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01 July 2019

Acne, does diet really make a difference?

It’s not only teenagers who struggle with acne.  Women with health conditions such as PCOS, thyroid disorders, peri-menopause, intestinal dysbiosis or just coming off the Oral Contraceptive Pill can contribute to this often distressing condition.

What causes acne

Acne appears when the pores (oil glands) in the skin get blocked with sebum, a naturally occurring oily substance. The hormones androgen and oestrogen often produced in excess during puberty, pregnancy, and menstruation can stimulate the over-production of sebum. This combined with an excess of normal skin cells called keratinocytes, can clog your pores. When pores become clogged or plugged it is easier for bacteria living on the skin to build up causing inflammation and irritation, which leads to pimples. It has been found that some of us have a higher number of a certain bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes) living on our skin which exacerbates the symptoms.

There are many reasons why we break out in acne including hormones, genetics, stress, poor lifestyle habits and diet. Our diet can have a major impact on our skin health and is a great place to begin unravelling the why and the first step in improvement.

Why our diet is important for skin

Inflammation as you saw is a concern for acne, any food which may increase inflammation in an individual is a cause for concern. It is well known that a diet high in processed foods and sugar can increase inflammation, however research is showing that other foods can influence this also.


Recent research has shown dairy, even in small amounts, may lead to an increase in levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), and an enzyme called mTORC1 which stimulates keratin, inflammation, and sebum production—all of which contribute to acne.

For those people with a dairy sensitivity which causes inflammation this will be compounded even further. On this note if you have any food sensitivities, these may be contributing to increased inflammation and acne and should be addressed.

What to Eat

Foods high in zinc

Zinc has long been proven to aid with acne. Zinc is both anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, two of our main areas of concern in acne. It has also been shown to help with healing intestinal permeability, aka leaky gut, often the root cause of food intolerances and anxiety.

Foods high in Zinc include sunflower and pumpkin seeds, meat, whole grains, nuts, beans, and egg yolks.

Vitamin A, D, E and B rich foods

Acne sufferers have been found to have lower levels of  these vitamins. Foods high in these vitamins include egg yolks, broccoli, seeds, ginger baked beans, avocado, mushrooms, apricots, carrots, sweet potato and fish liver oils. Getting out in the sun for at least 20 minutes a day will help with Vitamin D levels.


We need less of the processed fats and deep fried foods and more of the essential fatty acids to help reduce inflammation. Foods such as nuts, avocado, chia and flax seeds, and salmon. Making your own LSA (linseed, flaxseed and almond meal) and sprinkling into smoothies or over cereal is a great way to add in extra good fats.

Leafy green vegetables

Vegetables and fruits of all kinds are great for our skin containing so many of the essential vitamins and minerals. They also have the added bonus of flushing out our body’s toxins and contain polyphenols to feed our microbiome. A healthy microbiome has been found to be essential for the clearance of excess hormones and reduce inflammation.

As for all health, a whole food, plant based diet low in dairy, saturated fats and sugars is the best.

If all underlying factors are dealt with, Acne will improve in the first month or two as inflammation is reduced, but may take up to 6 months as the sebum plugs blocking pores, are expelled. Post pill acne will usually be worst about 6 months after ceasing the pill but should improve from there onwards.

For those with underlying health conditions diet alone may not be enough to control acne. It is best to see a practitioner skilled in determining whether additional supplements or herbal support may be needed.

My story with acne: It was my own acne experienced as a teenager that first introduced me to the world of Natural Medicine. After being on antibiotics for years and trialling Roaccutane my gut health was decimated which led to further health conditions. Using certain supplements helped clear the worst of it but as I didn’t deal with the underlying issues at the time, I was plagued with it for years. With dedication my skin is now clear with the occasional blemish when under stress or I go off the rails a little (who doesn’t like chocolate?)