Last Updated on July 31st, 2019
There are literally tens of thousands of over-the-counter acne treatments and dozens of prescription acne medications that usually do a fair job of clearing acne. But some of the best ways to clear acne don’t require you to buy anything at all. Before you spend a small fortune on acne treatment, why not try one of these quick and simple methods that often clear acne?
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Diet and acne have a complicated relationship, largely due to the inherent challenges of both diet studies and acne studies. Diet studies are difficult to conduct for many reasons. For instance, it’s hard to ensure that participants are sticking to the diet mandated by the study. It’s also difficult to isolate the effects of a single food when we need to consume so many different foods every day.
This makes it difficult to determine the effect our diets have on any given aspect of our lives, but it’s especially difficult when it comes to acne because acne studies have their own challenges too. Acne is a multifactorial condition, meaning acne is caused by the combination of many different factors. This makes it difficult to study any single cause, like diet. However, based on what we know about how various foods affect the main causes of acne, we can make estimates on how changing your diet could lead to clearer skin.
As a note, all diet advice should be taken with a grain of salt, because everyone is different and has different needs. It’s also important to remember that the best way to stick to a dietary change is to make it as non-restrictive as possible. Food is meant to be enjoyed, after all, and most things are perfectly fine for most people in moderation.
There is no magic acne diet that will give you clear skin overnight, but there are a few foods that have been shown to reduce acne, while others are likely to increase acne. By increasing your intake of various acne-reducing foods and limiting acne-causing foods, you may be able to improve your skin through your diet.
Research suggests that plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and nuts are great for reducing acne because of their high levels of antioxidants1. Antioxidants help reduce inflammation, which is perfect for reducing acne because inflammation is one of the three main causes of acne. You may also want to increase your intake of seafood, seeds, and eggs, because these are high in omega-3 fats rather than omega-6 fats. Research suggests that omega-6 fats also lead to increased inflammation, while omega-3 fats can actually decrease inflammation2.
When it comes to foods to avoid, there’s nothing that you need to cut out entirely just for your acne. However, studies show that it might be best to limit your chocolate, dairy, and carbohydrate consumption. One study found that eating chocolate increased the likelihood of acne formation, likely due to increased inflammation3. But food doesn’t just impact acne through inflammation. Milk and other dairy products could also be a problem because they increase the amount of sebum our skin produces4. Sebum is the oily substance created by our sebaceous glands to protect our skin from irritation, but when it is overproduced, it can clog pores and lead to acne. Finally, you may also want to limit your intake of carbs like soda, bread, or cereal5. These foods release a lot of sugar into the bloodstream very quickly, resulting in a spike in sebum production.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, vitamin supplements are one possible treatment for acne6, but they only work if you already have a deficiency in a particular vitamin. If you’re on a typical Western diet, it’s unlikely that you will have vitamin A or vitamin B deficiency, but many people in Western cultures are prone to vitamin C or vitamin D deficiencies. How can you tell if your acne could be caused by a vitamin deficiency? Look for these symptoms, and if you suspect a deficiency, talk to your doctor.
Symptoms of Vitamin A Deficiency:
Symptoms of Vitamin B Deficiency:
Symptoms of Vitamin C Deficiency:
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency:
If you’ve noticed that you tend to break out more after working out, there’s actually a relatively simple way to remedy the situation. Typically, you can prevent acne by showering right after working out and keeping your exercise equipment and clothing clean. A specific type of acne known as acne mechanica tends to form wherever there’s lots of friction because of the increased irritation and inflammation, and this is common with many types of exercise clothing. Sports bras, for instance, are designed to be relatively tight in order to keep the breasts in place while exercising, but this tightness can lead to friction and acne mechanica.
Showering right after working out can help prevent acne mechanica7 because it eases the inflammation caused by the friction of tight sports clothes, but it can also wash away excess bacteria that could contribute to acne. It’s also important to keep your exercise clothing and equipment clean to prevent the growth of acne-causing bacteria.
Several studies have found a solid connection between acne and stress levels. One study conducted on female medical students in Saudi Arabia found that when students reported higher stress levels, their acne levels were also more severe8. Another study conducted on university students found that both their stress and acne severity levels increased during examination times9. Yet another study conducted on high school and college students in China found that acne severity also increased during times of increased stress10. It’s safe to say that stress and acne are related, but why is that?
One explanation is that stress, especially chronic stress, increases inflammation11. When we experience the acute stress of an immediate threat, like a lion attack, our body releases various chemicals to decrease inflammation, like adrenaline and cortisol. However, when we are under chronic stress, like attending college, our body starts to acclimate to increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol, eventually resulting in more inflammation, not less.
So how can you reduce stress and reduce acne at the same time? Well, stress reduction works differently for everyone and largely depends on what’s causing your stress. If you can remove yourself from a stressful environment, that’s always a good first step, but that isn’t always possible. Sometimes we have horrible jobs that cause us a lot of stress, but we need those jobs to pay our bills. Other times, jobs we love cause us stress, and we don’t want to quit or do something else. In these cases, it’s best to work on stress-management skills. Therapy or counseling is one great way to do this, especially if you feel like you’ve been stressed your entire life. Professionals are armed with countless strategies and tools to help reduce stress.
Does this sound familiar: you know you should wash your face before you go to sleep, but you’re already all cozy in your bed, and surely one night won’t make that big a difference. What about this: you washed your face in the shower, but you really don’t have time to apply your acne treatment cream and moisturizer— you’re already running late for work. These things happen to all of us sometimes, but if we want clear skin, we need to do our best to minimize these occurrences and stay consistent with our skincare routine.
There are several ways you can improve your consistency when it comes to taking care of your skin. The first strategy is to simply use fewer products. For most people, the simpler your skincare routine is, the more likely you are to stick to it. Instead of using a face wash and a toner and a treatment cream and a moisturizer, see if you can combine a few of those ingredients. For instance, many face washes contain toning ingredients, so you may be able to skip that step.
If your skincare routine is already pretty simple, you just can’t seem to make yourself stick with it twice a day every day, try pairing it with other routines you’re already dedicated to. For instance, if you brush your teeth every morning and night, try pairing your skincare routine with that routine that’s already well-established. Write yourself a note on the mirror to remind yourself, or place your acne treatment products in front of your toothpaste.
Finally, you can always ask for help sticking to your routine. You can get apps to help remind you, or you can reach out to loved ones and ask them to text you at certain times to ensure you’ve done your routine.
One of the simplest ways to improve your acne is to add one product to your regimen: sunscreen. If you’re prone to burning, this is essential because sunburn causes inflammation, which leads to increased acne. But even if you never, ever burn, sunscreen is still important. The sun can still damage your skin even if it doesn’t burn, leading to skin cancer, but when it comes to acne, the sun is especially bad for something called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or PIH. That’s the dark spots that are left behind when acne heals. More common in people of color, PIH can last anywhere from a few weeks to a full year, and many people report that that PIH is even more frustrating than the acne that caused it. Studies show that daily sunscreen usage can help reduce PIH12.
If you have dark skin, you may avoid sunscreen because it casts a purple or ashy hue on your skin, which is understandable. This is an unfortunate symptom of the racism and colorism integral to the beauty industry, but happily, things are starting to change. Many brands now offer clear sunscreen products that are much better for people of color, like Murad Invisiblur Perfecting Shield Sunscreen or Elta MD UV Clear Sunscreen.
To be your most trusted ally in your pursuit of clear, healthy skin.