11 May 7 FOODS THAT HELP ACNE (20+ STUDIES): BACKED BY SCIENCE (2021)11 minute read
When you have acne, it’s natural to get into the habit of avoiding certain foods that can trigger a flare.
But did you know that certain foods can help acne?
Rather than becoming obsessive about what you shouldn’t eat, it’s a lot more fun to focus on what you can add to your diet. This article covers foods that help acne and why, and how you can shape your overall diet to support your skin.
Let’s get something straight: no single food is going to help your acne go away. Achieving clearer skin through your diet is about embracing a pattern of eating that promotes healthy skin.
We’ll delve into patterns of eating below. First, let’s look at the foods and food groups that are linked with a clearer complexion. Eating any one of these sporadically isn’t going to do much—but eating a few of these consistently has the power to transform your skin.
1) Fruits and vegetables
No surprises here. One large-scale showed that people who don’t eat many fruits and vegetables are at greater risk of developing acne .
This finding is probably because fruits and vegetables are chock-full of fibre (or fiber, for our American friends). Not only does fibre help to reduce levels of acne-driving hormones , but it also feeds good bacteria in our guts. You want healthy gut bacteria because they help to create a stronger skin barrier [3, 4].
Since fibre is the crucial bit, you want to make sure you eat the whole fruit or vegetable and not just the juice. In fact, drinking lots of fruit juice is associated with having worse acne . Is your breakfast orange juice really worth it?
Take action: Fill half your plate with colourful fruits and vegetables. Good choices include leafy greens, carrots, squash, onions, peppers, apples and blueberries.
It’s not just that fibre that helps—some vegetables also contain special compounds that promote hormonal balance .
The cruciferous family of vegetables is brimming with these special compounds. This family includes old favourites such as kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and rocket (or arugula).
If you suffer from ‘hormonal acne’—or breakouts that typically appear around your period—incorporating cruciferous vegetables into your diet is a great idea. Aim for two to three heaped handfuls daily.
Wholegrains such as brown rice, oats and rye help acne because they have a low ‘glycaemic index’ (GI). That’s just a fancy way of saying they don’t make your blood-sugar levels shoot up.
As regular readers will know, balanced blood sugar is critical for clear skin. This is because blood-sugar highs—which come from eating too many white and processed carbohydrates—start a cascade of hormones that makes your skin more oily and more acne-prone .
Need more convincing? One study put men with acne on a low-GL diet. They ate plenty of wholegrains, plus other complex carbohydrates such as pulses, legumes and vegetables. After ten weeks, these men had less acne and much less oiliness . Their pores even appeared smaller!
Take action: Opt for wholegrains over white, processed carbohydrates. This means choosing brown rice instead of white rice, oats instead of sugary cereal, and wholewheat bread instead of white bread. You get the picture.
This may be because of the anti-inflammatory fats found in fish (more on these later), but it’s likely also because fish are full of skin-supporting nutrients such as zinc, iodine and vitamin D.
A little hack: buying frozen (rather than fresh) fish is often much cheaper but no less nutritious.
Take action: Eat fish twice a week. Try salmon, mackerel, sardines, cod, halibut and trout.
4) Probiotic-rich foods
Research into probiotics and probiotic-rich foods is new—but it’s exciting. One study found that drinking fermented milk reduced pimples in 12 weeks . Fermented milk may sound gross, but it’s just another name for the uber-trendy kefir.
Scientists are yet to identify the best probiotic strain for acne, so it’s best to consume a variety of good bacteria until we know more. You can do this by taking probiotic supplements (as covered in The Happy Skin Roadmap) or by eating cultured or fermented foods, which are naturally rich in probiotics .
Take action: Eat a serving of cultured or fermented foods daily. Options include kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and natural, live yoghurt.
5) Omega-3 fats
Omega-3 fats are essential, healthy fats. They have been found to balance acne-driving hormones and reduce inflammation .
Unlike other fats, your body can’t make omega-3 fats—which means you need to eat them regularly, especially if you want to reduce breakouts .
The best source of omega-3 fats is oily fish (remember how fish is good for acne?), but you can also find it in plant-based sources such as walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds.
Take action: Eat oily fish twice a week (this counts towards your fish intake too). You can also eat a serving of walnuts, flaxseeds or chia seeds daily.
6) Zinc-rich foods
Although zinc supplements can improve acne , you don’t necessarily need to start popping pills. Instead, focus on including lots of zinc-rich foods in your diet.
The best source of zinc is oysters! But if you don’t fancy those, don’t worry. You can also find it in beef, chicken, pumpkin seeds, cashews and chickpeas.
Take action: Eat at least one food rich in zinc daily. If you like oysters, treat yourself to some of those too.
7) Green tea
Green tea contains a special compound called EGCG, which has acne-fighting potential. In one trial, 64 women took EGCG supplements. After four weeks, they had less acne around their nose, mouth and chin .
We need to consider that supplements are stronger than tea. In fact, the daily dose of EGCG used in this trial was the equivalent of drinking nine cups of green tea! Green tea also contains caffeine, so you don’t want to drink nine cups every day.
It’s still worth enjoying green tea regularly, though, as it’s rich in other skin-supporting antioxidants. We also know that when applied to the skin, green tea can help to reduce oil production —and scientists are still uncovering if it has the same effect when consumed as a drink .
Take action: Drink a couple of cups of green tea daily.
What do the Canadian Inuits, the South African Zulus and the Japanese Okinawans have in common?
None of them has acne .
These traditional cultures have different diets, but they are similar in that they are all based on whole foods, eaten consistently.
That’s the secret to foods that help acne. You can eat them occasionally, but their real power comes with embracing them as your pattern of eating. Get into the habit of making overnight oats for breakfast. Sprinkle zinc-rich pumpkin seeds on your lunchtime salads. Load half your plate with vegetables at every dinner.
Do this enough, and it becomes second nature. It doesn’t have to be perfect (there’s no such thing as a perfect diet!) it just has to be consistent.
Ask yourself which of the action points you can do today, and start there.
Let’s recap what we’ve learnt:
– Certain foods are known to support skin health, but no single food is going to make your acne go away.
– Achieving clearer skin through your diet is about embracing a pattern of eating that promotes healthy skin.
– This pattern of eating should include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Probiotic-rich foods
- Omega-3 fats
- Zinc-rich foods
– Research has linked all of these foods with clearer skin when they’re eaten consistently.
– Regularly drinking green tea may promote clear skin too, although more research is needed to confirm this.
For a step-by-step guide to clear skin, get your copy of The Happy Skin Roadmap.
Fiona Lawson is a former national magazine editor turned registered nutritionist and acne specialist. She holds a BANT-registered qualification in Nutritional Therapy, and she is currently working towards her MSc in Nutritional Medicine.