There has been quite a bit of research that has been done in an attempt to prove whether diet is  linked to acne.  An obvious statement is that nutrition affects overall health and needs no additional support or further explanation; but is there a direct link to diet and acne production?  It is still under debate but, through some deductive reasoning, it is safe to say there is much evidence to support the claim that there is at least a correlation.  

There are several oral treatments one can take for acne which already implies that what you ingest can have an effect on your skin. Let’s use Accutane as an example which targets all four pathogenic factors of acne and is the most efficient in sebum suppression (this comes with a price due to the heavy side effects but has been proven very effective).  Accutane is made up of a retinoid that could be derived from the metabolism of Vitamin A which has been said to be found in small quantities naturally in the body.  Based on the proven fact that natural isomers of retinoic acid affect acne- essentially the molecules that signal to the body how to use the Vitamin A - we can make a connection between diet and acne.  Different sex hormones are also affected by diet which in turn has an affect on sebum production.  For instance, eating sugary foods especially before your period increases insulin levels. Insulin makes androgen hormones more active and stimulates the hormone that develops new tissue. This ultimately contributes to acne development by making skin cells grow more quickly and by boosting sebum production.

As we can see, Vitamin A clearly plays an essential role in skin’s health.  It is stored in the liver and in the sebaceous glands and helps with controlling how much or little the acne gene gets expressed.  Another factor we can use to determine the link is that dermatologists recommend taking all oral forms of Vitamin A with fatty foods for better absorption. It may not be a completely sound argument to say you can treat acne with diet but we can claim there is an influence for better or worse.  

Studies have proven that people who were given heavy lipids over a 12 week period showed less inflammation and skin irritation than those who were given the placebo which again would prove a link.  This doesn’t completely rule out any other factors therefore we can’t claim causation, unfortunately.  Studies have also shown that Western diets not only lack omega-3s [which help suppress the expression of acne] but are rich in carbohydrates and refined sugars [which help enable sebum production aka acne].  It is interesting because one might think that eating less fat will help reduce sebum production but it really comes down to the type of fat.  Foods like salmon and other seafood, avocados, almonds, fruits, and vegetables are anti-inflammatory rather than complex or refined carbohydrates which are pro-inflammatory. 

In conclusion if we are looking for the link between acne and diet we need to pay attention to carbs/sugar and omega- 3 intake.  Both of these dietary factors influence a variety of hormones and growth factors that influence sebaceous gland biology and production of sebum.  Beauty begins underneath- it’s not always about what we put ON our bodies but rather what we put IN our bodies.

Written by Allyson Welch

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