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May 11, 2021

Can Food Make or Break My Skin & Body? - A Guide to Acne

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Most of us have a holy grail face product that we would swear upon up and down, but the truth is, beautiful skin starts from what we feed our body. Our cells are constantly shedding and replaced with newer cells and a balanced diet of optimum nutrition is vital to ensure this continuous cycle. By eating right, we provide our skin with key nutrients allowing it to stay supple, smooth, and free from acne.

The two things that most Singaporeans hold dearly to their hearts are food and looking young and healthy. Unfortunately, while we may be able to resist indulging in the variety of cuisines available, we are unable to stop our skin from natural ageing. Wrinkles and age spots are products of time while skin ageing could be sped up by spending too much time in the sun, improper skin routine, and poor nutrition.

But, what about acne breakouts? Does our love for a rich variety of cuisines and flavors come back to haunt us through angry pimples and whiteheads popping up on our faces?

With this distressing image in mind, a holistic attitude would be wise. It would be in your best interests to treat your skin kindly and boost your nutrition by consuming antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables as well as healthy fats from nuts and fish, which should produce the ideal level of nutrients that are necessary for glowing skin.

Many factors contribute to the development of acne. Acne is affected mostly by excess sebum and keratin production, acne-causing bacteria, hormones, and blocked pores. However, one of the main causes of inflammation is the food we consume. While this has stirred up an uproar amongst skincare gurus and seasoned dermatologists, research shows that our diet does indeed affect our acne development.

Refined grains and sugar, dairy products, and fast food are just some examples of how food can lead to acne and inflammation worsening over time, as well as the appearance of new acne. How can we get rid of this acne?

Refined Grains and Sugars

A diet containing more refined carbohydrates include:

  • Bread, Cereal, Desserts or Pasta containing white flour and crackers
  • White rice and rice noodles
  • Soda and other beverages containing sugar and sweeteners
  • Sweeteners such as cane sugar, maple sugar, honey, or agave

These refined carbohydrates are also known as added sugars. People who consume these foods have a 30% greater risk of developing acne. However, people who regularly consume pastries and cakes only had a 20% greater risk.

Refined carbohydrates are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, which raises blood sugar levels quickly. Consequently, our insulin levels will rise just as rapidly. However high levels of insulin have been proven to be worse for individuals with severe acne or for those who have acne breakouts easily. [1]

Insulin causes the androgen hormones to be more active and pushes the insulin-like growth factor, also known as IGF-1. Acne is either developed or exacerbated from here as the skin cells would grow more quickly and increase sebum production. With the increase in sebum production, the more likely it is for you to experience more acne breakouts.

Dairy Products

Here is a creepy fact: Dairy cows are injected with artificial hormones that directly affect their milk supply. Since these hormones are artificial, they have the ability to potentially affect your hormones when you consume the milk products produced by these cows. Many have claimed that the severity of one’s acne can be blamed on the bovine hormones which are bioavailable during consumption.

Now that you have re-evaluated your dairy products of choice, you may be heartened or horrified to know that acne is more likely to affect people who consume low fat or skim milk. Experts claim that people who drink one or more glasses of milk every day have a higher chance of seeing their acne worsen than those who drink less milk.

There is also a theory against milk proteins in milk products. In reality, milk proteins have been added to skim milk to reduce the watery taste of the milk. Whey and Casein have been cited as sources that cause further skin inflammation [2] – possibly directly affecting one’s acne, which might make you think twice regarding protein powder.

Fast Food

Whether it is McDonald’s, Burger King, or KFC, fast food chains have infiltrated our lives – for better or worse – and our skin cells scream every time we gorge ourselves with fries and oil-dripping burgers.

As one of the peskiest culprits for health-related problems, fast food contains high saturated fats and processed ingredients as well as chemicals that may throw our hormones off. This causes a domino effect: our blood sugar levels may increase and in turn, boost our sebum production.

For the next time, you have a fast-food craving but cannot stop staring at your porcelain skin in the mirror: switch fried potatoes for baked potatoes. You could also switch regular meat for red meat in your burgers.

Low-Glycemic Diets

Changing your diet is never easy, especially since many of us derive the most satisfaction and joy from our meals. However, committing to a low-glycemic diet a few days a week before increasing gradually could potentially improve your health as well as clear your skin.

Contrary to popular belief, low-glycemic diets are rich in vitamins and flavour. It will not be a bland ride of leaves and beans.

Some examples of foods included in a low-glycemic diet are:

  • Green vegetables
  • Most fruits
  • Raw carrots
  • Kidney beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Bran breakfast cereals

Other rules of engaging in a low-glycemic lifestyle include:

  • Limiting concentrated sweets and high-calorie food with a low glycemic index. Some good examples would be ice cream, sugar-sweetened drinks, and fruit juices with added sugar.
  • Consume vegetables with low to no starch and beans. Fruits such as apples, pears, peaches, berries, bananas, and papayas have a low glycemic index. These foods can be blended and enjoyed without any additional substances or ingredients. They are incredibly convenient as you can just grab them while you’re on the go.

