I started this blog to use my knowledge as a trainer and nutritionist to help women look and feel their best. But as it turns out, there is much more to “glowing up” than just losing fat or getting your dream body. If your skin looks bad, it can completely diminish your self-confidence and make you want to curl up and not leave the confines of your home…ask me how I know.
I know because I’ve been there. I have been an acne sufferer my entire life. Sometimes my breakouts would be mild; other times, they would be severe. And after many dermatologist appointments and prescription drugs that never seemed to work, I was determined to find something that would. I was tired of going to the doctor just to be put on another drug. There had to be an underlying cause for my skin’s appearance. I didn’t want to go on Accutane or rely on medication to get clearer skin but instead wanted to uncover a way to get rid of it naturally.
I have spent the past couple of years paying attention to my lifestyle behaviors and how they correlate with my breakouts. I also have read nearly every clinical study that exists on the topic to figure out how to cure acne naturally.
In this article, I will summarize basically everything you have ever wanted to know about acne and give you a diet plan to combat it for good. I explain the leading causes of chronic acne, according to scientific evidence, and the diet and lifestyle changes that will clear up your skin.
In this post:
- What is Acne
- Types of Acne
- Acne Sites:
- Hormonal Imbalances
- Gut Health
- Damaged Skin Barrier
- Evidence-Backed Topical Solutions
What is Acne
While we all probably know what acne is, it may help to clarify a few definitions before getting further into the article. Acne is characterized by red, white or yellow bumps that appear on the face, chest, back, shoulders, and upper arms. While almost everyone experiences acute acne (a pimple or breakout here and there), acne vulgaris is the chronic variation of the disorder.
Acne occurs when the hair follicles or pores on your skin become clogged by dead skin, debris, or sebum. They can also be caused by inflammation beneath the skin or a bacterial infection. There are various reasons that you may experience acne, which we will go through in more depth. But to start, it is helpful to understand the kind of acne that you have, as it can help narrow down the potential cause.
Types of Acne:
Below are the different types of acne so you can better understand the kind of acne you have and, therefore, the potential reasons you have it.
Comedones are inflamed hair follicles or sebaceous glands that occur as a result of increased oil production, hormone fluctuations, bacteria on the skin, and keratin abnormalities. There are two types of comedones: whiteheads and blackheads.
Blackheads (open comedones):
Blackheads are small, dark spots that are formed when the sebum and bacteria in your pores become exposed to the air.
Whiteheads (closed comedones):
Whiteheads are similar to blackheads, as they are caused by an accumulation of oil or debris in the hair follicle. But in the case of whiteheads, the pore remains closed, and the bump is usually white or flesh-colored.
Inflammatory acne is a more severe form of acne that can occur when the inflammation is so severe that it spreads beneath the skin’s surface, causing deep painful nodules or cysts.
Papules are inflamed comedones that form small pink bumps or raised lesions that are sensitive to the touch. Papules, unlike whiteheads, will not have visible pus inside. Papules are caused by hormones, bacteria or can be caused by certain medications.
Pustules are large pimples that are full of yellow pus, they look like white bumps surrounded by red skin. They somewhat resemble whiteheads but appear to be more irritated and inflamed. They also are usually painful or tender, whereas whiteheads are not. Pustules occur when there is additional irritation from bacteria.
Nodules are a form of inflammatory acne that appears in the form of large, hard, and painful lesions beneath the surface of the skin. This is a more severe form of acne that takes weeks or months to go away.
Cysts also are a form of inflammatory acne. These usually emerge under the skin and are filled with pus and fluid. They tend to be painful, red, and extremely inflamed.
Where you get acne also can be indicative of the cause. Acne is most common on the face and neck but can also occur on the chest, back, arms, and even the butt. Face and neck acne typically occurs due to excess sebum production, bacteria, and irritation. The chest, back, and arm acne are usually due to tight clothing and sweat that can clog the pores in those areas.
