Comedones, pustules, inflamed follicular papules, whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, pizza-face (so bad), what the Brits eloquently call spots, and my kids call them zits. No matter what you call the most common of all skin disorders, acne can be painful, uncomfortable, some sufferers might say unsightly. The harm to self-image, self-esteem and self-confidence is real and can scar for life not only what we see on the outside, but also on the emotional stress and even shame can scar on the inside.
Acne can start a few weeks after birth with what’s endearingly called baby acne caused by all the hormones that both mom and baby have been circulating. Then affecting the most common next hormone storm of the tween and teen years around puberty, but really acne can affect people for the whole of their lives. There’s some insane number like 50 million Americans or 80% of the population suffers with this inflammatory skin disorder, it sure is worthy of doing a deep dive into and I’ll give thanks to our loyal listener, Colleen, for requesting this topic. You may not know the worst foods for acne, where I start to support clients with skin issues, and what on earth insulin (best known for its role in diabetes) has to do with acne. I’ll say right out of the gate that what you put in your mouth is WAY more important than what you put on your skin, so on EAT THIS with Lianne, let’s talk about no matter what your age or stage of life, how to deal with acne in ways you likely haven’t thought of.
Typically the pimple or spot starts with the sore, bruised feeling and shows up somewhere on your face, neck, chest or back – whether you can see it or not, you know something is brewing. Then there are times when there is no discomfort and you wonder how you didn’t know that a white head was in full view of everyone but yourself. My journalist, magazine Beauty Director sister used to call the eruption on her face Mount Etna to share just how big her spot felt.
Yes, the tween, teen and early 20s can be a time of the most congestion and acne on the skin and it’s really a daily drag, but adults of all ages can suffer. I might even go out on a limb and say women with monthly hormonal cycles, PCOS and other hormonal imbalances mean that acne can plagues many of us for life. Sure we can say it’s all down to hormones, our tweens and teens who are a soup of hormones can be the worst off. So yes, all that I’m going to share today is for them as much as it is for parents. You know that telling your kids to do something doesn’t work, we have to model it to them. So when you start to change your diet, your eating habits and how you care for yourself, your kids are more likely to follow.
Acne has a hereditary component, but in more ways than you think. Our microbiome, our gut bacteria that I’ve spoken so much about on this podcast is the first place that I look at before anything else. You might be thinking, like “whaaa??” You know I’ve said that there’s the gut-brain connection, and the gut is the 2nd brain, but really it’s not only in our gut but also we have a layer of bacteria and microbiome on our skin too. And where did that come from? That base of bugs came from mom. How you were born – natural birth or cesarean can affect your microbiome for life. So when I say hereditary, that’s what I’m talking about. Genetics and epigenetics* are both at play here. Then there’s the amount of times you have taken antibiotics in your life. That’s a huge factor in how healthy your gut microbiome is.
*Epigenetics is the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work.
Traditional docs, dermatology and medicine focuses on the outside in, and I’d like to challenge that and look from the inside out. What is going on inside that is showing on the outside? That’s what’s happening after all, right? You can’t stop your skin from producing oil through the pores – it is a protective layer and really important for skin but the clogging of the pores, not so much. That’s what acne is, an excess of oil and build up that clogs pores. That’s what creates the inflammation and produces bacteria. Sure you can slap on some medication, take antibiotics, take Accutane for three months, go on the contraceptive pill or something like that, but that’s just a quick fix, it’s not a long term fix. Most of what I just mentioned are getting rid of all of those good bacteria, and that creates a dysbiosis or an imbalance in the good and bad bacteria on your skin. And then that just makes you more prone to getting more acne in the future. So, it may be okay in the short term, but it’s not getting to that underlying root cause.
So if you’re not treating acne from the outside in, then let’s look at the first thing… Diet.
Sugar & Processed Foods
When you eat foods that are really refined and processed, foods that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, you’ll get a spike in your blood sugar. You get that lift in energy and then your body says, “can’t have that” and produces insulin to deal with it. That’s the spike of insulin after you get a spike in blood sugar. So you eat food, your blood sugar goes up, the body makes a lot of insulin and that spike in insulin and blood sugar will cause a follicular hyperkeratosis. Basically that’s a long word that means the skin’s not turning over as well as it should. And so cells get stuck in the skin and then those stuck cells can get more inflamed and then you end up with a pimple or many pimples. So one of the major things to always start with is reducing or eliminating refined and processed foods and the sugary and starchy foods.
