Is Acne Caused By Greasy, Fried Foods?
The simple fact is that there are many reasons you should not eat greasy food, but eating greasy food does not cause acne. Some of the foods that really do cause acne might surprise you.
- Greasy fast food aggravates acne. Natural fats usually do not.
- Grease is not a problem unless it comes from industrially processed plant oils. Of course, you don’t want to get grease on the skin around your mouth.
- The fats in nuts, flaxseed, dairy, and meat do not cause excess oil production in your skin. Even butter, cheese, and white pizza are safe for acne.
- Soybean oil, canola oil, and margarine are especially detrimental for your skin.
- Tomatoes and carrots eaten in excess can cause the skin to break out.
- The body delivers vitamin E to the outermost layers of the skin through sebum made in pores.
- Taking supplemental vitamin E can clog your pores. Using a vitamin E lotion directly on your skin bypasses the sebaceous glands and can even help clear up your skin.
Good Fats, Bad Fats, and Your Skin
In the most comprehensive study of food and acne, Dutch dermatologists recruited 302 people with acne who agreed to have their faces measured with a device called a sebum meter. These volunteers also agreed to give blood samples so the the scientists could measure the amounts of certain nutrients in the bloodstreams. The scientists felt that measuring nutrients in blood samples would more fully explain the food diaries the volunteers also kept for the study.
One of the more striking findings of the study was that some fats in the diet actually reduced the amount of oil clogging pores, while other fats in the diet increased the amount of oil clogging pores. Saturated fat protected the skin, while unsaturated fat made acne worse.
What’s the difference between saturated fat and unsaturated fat?
The chemical difference between saturated fat and unsaturated fat is that there is no way to add more atoms to a molecule of saturated fat while there may be many ways to alter an unsaturated fat. Saturated fat does not go bad as fast as unsaturated fat. Saturated fat is more likely to be a liquid at room temperature.
Extra fat from olives and flaxseed as well as olive oil and flaxseed oil reduced the production of sebum on the skin. So did the fat from dark chocolate (although a stimulant chemical called theobromine, also found in chocolate, may make the skin break out). The fish from herring (a favorite food in the Netherlands) and other cold-water fish reduced sebum production, as did milk fat from whole milk, cream, yogurt, butter, and cheese.
Even most kinds of meat provide mostly saturated fat. Hot dogs, Polish sausage, hamburger, and beefsteak did not make the skin break out. Nor did pizza.
Increasing unsaturated fat, on the other hand, made acne worse. Most of the mass produced cooking oils are high in unsaturated fat, especially corn oil, sunflower oil, and soybean oil. (Coconut oil contains less than 3% as much saturated fat as sunflower oil.) Some of the meats most often recommended for a low-fat diet are actually high in unsaturated fat, including chicken and turkey. And fake fats like margarine are mostly unsaturated fat and bad for acne—butter, on the other hand, contains only about 5% as much saturated fat as margarine.
The greasy foods that really aggravate acne turn out to be any kind of fried fast food, especially fried chicken. Switching from butter to margarine can make the skin worse. Chips, crisps, and cookies made with soybean oil also make the skin break out. Pizza, on the other hand, provides very little of the offending fats. But there is another problem with pizza.
Vegetables That Aren’t Good for the Skin
The Dutch investigators learned that, at least in men, higher lycopene in the bloodstream correlated to more sebum on the skin. Lycopene is a plant chemical that is found in tomatoes, watermelon, and shrimp. Cooking tomatoes into a paste or sauce concentrates the lycopene, and adding even 2 or 3 grams (1/2 a teaspoon) of cooking oil to the tomatoes makes the lycopene easier to absorb. This means that pizza is still OK for people who have acne—if it is white pizza, not pizza with tomato sauce.
The research team also found that carrots were not good for acne-prone skin. The human body can convert the beta-carotene in carrots to vitamin A, although people who are underweight or normal weight use beta-carotene more efficiently. Carrots seemed to cause some of the problems that are expected with excess use of vitamin A, especially drying out of the skin and increased flaking of the skin. No one experiences the same level of skin irritation after eating carrots as after taking Retin-A. But if small, red pimples in the middle of the face are the major problem, eating more carrots make acne worse.
The Worst Nutrient for Acne-Prone Skin
All the problems caused by greasy food, however, paled in comparison to the problems caused by consuming excess vitamin E. When concentrations of the alpha-tocopherol form of vitamin A in the bloodstream were doubled, production of sebum in the skin was found to have increased 30 times. And most of the participants in the study had vitamin E levels that were about 1/3 as high as would be expected if someone took just 100 IU of vitamin E every day as a supplement.
Scientists at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena in Germany have learned that the main way the skin delivers vitamin E to its topmost layers is buying releasing the vitamin in sebum. It is almost as if the skin makes a vitamin E cream to be applied from the inside out. If you have a tendency for clogged pores, however, extra vitamin E will get stuck in your pores before it leaks out over your face. Especially if you indulge in fast foods, you should not take vitamin E unless your doctor directs you to do so.
What Does All This Mean for Keeping Skin Clear?
What’s the bottom line of current research about greasy food and acne? Here is what you need to remember.
- “Natural” fatty foods like nuts, butter, and red meat don’t aggravate acne. (That doesn’t mean you should eat them, just that they won’t clog the pores in your skin.)
- “Unnatural” fatty foods like soybean oil, canola oil, and margarine make acne worse. The oils used to fry fat food also make skin break out.
- Tomatoes and carrots can aggravate blemishes. Don’t eat them in excess.
- Avoid vitamin E supplements taken by mouth. Vitamin E creams are OK, because they don’t have to go through your sebum glands to reach your skin.
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