As an esthetician who specializes in holistic skin care, I come across many cases of acne that have been troubling clients for long periods of times. I myself, even struggle with the hard to beat skin care condition. As much as I would love to tell you there is a simple magic potion that could permanently clear your breakouts after a few uses - that is just not the case.
The BEST way to permanently clear your acne is internally by eating whole foods that do not trigger inflammation. These whole foods are filled with essential nutrients vital to the entire body & skin health. Along with a beautifully colorful diet, regular exercise, & a natural topical skin care system, this should get you well on your way to your most beautiful skin yet!
How is the skin impacted by internal issues?
The skin can be a map to what is happening inside of the body. Having hormonal issues? This may show up as breakouts in the jaw line or as melasma (hormonal hyperpigmentation) in the cheek area. Sensitive to spicy foods & alcohol intake? This may show up as bright cherry colored & irritated cheeks. Not drinking enough water? The skin may appear frail and have a loss of elasticity. The list goes on. One of my favorite things to do with clients is to show them a basic outline of a Chinese Facial Medicine chart. These charts can give you a better idea of how you need to change your diet & lifestyle to clear up your skin!
Here is a list of where you may want to start with foods to avoid if you are having trouble clearing your breakouts. Each food group is followed up with a few ideas on how to replace these foods with a more nutrient dense option!
When clients come in with cystic acne one of the first things I ask is about their dairy intake. Dairy can be a major irritant to skin due to the amount of inflammation it causes in the body. Think of it this way. The molecular structure in the milk of a dairy cow is designed to make a calf grow into a 2,000-pound cow!! This obviously is a HUGE difference in comparison to a human adult & a baby. Our bodies are just not designed to digest this type of nutrition. This can cause inflammation while the body is trying to process & digest dairy. Dairy also causes hormonal disturbances due to the amount of hormones that are given to the cows to help them grow faster than they ever have before. There are many other issues involving dairy intake & breakouts but, these are a few of the biggies.
What to eat instead of dairy
If you LOVE cheese or mayo on your sandwiches or veggie burgers swap it out for some fresh avocado. You will get the rich creamy texture you love without the inflammation. The added benefits include a load up of antioxidants & healthy fats to keep your complexion even & your skin glowing! In place of cow’s milk, you can opt for almond, rice, coconut, or any of the other great milk replacement options out now! It is best to make your own but hey, sometimes ease counts for something in our busy lives. Also, goats milk & goat cheeses are better options in comparison to cow’s milk if you are not fully ready to give up your beloved dairy!
Sugars, in general, cause inflammation in the body. When we are inflamed this makes it difficult for our body to accept antioxidants & other important nutrients to keep our skin healthy. Sugars also cause dramatic insulin spikes which can affect your hormonal breakouts. This is a major issue if it is extended over a long period of time.
What to eat instead of processed sugar :
Your best bet here is honey. Honey is the better option because it takes our body a slightly longer time to break it down in comparison to white sugar. You can also try sweetening your favorite drinks & snacks with fresh berries to get an added boost of antioxidants. Coconut sugar is another decent option but not the BEST way to go. Coconut sugar could totally be a way to ease into getting off of your traditional white sugar & it is a wonderful option for baking!
This is one I know a lot of you will not like to hear. I do think everything in moderation is key. Coffee and other highly caffeinated drinks (mixed with high acidity levels) cause the adrenals to pump out excess amounts of hormones because it has triggered the fight or flight response. This is bad news for those of us who suffer from hormonal breakouts. We really want to aim to keep the adrenals neutral and to keep cortisol levels low. 2
What to try in place of coffee :
Herbal Teas, like Teecino, can be a great caffeine free coffee replacement. It tastes just like coffee but does not have the processing that decaf coffee does. One of my favorite options to reach for instead of coffee is Kombucha! Kombucha can give you great energy while replacing the good bacteria in your gut which many times can help calm your breakouts!.If caffeine is a must for you shoot for organic teas. I really enjoy matcha for its boost of stable energy & antioxidants.
