Myths abound when it comes to what causes acne. However, skincare experts do know plenty of things that can trigger the acne-causing process. It has a lot to do with your lifestyle: what you eat and drink, whether or not you exercise, even what you use to clean up after working up a sweat! Read on to learn what changes you can make right now to help prevent breakouts.
We’re learning more about the relationship between diet and acne every day. Like acne treatments, there is no universal anti-acne diet that works for everybody, but our dermatologists have found that changes in diet can make a difference in most cases. Read on to learn how what you put into your face can show up on your face — and the best suggested alternatives.
It’s safe to say that almost everyone should avoid or reduce their intake of sugar, alcohol, empty carbs, and all things high-glycemic. Sugar messes with your insulin and blood sugar levels, which leads to two major acne triggers: hormone imbalance and inflammation.
TIP: If you absolutely can’t live without a sweetener in your morning coffee, try a little stevia.
Contrary to the name, simple carbohydrates cause a host of complicated problems in our bodies. Simple carbs have a high glycemic index, meaning they are quickly digested and cause a steeper increase in blood sugar and insulin. Studies have found that this increases androgens (male-type hormones) and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which stimulate the oil glands involved in acne. As well, this process contributes to inflammation in the body, which aggravates acne. In fact, recent studies show that high glycemic index (GI) foods may be the main culprit behind breakouts.
If you’re breaking out a lot and you tend to eat a lot of simple carbs, you may consider avoiding them altogether and eating more complex “good” carbs. As with any diet change, it can take a few months of commitment to see the results. You’ll never know if you don’t try!
Even small amounts of dairy can trigger breakouts! All milk, including organic, contains the hormone triggers and insulin-spikers that lead to acne. For some reason, skim milk seems to be worse for acne than whole milk. Consider cutting out all dairy, including cheese, ice cream, and yogurt, for 3 to 6 months in order to see a significant change in your skin.
TIP: Try substituting a low-glycemic alternative like soy or almond milk.
While most people can get all the nutrients they need from whole food sources, certain vitamins and dietary supplements can be beneficial for your skin’s health. If you’re vegan or have other dietary restrictions, it’s especially important to supplement the essential vitamins that may be missing from your diet.
Evidence suggests that Vitamin D deficiency may be connected to acne. Most adults need at least 600 IU per day of D3, but if you’re deficient, you may need to take as much as 2000 to 3000 IU per day to get your D up to recommended levels. Check with your primary care physician for guidance on how to get the right amount for your needs. Our dermatologists recommend maintaining normal vitamin D levels from a mix of diet and reasonable supplementation in the form of Vitamin D3 (it’s the preferred form, rather than D2). Even though you can get Vitamin D from sun exposure, it’s better to get it from food sources to avoid damaging your skin!
Omega-3 fatty acids help against inflammation, which may improve the quality of your skin overall. Eating fatty fish for dinner a few times a week, and adding chia and flax, omega-3 enriched eggs, and walnuts to your breakfast or afternoon snack, may provide protection against acne.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, it’s especially important to add omega-3s to your diet! The recommended alternative is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 found in chia, flax, hemp, soy, walnuts, and canola oil. (Source)
Probiotics help to repopulate the gut with “friendly” bacteria and decrease inflammation, so they could, in theory, reduce acne lesion counts and reduce sebum (oil) production. There are even topical skincare products with probiotics that some people swear by (see: The Beauty Chef toner and serums), although they aren’t proven to help.
Vitamin A is especially important if you’re fending off acne. You should get about 3,000 IU a day of vitamin A, preferably from the food you eat.
TIP: Avoid taking supplements with high doses of A, as excessive intake could cause side effects including visual problems, bone pain or swelling, liver damage and increased pressure on your brain, or birth defects if you’re pregnant.
It hasn’t been proven, but taking zinc may help. Some studies have shown lower zinc levels in acne patients, especially those with more severe acne. (Though keep in mind that studies assessing improvement with zinc supplementation give conflicting results.) In any case, zinc inhibits growth of acne bacteria, reduces inflammation, and may reduce breakouts. Consider taking 30mg elemental zinc per day (as zinc gluconate) — check with your primary care physician or other local healthcare provider to make sure this is right for you.
TIP: Don’t take more than the recommended dose, as unwanted effects on copper metabolism and immune function may result from excessive oral zinc supplementation.
Whether you’re adding protein powder to your smoothies to supplement a meat-free diet or because you’re a hardcore athlete, you’ll want to avoid whey, as well as any supplements containing casein, caseinates, and milk solids. These have the same hormones as does milk, that stimulate sebum production and skin cell growth — acne alert! Opt for plant proteins instead, like pea, hempseed, and soy, or egg whites.
Easier said than done, right? Stress doesn’t directly cause acne, but the hormones released when you’re under a lot of stress can trigger breakouts. Anything that you can do to reduce your stress — practicing meditation and/or yoga once a day, and even just getting a good 7 or 8 hours of beauty sleep, can make a big difference.
Alcohol = Sugar. Sugar = Acne. Drinking too much alcohol doesn’t cause breakouts directly, but it triggers the same hormone response that triggers acne by messing with the oil glands in your skin. Drinking alcohol is like combining the effects of too much sugar with too much stress: steroid hormones like glucocorticoids and adrenal androgens are released during stress, and while a drink may make you feel more relaxed, it’s actually putting undue stress on your body. Bottom line: moderation.
The only thing worse than “pizza face” is what doctors call “smoker’s face.” That’s when your skin ages prematurely and you’re breaking out. Studies show a correlation between blocked pores and smoking, and smoker’s face combines that with wrinkles, brown spots, and a sunken, sallow complexion (see WebMD’s delightful slideshow for examples). The best thing you can do for your skin — and your overall health — is to quit smoking.
So you eat healthy, work out regularly, and you’re still breaking out? It might be what you’re wearing, or what you’re using to cleanse post-sweat session. Working up a sweat doesn’t cause acne, but the moisture and oiliness can provide a cozy environment for acne bacteria to thrive in. Friction makes it worse, say from the rubbing of a bicycle helmet on the forehead, or a sports bra on the back or shoulders, so if you’re prone to breaking out on your forehead or back, you might want to consider using acne treatments on those areas in particular (and cleaning your gear more often!).
Pro tip: We know cleansing wipes are everyone’s favorite, super-convenient oiliness solution, but avoid using them post-workout — they can be irritating and overly drying, even the “natural” ones. The best strategy is to splash water on your face/neck immediately after exercise, if a shower isn’t possible. Also keep in mind that overdoing it with the cleanser and scrubbing after a workout can aggravate acne, too.
The lifestyle factors that affect your skin are as unique as you are — it’s not necessarily as simple as following all of the above advice! While all of the above lifestyle changes will serve just about anyone well in the fight against acne, a customized formula can also get your skin at its best. Curology is here to help. Talk to your Curology provider about this, plus more tailor-made-for-you advice for living an acne-free lifestyle.