrow?

First of all, I have it on good authority that our dear GP loves cheese, French fries, and wine, and that she indulges relatively regularly.4 Secondly, the good doctor said you’ve gotta try any dietary changes for 12 weeks to know if they’re helping.2 *Gasp! * You’ll be ok. Apparently, studies show there is no relationship between any kind of chocolate and acne, so you can make that your go-to sweet treat as along as you don’t overdo it.1 And, we never said you needed to stay away from wine or cheese, so that’s good. Just remember that these things are treats, not staples. We doubt you’ll be feeling or looking any better if you start your day with a bag a Ghirardelli and end it with a block of gouda washed down with a bottle of red.

OK fine, then will I have skin like Gwyneth’s?

Probably not. As we said earlier, acne, and conversely clear skin, are influenced by a lot of factors including genetics. I think most of us know we won’t ever look like movie stars, either physically or dermatologically. Also, it’s important to remember that dietary changes probably won’t cure your acne, since they’re probably not the sole cause anyway. However, changing your diet may help reduce inflammation, balance hormones, clear out toxins, and promote better skin health…and better health overall. In short, diet probably won’t clear your skin up and make it Hollywood perfect, but it may help reduce the number and size of lesions (zits) you get.

Now, go enjoy a salad filled with all your favorite goodies (we like roasted sweet potato chunks, feta, and olives) or you could make yourself a smoothie filled with your favorite fruits and a healthy dollop of Greek yogurt. See, it’s not so bad, is it?

In parting, remember that eating healthy, whole foods, and lots of plants foods, is one of the simplest, safest, and most effective things we can do to promote good health in our bodies. As with every preventative/restorative measure though, sometimes these changes alone are not enough to help our bodies function the way we want or need them to. If you are struggling with health problems, please contact your doctor or other healthcare provider such a Naturopathic Doctor, Dietitian, or Mental Health Professional to see if they can offer appropriate guidance and care. We at Wholesome Story believe that healthy communities require community effort, so we advise you to keep your healthcare community aware and involved in your journey as you pursue better health.

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  1. Shmerling RH. Does Diet really matter when it comes to adult acne? Harvard Health.,and%20whey%20protein%20with%20acne. Published August 19, 2020. Accessed March 11, 2022.
  2. Suarez A. Acne diet| dr dray. YouTube. Published September 10, 2020. Accessed March 11, 2022.
  3. Can the right diet get rid of acne? American Academy of Dermatology.,oily%20substance%20in%20your%20skin. Published 2022. Accessed March 11, 2022.
  4. Marie Claire. Everything Gwyneth Paltrow has done to get the body she has today. Marie Claire. Published October 13, 2020. Accessed March 11, 2022.


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