This whole cycle of having too much insulin can fall under what’s called insulin resistance – as in your body needs a boat load more insulin to do the job because the cells have become almost insensitive to the insulin. It’s a precursor to diabetes and as I said that so many people suffer with acne, we know that diabetes is massive too. The two can be linked. This hyperkeratosis can also cause more skin tags, and a darkening of the skin folds in your neck and in your armpit. Unbalanced hormone situations (like PCOS in women) that cause skin issues, facial hair growth and infertility is associated with insulin resistance too. Its impact is far reaching.
So sugar, starch, processed foods, they got to go. Not only because of this insulin resistance issue, but also because it feeds the bad bacteria in your gut, so we circle back to gut health once again. Bad bugs love sugar, and it’s their fuel to proliferate – as in make more. The more you have, the more your body needs to detoxify their ‘stuff’ and so your liver then gets even more backed up. Do you see that this really isn’t something that you can solve with the latest zit cream?
Ok, so I’ve talked gut microbiome, sugary, starchy and processed foods. Another key food is dairy. It’s everywhere – in your coffee, on your cereal, in your sandwich. Basically breakfast, lunch and dinner – our milk, our cheese, our ice cream. All dairy is very high in hormones – 60 different hormones in milk, to be exact. And these are not added like growth hormone, these are just naturally occurring hormones. Why? Because it’s a hormonally active growth food for calves that makes them grow. Breast milk has a bunch of hormones in it, so why wouldn’t cows milk that’s produced for calves, right?
I have had clients who have taken dairy out of their diet and they watch their skin heal. Let’s look more into this kind of fight that goes on so often, and use dairy as the example. You eat the cheese on the pizza, or have your morning latte, think you’re eating a healthy breakfast with yogurt, berries and granola and don’t realize that it’s causing reactions in your body that show up as a food sensitivity. That can look like a bunch of things from diarrhea, to eczema, brain fog, sore joints and then acne. You take pills, slap on cream for whatever it is, but don’t take the dairy out. You’re fighting a tug of war no one is ever going to win at. In fact, it’s your body that is going to lose.
So those key things; gut microbiome, refined, starchy and sugary foods, and then dairy. That’s the first place that I start. The non-negotiables that can take a bit of time, or can impact really quick and when someone sees an improvement, it’s motivating to keep going.
Hydration & Fibre
Another couple of dietary things to consider are hydration and fibre. The teen with the soup of hormones, the PMS hormones, the menopausal hormones, the too much testosterone in men all need fibre to get the old, broken down hormones out of the body. Fibre from whole grains like brown rice and whole grain bread, not white. Colourful fruits and vegetables like sweet potato, peppers, spinach, broccoli, carrots and even seaweed found on the outside of your brown rice sushi all help to give you nutrients needed and help clear out what your body is trying to get rid of. Old hormones get broken down and sent to the gut, if you’re constipated and aren’t having a daily BM then your body reabsorbs those old hormones and you end up with your usual levels AND the extra. The liver then has to break it down again and as we talked about in the Drainage vs Detox episode, the liver can’t keep up and uses the skin to get rid of it’s garbage – aka more acne. Fibre and water are key to get rid of what needs to be kicked to the curb, or flushed down the toilet!
Further to what I said about the liver and working overtime, the liver needs specific nutrients to detoxify hormones, pesticides, herbicides, get rid of heavy metals like mercury and lead – you know, do the purging of all the stuff that’s not good to store in our body. The liver needs constant help and support and the mother of all antioxidants, called Glutathione, is numero uno here. You can take it as a supplement, I have a liquid that I recommend for clients – check it out on sproutright.com. You can also take NAC (which Dr B talked about in the What’s Booze Doing to your Body Episode) and you can eat a lot of cruciferous vegetables – the broccoli cauliflower, cabbage, radish, kale – to help your body with production of glutathione. Oh and while you’re at it, add in sulfur containing vegetables – onions, garlic, shallots – because they also help the body make glutathione. I think I’m going to have to do an episode on the liver, glutathione and NAC, because they are all rather incredible and provide antioxidant protection from viruses, works as an anti-inflammatory and supports detoxification. We will chat more.
What else can I do?
