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Acne Diets: Nutritionist Approved Foods for Clear Skin

Acne is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the sebaceous unit of the skin. It is estimated to affect 9.4% of the global population, making it the eighth most prevalent disease worldwide.



In this article, we’ll explore the association between acne and nutrition, foods that cause acne, some of the anti-acne foods and highlight the best acne treatment nutrition.

Many different mechanisms have been explored and investigated in relation to the development of acne. Key pathogenic factors include rapid shedding of skin cells (follicular hyper-keratinization), microbial overgrowth of a pathogen called Propionibacterium acnes, increased sebum production and complex inflammatory mechanisms involving both innate and acquired immunity. In addition, studies have suggested that neuroendocrine regulatory mechanisms, hormones, nutrition, and genetic factors all may contribute to the multifactorial process of acne pathogenesis [2].

Nutrition facts acne

The link between nutrition and acne has been controversial, but recent research shows that diet can play a significant role in acne development. Based on current evidence, dietary intervention has shown great promise in acne treatment [3].

  • A diet for acne-free skin needs to provide carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index such as whole grains brown rice, brown bread, rye, millet, bulgur wheat [4].
  • Reduce dairy consumption and try fortified plant milk instead. If your skin complaints continue to persist, consider eliminating allergens such as wheat, dairy and eggs.
  • Include probiotic-rich foods such as kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, fermented tofu and kefir to support the skin’s (and gut) microbiome [5].
  • Take a good quality and pure omega 3 supplement to support skin hydration and regulate the inflammatory response of the skin.
  • Consider supplementing with marine collagen, a natural source of type 1 collagen that is easily absorbed. It’s a hot topic at the moment and provides great nutrition acne prone skin might need.
  • Support methylation and detoxification with vitamins and minerals like methyl-folate, methyl-cobalamine, vitamin B6, zinc and copper.
  • Consume organic produce wherever possible.
  • Foods that cure acne are rich in a variety of vegetables and (some) fruits of rainbow colours. Particularly green and orange ones for their carotenoid and polyphenol content.
  • Include protein-rich foods. Protein supports the growth and maintenance of collagen and elastin fibres. Amino acids proline and lysine work together with vitamin C to enhance the formation of collagen.

Due to the complex pathophysiology of skin conditions, it’s important to approach it with holistic, in-depth and comprehensive support. Read more about our Practitioners and contact us to match you with the most suitable practitioner.

What foods help clear acne?

The skin is our largest structural organ. It protects the body from damage and provides a surface for external interaction. Most crucially, it’s the only organ we have ongoing visual access to. Our skin is a true reflection of our inner health and vitality and provides us with good insight to what might be going on metabolically within the body. If we don’t pay close attention to what we put into our bodies, the message we get will be in red, especially in the case of acne. So, what does optimum nutrition for acne mean? Recent evidence reveals that the acne diet plan is rich in phytonutrients, Vitamin A, C, D, E, zinc and foods high in omega 3 and probiotics. Here are a few of our favourite superfoods:

  1. Kale is high in fibre, this nutritious superfood is packed with vitamins A, C, B6, C, K and folate, manganese, calcium, copper, potassium and magnesium. It also provides some exciting phytonutrients such as chlorophyll, the king of phytochemicals! Chlorophyll has the ability to bind to toxins [6] a crucial pathway to support clear skin. Vitamin C in Kale has been shown to promote collagen formation, helping to repair acne scars faster by increasing cell turnover rate. Kale also contains kaempferol, a flavonol that helps to reduce inflammation.
  2. Broccoli is kind of a big deal and everyone is raving about this brilliant veg. It contains a phytonutrient called glucosinolates that is converted into a very important antioxidant called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane supports the clearance of detoxified oestrogen, which may be one piece of the puzzle in acne treatment nutrition.
  3. Sweet Potato provides one of the most recognised phytonutrients, beta carotene. Beta carotene is converted into vitamin A by the body, which is quite possibly the most important skin nutrients out there.
  4. Berries are high in vitamin C and countless colourful flavonoids many of which have been shown to enhance collagen production and improve the barrier function of the skin.
  5. Pumpkins are high in zinc and fibre, both support skin health through different mechanisms. Zinc reduces inflammation and acts as antimicrobial and fibre will support your gut’s microbiome and the final phase of detoxification, the elimination. Pumpkins seeds are one of the most nutritious snacks for acne as they are naturally high in zinc.
  6. Fresh herbs like turmeric, ginger and rosemary are high antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

Does nutrition affect acne?

The best approach of optimal nutrition for acne should include the following nutrients:

  • Vitamin A is by far the most researched vitamin in relation to acne. Vitamin A is well known for its role in supporting barrier function, it also heals the skin and modulates sebum production [7].
  • Vitamin E stimulates skin regeneration and has anti-inflammatory properties, making it a promising tool in the treatment of acne-prone skin.
  • Vitamin C has also been shown to improve oily skin due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Vitamin C may help to reduce redness and swelling and is good for accelerating the healing process of the skin [8].
  • Vitamin D is responsible for the skin’s barrier function by specifically regulating the process involved in lipid barrier formation. Just like Vitamin A, it regulates skin cell turnover so ensuring we have good vitamin D levels is crucial for keeping our skin soft and well hydrated. It also has anti-inflammatory and immune regulatory properties both found to be beneficial for acne treatment [9].
  • Vitamin B3 and B5 regulate the amount of oil the sebaceous glands produce and prevent them from going into overdrive [10].
  • Zinc has the ability to reduce oil production and regulate inflammation, this multi-tasking mineral has been found to improve acne in several clinical trials.
  • Fish oil provides very long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory effect, which has been shown to reduce breakouts.
  • Probiotics deserve a mention as part of the ‘nutrition for acne-free skin’ protocol. Research has found that people with acne seem to have higher levels of pathogenic gut bacteria such as E coli and Salmonella and lower levels of the beneficial Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria strains [11].

