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Nutritional Solutions for Acne & Skin Blemishes

Do you suffer from chronic or the occasional bout of acne and dream of having picture perfect skin? If so, these nutritional solutions will help you address
Sep 6, 2010 | Joy McCarthy

Do you suffer from chronic or the occasional bout ofacne and dream of having picture perfect skin? If so, these nutritional solutions will help you address the root cause so you don't have to resort to medications that have negative side effects.

The stress and emotional trauma of acne can make anyone want to resort to medications.

In fact, the stress associated with acne can often make it worse because elevated stress hormone "cortisol", has actually been linked in studies to promoting acne.

However, don't let this stress you out, because I’m delighted to share my knowledge that I have learned over the years from my education and more importantly from the clients I have helped. Here’s a case study on how I helped a client (name changed).

The Client & Problem

Cindy, 29, Corporate Trainer, had struggled with skin breakouts her whole life and she can't recall a time throughout her teen years when she had totally clear skin. These days she experiences acne outbreaks about five times a year and they last for weeks at a time.

When Cindy came to me, her skin was really dry from all the washing and scrubbing she put it through in an effort to remove any excess oil. The outbreaks focused around her chin and mouth and as her career often had her presenting and training large groups, she understandably found her pimples an embarrassment. She told me the situation was affecting her self-esteem and that she would even call in sick when a breakout was particularly bad.

Cindy had tried everything from expensive potions and lotions to pharmaceutical drugs, but with no long-term success. As a teen she used to eat a lot of fast food, but had cut this out about 10 years ago. She craves sugar, but tried to avoid it.

To start, I evaluated her two-week diet diary. These were the most common foods she ate:

  • Cow's milk, every morning on her breakfast cereal.
  • A smoothie with soy protein powder and soy milk after every workout at the gym.
  • Thai food take-out at least three times per week.
  • Frozen dinners, veggie burgers, refined carbs ie. white flour pasta
  • Hidden sources of sugar*: ketchup, salad dressing, pasta sauces
  • Wine

Eliminating any food you chronically eat is a very effective strategy for clearing up your skin.

Why? Food sensitivities and allergies often manifest as pimples as they cause immune reactions to those with sensitivities. Additionally, sugar, alcohol and refined carbs/processed foods all promote inflammation in the body which can also promote acne. Identifying food allergies can be done with an elimination diet or a food allergy test. Drinking lemon and wateron an empty stomach can also be helpful to promote liver detoxification with L-glutamine to prevent sugar cravings.

After working with Cindy, we made a few changes ...

  • She switched from cow's milk to almond milkor brown rice milk for her breakfast cereal (to eliminate any excess hormones, as hormonal imbalance can lead to acne).
  • She made her smoothiewith hemp, brown rice or pea protein powder (instead of soy) along with with fruit and chia seeds.
  • I developed a customized meal plan for her based on her likes and dislikes. She virtually eliminated all additives, chemicals and preservatives overnight, just by eating REAL FOOD.
  • Instead of the faux-meat burgers she was eating, I suggested she try organic eggs, organic ground turkey burgers and experiment with some wild fish such as salmon.
  • *She ate complex carbs: sweet potato, brown rice, quinoa, kamut instead of refined carbs and processed foods.
  • She adopted stress-reduction strategiesincluding: deep breathing, yoga, meditation, spending time with admiring loving friends and family. She had a high-stress job, so this was a particularly important recommendation for her to focus on.
  • Another important change for Cindy was to focus on eating more hormonally-balancing foods such as all fibre-rich foods including chia seeds, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale ), leafy greens. This is particularly for women who are prone to acne during the PMS timeframe.

Cindy was confident these were changes she could easily embrace. As the weeks went by, not only was her skin looking better, but she had more energy and felt happier just by cleaning up her diet, than she ever had before. She started to feel what joyous health is all about!

Do you have a similar healing journey you'd like to share? Post it in the comments below!

*Excess insulin (from sugar and refined carbs) raises insulin-growth factor (IGF-1), which raises testosterone and increases sebum production in the skin. An increase in sebum production that attracts acne-causing bacteria, worsens acne. IGF-1 also increases keratinocytes, (a type of skin cell associated with acne).

Please note: This advice is not meant to treat or diagnose, please consult a certified practitioner for any serious health issues.

