How to Prevent Pimples and Reduce Acne Naturally by Eating Right

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Introduction: How to Prevent Pimples and Reduce Acne Naturally by Eating Right

About: Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering. Eric believes in making technology accessible through understanding, and strives to inspire others to lear...
You can prevent, clear up, or eliminate acne by reducing high glycemic load foods from your diet and keeping your insulin levels low. This may sound difficult, but it's really just a complicated way of saying, "eat fewer processed and refined foods and your pimples will go away."

This Instructable will share why this works and show you how to determine what foods are potentially pimple causing.

  • original image by slopjop available here shared under a CC license.

Step 1: Why Should I Care, Won't Pimples Just Go Away Once I'm 20?

Common thinking seems to be that acne is simply a hardship of adolescence. Once you've established your independence, realized your parents are probably good people, and stopped listening to music too loud, they're supposed to go away. Perhaps pimples are just some sort of physical marking to help society isolate members during their most awkward phase of development?

Studies of various human cultures across the globe and my own experience indicate this is simply false. I'm 10 years past being a teenager, and will occasionally still get a pimple. More convincing perhaps, studies of non-westernized cultures that follow a traditional diet low in refined sugars and starches show a complete lack of acne in all age groups. Here's once such study found here. Similar reports can be found in the journals of pioneers and explorers who were among the first Europeans to contact indigenous peoples: no pimples, no acne.

  • original image by gemsling available here shared under a CC license.

Step 2: Keep Your Insulin Levels Low

The (simplified) theory is that elevated levels of insulin cause pimples to form. Insulin is a hormone that is released in response to eating, and tells your cells to take in sugar from the blood (glucose) and store it for later use. Insulin has a tremendous number of other, down-steam effects on the body, many of which are not well understood. One of the effects of higher-than-normal levels of insulin is an increase in insulin-like growth factor-1, which shifts the body's endocrine balance and promotes acne (check here for a paper on this in the Journal of Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology). Insulin is commonly associated with diabetes, where the body becomes desensitized to the hormone and progressively more and more is required to keep blood-sugar levels in check.

Insulin levels and blood-sugar levels are closely related (diabetics measure their blood-sugar levels to determine if they need to inject insulin), and blood-sugar levels are controlled directly by what you eat. Sugary and starchy foods, like table sugar, potatoes, and bread, can raise blood-sugar levels quickly for relatively small portions. Fruits and vegetables act to raise blood-sugar levels more slowly and to a lesser degree because they contain different types of sugars (typically fructose instead of sucrose) and lower quantities of sugar for the same portion size. Meats, fats, and other non-carbohydrate containing foods have little influence on blood-sugar levels.

So, preventing acne is a matter of eating right to keep your insulin levels low.

Take note that there is a fundamental difference in this approach compared to other acne-remedies. Keeping insulin levels low addresses the root cause of acne while most other techniques (salicylic acid to remove dead skin cells more readily, antibiotics to kill the infecting bacteria, or birth-control pills to regulate hormonal levels) treat only the symptoms.

Step 3: How to Choose the Best Foods

Here's the simplified form: Eat fresh healthy food, and avoid processed and refined garbage.

For a more nuanced approach, you can check out the glycemic index and glycemic load of various foods. The glycemic index is a ranking of carbohydrates on how they effect your blood-sugar levels, i.e. how readily your body converts the components of a certain type of food to glucose. The glycemic load takes into account the type of carbohydrate in addition to how much is in a standard portion of various foods. If you're going to refer to just one measurement, go for glycemic load as it is a better measurement of your body's actual response. The University of Sydney has a glycemic index and load database you can use to check out your favorite foods. Here's a sample of some foods:

Food - Glycemic load
Apple - 5.9
Banana - 10
Broccoli - 0
Brown rice - 31.5
Cola - 17
Pizza (range) - 5-28

Booklets with this information are available, but when you're getting food it's much easier to simply remember to eat fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, lean meats, and seafood and to avoid basing your diet on anything that comes in a cardboard box. I've also heard it said this way: shop only from the edges of the supermarket -- the center isn't good for you.

