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Can You Really Detox Acne Away?

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

Many natural health experts tell us that redness and pimples on the skin are caused by poisons in the body trying to break out, and the best way to get rid of acne for good is to do an acne detox1. The kind of acne detox that really works, however, is a great deal different from the kind of detox advocated by the marketers2 of colon cleansers3 and liver flushes4. You detox your system with a product you add, not with “toxins” you take away.

detox for acne
The wrong kind of detox, like colon cleansers, can actually make skin problems worse.

Summary:

  • The wrong kind of acne detox can cause more problems that it resolves5.
  • Skin inflammation is not caused by bacteria. Skin inflammation is caused by the immune system’s attack on bacteria.
  • “Skin detoxifiers” that irritate the skin force the skin to repair itself by removing injured skin cells—with inflammation—and releasing more oil.
  • The reason you kill excess acne bacteria is to take away the immune system’s reason for causing pimples.
  • It is never necessary to irradiate, heat treat, or poison acne bacteria on your skin, although there are other kinds of skin infections that may require drastic medically supervised treatment.
  • Colon cleansers usually make the skin worse.
  • Probiotic bacteria in the colon “train” the immune system to control bacterial infections with less inflammation. They help reduce inflammation in the skin and in the brain.
  • Exposed Skin Care provides a product with the right probiotic bacteria for healthy skin, as part of a complete acne treatment system offered with a money-back guarantee.

What Really Causes Acne Blemishes

Acne is not really caused by toxins6 trying to force their way through the skin. Acne is actually caused by the immune system’s over-reaction to bacteria that normally live on the skin7.

The human skin is a complex ecosystem. Billions of skin cells are hosts to trillions of microorganisms8, most of which belong on the skin and improve the health of the skin. Acne bacteria normally live in pores. They help the pore push excess oil out of the skin by consuming the fatty acids in sebum.

Fat like the fat in sebum is not soluble in water and cannot be rinsed off the skin with water. Acne bacteria, however, convert waxy, oily sebum into some of the same kinds of fatty acids you can find in flaxseed oil and fish oil, and make propanoic acid as a byproduct. (The making of propanoic acid, also known as “propionic acid,” gives acne bacteria their scientific name, Propionibacterium acnes.) Thanks to acne bacteria, the thick and heavy sebum the skin makes to lubricate itself is transformed into smaller fatty acids and mild propanoic acid, which are water-soluble. For uncounted centuries before the invention of skin cleansers, bacteria made keeping the skin clean possible.

Acne breaks out when acne bacteria get trapped in the bottom of a pore9. Every skin pore also provides a passage to the surface of the skin for dead skin cells. Sometimes these skin cells clump together. When they get stuck in the pore, the acne bacteria beneath them run out of food and go dormant. As they start to go dormant, they also release chemicals that the immune system uses as a homing signal to release inflammatory chemicals.

These chemicals destroy some of the bacteria, but the also sensitize the skin cells around them to immune destruction10. Enough healthy skin dies that the pore opens up, after it has become red and inflamed.

You could “detox” your skin and get rid of acne bacteria, but the immune system can cause pimples to form even when there are no bacteria at all on the skin11. You know this is true if you have ever eaten something that made you break out, or put some cleanser or chemical on your skin that made you break out.

In fact, efforts to kill all the bacteria on the skin usually cause more harm than good. Chemicals like alcohol can kill bacteria if they are applied in a sufficiently strong concentration. For alcohol, it takes a 46% (92-proof) solution to kill bacteria on contact. Much lower concentrations of alcohol, however, can kill skin cells. These dead skin cells can clog pores. The immune system has to release inflammation to get rid of dead skin, and clogged pores become pimples. An acne detox of the skin is never a good idea. But what about detoxing the colon?

Colon Health and Acne Detox

The human colon is another organ that is an ecosystem12. Trillions of bacteria, usually about 1/3 of the content of the intestines, live in a healthy body. Without these bacteria, the stool is hard and bowel movement is difficult.

A few of these bacteria cause disease13, but trillions more compete with harmful bacteria for food, water, and space on the lining of the colon, so we seldom experience infections of the colon. When we do, the colon usually finds ways to empty itself so the harmful bacteria are simply flushed away.

Some symbiotic, or helpful, bacteria make vitamins14. Some symbiotic bacteria make essential fatty acids, especially propanoic acid, which fights colon cancer. And some symbiotic bacteria, a group of bacteria we also know as probiotic bacteria, both fight disease-causing bacteria and train the immune system.

How Bacteria Train the Immune System Not to Cause Acne

The lining of the intestine is covered with villi. The bloodstream sends billions of white blood cells to the villi to make sure no disease-causing bacteria enter the bloodstream. (It’s not unusual for some pathogenic bacteria to enter circulation, but usually not in numbers that make us sick.)

Healthy, helpful bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus live in the villi. The immune system naturally tries to destroy them with inflammation. But when the immune system “learns” that these bacteria don’t have to be destroyed for the lining of the colon to stay intact, it makes fewer inflammatory chemicals all over the body. Healthy bacteria in the colon reduce inflammation in the skin and brain15. Making sure you have probiotic bacteria in your colon keeps the immune system itself from causing toxic reactions. And the most severe toxic reactions in the body are almost always caused by the immune system itself.

