Diet and Acne Connection is Ancient
The diet and acne connection is best summed up by the father of modern medicine. ‘Let food be your medicine and let medicine be your food’, a quote attributed to Hippocrates, the man who is credited with being the father of modern medicine. He died in 370 BC. His belief that diet influenced health got lost through the centuries. American culture invested in the results of the studies conducted by the American Dairy Association and the American Beef Council to develop a healthy nutrition plan. We wholeheartedly buy-in to the Fast Casual Food Council’s message that heavily processed food and enormous portion sizes won’t harm us. The morning venti Starbucks Frappuccino loaded with 59 grams of sugar (equivalent to 14 teaspoons) is slurped by people who claim to eat a healthy diet and can’t find the solution to their skin breakouts. Acne is on the rise, particularly among young adult women in western culture.
Contribution by Mary Nielsen
A technician, educator, mentor, and business owner, Mary Nielsen has been at the forefront of medical esthetics since its infancy in the early 1990s. She is a Certified Advanced Esthetician in the State of Oregon and a Master Esthetician in Washington. She is a licensed esthetics instructor. She is also a licensed nurse. She served as the Vice Chair and Industry Expert on the Oregon Board of Certified Advanced Estheticians. She is the author of A Compendium for Advanced Aesthetics, a Guide for the Master Esthetician and Fearless Beauties, Treating Skin of Color with Confidence. She has authored four chapters in the newest Milady Standard Esthetics textbook released in May 2019. She is also a diplomate with the American Board of Laser Surgery in Cosmetic Laser Procedures. She is the Executive Director of Spectrum Advanced Aesthetics, the founder of the Cascade Aesthetic Alliance as well as the OG of Fearless Beauties.
A study on the people living in non-westernized cultures in Papua New Guinea and in Paraguay found ZERO incidence of acne in age group. Why? Researchers believe their diet, which is rich in whole foods, not processed foods, is the reason.
Intuitively, we have known that there is a connection between what we eat and what our skin reveals but research now supports this. Let’s dissect the common American diet to have a better understanding of why. We’ll also dive into some supposed health foods that could also be triggering acne breakouts.
Our bodies are marvelously complex and body systems are intricately interconnected. Insulin is a hormone released into the bloodstream to lower blood sugar levels. The release of insulin sets off a chain reaction that stimulates androgen hormones. The androgen hormones stimulate the production of sebum. The excess sebum mixes with dead skin cells, pollution and bacteria causing papules, pustules, inflammation, and other symptoms of acne.
The American Diet and Acne
The American diet is rich in refined carbohydrates, like cookies, cakes, bread, crackers, cereal, and desserts. Sugar-filled beverages, candy, salad dressings, jams, and sauces are a few others that are loaded with refined carbohydrates. Fast food is rich with refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. Did you know that McDonald’s coats its French fries in dextrose, a form of sugar? Our bodies quickly process these foods during digestion and dump glucose into the bloodstream. Insulin follows to lower the blood glucose levels and influence androgen levels and sebum production.
There is a link between chocolate consumption and acne. Men who were given a capsule of 100% cocoa powder daily had a significant increase in acne lesions after one week compared with the group that took a placebo daily. Researchers believe that chocolate disrupts the skin’s barrier function and immune protection against acne-causing bacteria on the skin.
Milk contains components related to testosterone, stimulating oil gland overproduction and increasing insulin levels, similarly to refined carbohydrates. A study with young adults found that those who included milk products, such as ice cream in their diets were four times more likely to struggle with acne.
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Whey protein is a popular supplement used for weight loss and building muscle. Whey protein is made of amino acids that incite the skin cells to grow and divide more quickly, which contributes to the formation of acne because of the increased sebum production.
Celiac disease is an immune disorder in which people can’t digest gluten. Gluten damages their small intestines. People may not have celiac disease but can have a sensitivity to gluten, or a wheat allergy. This allergy can manifest itself in an acne-like appearance on the skin.
Soy, a common dietary staple for vegans and vegetarians contains isoflavones. Isoflavones are plant estrogens, which can influence the release of androgens, affecting sebum production and acne flare-ups.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found in corn, safflower, and sunflower oils, which are present in many many processed foods. The imbalance of omega-6 fatty acids can cause an overproduction of sebum.
Dioxin, a chemical found in herbicides, has been shown to cause a condition called chloracne. Dioxins accumulate in the fatty tissue of animals. More than 90% of human exposure is through eating animal fats in meat, dairy products, fish and shellfish. include cysts and nodules, depending on the amount of exposure. 
Our bodies want to be in a state of homeostasis, or balance. We can contribute to our health with a diet of whole foods. Micronutrients contribute to the balance. Copper assists with normalizing bacteria concentration on the skin, keeping the skin biome healthy. Magnesium lowers cortisol levels, and stabilizes hormone imbalances which levels off sebum production. Zinc helps regulate cell turnover and sebum production. Omega-3 fatty acids help regulate oil production and balance skin’s hydration.
Ask questions during the consultation to get a clearer picture of your client’s lifestyle, including their diet. Many people believe they eat a healthy diet but may dine out three or more times a week with meals that are heavy in processed ingredients and refined carbohydrates. They may not think that the afternoon Starbucks Refresher is contributing to their skin breakouts. Be sure to bring up the major food contributors, refined sugars, processed foods, chocolate, wheat, gluten, dairy, whey protein, and soy. Take a holistic approach to help your clients with acne. You can educate them on the benefits of choosing healthier options for nutrition and the link to their skin health.