Step 4: Personal Experience

Your results will vary. Your body is a complicated machine, and there are lots of inputs and effects. Some people can process lots of sugar and starch without any effect, while others will get pimples just thinking about candy. Exercise also plays a role, as it makes you more insulin sensitive, which is a good thing.

My personal experience seems to fall pretty squarely into this theory. I eat really well and have fairly clear skin. However, at certain events like birthdays or weddings, I just can't resist overeating refined sugar and starch, and inevitably end up with a pimple or two. For example, my last birthday party involved a seven-layer carrot cake, of which I ate an entire slice (the equivalent of nearly a half a normally sized carrot cake). This resulted in a few pimples over the next week.

Similarly, a friend would refuse to eat any pizza. He had determined, through trial and error, that a few slices of pizza would result in zits.

Step 5: Start With Breakfast

To give this a try, start by modifying your breakfast. You're probably already eating more refined and processed foods for breakfast than you care to admit. Also, if you're embarrassed, breakfast has the fewest number of people that will be asking why you've changed your diet.

Eggs (especially egg-whites) are great for breakfast:
Tomato Frittata
Orange Fried Breakfast
Fruit smoothies are another quick and easy breakfast:
Plum smoothie
Nectarine smoothie
Apple ginger smoothie
or even faster:
apples and nut butter
ants on a log (celery, peanut butter, and raisins)
left-overs from the night before...

I'm not overly strict in my approach, and I don't think there's any need to go to ridiculous extremes, like eliminating carbohydrates altogether. I think the best approach is to base your diet on things you know are good for you, and to eat processed and refined foods infrequently.

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152 Comments

I had severe acne both on my face and back and after trying countless of dermatologists’ treatment options, I'd still found myself frustrated by my debilitating acne problem. I finally found a program that did a fantastic job of showing me the right way... The holistic way! After less than a month of following this natural remedy I found HERE.

My experience is anecdotal. No scientific creds at all. As a young skinny kid, I was prone to painful blind pimples, dangerous to touch because they could expand with a vengeance if interfered with. By age 28, I was still getting them. Never ate a lot, but small amounts often. Met my husband, and began THINKING about food more. A fascinating process for a liberated woman ... Began planning balanced menus, and still, the odd blind pimple. So added vitamins, and discovered that B vitamins cleared the blind spots. Later, when Mum-in Law complained of annoying blind pimples (she was in her late fifties at the time), I advised her to try a course of B vitamins. She took some yeast tabs for a week or two, and the pimples cleared up. I am now in my sixties and I still believe a balanced menu is the way to go, but I have a daily multivitamin, fish oil etc. Lay off the junk food, or only have it every now and then. Eat your greens, love your potatoes and starches but don't gorge on them. Have a balanced diet, and don't squeeze things on your face. Some of the blood vessels there drain straight to the brain.

2 replies

Thanks for the helpful comment! What blend of B-vitamins do you use?

Hi David, Thank you. In the day, I just took a multi-B - one per day. I remember talking to my doctor about it at the time, and him saying that a study had been done with students and vitamin B12, and the finding was slightly better memory, clarity etc. And vitamin B6 is good for the heart, and is available in lots of fresh foods. Folic Acid has been proved to help prevent some birth defects, and Kellogs add it to some of their breakfast cereal. Now, I just take a all round multivitamin and I make sure it contains vitamin B12 -- got to maintain my brain, you know :>)

Or corn cobs, or tomatoes, or grapes, or Macadamia Nuts, or Salmon blood (literally). All in all, be careful what your dogs eat :)! By the way good article, although if you could update it I would add some sources. I'm sure you could find some out there.

Thanks! My personal solution to my eating problem is a bit more unorthodox:

I've recently started to eat "Soylent" (Or Queal her ein the EU) which is powder you mix and contains everything you need. It's probably not perfect but as a middle aged man I decided I'm just too stupid to eat healthy. There is a whole science behind it and so much effort in cooking and buying that I just can't be assed. It's going to be miles better than the junk I otherwise eat.