I wasn’t sure whether to include this, but I can’t help myself. Have you heard of face mapping? I’ve known about it for years and a brilliant colleague, Dr Todd Frisch in St Louis does the best job that I know of in his book, WTF? Why the Face: A Practical Guide to Understanding Health & Personality Through Facial Diagnosis. Where you get acne on your face can show imbalances and tell more of a story. For instance, acne on your chin is really hormonal: PMS, estrogen and progesterone, and of course testosterone; you name it, if it’s hormonal, it’s likely to show up there. Got acne along your jawline? I’ve seen that be your intestines and gut. In between your eyebrows is liver, forehead more intestinal stuff shows up there and on your nose is pancreas into stomach into heart. Mind blowing stuff.
Feeling overwhelmed yet? Let’s recap with what I said and what you can do about it:
1. Gut microbiome – good versus bad bacteria. You can have more because of antibiotic use, what your mom gave you, a crappy diet that’s lacking in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, brown grains that need to be cooked by you, not come from a package.
What to do: Take probiotics, like my Take This by Lianne Bio Boost, daily. Start with a FLUSH and go from there. Take Wild Bear Garlic and/or Olive Leaf Intrinsic to kill off the bad guys and make room for the probiotics to take over. It truly happens that way. The good guys can win in the end if you take enough of them, so CFU or numbers really count here.
2. Refined foods, packaged foods, sugar and starch. Ditch it. Who wants insulin resistance and be pre-diabetic anyway?
What to do: If you can see that most of your diet comes from a package, start by buying more berries. Wash them well and eat every day or buy organic frozen and make smoothies, smoothie bowls or blend into an ice sorbet kind of thing instead of ice cream – that’ll take dairy out of that equation there too. All the recipes in my book, Sprout Right Family Food, are full of whole grains, so move onto there for more inspiration. Remember that unless you change the food that’s going in, what’s happening on the outside isn’t going to change. For that boost of energy that your sweet treat gives, drink a large glass of water, eat an apple which is high fibre, then see what you need after that. Mix in a scoop of my Take This by Lianne Skin Boost and you won’t get bored with the taste of water.
3. Dairy and all of its own hormones really aren’t needed on top of what’s going on, especially if you have any kind of hormonal imbalance, which includes puberty, PMS, perimenopause or PCOS.
What do to: Remove dairy. I know you love your cheese and milk, believe me. There are so many plant based alternatives out there now, and I know they don’t taste the same, but you truly won’t be going without. Don’t expect it to taste the same and you’ll be good. I spoke with Elmhurst Milk Food Scientist in an earlier episode, so head back there for how to choose a great dairy alternative. I also hope to interview a dairy farmer with A2 milk in the coming weeks too, so tune into that for more on a better cow dairy too. Some people do better with goat’s or sheep’s milk that includes cheese and yogurt. Take it out entirely first, then put goat’s or sheep’s back in to make sure it’s ok.
4. You’ve got to help your liver get those toxins out of your body. Old hormones, metals, metabolites and all that’s not useful anymore. That looks like hydration, fibre and liver support. They all go hand in hand.
What to do: Head back to last episode 61 when we went into why filter your water to get rid of the hormones, herbicides and other toxins, so listen and maybe it’s time to get picky about the water you drink. Those high-fibre foods have to go in. There is no other way. And no, that’s not bran flakes or All Bran for breakfast with milk. Eat more whole fruit – try my quick one of a honey crisp apple with a spoonful of almond butter. Or a banana. This morning I had a banana. It doesn’t get faster than that. Blend up a bunch of berries, nut butter, chia seeds, hemp seeds, spinach and water or a plant based milk. Rather than the two bite brownies, have a handful of sugar snap peas and hummus. Ditch the white stuff – there’s no fibre and it addresses the refined foods too. Take liposomal glutathione in a liquid, or NAC help your body make the glutathione to support your liver and all that garbage that it’s trying so hard to get rid of. Eat more garlic, onions, shallots, cruciferous veggies too and take a supplement of Wild Bear Garlic and Olive Leaf Extract to kill the bad bugs too.
I’m going to leave it there for you, I’ve shared a lot. This is one you’ll want to listen to a couple of times. Sure essential fats, eating more fish, taking vitamin C and all that’s in my Vibrant Skin Trio on sproutright.com is important, but it all starts with the diet. Stop the tug of war that’s going on inside and give your body a real break. It needs it. What you’re seeing on the outside is truly a window to what’s going on inside. The more you can follow what I’ve said today, the healthier your skin will be and everything internal that is contributing to it.