How to Do a Real Acne Detox

Stopping inflammation in your skin, therefore, is not something you do with colon cleansers or antiseptics. The best way to stop inflammation in your skin is to be kind to the friendly bacteria in your colon. Eat yogurt every day (either dairy or soy is fine), or take probiotic supplements.

Limit your use of colon cleansers for times you are constipated. You don’t want to flush any more helpful bacteria into the toilet than you have to. And limit your use of skin cleansers for times you have visible inflammation of the skin. Remember that what you are doing for your skin is taking away the reason your immune system has to keep your pores inflamed. You are not killing bacteria that actually causing the inflammation.

Probiotic support is much more helpful for your skin than any kind of “acne detox.” You can get the probiotics you need for your skin from Exposed Skin Care, along with products that keep your skin clean, clear, and vibrant.

References:

  1. Allen J, Montalto M, Lovejoy J, Weber W. Detoxification in naturopathic medicine: a survey. J Altern Complement Med. 2011 Dec;17(12):1175-80.
  2. Detox Diets: Cleansing the Body. WebMD. 2019
  3. Horne SHorne S. Colon cleansing: a popular, but misunderstood natural therapy. J Herb Pharmacother. 2006;6(2):93-100.
  4. Can a Detox or Cleanse Help Your Liver? WebMD. 2019
  5. Ernst. Alternative detox. British Medical Bulletin, Volume 101, Issue 1, March 2012, Pages 33–38.
  6. Tan AU, Schlosser BJ, Paller AS. A review of diagnosis and treatment of acne in adult female patients. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2017 Dec 23;4(2):56-71.
  7. Koreck A1, Pivarcsi A, Dobozy A, Kemény L. The role of innate immunity in the pathogenesis of acne. Dermatology. 2003;206(2):96-105.
  8. O’Neill AM, Gallo RL. Host-microbiome interactions and recent progress into understanding the biology of acne vulgaris. Microbiome. 2018 Oct 2;6(1):177.
  9. Cynthia Cobb A. Pimples on breasts: Causes and how to get rid of them. Medical News Today. 2019.
  10. Richmond JM, Harris JE. Immunology and skin in health and disease. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 4(12):a015339. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a015339. PubMed PMID: 25452424; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4292093. Richmond JM, Harris JE. Immunology and skin in health and disease. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 4(12):a015339.
  11. Dreno B, Gollnick B, Kang S, Thiboutot D, Bettoli V, Torres V, Leyden J. Understanding innate immunity and inflammation in acne: implications for management. 2015. DOI: 10.1111/jdv.13190 JEADV.
  12. Blaut M. Ecology and physiology of the intestinal tract. Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 2013;358:247-72.
  13. Schieffer KM, Sabey K, Wright JR, Toole DR, Drucker R, Tokarev V, Harris LR, Deiling S, Eshelman MA, Hegarty JP, Yochum GS, Koltun WA, Lamendella R, Stewart DB Sr. The Microbial Ecosystem Distinguishes Chronically Diseased Tissue from Adjacent Tissue in the Sigmoid Colon of Chronic, Recurrent Diverticulitis Patients. Sci Rep. 2017 Aug 16;7(1):8467.
  14. LeBlanc JG, Chain F, Martín R, Bermúdez-Humarán LG, Courau S, Langella P. Beneficial effects on host energy metabolism of short-chain fatty acids and vitamins produced by commensal and probiotic bacteria. Microb Cell Fact. 2017 May 8;16(1):79.
  15. Bowe WP, Logan AC. Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future? Gut Pathog. 2011 Jan 31;3(1):1.
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Marik Reply

Are You Stupid ? "Eat yogurt every day (either dairy or soy is fine)" Clearly working for accutane

March 3, 2016 at 12:37 pm Reply
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Austin Reply

This is fantastic information. Thank you.

April 15, 2016 at 1:51 pm Reply
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Janine Reply

I'm confused, I've read that dairy may be the cause of my hormonal acne around my jawline and chin...so ...how can I eat more dairy to help?

September 7, 2016 at 4:45 pm Reply
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KroSs Reply

Yeah, but Pro-biotic yogurts though, not Rolo or Muller Corner! Lol!

November 12, 2016 at 8:46 pm Reply
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Max Reply

My nutritionist advised a liver detox in conjunction with a colon cleanse and taking probiotics. Perhaps I'm on the right track! Two 20-day detox cycles didn't clear the acne, so I guess I'll try for a third and see how that goes.

October 11, 2017 at 1:42 pm Reply
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lizzy Reply

Hmm, probiotics don't always equal clear skin.... I had parasites that were causing my acne breakouts and had to do a galbladder flush and a month of herbal pills to kill the parasites and flush them out. ALSO dairy is a HUGE no for acne.

November 5, 2018 at 9:24 am Reply
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Jane Reply

How did you know?

February 27, 2019 at 6:31 am Reply

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