Do you need to detox for acne?5 minute read

Spoiler alert: you don’t need to ‘detox’ to clear your acne. But you might benefit from giving your liver a helping hand.

Way back in the 1950s, Japanese researchers discovered if you supported the liver with specific nutrients, acne improved [1]. This might seem random—but actually your skin and your liver are intimately linked.

Read on to discover what your liver has to do with clear skin, and how to support your liver through simple steps.


Detoxification 101

To understand detoxification, let’s talk about rubbish. Think about how you get rid of household rubbish—you collect it up, tie it securely in a big bag and then put it outside.

This is what your liver does. As your major organ of detoxification, it filters 1.4L blood every minute, removing all the potential toxins. These toxins not only come from external sources (such as the alcohol you drink, or the polluted air you breathe) but also internal ones (your ‘used’ hormones, or the substances excreted by your gut bacteria).

Once it’s got hold of the toxins, your liver starts the two-step process of detoxification—or ‘biotransformation’, as it’s technically known. First, it starts breaking the toxin down. This is an essential step in the process, but it often makes the toxin more reactive and more dangerous.

Enter step two. Your liver then ‘sticks’ a nutrient to the toxin. This little nutrient acts as a chaperone, calming the toxin down and making sure it behaves itself as it escorts it out of your body.

Just as you put the rubbish outside your house, your body has to get its rubbish outside too. Once the liver has packaged up the toxins in little toxin-nutrient bundles, you either poop them out or pee them out. You can also breathe them out—or eliminate them via your skin.


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Detoxification and acne

A common misperception is that this means acne is toxins ‘seeping’ out of your body. But there is little evidence to support this. What’s more likely happening is a mismatch between the detoxification load and the nutrients required to handle that load effectively.

Your liver can work hard to break down a high toxic load, but if it doesn’t have enough of the right nutrients to package the toxins up, you’ll be left with lots of reactive, partially broken-down toxins in your body. These find their way to your skin, where they irritate the skin lining your hair follicles, drive microbial imbalance and contribute to blocked pores [2].

So, it’s not so much that toxins are seeping out of your skin—but that they cause other acne-driving imbalances. When you consider this, it’s no longer surprising that Japanese researchers found that supporting the liver could help to clear the skin.

But what does this mean for you?


How to support detoxification

Tweaking your diet to promote clear skin does not mean you need to ‘detox’. As I outline in The Happy Skin Solution, you simply need to eat more of the foods that support your body’s natural process of biotransformation. This does not involve spurious teas, powders or juices—it simply means eating high-quality, whole foods.

Let’s take a look at a few:

Protein Your liver uses the amino acids in proteins to stick to toxins. Get into the habit of eating high-quality protein with every meal. Good choices include eggs, chicken, fish, seafood, nuts, pulses and legumes.

Crucifers This liver-loving family of vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, watercress, rocket, cabbage, turnips, Brussels sprouts, radish, pak choi and spring greens. They contain special phytonutrients that upregulate enzymes in your liver, enabling them to deal with used hormones more effectively [3].

Beetroot This is rich in folate and phytonutrients, both of which are required to break down toxins. Beetroot is especially good for acne sufferers as it has anti-inflammatory qualities too. Why not try a Beauty Smoothie? If you buy pre-cooked beetroot, look for one without added sugar.

Berries The process of breaking down toxins can lead to the release of skin-damaging molecules known as ‘free radicals’. Dark-coloured berries are rich in the antioxidants required to neutralise those free radicals. Go for blackcurrants, redcurrants, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries. Fresh or frozen is fine.

Turmeric This vibrant spice not only helps liver enzymes, but it also encourages bile production [4]. Bile gets your digestive system going—helping you to excrete metabolised toxins (a.ka. do a poop!). Eat turmeric with black pepper and a little healthy fat to enhance its effectiveness.

Of course, eating to support biotransformation is just one side of the coin. The other side is taking steps to reduce your toxic load, so your liver has less to deal with in the first place. Here are some steps to get you started:

– Cook from scratch as much as you can, as this will naturally reduce your intake of food additives. Favour recipes that use minimally processed and packaged foods, including canned goods.

– Try not to run or walk by busy roads—choose another route.

– Cut down on plastic. Get a stainless steel water bottle, invest in glass storage containers for the fridge and use baking parchment instead of cling film. Never use plastic in the microwave.

– Reduce your alcohol intake. Start where you can. If you’re used to having a glass of wine most days, choose a day a week when you don’t. Then bump it up to two days, and so on. If you tend to drink mostly at the weekend, why not try other activities that aren’t centred around booze?

Filter your tap water. You can install a water filter in your home or simply use a freestanding filter jug.

You may be wondering if drinking filtered water, eating more broccoli or any of the above is really going to help your acne. In isolation, they probably won’t. But a key principle of nutritional therapy is that the sum is greater than the parts. Taking lots of small steps—and doing them consistently—can have a profound effect over time.

You can learn more about eating to support your liver, along with many other habits that promote clear skin, in The Happy Skin Solution.

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Dr Thivi Maruthappu


Dr Thivi Maruthappu is the UK’s first and only dual-qualified Consultant Dermatologist and Nutritionist, and the pioneer of the (much-needed!) Nutritional Dermatology field. She runs busy NHS dermatology clinics, conducts academic research and delivers lectures worldwide. She’s also recently authored her first book, Skin Food, which aims to make holistic skincare accessible for everyone.



Porter magazine called her a ‘Global Skincare Expert’, and Caroline Hirons described her as ‘one of the best facialists in the world’. In the skincare industry, Marie Reynolds is in a league of her own. I had the privilege of experiencing one of Marie’s facials as a young journalist—and I can still remember every exquisite detail more than a decade later.

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