Treating & Preventing Acne
Though acne is most common during puberty and adolescence, women of all ages can experience pimples and breakouts. In the teenage years, acne commonly appears on the face and upper body, while adult acne is more often limited to the chin and jawline. It can arise, however, on any part of the body such as the back, arms, chest, abdomen, and legs. Since acne is expected in the teenage years, it is unwelcome but dealt with, and is often made a bit easier by the fact that a teen’s peers are also experiencing it. Adult acne, however, can cause us to become especially uncomfortable, as people think they should be “past that stage” and often feel like they are alone in their struggles. For many people, acne is therefore not merely a cosmetic problem - it can also affect one’s emotions, stress, and self-esteem.
As unfortunate as acne can be, it’s actually a sign from our bodies telling us that something is going on internally and that there may be an imbalance of some kind within the body. Acne serves as a visual symptom for various conditions. This is good news as it is a roadmap that can point us in the right direction towards healing. If we work to address the root problem, the imbalance will be corrected and the acne will disappear.
And thankfully, treating acne often involves making just a few simple changes to one’s diet and lifestyle. Below you will find an overview of the various types and causes of acne, as well as holistic tips regarding diet, supplementation, herbs, and lifestyle to help treat and prevent it.
Note that it is best to work with a holistic practitioner when dealing with supplements and herbs to be sure you are choosing the best products for you.
Hormones and Menstruation - many women experience premenstrual acne flare-ups which can be caused by the release of progesterone after ovulation in the luteal phase.
Oral Contraceptives - these are high in progesterone which can lead to breakouts.
Candidiasis - an overgrowth of candida can cause hormonal changes in the body that can encourage the liver to produce substances that inhibit healthy sebum production.
Poor Detoxification - the skin is part of the body’s detoxification system, in which waste products are excreted from the body through sweating. When the liver and kidneys are not working properly, or are overburdened, the skin will take over and can also become overburdened.
Poor Digestion and Constipation - proper elimination of waste products and toxins are essential for clear skin. If there is a back-up in the colon, wastes and toxins can start surfacing through the skin. Food intolerances and sensitivities can also cause poor digestion, leading to wastes and toxins surfacing through the skin.
Other Factors Include
Drugs and medications (especially steroids and the birth control pill)
Exposure to environmental and industrial pollutants
Overly acidic or overly alkaline body pH
Eating a clean, whole food diet as often as possible is essential here. This includes whole grains, sustainably farmed/caught meats and fish, fresh and raw fruits and vegetables, raw nuts, legumes, and healthy fats. In addition to a well-balanced diet, the following foods are great additions to the daily diet, to help heal acne. As much as possible, avoid boxed foods and fast foods.
What to add in
Consume balanced meals with plenty of protein, healthy fats & carbohydrates.
Lots of Water! Shoot for 8, 8oz glasses per day! Water is essential for every function of the body, and that’s including skin health! We hear it all the time but it’s so easy to forget when we’re are on the go. Keeping a water bottle with you when you’re out & keep refilling.
Foods high in Fiber- Fiber helps to keep the digestive system healthy and clear by adding bulk to the stool, removing toxic waste buildup that can accumulate in the GI tract. Fiber also helps to gather and remove excess hormones that are accumulated in the body - hormones that may cause acne. It's best to eat fiber with every meal to avoid any sort of harmful buildup in the body. Fiber is found in plant-based foods and is especially high in raw fruits and vegetables, such as spinach, arugula, berries, broccoli, radish, and beets. Whole grains, beans, legumes, and nuts are great sources as well. Finishing a meal off with a raw salad or having a side of grains and legumes with meals will add a healthy dose of fiber to meals.
Probiotic-rich foods- Probiotics are needed to cultivate and feed gut microflora, which is essentially healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. Overgrowth of bad bacteria is one of the culprits of acne, so promoting healthy gut flora will reach throughout the body to keep harmful bacteria at bay. Probiotic-rich foods include naturally fermented sauerkraut, water kefir, kimchi, and tempeh. Daily incorporation of some sort of probiotic will help to keep gut flora healthy
Foods rich in Zinc- There is a direct link between low zinc levels and skin health. Zinc reduces inflammation on the skin and has been shown to destroy acne-causing bacteria. Zinc-rich foods include organic beef liver, oysters, pumpkin seeds, raw cacao, and beans. * You can also break up a zinc tablet, mix it with a small amount of water & apply it directly to acne.
