Having bad skin can be heartbreaking. I know. I’ve been there. In some ways as a teenager it’s a lot easier to deal with – it’s expected of you and all your friends are going through the same thing, but as an adult – not so easy. People say ‘you’ll grow out of it’. I didn’t. At the age of 26 I was still getting regular breakouts and it was so upsetting. I started looking at reasons why this was happening at a time when the spotty days should have been well and truly over.
Teenagers get spots/acne due to a surge in hormones, specifically androgens, which causes surplus oil production, leading to clogged hair follicles which in turn breed bacteria and cause acne, pimples and blemishes. As you leave adolescence the chances are your hormones will have come back into balance thus reducing or eliminating your pimple outbreaks.
If you are you still getting spots as an adult then it is likely that you are either producing excess hormones, or that your body is not clearing them out from your system efficiently (or both!). Other causes of hormonal imbalances are menstruation, menopause and pregnancy, so if you are female your chances of hormonal imbalances are increased. The key to clear skin is to support the body’s pathways of elimination, reduce the production of excess hormones, reduce toxic substances from your diet and feed the body with skin nourishing foods.
The following guide helped me transform my skin and I therefore hope it will help you to achieve the skin you were meant to have.
1. Have a healthy gut
Having a healthy digestive system is key. If you do not have regular bowel movements toxins build up in your body, causing inflammation. As the skin is an excretory organ the body tries to rid itself of the excess toxins through the skin, resulting in spots. Increasing your vegetable intake should help to promote regular bowel movements, as will avoiding any foods your body has difficulty digesting (wheat and dairy are common trigger foods).
2. Go sugar and grain free
Sugar plays havoc with your skin. It triggers an inflammatory response in the body causing the body to release hormones such as insulin and other androgenic hormones. This surge in hormones causes (as described above) the skin sebum glands to go into overdrive, therefore resulting in spots. Sugar also feeds the bad bacteria in your gut, compromising digestive function. Sugar can come in two forms:
- Simple carbohydrates/sugars: Cakes, biscuits and chocolates, fruit juices, soft drinks, alcohol.
I would suggest strictly limiting these and working towards eliminating them completely.
- Complex carbohydrates/sugars: Pasta, potatoes, rice, whole grains and legumes (like lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans).
Although these have higher nutritional value than simple carbohydrates, they still get broken down into sugar by the body, so if acne is a problem for you I would limit these also. Always choose higher fibre alternatives like quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes and beans and pulses however ensure to watch your portion sizes. Little to no grains are best. Choose green vegetables over starchy carbohydrates wherever possible.
A high sugar intake is especially problematic when your liver function is already being overworked (for example from high alcohol and processed food intakes) as it’s your liver that deactivates and clears excess hormones from the body, which brings me to my third point…
3. Support your liver!
This is crucial to achieving clear skin. If your liver function is compromised it cannot clear excess hormones and toxins from the body, a build up of which we now know results in spots. Foods that support and promote good liver function include green, leafy and brightly coloured vegetables, berries, eggs, oily fish and nuts and seeds.
On the flip side, alcohol, sugar and processed foods place a burden on the liver so keep these to a minimum.
4. Feed your skin
Your skin is the largest organ in your body and needs to be fed the right foods. Essential fats found in oily fish like salmon and mackerel, avocados and nuts and seeds help to keep the skin plump and dewy, help to reduce inflammation and help to balance hormones.
5. Don’t drink milk
Dairy, especially milk, is thought to negatively effect skin health in two ways. Firstly due to the sugars in the milk and secondly due to the hormones found in milk – milk taken from pregnant and lactating cows contain particularly high amounts of hormones which are then passed onto you. Try organic milk and if you still find your skin flaring up switch to diary free alternatives such as rice, oat, coconut or almond milk (my favourite).
6. Chill out!
Stress exacerbates spots. Have you ever noticed how you break out during exam time or a busy period of work? The reason for this is that your body produces hormones to deal with the stress, creating imbalanced hormone levels, and we know by now what that does to our skin. It also compromises our digestive and immune functions, making us more prone to breakouts. Try and find ways to manage your stress levels such as taking up a relaxing hobby like yoga.
I can’t write about skin health without mentioning the Holy Grail H2O. You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again, but water really is vitally important in achieving a clear complexion. It helps to keep you skin hydrated and removes waste and toxins from the body.
Supplements for clear skin
Whilst following the above steps will take you to the finish line, supplements can help you cross it in first place! Zinc is particularly useful as it is responsible for supporting liver function and helps to heal the skin. My skin has literally been transformed since taking zinc supplements.
Probiotics boost the levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut and are crucial for gut health. I genuinely believe everyone would benefit from a daily probiotic.
Sample eating plan
A sample eating plan to help you get started:
3 tablespoons of full fat Greek yogurt topped with a small banana, 1 tablespoon flax seeds, 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds, a sprinkling of cinnamon and a handful of berries.
Omelette made with spinach, mushrooms, peppers and tomatoes served with peas and guacamole.
Apple and a handful of almonds.
Salmon topped with toasted pistachios on a bed of wilted spinach with a side of avocado.