You take the time to select your beauty products carefully, making sure that they are the right choice for your skin type and that they don’t contain any harmful ingredients. After all, it matters what you put on your face.
If you suffer from acne, you have to be even more careful as even the slightest mistake could trigger a breakout.
What you may not realize is that what you put in your body is just as important as what you put on your face—at least when it comes to skin health. Certain foods are likely to trigger breakouts while others can actually improve your skin health and condition.
So, how do you know which foods will support clear, healthy skin and which ones don’t?
Fortunately, the secret to clear skin isn’t some complicated ritual or recipe. It simply involves nourishing your body (and your skin) with healthy nutrients that fight inflammation and reduce acne.
Let’s take a closer look at the underlying causes of acne and the different foods that can help reduce and prevent breakouts for healthy, blemish-free skin.
Generally speaking, acne is a chronic, inflammatory condition that causes pimples and other blemishes to form on the skin, most frequently on the face, shoulders, back, neck and chest. It is commonly caused by excess oil production, clogged pores, fluctuating hormones and bacteria.
For decades, the conventional clinical perspective of acne held that acne-causing bacteria (primarily Propionibacterium acnes) enters the sebaceous gland, triggering an immune response which causes an existing noninflammatory comedo or blackhead to progress into an inflammatory papule. More recently, however, clinical studies suggest that inflammation is present at all stages of acne development. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology suggests that the nomenclature used to describe acne—typically noninflammatory versus inflammatory—may be entirely incorrect.
The new clinical perspective on acne is that oxidative stress triggered by chronic inflammation plays a key role in driving the acne process. The results of a study published in the journal Mediators of Inflammation support this theory.
This study, published in 2005, measured the effects of oxidative stress on acne vulgaris in 43 acne patients versus 46 controls. By measuring parameters of oxidative stress and comparing them with the severity and distribution of acne, researchers determined that oxidative stress exists at higher levels in acne patients. They also determined that supplementary antioxidants may be effective in combination with other acne treatments.
According to an article published in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, oxidative stress is an imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), a type of free radical, and the elimination of said molecules by antioxidants in the body.
To put it simply, free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules that cause damage to healthy cells in the body, setting off a chain reaction which leads to chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. Antioxidants are molecules which stabilize free radicals, stopping the chain of damage.
It makes sense, then, that increasing your intake of antioxidants can help tip the scales in the proper direction to reduce oxidative stress and, in doing so, reduce acne.
Increase Antioxidant Levels to Fight Inflammation
Antioxidants can be found naturally in certain plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, green tea, red wine and dark chocolate. There are several different types of antioxidants, most of which can be divided into two categories: direct antioxidants and indirect antioxidants.
Here is an overview of these two types of antioxidants:
In common usage, the word antioxidant typically refers to direct antioxidants that come from whole foods. It is important to note, however, that indirect antioxidants are actually more powerful, as they help the body kill free radicals for hours after consumption and they are highly effective in ridding the body of heavy metals. In contrast, direct antioxidants are used up after extinguishing a free radical.
So, how do you increase your antioxidant levels? Start by making healthy changes to your diet.
When it comes to food, the unit of measurement for antioxidant capacity is Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC). The higher the ORAC, the stronger the antioxidant capacity. By including foods with high ORAC ratings in your diet, you can fight oxidative stress and reduce inflammation.
Here are some of the highest ORAC foods you should include in your clear skin diet:
Reducing inflammation to fight acne is just one component of the clear skin diet. Keep reading to learn more about reducing acne and improving skin health through simple dietary changes.
Acne is an inflammatory skin condition so, by reducing inflammation throughout the body, you can ease your acne symptoms. Foods rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids are the foundation of an anti-inflammatory diet and the first step in creating a clear skin diet.
In addition to the antioxidant-rich foods listed in the previous section, you should include some of these omega-3-rich foods in your diet as well:
While increasing your intake of omega-3s is important to fight acne, you also need to balance your intake with omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are proinflammatory while omega-3s are anti-inflammatory. Research suggests, however, that a balance of both is the key to reducing inflammation. The best diet to fight inflammation is rich in omega-3s and low in omega-6s.
The best sources of omega-6 fatty acids to include in your diet are as follows:
Plant oils like corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, sunflower seed oil and cottonseed oil are also rich in omega-6 fatty acids but they also tend to be processed or refined which may limit their nutritional value.
Increasing your intake of antioxidants and balancing your intake of essential fatty acids is the first step in cultivating a clear skin diet. The next step is to cleanse your diet of toxins and foods that are harming your skin and making your acne worse.
Here are some of the toxins and harmful foods you’ll want to reduce or eliminate from your diet:
Your skin is the largest organ in your body and it plays a key role in your body’s natural detoxification system. If you’re filling your body with toxic and harmful foods, it’s going to show up in your skin. By removing these substances from your diet, you can cleanse your body and get your detoxification system back on track.
In addition to avoiding the foods on the list above, you should make an effort to drink plenty of water. Your liver is already working hard to eliminate toxins from your body and it needs water to flush them out. Increasing your intake of high-fiber foods like complex carbohydrates, leafy greens and fresh fruits can support healthy digestion and detoxification as well.
As you may already know, hormone fluctuations are one of the biggest contributing factors to acne. So, the third step in cultivating a clear skin diet is to restore balance in your body.
Hormones are chemical messengers produced in the endocrine glands. They control most of your body’s major functions including hunger, reproduction and mood. Different glands produce different hormones and they all work in balance to maintain your health and wellbeing.
The six primary hormones in women include the following:
Another hormone you may be familiar with is insulin. Insulin is produced by the pancreas in response to rising blood sugar levels and excess insulin has been shown to trigger inflammation. Research also shows that impaired insulin response (also known as insulin resistance) may trigger or worsen acne.
The key to balancing your hormones is to eat a balanced diet.
A healthy diet for hormone balance includes plenty of healthy fats (primarily polyunsaturated fats like omega-3s and omega-6s), lean proteins, whole grains and other complex carbohydrates. You should also reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol and sugar while increasing your activity level and making sleep a priority. Certain supplements like magnesium, vitamin D, fiber and green tea may help as well.
By now you are well-versed in the best foods to fight acne, but reducing breakouts is only half the battle. You also need to fill your diet with skin-supporting nutrients to get that natural glow.
Here are some of the top foods for clear and healthy skin:
The good news is that you don’t have to obsess about getting a certain amount of these foods in your diet. By building your clear skin diet around lean proteins (especially cold-water fish), whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds and legumes you can improve and protect your skin.
The secret to reducing acne and improving your skin can be found in a healthy diet. A diet for clear skin is rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients, healthy omega fatty acids and hormone-balancing ingredients. Taking steps to reduce or eliminate toxins, processed carbs and refined sugars from your diet while improving your overall nutrition won’t just improve your skin; it will improve your health overall, and that’s all you can really ask for.
If you think you've tried everything and your skin still isn't clearing up, it may be time to speak to a dermatologist about your options. Looking for more ways to keep your skin clear and healthy? Check out these 13 Common But Inaccurate Acne Myths or take our skin care routine quiz and learn about ways to change up your skin game.