We also have several IV nutrient drips that are specifically designed to support skin health. Get in touch and find out more about our Anti Aging and Skin and beauty IV therapy, available here at our clinic in London and as part of our very exciting IV home service (LINK).

What foods should I avoid for acne?

The relationship between acne and nutrition is well documented although still not conclusive. There is strong evidence to suggest that milk, processed foods and sugars can aggravate the symptoms of acne [12]. Here is the list of foods you may want to exclude (or at least reduce) from your diet.

  • Milk and dairy products: The probable cause of the comedogenic effects of milk is the hormones produced by cows. There is evidence to suggest that milk increases hormones such as insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), testosterone and its conversion to DHT (more on this later) and also progesterone [13] – all implicated in the development of acne.
  • Highly processed foods: Acne is strongly associated with eating a Western-style diet high in empty calories, trans-fats and refined carbohydrates [14]. So, opting for a diet that is full of fresh plant foods, herbs and spices and good quality protein is definitely going to improve the look and feel of your skin.
  • Refined grains and sugars: A recent study found that people who frequently consumed refined sugars had a 30% greater risk of developing acne, while those who regularly ate pastries and cakes had a 20% greater risk [15]. Try swapping your cake for a lovely fresh fruits salad to increase those colourful flavonoids in your diet.
  • Chocolate: There is evidence to suggest that chocolate is another trigger food and may increase the number and size of pimples [16].
  • Food sensitivities and allergies may also be contributing to the development of acne. An elimination diet could help pinpoint trigger foods that might aggravate your symptoms.

How can I stop hormonal acne?

There are several hormones that play a role in the development of acne:

Insulin, a hormone that is released every time you eat to regulate your blood sugar [17]. Insulin resistance, a condition in which the cells fail to respond normally to insulin, have been implicated in the aetiology of acne hence why acne is often referred to as the ‘skin’s diabetes’. Insulin resistance exacerbates oily and acne prone skin by increasing the proliferation of keratinocytes and also stimulates the synthesis of androgens like testosterone, leading to high sebum production, a recognised correlate of acne severity.

Nutritional tip: Reducing sugar in your diet may help reduce acne. Just remember, all in moderation, we all deserve a little treat every now and then.

IGF-1, otherwise known as insulin-like growth factor 1, a naturally occurring growth hormone [18]. IGF-1 has been shown to be raised in acne sufferers and it directly stimulates keratinocyte proliferation.

Nutritional tip: For an effective hormonal acne diet sorting out your macros is a good place to start. Increase good quality protein and fats and reduce foods that are highly processed and have high glycaemic index.

Testosterone, a sex hormone produced in both men and women [19]. In acne patients, there is a greater activity of an enzyme called 5-α-reductase, which is responsible for the conversion of testosterone to the more potent form dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT has been strongly implicated in the development of acne.

Practical tips: Saw Palmetto extract has been shown to reduce the conversion of testosterone to DHT. Our clinic provides specialist herbal advice to our clients. Please get in touch to find out more.

Oestrogen and Progesterone, two of the female hormones crucial for female health, menstrual cycle and fertility. Before menstruation, oestrogen and progesterone levels fall and result in proportionally higher levels of testosterone.

Practical tips: Dietary and supplementation advice is often different for women who are on any form of contraception and patients with pre-existing hormonal conditions such as PCOS or endometriosis as there may be an increased need for certain nutrients and other considerations. It is important to work with an experienced practitioner to individualise an approach that considers your unique situation, genetics and health status. At the London Clinic of Nutrition we combine industry-leading nutrition and functional medicine expertise, alongside the latest in-house testing, so we can attend to all your health needs in one trip. Read more about our experienced Practitioners here who will provide you with personalised support and advice.

Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), is a neuropeptide involved in your stress response and also produced by the skin. CRH has been reported to play a role in inflammation, the production of sebum and the differentiation of keratinocytes thus plays a key role in the development of acne [20].

Practical tip: at a therapeutic level, zinc supplementation may be useful at reducing inflammatory lesions of acne.

Our support in treating acne

Acne is considered to be predominantly a hormonal condition but other factors such as liver function, gut immunity and toxicity, oxidative stress and inflammation should also be considered. Therefore, it is important to work with an experienced practitioner to individualise an approach that considers your unique body, genetics and health status.

At the London Clinic of Nutrition we combine industry-leading nutrition and functional medicine expertise, alongside the latest in-house testing, so we can attend to all your health needs in one trip.

Get in touch to discuss your health concerns and how to match you with the most suitable practitioner.



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