Having a drink here and there will likely not be the root cause of your breakouts. Alcohol does impact our hormone levels and weakens our immune system. As most know alcohol has a negative impact on the liver. The liver’s job is to detoxify and cleanse the blood and the body of any harmful toxins and it allows for easier digestion. If we are unable to remove inflammatory toxins and are unable to digest our food properly this will have a direct influence on the skin over time, inflammatory breakouts being a major possibility. 3
What to drink in place of alcohol:
If you are at a party or out with friends these can be the times you may really want to reach for a sugary cocktail. If you are able to bring kombucha with you this would be a great time to swap it in! It has a fizzy, bubbly taste, and always gives you the feel goods! If you are at a bar see if you can get some fresh juice with sparkling water. This can even be some citrus squeezed in with seltzer. If you lean towards alcohol to destress from your day try some kava, lavender, or valerian root tea instead!
PROCESSED FOODS :
Processed foods are known as dead foods. In those words alone that is saying A LOT! Processed foods are typically filled with sugars, sugar substitutes, food dyes, high levels of sodium, whacky chemicals and typically just nothing that is nutritionally beneficial. For your overall health processed foods are totally a food group to ditch!
Processed foods replacement:
Pretty much all processed foods can be made at home. Any snack you are craving you can find a healthy recipe for it online. Eating fresh, whole foods is your best option here. If you HAVE to have processed foods in your pantry look for items where you can understand & read the whole ingredient list. On the labels, keep and eye out for sneaky added sugars & sodium. Making your food at home is obviously not the easiest option but, your body & skin will thank you a million times over! You will more than likely be minimizing your visits to the doctor over time too!
Gluten is a big hot word at the moment. Is it bad for you? Is it good for you? Do you only need to ditch it if you have Celiac Disease? My answer I give to clients with acne is to do one or two weeks without any gluten and to see if it has a positive influence on your breakouts. In most cases, those few weeks show drastic changes. Gluten for most people causes inflammation whether you are Celiac or not. 4
What to eat in place of gluten :
If you love wraps and sandwiches try bundling up your next one in a beautiful collard or lettuce wrap. Collards are rich in vitamin A & C. Both are necessary antioxidants to keep your skin looking youthful, radiant, & safe from free radicals. Collards are my favorite for wraps. They seem to hold up better and are easier for me to work with. If you love gluten filled treats here and there make them at home. There are amazing flours out there now made of foods like coconut & buckwheat - which are both gluten free. If you enjoy having sliced bread ready for your convenience try a brand like Ezekiel Bread. They have great gluten free options and have a short list of real food ingredients.
With soy, I typically have clients minimize their intake if they consume a large amount of it. Many times the main issue is the fact they are using processed soy burgers and soy “cheese” that have many other processed sugars and ingredients. Soy does have the potential to affect hormone levels due to “plant estrogens” found in it. Many times people have an allergy to soy and that is what is triggering their breakouts.
What to eat in place of soy :
Many times when we quit eating meat it is too easy to swap in too many soy replacements instead. Skip this if you can and shoot for other forms of plant protein like black beans, kidney beans, or peas. Some people can have sensitivities to these as well so try to not go overboard. If you do love your soy try out some tempeh instead of tofu. It is the whole soy bean that is fermented so it is less processed and packed with more health benefits.
All of this information can be A LOT for a person to digest if they are new to these concepts. My advice to you is to start small and be open to new possibilities. Try slowly reducing one of these foods on this list and see how you feel & how your skin looks. If you notice changes -- that is amazing! If you don't move on to the next food and see if you notice it there. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t automatically rock it out and ditch it 100% overnight. It takes time getting used to a new lifestyle change. Many of these foods like sugar, coffee, & dairy have somewhat addictive qualities that can be hard to overcome. Be patient with yourself and try these practices as a fun experiment to take the pressure off! I hope you all enjoy some of these ideas and we would love to hear your feedback and any added advice!
Rebekah Warlick is a Licensed Esthetician at Lavandula Skin Spa in Woodstock, GA and the creator of www.theholisitchopeful.com