Where on your face you get acne can also be telling. For instance, pimples on your forehead or jawline can be indicative of a poor diet, whereas acne on your cheeks can be caused by dirty makeup brushes or a pillowcase that needs washing.
Keep in mind that while this is meant to give you some clues into potential aggravators, the fact that you break out often is indicator that something is wrong under the hood.
For example, if you often break out on your cheeks, it is probably a good lead to change your pillow case more frequently, wash your makeup brushes more often, use fragrance and dye-free laundry detergent, and opt for using speakerphone or earbuds while talking on the phone. However, if these changes don’t help, it can still very much be an indicator of poor nutrition, gut health, and various other things. This was the case for me personally—I would always break out on my cheeks but I changed my pillow cases often (and usually slept on my back), I never put the phone to my face, etc. Turns out I had a biome imbalance that was causing. aggravated inflammatory response. After painfully committing to restoring bacterial health and balance, the acne went away.
Hormonal imbalances (caused by stress, endocrine dysfunction, medication, or female menstrual cycles) can lead to acne by increasing the production of oil in the skin. Androgens, a type of hormone that includes testosterone, can stimulate the sebaceous glands in the skin to produce more oil. This excess oil can clog pores and lead to the development of acne. Hormonal imbalances can also cause an increase in the production of skin cells, leading to the clogging of pores.
Hormonal changes that occur during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause can also lead to acne. The hormonal changes associated with the menstrual cycle can also cause acne in women.
Certain medications, such as birth control pills, can also cause hormonal imbalances that lead to acne. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that causes hormonal imbalances and can lead to acne.
If you commonly find yourself getting acne along the jawline, have irregular menstrual cycles, thinning hair, deepening voice, facial hair, difficulty losing weight, or other signs of a hormonal imbalance, I suggest ordering a hormone test so you can identify underlying causes of these symptoms.
High testosterone is a common cause of acne in females. In Fact, 75% of women with acne have high testosterone levels. High levels of testosterone can lead to an increase in oil production in the skin, which can contribute to the development of acne in women. Testosterone can also stimulate the growth of skin cells, leading to clogged pores and breakouts. Additionally, high levels of testosterone can cause hormonal imbalances in the body, which can also contribute to the development of acne.
Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF)
Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) is a hormone that plays a role in cell growth and division. It is similar in structure to insulin and is produced in the liver in response to growth hormones. Elevated levels of IGF-1 have been linked to the development of acne. This is because similar to testosterone, IGF-1 can increase oil production in the skin and promote the growth of skin cells, leading to clogged pores and breakouts. Additionally, high levels of IGF-1 can also cause hormonal imbalances in the body, which can contribute to the development of acne.
IGF-1 levels can be influenced by a variety of factors, such as diet, exercise, and certain medications. A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can increase the production of insulin, which in turn may lead to an increase in IGF-1 levels. Additionally, certain anabolic steroids and growth hormone supplements can also increase IGF-1 levels and are thought to contribute to acne in some individuals.
This is why many people ditch dairy in an attempt to resolve their acne because there are long-standing concerns about dairy raising IGF-1 levels in humans. The science on this is mixed, and we will discuss dairy’s effects on acne later in this article.
High Estrogen Levels
High levels of estrogen can contribute to the development of acne in women. Estrogen plays a role in regulating the production of oil (sebum) in the skin. When estrogen levels are high, they can stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce more oil, leading to clogged pores and breakouts.
Progesterone is a hormone that plays a role in regulating the menstrual cycle and pregnancy in women. It also has an impact on the skin and its oil production.
Progesterone levels fluctuate during the menstrual cycle and can cause changes in the skin. During the luteal phase, when progesterone levels are high, it can cause an increase in oil production and clogged pores, leading to acne. This is why some women may experience acne breakouts around their menstrual cycle.
Additionally, low levels of progesterone can cause imbalances in other hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, which can also contribute to the development of acne.
High Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland that helps to regulate the body’s response to stress. Elevated levels of cortisol have been linked to the development of acne in women. This is because cortisol can increase the production of oil (sebum) in the skin, leading to clogged pores and breakouts. Additionally, cortisol can also cause inflammation in the body, which can contribute to the development of acne.
Stress is one of the main triggers that can cause an increase in cortisol levels, and chronic stress can lead to sustained high levels of cortisol, which can cause acne. Additionally, certain medications, such as prednisone, can also increase cortisol levels and contribute to the development of acne.
How to Resolve Hormonal Imbalances
Hormones are chemical messengers that are produced by the endocrine glands and are transported through the bloodstream to target cells or organs. Hormones work by binding to specific receptors on the cells or organs, triggering a response.
Imbalances in one hormone can lead to imbalances in others. For example, when the body produces too much or too little of a particular hormone, it can disrupt the delicate balance of the endocrine system and cause a cascade of effects. This can lead to a variety of symptoms, including acne.
For this reason, hormonal imbalances most commonly present themselves with abnormal levels of various hormones.
If you suspect that you have a hormonal imbalance and your acne is mostly present on your jawline or below the cheeks, it may be worth making an appointment with an endocrinologist. However, there are some measures you can take at home to balance your hormones and mitigate hormone-related acne.
Diet Changes for Hormone Regulation:
The first step you can take to regulate your hormones naturally is to modify your diet. Below are some steps that have been shown to improve hormonal balance.
- Limit processed foods: Processed foods are high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats and can disrupt hormone levels
- Increase intake of fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber, which can help support hormone balance and overall health.
- Consume healthy fats: Good sources of healthy fats include avocados, fish, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. These fats can help balance hormones and reduce inflammation.
- Eat enough protein: Protein is essential for hormone production and regulation and can help reduce cravings and support weight loss.
- Avoid soy products: Soy products contain phytoestrogens, which can mimic estrogen in the body and disrupt hormone balance.
- Add fermented foods: Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, are rich in probiotics which can help balance gut health and hormones.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine and alcohol can disrupt hormone levels and should be consumed in moderation.
Stress is one of the leading causes of acne. Stress can cause acne by activating the body’s “fight or flight” response, which triggers the release of hormones such as cortisol. These hormones can increase oil production in the skin, leading to clogged pores and acne breakouts. Stress can also disrupt the body’s natural immune response, making it harder for the skin to fight off bacteria that can cause acne. Additionally, when we are stressed, we tend to engage in behaviors such as picking at our skin, which can also exacerbate acne.
Some practical ways to manage stress include:
- Exercise: Regular physical activity can help to reduce stress and lower cortisol levels.
- Relaxation techniques: Practices such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation can help to reduce stress and lower cortisol levels.
- Getting enough sleep: Getting enough quality sleep can help to reduce stress and lower cortisol levels.
- Social Support: Spending time with friends and loved ones and building strong relationships can help to reduce stress and lower cortisol levels.
- Time Management: Prioritizing tasks and learning to say no can help to reduce stress and lower cortisol levels.
- Mindfulness: Mindfulness practices such as gratitude journaling and being present in the moment can help to reduce stress and lower cortisol levels.
- Therapy: Talking to a therapist or counselor can help to identify and cope with the sources of stress and lower cortisol levels.
This one is probably lesser-known among the causes and it actually one of the more common reasons for chronic acne.
The gut biome, also known as the gut microbiome, is the collection of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. These microorganisms play a crucial role in maintaining overall health, including the health of the skin. A healthy gut biome can help prevent acne by reducing inflammation throughout the body, including in the skin. Additionally, a healthy gut biome can help regulate the immune system, which can also play a role in acne development. Eating a diet that is high in fiber and fermented foods, such as yogurt and kefir, can help promote a healthy gut biome. Avoiding processed foods and excess sugar can also be beneficial.