The Dame   •   September 7, 2010

Thank you for this! Im 31 and have suffered from acne all my life, still do! I use Proactive, a natural toner like rose water and then rosehip oil to help my skin, and drink loads of water, but I still get sore blind bumps, especially around my period. MORE BROCOLLI!

joyousness   •   September 7, 2010

mel   •   September 7, 2010

Joy, Im thinking of purchasing one of Dr. Mercola's protein powders... Do you think the whey protein is OK because it is good quality (from grass fed, cows, organic) etc.. or shoudl I stick with the yellow pea protein.. I've heard whey can aggravate acne but perhaps only if the product is inferior?

joyousness   •   September 7, 2010

Sarah   •   September 7, 2010

Thanks for this article Joy. It really helped me.


Jasmine   •   September 7, 2010

Great article Joy. I have been following your lemon and water advice from the summer and feel so much better!

joyousness   •   September 8, 2010

Kim   •   October 4, 2010

Thanks for the post. Clinical trials are showing a causal relationship between food and acne, specifically high-glycemic (sugars) and milk:


Anna   •   October 30, 2010

Joy, I'm 22 and I've head acne issues since 13. I used proactiv throughout high school, but it stopped working. I discovered, and I've been using their "regimen" (what's basically benzoyl peroxide gel) for about a year now. From what I get, it works through drying the skin so much that the cells are forced to constantly regenerate so they don't get a chance to clog, which has been working alright, better than proactiv at least. But my skin condition became horrble, it's essentially aways pealing and flaking, which I just gently rub of with the warm wet towel, but it also aged my skin. I'm active, eat real food, don't eat meat or drink milk (sleep is limping, but it's in the works), and if I don't use anything on my skin, my face blossoms like it's spring. I've considered "hiring a hollistic nutritionist" =P since discoveing your site recently, but that's not much of an option for a broke student right now. Any advice on what I should try at this point? Thank you :)

joyousness   •   October 31, 2010
R   •   February 16, 2016

Anna   •   October 30, 2010

I'm not sure if my previous comment uploaded, mayb it's awaiting moderation, i'll check again, but I forgot to mention that I'm also doing the lemon water mornings.


Lisa   •   January 11, 2011

great article! just to add to the dairy and sugar thing- i find that EVERY time i eat ice cream, i get a zit or 2 the next day. there is definitely a connection there for me, but i still indulge once in a while, since ice cream is one of my favourite treats! hormones are a biggie too. i used to get a cystic pimple on my chin before my period each month like clockwork. when i got pregnant, i got several cystic pimples on my forehead all at once (it was horrible). but a few weeks into my pregnancy those pimples cleared, and now my skin completely clear with no acne! for the first time in my life, i am getting complements on my complexion. amazing! just goes to show how hormones account for soooo much. i have always maintained a very clean diet and lifestyle, with liver cleanses each year and working with my naturopath and acupuncturist, and lots of time and care spent on my health, etc, but even so, each month my hormones would over-ride my various efforts and give me a special "gift" on my face. surprisingly, getting knocked up was the best thing to happen to my skin! hormones! hopefully after i give birth my skin doesn't go back to its old ways. :)


sue   •   June 23, 2011

My friend is 21 years old & struggles with acne. Does being underweight have anything to do with acne? I think she exercises too much & doesn't have enough body fat. She has hormone problems too as she hasn't had her period for the last 6 months. Any advice for me on how to help her??? thanks!!


Ashley   •   February 15, 2012

My issue is tea. I love it but would like to reduce my sugar and eliminate milk. Any suggestions?


Jes   •   March 28, 2013

Does tea tree oil soap really help or completely reduce acne? I was kind of thinking maybe it might make it worse with the oils clogging the skin?


danus   •   October 21, 2015

what do you think about beans and legumes does they cause break out on asian skin,, and does the rice, hemp, pea protein is also sensitive as well??

Joy McCarthy   •   October 21, 2015

K K   •   August 10, 2016

Hi Joy I'm going through a bad case of acne in my kid thirties and the last time it was this bad was in my teen years. I tried using a different probiotic because the health food store was out of what I usually use but didnt realize it had dairy in it. I also tried a home chemical peel which may have aggravated things. The last couple if days I've tried to stay on track eating clean and staying away from foods im sensitive to including question it possible that acne continues to get worse before it gets better.

Heather Allen   •   August 11, 2016

Megan K.   •   October 27, 2017

Do you know if diet changes can help cystic acne?


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