Stubborn acne can really hurt your self-esteem, but can also be a sign of other underlying health problems. Your skin is a window into your overall health and well being, so if you feel like you've tried everything, but haven't seen the improvement you hope for, read on.
Diet Is Key
Did you know that sensitivities to certain foods may be causing your acne problems? Many people believe that as long as they're taking care of their skin on the outside (i.e. cleansing, moisturizing, avoiding the sun, etc.), they are doing all they can for skin health. But what you put in your body matters too! We all know how important it is to get the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals for optimal body function, but if you're getting your vitamins and minerals and staying hydrated, and your skin is still not clearing up, it may be time to try an elimination diet. Because acne is an inflammatory condition, certain inflammatory foods make it worse!
An elimination completely eradicates certain foods from your diet, and then after a few weeks, slowly reintroduces foods one by one, to see which ones trigger your symptoms. It may seem like a lot of hard work, but the results don't disappoint. Once you find the foods triggering your acne, you can be in better control of your skin's health. It is recommended that you eliminate potential triggers for at least 30 days, with longer periods being even better. Read below for the common acne triggers that you should eliminate from your diet.
Dairy products cause inflammation in many people because they contain hormones that tell your skin to make more oil. In addition, the protein casein is found in most dairy products, and casein can release a hormone called IGF-1, which often causes breakouts. Be wary of sodium caseinate as well, as it's a derivative of casein, and is found hidden in many items that you might think are dairy free, like coffee creamer, soy cheeses, and whipped toppings. Dairy products to avoid are:
- Ice Cream
- Sour Cream
Read the ingredients of a product and make sure the label does not note that the product contains dairy. Butter can usually be tolerated because it lacks casein.
Sugar is a huge culprit in acne, because, like dairy, it causes inflammation. Added sugars are hidden in nearly every packaged food, so you need to be extremely cautious when reading labels. The sugars that occur naturally in fruits and vegetables are healthy for your body in moderation, but other added sugars need to be avoided 100%. Sugar is often disguised under dozens of different names. Some common names are easily recognizable, like corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose, fructose, or glucose, but watch out for these less common ones:
- Cane juice
- Rice syrup
You can also bet that nearly any ingredient that contains the word "syrup" is a hidden form of sugar as well.
Most chocolate contains both sugar and dairy to begin with, in addition to chemicals like caffeine and theobromine, which some experts believe lead to clogged pores. Avoid chocolate as part of your elimination diet.
MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a flavoring agent used in many common processed foods. It is man-made and is added to products like soups, sauces, seasonings, and snack foods. In addition to acne, it is often blamed for a multitude of other health problems like migraines, stomach or digestive system pain, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and even dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
In addition to being inflammatory, MSG can also harm gut bacteria. The bacteria in your gut plays an important role in your overall health, and a healthy gut and healthy skin are definitely interlinked. Like sugar, MSG hides behind a lot of different names, so do some research and always check the ingredients! Keep an eye open for MSG masquerading under these names:
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- Hydrolyzed plant protein hydrolyzed protein
- Natural flavors (watch out, sometimes even organic foods contain this one)
- Yeast extract
- Autolyzed yeast
- Protein isolate
Even if you're not fighting acne, eliminating MSG can have countless health benefits, like reduced headaches, more energy, and better mental clarity.
Aspartame is a chemical sweetener often used in place of sugar. It is used in products as a no-calorie alternative to sugar and doesn't raise blood sugar, so is thought of as suitable for diabetics. However, aspartame is not a healthy alternative to sugar at all. Like MSG, it can mess with your gut bacteria, cause headaches, digestive upset, and can affect your metabolism. The harmful chemicals in aspartame have no health benefits and are not digested by the body, so some components can exit your body through the skin which causes pimples. Avoid all artificial sweeteners, in addition to sugar.
Say Goodbye to Acne
Try removing the above products from your diet for 30 days or more to see an improvement in your skin's health. For the first few days, you may feel unwell as your body withdraws from the harmful products. You may have a headache, stomachache, or just may generally feel under the weather. Rest assured that these symptoms will only last for a week or less, and the feelings are simply your body readjusting. You can expect to see a noticeable improvement in your acne within a week or two. If you wish to reintroduce these products into your diet, you may do so after 30 days, but know that if you eliminate sugar, aspartame, MSG, dairy, and chocolate long-term, your overall health and well-being will improve!