You can also consider getting a biome test (this is what I did) to identify your overall microbiome health and see if there are particular foods that are disrupting your gut health. As a side note, if you have any signs of IBS or other notable digestive issues, I highly recommend doing this.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that are similar to the beneficial microorganisms found in the human gut. They can be taken as supplements to improve gut health. Some research suggests that probiotics can help to improve the balance of microorganisms in the gut, which can have a positive impact on the immune system, digestion, and the absorption of nutrients. Probiotics can also help to reduce inflammation in the gut, which can improve overall health.
Probiotics can be found in many forms, such as in supplements, fermented foods, and yogurt. However, probiotic supplements offer a convenient and consistent way to increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
My Favorite Probiotic Supplement:
Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that act as food for the beneficial microorganisms in the gut, such as probiotics. They help to promote the growth and activity of these microorganisms, which in turn can improve gut health. Prebiotics can be found in a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Some examples of prebiotics include:
- Inulin and Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS): These are types of fibers found in foods such as chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, onion, garlic, and asparagus.
- Galactooligosaccharides (GOS): These are fibers found in foods such as soybeans, lentils, and chickpeas.
- Resistant starch: This is a type of starch found in foods such as potatoes, green bananas, and cooked and cooled rice or pasta.
When prebiotics are consumed, they are fermented by the gut microbiome, leading to the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that nourish the gut lining and reduce inflammation. Prebiotics can also help to promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the gut and help to keep the gut environment in balance.
Consuming a diet that is rich in prebiotics can help to improve gut health and fight the development of acne. Many gut health supplements contain strains of probiotics and prebiotics.
Fiber—Eat the Rainbow
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that cannot be broken down by human digestive enzymes but can be fermented by the gut microbiome. Fiber is classified into two main types: Soluble and Insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance, which can slow down digestion and help to regulate blood sugar levels. It is also fermented by gut bacteria, which produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that nourish the gut lining and reduce inflammation.
Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, does not dissolve in water and helps to add bulk to stool and promote regular bowel movements. It helps to prevent constipation and keep the digestive tract healthy.
Fiber can improve gut health by promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation, which can help to reduce the risk of diverticulitis and colon cancer. It can also help to regulate blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. By providing a source of food for the beneficial bacteria in the gut, fiber can also help to promote the growth and activity of these microorganisms, which in turn can improve gut health.
Eating a diet that is rich in fiber, including both soluble and insoluble fibers, can be beneficial for gut health. Good sources of fiber include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. However, it’s important to increase the intake of fiber gradually and to drink enough water since a sudden increase in fiber intake may cause gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort.
As Hippocrates famously said, “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” Let’s talk about the impact that diet has on acne and the changes you can make to what you eat to get clearer skin.
For starters, we know that diet and lifestyle are strongly correlated with acne prevalence due to cultural observations that note the very low prevalence of acne vulgaris in non-western cultures. Similar studies have also noted that non-western populations who adopted a western lifestyle had much higher incidents of acne than their non-western counterparts. This accounts for potential genetic influences and further affirms that diet is a very likely contributor to acne.
Let’s dig into the specifics of what you can change in your diet to achieve clear skin.
Avoid High Glycemic Foods
Out of all clinical trials that have looked at diet and acne, there is the most evidence to support that high-GI foods may cause and worsen acne, so there is considerable evidence to suggest that eliminating refined carbs and sugar should be the first course of action to clear up your skin.
The glycemic index (GI) is a scale that measures how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels. Foods that are high on the GI scale are quickly absorbed and cause a rapid increase in blood sugar, while those that are low on the scale are absorbed more slowly and cause a slower rise in blood sugar.
Several clinical trials have found a link between a high-glycemic-index diet and acne severity. These studies have found that people who eat a diet that is high in high-GI foods, such as refined carbohydrates (e.g. white bread, pasta, and sugar), have a much higher risk of developing acne compared to those who eat a diet that is low in high-GI foods.
The reason for this link is thought to be related to the way that high-GI foods affect insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, and when blood sugar levels rise rapidly, as they do after eating high-GI foods, insulin levels also rise. High insulin levels have been found to stimulate the production of sebum, an oily substance that is produced by the skin. Sebum is known to contribute to the formation of acne.