Foods high in Essential Fatty Acids- EFA rich foods are healthy fats that have healing and anti-inflammatory properties and help to create, transport and regulate healthy hormones production. They also help balance excess sebum (skin oil), which is a main culprit of acne. EFA rich foods include olive oil, fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel), avocado, walnut, and flaxseed oil.
What to Avoid
Known inflammatory or bacteria feeding foods should be the first to go, as they contribute to acne outbreaks.
Processed Foods (fast-food, boxed cereals, store-bought frozen meals, preservatives, food dyes, soda, fried food)
Sugars & Artificial Sweeteners
Conventionally Farmed Meats
Wheat (due to its high gluten contents)
Unnecessary Prescription Medication
Try starting small and choosing one to two things to add to your diet. For example, aim to eat at least one vegetable with every meal, to eat one raw food each day, to try one new fruit and one new vegetable every week, and so on. The goal is to crowd out the “avoid” foods with the “include” foods. For example, start with reducing your sugar intake, then avoid processed foods, next avoid dairy and animal products, etc. You can also take the approach of continuing to add more “include” foods into your diet, which will eventually leave not enough room for the “avoid” foods.
Avoid wearing makeup during breakouts and whenever possible (the skin needs to breathe and makeup can clog the pores)
Use natural and organic skincare products
Clean your makeup brushes and applicators regularly
Use an ACV toner to balance skin pH (1 part ACV with 10 parts water and apply to the affected area)
Avoid wearing tight clothing and gym/yoga gear for extended periods of time
Avoid stress as much as possible - stress can promote hormonal changes and cause acne flare-ups
Get 15 mins of sunshine each day on skin that is sunscreen-free
Exercise regularly and shower within 15-30 minutes after to wash away sweat
Drink at least 8 cups of filtered water daily
Get sufficient sleep - 8 hours each night is recommended
Avoid squeezing blemishes - this often makes them worse and they can become infected and spread bacteria
A great way to treat acne and can be used internally or topically.
Milk Thistle - aids the liver in cleansing the blood. Try as a tincture 3x per day for up to 1 month.
Dandelion or Burdock Root tea - both powerful blood and liver cleansers, which can improve the quality of skin by enhancing digestive function and supporting elimination. Try as an infusion or tea daily, especially helpful 1 week prior to menstruation to help clear excess hormones.
Chaste Tree Berry (Vitex) - can aid in preventing premenstrual breakouts. Try as a capsule or in tincture form for regulating hormonal imbalance.
Tea Tree Oil - a natural antibiotic and antiseptic. Mix essential oil with a carrier oil (such as jojoba oil) to decrease harshness for the skin, and dab directly on blemish(es) daily.
The presence of acne can be due to a lack of various nutrients. Adding in supplements can help to reduce acne as well as prevent future breakouts from occurring.
EFAs (flaxseed and evening primrose are good sources) - supply essential GLA, needed to keep the skin smooth and soft, repair tissues, and dissolve fatty tissues that block pores. They also aid in healing.
Take 2,000-3,000 mg daily.
Vitamin C with Bioflavonoids - promotes immune function and reduces inflammation. It’s also needed for collagen repair of the skin tissues.
Take 1,000-1,600 mg 3 times daily and make sure to use a buffered or lipospheric type for maximum absorption.
Vitamin D - promotes healing and tissue repair.
Take at least 1,000-5,000 IU daily (get your levels tested to determine optimal dosage).
Vitamin E - antioxidant that enhances healing and tissue repair
Take 400 IU daily and use the d-alpha-tocopherol form.
Zinc - aids in the healing of tissues and helps to prevent scarring. Zinc is a necessary element in the oil-producing glands of the skin.
Take 30-80 mg daily, or crush and mix a bit of the supplement with water & apply it topically.