Acne is a skin condition most associated with teenagers and puberty, yet these days, this problem is plaguing an ever-increasing number of preteens and people who have reached adulthood.
The most common treatments for acne include topical creams and gels, antibiotics, birth control pills and, in more severe cases, isotretinoin (which used to be known as Accutane). Dermatologists and doctors are likely to recommend these options as they are known to be effective, but these treatment methods only suppress the symptoms of acne without treating the root cause. Long-term use of antibiotics has been proven to result in lower gut bacteria diversity, which impacts our immune system and metabolism. Oral contraceptives are limited to women who have entered puberty and only address one acne-causing factor – excess sebum, the naturally-producing oil that moisturises our skin. Perhaps worst of all are the side effects of isotretinoin, which include and are not limited to dry lips and mouth, sun sensitivity and complications during pregnancy resulting in birth defects.
With the slew of problems brought by conventional acne medications, we have turned towards more natural alternatives for a better solution. There is now growing scientific evidence to suggest what we’ve known or heavily suspected for a long time – what we eat can indeed affect our skin. So, what changes can we make to our lifestyle and eating habits to improve our complexion and reduce acne?
The Paleo (short for Paleolithic) diet, also known as the Stone Age or caveman diet, appears to be quite effective at reducing acne. The idea behind this diet is that we should try to understand and recognise how different food affects our bodily functions and adapt accordingly. For instance, research has shown that increased consumption of milk and foods with a high glycemic index (GI) or glycemic load (GL) – usually highly processed food such as refined flour and excessively sugary food – correlates with acne formation. That means by avoiding or simply cutting down on our intake of grains, legumes, refined sugars and dairy, we should experience reduced sebum production, improved insulin sensitivity and less follicular inflammation – basically speaking, we should be getting less acne. There is also evidence that, for some, avoiding gluten can have a positive effect on their skin.
It is important to note that adopting a Paleo diet doesn’t mean having to go cold turkey on all processed food. It simply means incorporating as much whole, unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, berries, free range meats and wild caught fish into your meals as possible. It should come as no surprise that minimally processed food is better for us overall. After all, most of us can recall that sluggish feeling after eating fast food. You might find that by switching to a low-carb, low-sugar, gluten-free and lactose-free diet, your skin feels less greasy over time or that you tend to break out less.
One last thing to remember is that when it comes to diet, trial and error is key. What works for one person may not work for another, but with time and some experimentation, you will find the type of diet that works best for your skin.