Eat More Omega 3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that are essential for human health. They are called “essential” because the body cannot produce them on its own and they must be obtained through the diet. The most well-known omega-3s are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found primarily in fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in plant-based sources such as flaxseeds and walnuts. Omega-3s have been shown to have a variety of health benefits, including reducing inflammation, the risk of heart disease, and yes—acne.
There is some clinical research that suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may have a positive effect on acne. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties, and acne is a condition that is characterized by inflammation. Several studies have found that omega-3 supplementation can reduce the severity of acne, and may also improve the overall appearance of the skin.
If you aren’t a fan of fish or have a hard time consuming these healthy omega 3s, you can opt for a fish oil supplement. Note, however, that supplements are not as effective as nutrients obtained through food sources.
My favorite fish oil supplement:
Consider a Zinc Supplement
Several clinical studies have investigated the effects of zinc supplementation on acne, and many of them have found that zinc can be effective in reducing the severity of acne.
For example, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that zinc sulfate (220 mg/day) significantly reduced the number of acne lesions after 12 weeks of treatment compared to placebo. Another study found that zinc gluconate (30 mg/day) was as effective as the antibiotic minocycline in treating acne after 12 weeks of treatment. A meta-analysis of several studies found that zinc supplementation was associated with a significant reduction in the number of acne lesions.
The mechanism by which zinc helps to reduce acne is not well understood, but it is believed to be related to its anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to reduce the production of sebum, an oily substance that is produced by the skin and is known to contribute to the formation of acne.
My favorite Zinc supplement:
Eat More Vitamin A
Vitamin A is involved in the regulation of cell growth and differentiation, and it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative effects on the skin. These properties may help to reduce the formation of acne by decreasing the production of sebum, an oily substance that is produced by the skin and is known to contribute to the formation of acne, and by inhibiting the growth of the bacteria that is known to contribute to the formation of acne (Propionibacterium acnes).
Research on this topic is limited, but some studies (although low quality) suggest positive improvements in acne. There is more research to support the use of topical vitamin A treatments for acne (more on this later.)
However, as with any fat-soluble vitamin, Vitamin A should be supplemented with caution. Unlike water-soluble vitamins, our bodies are not able to effectively manage vitamin levels which means that supplementation can lead to toxic accumulations in the body.
One of the most serious risks associated with high-dose vitamin A supplementation is hypervitaminosis A, which is a condition that occurs when there is too much vitamin A in the body. Symptoms of hypervitaminosis A can include headache, fatigue, dry skin, hair loss, and joint and muscle pain. In severe cases, hypervitaminosis A can also cause liver damage, birth defects, and even death.
Another risk associated with high-dose vitamin A supplementation is an increased risk of osteoporosis. Vitamin A can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium, which is important for maintaining healthy bones.
The USDA suggests keeping vitamin A intake around 700 mcgs per day so you should not eat much more than this in a given day. To be on the safe side, I suggest eating more leafy greens and yellow or orange vegetables to get more Vitamin A naturally without supplementation.
Selenium is a trace element that is essential for human health. It is a mineral that is found in soil and certain foods, such as Brazil nuts, seafood, and meats. Selenium is also present in certain types of seaweed.
In the body, selenium acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. It also plays a role in the function of the immune system and helps to regulate thyroid hormone metabolism. Selenium is also required for the proper functioning of certain enzymes, including those involved in DNA repair.
There is some evidence that suggests that selenium supplementation may have a beneficial effect on acne. Observational studies have identified lower levels of selenium among acne patients than those without. A few studies have found that supplementing with selenium can reduce the number of acne lesions in some individuals.
One study conducted on a group of women with acne found that supplementing with selenium (200 mcg/day) for 12 weeks significantly reduced the number of acne lesions compared to a placebo group. Another study found that supplementing with a combination of selenium and vitamin E reduced the number of acne lesions in a group of adolescents.
