Ask An Expert: A Nutritionist’s Approach To Dealing With Acne

By Carla Oates

If you’ve ever experienced spotty skin or been diagnosed with acne, you already know how frustrating it can be to try and find an effective solution.

Although the beauty industry is awash with topical treatments and tinctures that promise to deliver clear, smooth skin—as we already know, our skin is really a mirror that reflects the state of our internal health and digestive system. So, if we’re suffering from spots regularly, it’s undoubtedly worth chatting with a registered healthcare practitioner, registered nutritionist or naturopath to first determine the type of acne you’re experiencing and whether it’s hormonally or digestively driven.

To help inspire you to take action, we spoke to The Beauty Chef’s Registered Nutritionist, Madeleine Vella, to get her top tips on dealing with acne and how to stop spots in their tracks...

How important is nutrition when it comes to dealing with acne?

“Put simply, nutrition determines our overall health and functionality—so whether you are experiencing digestive or hormonal acne (or any other health concern for that matter), the first step you can take to heal from those issues is to assess your diet and ensure you’re focusing on a healthy, nutritious lifestyle that’s low in processed foods.”

Is there a link between gut health and acne? And are there certain foods that trigger it?

“While strong clinical evidence proving that certain foods directly cause acne has not yet been established, there have, however, been many review studies examining potential food culprits that worsen acne in some people.

For example, there has been evidence to show that the quality of carbohydrates consumed can play a role in acne pathogenesis. This isn’t surprising as high-GI sources of carbohydrates can cause a spike in blood sugar and insulin. Consequently, a spike in insulin is linked to a rise in IGF-1, has been shown to boost sebum production. It’s important to therefore always consume small and balanced quantities of low-GI carbohydrate sources at every meal to help regulate and keep blood sugar levels steady all day long. There has also been evidence to show a link between dairy consumption and the worsening of acne in teenagers—however there hasn’t been a clear determination between a specific type or quantity of dairy that causes this.

What we do know is that our microbiome produces metabolites which regulate metabolic functions and cell proliferation. Therefore, in cases of gut dysbiosis or where the gut barrier integrity has been compromised, this can cause metabolic inflammation which can then influence acne pathophysiology. Studies have illustrated that a high percentage of acne sufferers have low stomach acid, which is vital for digestion and protecting the gut from pathogens that can disrupt microbial balance and cause dysbiosis.”

What steps can we take at home to help manage or treat our acne from a dietary perspective?

“To begin with, it’s important to note that you should never eliminate any food group without the direct and personal advice of a trusted healthcare practitioner—even if there is clinical evidence to show a connection. The food groups were created and based on clinical evidence as advice for the general population to obtain all required daily nutrients—so, by excluding an entire food group, you also risk missing out on these important nutrients. 

Rather than eliminating foods, you should instead shift your focus to replacing processed foods with more nutritious options and increasing your intake of foods that promote healthy skin—like vitamin A, E, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids. Including as many colourful vegetables in every meal is another great way to provide your body with a variety of antioxidants—which it can then draw from in order to combat free radicals which damage our health and skin. Choosing high quality low-GI and high fibre carbohydrates—such as wholegrain or seedy and sourdough breads, lentils, green veggies, legumes—over high-GI and processed sources such as white flour, pasta and white rice, will also maintain steady blood sugar levels. High fibre foods also contain prebiotics, which act as a food source for the beneficial bacteria in our gut, helping to keep them alive and thriving.

Probiotic-rich foods can also reduce dysbiosis and help to regulate the microbiome, stemming inflammation—so increasing your intake of fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi and miso is also helpful.”

How long does it typically take to see results reflected in your skin?

“Like anything, experiencing the health benefits of adjusting your diet can take some time and as skin regeneration usually takes around 30 days, this would be the minimum amount of time before you would likely see those results reflected. However, if your acne is caused by gut dysbiosis, it could take a further couple of months to bring this back into alignment with the right treatment.”

Are there any key vitamins and minerals you recommend for dealing with acne?

“There are a few that I definitely recommend. These include:

Vitamin A: a great antioxidant for fighting free radicals within the skin and has been shown in clinical trials to reduce inflammation in acne lesions. It also assists in healing the gut barrier. Good food sources include oranges, carrots, mango, green leafy vegetables and salmon.

Zinc: again, this mineral exhibits great antioxidant properties and has been shown to reduce redness and irritation in the skin as well as improving wound healing. Zinc can be found in beans, nuts, oysters, poultry and lean red meat.

Vitamin E: is a wonderful anti-inflammatory agent that assists in cell regeneration within the skin. Best sources include almonds, sunflower seeds and peanuts.

Omega-3: a powerful anti-inflammatory which is also super moisturising! Found in salmon, chia seeds and walnuts.”

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