Just as there is bad food that causes your acne and inflammation to flare up, we have good food that treats and heals from within your body for healthy, clear, happy skin.

Green Tea

Many skincare addicts have committed themselves to the famous “green tea under eye treatment”, which magically removes one’s eye bags. The special ingredients are substances called catechins. Catechins are plant-based compounds, or polyphenols, which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic properties. Green tea is also a highly rich source of epigallocatechin gallate, a type of polyphenol which has proven to aid in healing acne. [3]

Research has shown that the polyphenols found in green tea prevent sebaceous glands from producing excess sebum or oil. Excess sebum oil may cause the dirt, debris, and dead skin cells to build up and this could clog pores and trigger more acne breakouts.

While some skincare gurus prefer making their own masks and treatments, it’s perfectly fine to consume green tea on its own or in other types of drinks and food. However, it is important to bear in mind that experts have yet to confirm the exact dosage of green tea for maximum effectiveness.

Should you decide to drink green tea instead of applying it directly to your face, you might want to consider brewing it at home instead of purchasing bottled or premade green tea. Premade or bottled green tea often contain artificial flavours, sugars, and additives. This essentially increases the insulin and blood glucose levels in our bodies which leads to further inflammation that causes acne.

Avocados

Packed with vitamins, healthy fats, and compounds, avocados are a newly integrated member of acne-fighting foods. They are commonly known to boost the process of skin repair and improve chronic acne.

Experts and extensive research findings show that vitamin C and vitamin E found in avocados protect our skin from sun damage and inflammation. Just like inflammation, sun damage is caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays and they can lead to further breakouts. One example is when sweat contributes to the excess sebum and oil production.

Avocado oil is said to contain an abundant number of antioxidants, plant sterols, omega-9, minerals, vitamin C and vitamin E. Avocado oil also soothes inflammation which gets rid of old skin cells. [4]

Apart from topical application, introducing avocado into your diet is easy. They can either be eaten on their own with some lemon juice and salt sprinkled on top, as avocado juice, or in salads and other food dishes. There are various ways that avocados can be incorporated into our diet, which in turn, reflects on your skin.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) always stirs up a big debate in the skincare community. Little research has been conducted to show that apple cider vinegar is indeed a type of acne-fighting food. However, those who have tried it have sung its praises loud and clear.

ACV is made from the fermentation of apple cider or when apple juice is unfiltered. It contains acetic, citric, lactic, and succinic acid. These acids have all been proven to kill Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), which is a type of bacteria.

In terms of preventing or reducing inflammation, one may dilute pure ACV in warm water. Naturally, ACV is a strong acid that may cause burning when applied topically. The ratio of ACV to water should be kept minimally around 1:3. Avoid using ACV on open wounds or highly sensitive skin. It may also be applied as a toner. ACV is most beneficial as a base for cleansing after you have removed makeup or excess debris from the day.

Summary of Foods and Vitamins that Fight Acne:

  • Nuts and leafy vegetables: Rich in vitamin E and heal acne scarring
  • Melons, citrus fruits, and tomatoes: Rich in vitamin C and heal damaged or irritated skin or acne scars
  • Carrots, sweet potatoes: Rich in vitamin A and beta carotene. Protects skin against free radicals and skin-damaging compounds which can cause acne and inflammation
  • Water: Cleanses the skin and hydrates body cells
  • Spinach, green tea, and berries: Rich in antioxidants that attack free radicals that may cause skin damage.

The journey to achieving healthy, happy, clear skin is much more than adhering to a strict skincare routine. We often forget that our faces are one of the most integral parts of our body and we truly reflect what we eat. With a few tweaks to our diet and adding in a more enriched understanding of food and its effects on our skin, we will be seeing nothing but porcelain skin in the mirror.

  1. Emiroğlu, N., Cengiz, F. P., & Kemeriz, F. (2015). Insulin resistance in severe acne vulgaris. Postepy dermatologii i alergologii32(4), 281–285. https://doi.org/10.5114/pdia.2015.53047
  2. Patel, S. (2015). Functional food relevance of whey protein: A review of recent findings and scopes ahead. Journal of Functional Foods19, 308-319.
  3. Saric, S., Notay, M., & Sivamani, R. K. (2016). Green Tea and Other Tea Polyphenols: Effects on Sebum Production and Acne Vulgaris. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland)6(1), 2. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox6010002
  4. https://www.healthline.com/health/avocado-benefits-for-skin

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