More research is needed to determine the link between Selenium and acne, however, existing evidence suggests that it is most effective with vitamin E supplementation.
My Favorite Selenium Supplement:
Eat More Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory properties and is found in plant oils, nuts, and certain fruits and veggies. These properties may help to reduce the formation of acne by decreasing the production of sebum, an oily substance that is produced by the skin and is known to contribute to the formation of acne, and by inhibiting the growth of the bacteria that is known to contribute to the formation of acne (Propionibacterium acnes).
Meta-analyses have found lower levels of Vitamin E in those with chronic skin conditions, including acne. Other studies have found improvements in acne among those who supplemented zinc and vitamin E compared to the control group. However, other research has found zinc to be effective in reducing acne, so Vitamin E’s role in the improvement is not isolated.
More research is needed to determine the exact impact of Vitamin E on acne, but initial research is promising. Again, as a fat soluble vitamin, supplements should be taken with caution. The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine has found between 400 and 800 IUs per day an effective dosage for treating deficiencies and treatments.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is important for the health of the skin. It plays a role in the regulation of skin cell growth and differentiation and may also have anti-inflammatory effects.
There is considerable evidence to suggest that vitamin D may play a role in the development of acne. Studies have found that individuals with acne tend to have lower blood levels of vitamin D compared to those without acne and that acne is more prevalent among people with vitamin D deficiencies. Additionally, research has shown that supplementing with vitamin D may reduce the number of acne lesions in some people.
Dairy is one of the most commonly accused acne contributors, and for that reason, is usually the first thing people ditch in an attempt to clear up their skin. In addition to refined sugar, high dairy consumption is a unique trait of the western diet—which we’ve already discussed is correlated to acne cases. This alone gives us probable cause to assume that dairy can cause and exasperate acne. Additionally, we know that dairy consumption can raise IGF-1 levels (which we have already discussed may lead to acne.)
Some studies have found a link between acne and dairy consumption. Several have identified a correlation between acne lesions and dairy consumption. For instance, this 2018 review found that dairy consumers were 16% more likely to suffer from acne than those who did not eat dairy. However, many of these studies have their limitations, and additional research is needed.
On the contrary, this review cites that the links identified between dairy and acne are not nearly as convincing as other causes, such as glycemic load.
All of this is to say cutting back on dairy certainly will not hurt in attempts to achieve clear skin, but it also may not have much of an impact.
Damaged Skin Barrier
Another potential cause of chronic acne is a damaged skin barrier. The skin barrier is the outermost layer of the skin, also known as the stratum corneum, which serves as a protective barrier against external factors, such as bacteria, irritants, and environmental pollutants. The skin barrier is composed of dead skin cells and lipids that help to maintain hydration and prevent water loss.
Damage to the skin barrier can occur due to a variety of factors, including harsh soaps, skin care products, environmental pollutants, and certain medical conditions. When the skin barrier is damaged, it becomes more permeable, which allows irritants, bacteria, and other harmful agents to enter the skin more easily.
This can lead to inflammation, which is a natural response of the immune system to injury or infection. The inflammation can cause acne, which is a common skin condition characterized by the appearance of pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads on the skin. Additionally, skin barrier damage can also lead to dryness, itching, and redness, as the skin is less able to retain moisture and protect itself from external factors.
To protect the skin barrier, it is important to use gentle, non-irritating skin care products and to avoid harsh soaps and other irritants. Using a moisturizer can help to keep the skin hydrated and protect the skin barrier.
How to tell if your skin barrier is damaged:
Here are several signs that can indicate that the skin barrier is damaged:
- Dryness and itching: A damaged skin barrier can lead to dryness and itching, as the skin is less able to retain moisture.
- Redness and inflammation: Damaged skin barrier can also lead to redness, irritation, and inflammation, as the skin is more permeable to irritants and bacteria
- Sensitivity: Damaged skin barrier can make the skin more sensitive to products and environmental factors, leading to a stinging, burning or tingling sensation
- Acne: A damaged skin barrier can increase the risk of developing acne, as the skin is more permeable to bacteria and other irritants that can cause pimples.