3 replies

Be careful not to get the green bottles. "Soylent Green is people!"

Be careful not to get the green bottles. "Soylent Green is people!"

Is Soylent green?

Strange how bio science and medicine don't know any of these things... Most acne is hormone driven. Most is a result of inflammation. (See- prostaglandins!) Unless it's from either a dirty face, or too much washing (usually inflammatory, again). This is why it rages in adolescence, then calms down as puberty settles in.

What you eat has zero to do with acne, unless you really trash your general health on bad food. There's many steps in digestion and distribution before any food comes near the skin from the inside. By which point it's just glucose and proteins. Standard molecules. And remember, a pimple looks months to form before you saw it, so you're confusing causation with coincidence.

Simple science. And some dermatology, which would be selling magic elixirs if food did anything either way. Looking etc the other comments, people with vitamin deficiencies were probably helped. But acne is the least of worries when your bones or kidneys could be damaged, so that is again, a general health issue.

It's hilarious--no, ludicrous--how this maniac comes here with his assuming intuition and types out multiple responses riddled with personally idolatrized text made prominent by putting it in 'Bold'. Another "Quack" demanding scientific evidence who holds no science degrees himself; it's no different from all the clamoring jabronis on youtube using the term 'Physics'.

I certainly didn't suffer those two long-winded, bush league stories, but my sister and I have suffered acne all the way into our early 30's. Well, actually, not anymore because two weeks after we began Danielle Walker's diet we both saw a complete remission in our acne symptoms(not to mention all the other autoimmune problems[the whole reason we started the diet in the first place]).

Yeah...or, you could listen to Mr. Quack-me-Off as he talks to himself all day in the comment section; he sure is brilliant, isn't he?

Diet does not affect acne. If you need your acne treated, see a physician.

4 replies

Dr. Perricone, and Dr. William Davis have both written about effects of diet on acne and other chronic illnesses. Not only is my acne gone, I have much less problems with arthritis and digestive problems.

References, please.

A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/1/107.long

Davis, W. Wheat Belly, Rodale Inc., NY, NY 2014 pg 176, Chapter 12 "Bagel Face: Wheat's Destructive Effect on the Skin" Note: The references for chapter 12 include a score of citations to the original literature.

Great. Thanks for the real science article. That other thing, the book, is not considered evidence. It may contain some truth but it's not vetted by the scientific community. To publish in a journal, you need a second and a third. Sorta like Robert's Rules but for writing. To publish a book you just need an editor who thinks there's an audience that will buy it.

Scientific articles can be deceiving, so I did check this out. The journal has an impact factor of 6.8 which tells us it's a real journal.

Next, I wanted to know if this article in particular is cited. This is a way of figuring out if the other scientists find it credible. It's been cited 243 times, which is good.

Sometimes papers are cited because they're crap and scientist want to point out errors. Usually not, but sometimes. So I looked at some abstracts. One was a review of acne and diet. A review is a type of summary of papers and it's a good thing to start on if you're new to a field of research, like me. This one

http://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622%2809%290096...

says, in the abstract/summary, "Compelling evidence exists that high glycemic load diets may exacerbate
acne. Dairy ingestion appears to be weakly associated with acne, and the
roles of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, zinc, vitamin A, and
dietary fiber remain to be elucidated. This study was limited by the
lack of randomized controlled trials in the literature
." If you read it carefully and compare to other scientific articles, you'll see that this article is meant to point out how little is known and I think the author mostly wants to encourage others to study this particular topic.

Another review article goes over similar data and reaches similar conclusions but without the pep talk. Read it yourself. There's too much to summarize.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-...

However, I would like to point out that Smith is the only author who is cited for the high-glycemic-index studies. Doesn't mean she's wrong. Happens all the time. There are examples of people who were never popular but the science is eventually appreciated. There was a Nobel price given for a wrong-headed view of muscle contraction. However, there are quacks out there, too.

My conclusion is that eating better is better. Acne sucks. Research is lacking on the impact of diet but there is on-going work in a reasonably large field. Scientifically, it's not yet clear enough to be making proclamations on the interwebs.