While using gentle and clean skincare products will certainly help minimize hormonal acne breakouts, if you really want to get to the root of the problem, you have to make dietary changes- there’s no way around it!
The Worst Foods for Acne: Inflammatory Foods
When you’re trying to balance your hormones through diet, it’s important to choose foods that have a low Glycemic Index, which is the measure of how much a certain food increases your blood sugar levels. Foods with a high Glycemic Index spike blood sugar levels and lead to inflammation, causing acne.Photo courtesy of PharmacyPlanet.com
According to Healthline, “Choosing foods with a high GI, such as soda, white bread, candy, sugary cereals, and ice cream, cause dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar and can exacerbate acne.” Here is a list of the top inflammatory foods to avoid or minimize:
1. Added Sugar: Our bodies weren’t made to process all the sugar we consume, so when we eat too much of it, it triggers an inflammatory response that leads to acne. Many foods that you wouldn’t expect contain high amounts of added sugar, such as low-fat yogurt, pasta sauce, and granola bars. The best way to avoid added sugar is to check the labels of your pre-made food and cook your food whenever possible, so you can control the ingredients.
2. Artificial Trans Fats (Partially Hydrogenated Oil): Artificial trans fats “are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid.” says Heart.org. They are known to increase inflammation in the body, especially in people with excess body fat. In fact, they are so bad for you that in 2015 the FDA announced that they are no longer considered safe and gave food-makers three years to eliminate them from their products.
Beware, though! Trans fats can still be found in vegetable shortening (such as Crisco), certain vegetable oils, fried fast foods, dairy-free coffee creamers, bakery items, and many other foods. When checking food labels, you’ll want to look out for trans fats, they are typically listed as “partially hydrogenated oil”.
3. Refined Carbohydrates: Refined carbohydrates are also sometimes called “empty carbohydrates”. What this means is that they have been stripped of all their fiber, vitamins and minerals. Refined carbohydrates include white flour, white rice, and white bread. Carbs that are refined have a high glycemic index and therefore lead to sugar spikes and in turn, inflammation that can impact acne. For this reason, you’ll want to opt for whole wheat bread instead or white bread, brown rice instead of white rice, and whole wheat flour (or other alternatives, such as almond flour) instead of white flour whenever possible. Once you make the switch to complex carbs, you won’t miss empty carbs at all!
4. Processed Meat: Foods like bacon, hot dogs, and other processed meats contain large amounts of sodium and nitrates, which can damage the skin and cause inflammation and acne.
5. Saturated Fats (in excess): Saturated fat often gets a bad reputation, however, it is actually found in many healthy foods such as avocados, nuts, and extra virgin olive oil. It is only when it eaten in excess that studies have shown saturated fats to cause inflammation in the body. The American Heart Association recommends that only 5-6% of the calories in your daily diet be from saturated fat.
5. Alcohol: All alcoholic beverages contain high levels of histamines, which are chemicals created in the body that cause an allergic response. This allergic response can cause skin inflammation that is associated with acne lesions. Red wine is particularly high in histamines (ugh! I know).
If you’re struggling with acne, eliminating alcohol could be very effective in clearing up your skin. However, if you’re like me and know that you’re never going to do this, then cut back on your red wine intake and switch to alcohol with lower levels of histamines such as vodka (plain, not flavored), tequila, and gin. Using real fruit juice in your cocktails rather than sugary drink mixes is also a great idea! And if you like sweet cocktails, use a natural sweetener such as agave or monk fruit liquid sweetener.
6. Gluten (If you’re intolerant): Although in recent years it has gotten a bad reputation, gluten is not entirely proven to be inflammatory if you do not have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. According to Healthline, “it’s unclear whether everyone – regardless of health status – should change their eating habits” however, “several theories have developed as to why human bodies may not be able to handle gluten. Some research suggests that human digestive systems have not evolved to digest the kind or amount of grain proteins that are common in modern diets.”
It seems that until gluten is definitively proven to be bad for us, there is no need to eliminate healthy gluten such as barley, rye, and whole wheat from our diets.
Avoid Dairy Products
The other culprit that may be making your acne worse is dairy. Most of the milk in America comes from pregnant cows, and some cows are given steroid hormone drugs to increase milk production. When we consume milk, according to Byrdie.com, “The idea is that when the hormones in milk react with your own body’s cocktail of testosterone and hormones, your sebum production skyrockets.”Photo courtesy of Onlymyhealth.com
To minimize dairy in your diet, try swapping cow’s milk with almond or oat milk in your morning coffee. Cooking with olive oil or coconut oil instead of butter can also be an easy way to reduce your dairy intake. I like Alison Roman’s recipes because she often gives you the option to make them dairy free by replacing the butter with olive oil (also, they’re delicious!).
Stop “Yo Yo Dieting”
The information above is meant to provide you with tips for transitioning to a cleaner lifestyle that will ultimately result in clearer skin. While a restrictive diet will make your skin clearer, what I have found from experience is that cutting out all these foods is not sustainable. As you may already know, diets usually fail and often lead to what we know as “yo yo dieting”.
Instead of implementing a strict diet and then relapsing a few days later with an entire box of cookies, you are better off starting with small healthy habits like the ones mentioned above. If your goal is to reduce your dairy and sugar intake in half, you are much more likely to succeed than if your goal is to eliminate all dairy and sugar!
The more you educate yourself on nutrition and how it impacts your skin (the sources listed below make great additional reading), the better equipped you will be to make healthier choices. 🙂