- Flaking or peeling: Damaged skin barrier can cause the skin to flake or peel, as the skin is not able to hold together as well.
How to repair your skin barrier:
Here are a few ways to help repair your skin barrier:
- Moisturize regularly: Moisturizing helps to restore and maintain the skin’s natural barrier function by providing the skin with the lipids and ceramides it needs to retain moisture.
- Avoid harsh skincare products: Harsh skincare products, such as those that contain alcohol or high concentrations of exfoliating agents, can damage the skin barrier. Instead, opt for gentle, fragrance-free products.
- Use products that contain ceramides: Ceramides are lipids that help to keep the skin barrier intact. Look for skincare products that contain ceramides to help repair and strengthen the barrier.
- Exfoliate gently and in moderation: Gently exfoliating the skin can help to remove dead skin cells and unclog pores, which can improve the overall health of the skin barrier. Exfoliate once a week (over exfoliation can cause additional damage to the skin barrier) and avoid harsh scrubs—opt for chemical exfoliants instead. (this is my favorite chemical exfoliant.)
- Avoid super hot water : Hot water can strip the skin of its natural oils, which can damage the skin barrier. While this may not be as practical, try to take lukewarm showers and apply a hyaluronic acid serum immediately after. (I like this one) Similarly, use lukewarm water to wash your face.
- Protect yourself from sun exposure: Sun exposure can damage the skin barrier, so make sure to apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher daily and wear protective clothing when spending time in the sun. (Here is my favorite sunscreen)
Evidence-Backed Topical Solutions
While I believe (and the evidence supports) that beauty starts from the inside out, there are a couple topical solutions that have been shown to be effective at treating and preventing acne.
Several studies have investigated the effects of green tea on acne and have found that it may have a beneficial effect.
Green tea contains compounds called catechins, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds may help to reduce the formation of acne by decreasing the production of sebum, an oily substance that is produced by the skin and is known to contribute to the formation of acne. Additionally, it’s believed that the catechins in green tea can inhibit the growth of the bacteria that is known to contribute to the formation of acne (Propionibacterium acnes)
This systematic review found that topical green tea extract application significantly reduced the number of inflammatory acne lesions.
I love this Green Tea Matcha Mud Mask
Vitamin A (Retinoids)
Research has found that topical vitamin A, in the form of retinoids, can be effective in treating acne. Retinoids work by increasing cell turnover and decreasing the buildup of dead skin cells, which can clog pores and lead to acne. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce redness and inflammation associated with acne. Additionally, retinoids can help unclog pores and reduce the formation of comedones (blackheads and whiteheads). Overall, topical retinoids are considered a first-line treatment for acne and are often used in combination with other acne treatments, such as antibiotics and benzoyl peroxide.
Most retinoids require a prescription from a dermatologist, however, Adapalene is a clinical grade retinoid that can be purchased without an rx. Note, however, that if your acne is inflammatory (see above), retinols may cause further aggravation.
When using retinoids for the first time, you may experience some side effects such as dryness, redness, itching, and peeling of the skin. These side effects are typically temporary and can be managed by using a moisturizer and applying the retinoid every other day or every third day until your skin becomes accustomed to the treatment. It’s also important to use sunscreen when using retinoids because they can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. It is also recommended to start with a low-strength retinoid, and to gradually increase the strength as your skin builds tolerance. It is important to follow the instructions on the package and consult a dermatologist if you experience any severe side effects or if your skin does not improve after several weeks of use.
Disclaimer: I am a certified nutrition coach and personal trainer, not a registered dietician or physician. The information in this post are meant to be for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. Please consult a licensed professional for specific medical advice.
Please also note that some of the links above are affiliate links so I may earn a small commission off of purchases made through them. All thoughts and product selections are my own