How Your Diet Affects Your Skin: 5 Things Everyone Needs to Know

by Dr. David Minkoff November 19, 2020 5 min read

Athletic woman resting after exercise and enjoying a healthy snack in a field.

Acne is the most common skin condition in the Western world, characterized by unsightly, painful bumps beneath or erupting on the surface of your skin. Acne most often appears on the face, and other areas, including:

  • Back
  • Shoulders
  • Chest

Hormonal changes that occur during puberty are a common cause of acne, with the condition prevalent in adolescents and teens. Sadly, it often does not end with adulthood. 40 to 54% of both men and women over 25 suffer from acne breakouts, making it the single most common skin condition in the Western world.

Unfortunately, most of the “standard” medical responses to acne and other skin conditions just treat the symptoms.

But what about treating underlying health conditions that cause acne?

Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine, once stated:

“Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.”

It is common knowledge that your diet and nutrition affect virtually every aspect of your physiology, and your skin is no different. Many modern studies have demonstrated links between diet, acne, and a range of other skin conditions.

So, yes, today, we’re talking about addressing the root causes of your skin problems by making basic nutritional choices that will improve your health and help to keep your skin healthy and less prone to acne breakouts.

What is Acne?

Acne, also known as “acne vulgaris,” is a skin condition that occurs when the pores become clogged and inflamed. For acne to occur, four fundamental factors must exist:

  • Excess oil (called sebum)
  • Bacterial growth
  • Follicles clogged by excess skin cells and oil
  • Inflammation

One additional important factor is that a hormonal change or endocrine imbalance can trigger acne by stimulating an excess of oil production and other factors, which is why adolescents suffer from acne more than any other age group.

While the exact causes of acne vary from person to person, most treatments today are designed to address one or more of these four factors. Antibiotics are prescribed in an attempt to kill the bacteria, cleansers to remove the excess skin cells and sebum, medications work to reduce sebum production, and anti-inflammatory medications attempt to reduce the inflammation associated with acne.


The Relationship Between Your Gut and Your Skin

When people think of taking care of their skin, they usually think of cleansers and topical products. What many people fail to take care of is their gut.

Why? Because the health of your gut has a direct, vital impact on the health of your skin. This works in several ways:


When you eat food that your body cannot digest or is toxic, your digestive system works overtime to eliminate it. Many toxins and other unhealthy materials are removed through the kidneys or large intestine – leaving your body as waste. But if your gut lining is malfunctioning and the toxins enter your bloodstream, your body has a third elimination strategy: sweat and the excretion of toxins through the skin.

When these toxins exit your sweat glands, they can become trapped in the oil on your skin, causing blockages and irritation – setting your skin up for an outbreak of acne.


Endocrine balance

Your body requires a balanced diet with critical nutrients and proteins to maintain a healthy endocrine system and keep your system balanced. During adolescence, the rapid hormonal changes often cause excess oil production and trigger acne development. This same principle can apply when you suffer from poor digestion and a lack of proper nutrients.

It’s a simple, unarguable fact that the healthier your digestive system and diet are, the healthier your endocrine system will be – and your skin.



The smooth, elastic, and unblemished nature of your skin relies in large part on three unique chemical compounds:

Each of these compounds is synthesized in your body using the amino acids and nutrients your body obtains through dietary proteins. As you age, your natural stores of these compounds diminish – contributing to wrinkles, fine lines, and drooping skin. One of the best natural remedies to restore more youthful, healthy skin is to supplement your diet with the proteins it needs to support the production of these compounds.



One of the most significant impacts your diet can have on clinical acne and skin health is associated with bioactive reactions to allergens and food intolerances.

Food allergies occur when your immune system misidentifies a food you consume as a pathogen – a foreign invader that must be fought off with an immune system response. Food allergy symptoms are immediate in some cases, with hives breaking out, rashes, scratchy throat, or a runny nose. For others, the reaction is less dramatic – but equally damaging.

As the food particles make their way through your digestive system and into your bloodstream, a systemic inflammatory response often occurs and can be ongoing, without visible symptoms. If you have any of the precursors of acne present (oily skin, whiteheads, etc.), this systemic inflammation can trigger an acne breakout.

As a case in point, there was one woman who suffered from chronic cystic acne that only began in her mid-twenties. She tried every topical and oral medication on the market, and while she obtained some relief, nothing solved the problem. After extensive searching, she finally discovered the cause: She was allergic to many foods she was eating every day. Not only did her dietary habits contribute directly to systemic inflammation, but these foods were also destroying the health of her digestive system and throwing her hormones out of balance.

Once she corrected her diet and gave her digestive system the needed nutrients to repair, her acne faded away.


Your Gut Lining

Your digestive system has a durable protective mechanism that works to prevent unwanted substances from entering your bloodstream. When functioning as it should, your gut lining keeps inflammation down by keeping all the food you eat where it belongs: in your digestive system. However, when it begins to fail, large, undigested proteins and toxic substances can enter your bloodstream, triggering inflammation, spreading toxins throughout your body.

Some of the common factors known to cause your gut lining to fail include:

  • Over-consumption of sugars and refined carbohydrates (broken down into sugar by the body)
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Low stomach acid levels
  • Acid reflux
  • Imbalanced gut microbiome
  • Yeast overgrowth
  • Toxins
  • Nutrient deficiencies (specifically vitamin A, D, and zinc)
  • Consuming indigestible foods

Repairing and maintaining your digestive system is one of the most critical factors in preventing breakouts and keeping your skin free from blemishes.


How YOU can Improve Your Skin Health Today

There is no “magic pill” to cure acne and restore skin health, but diet and a healthy digestive system have a significant impact on every organ – including your skin.

Does this mean you can never have sugar if you want clear skin? Of course not.

But it does mean that a few simple steps can make a huge difference:

  • Get tested for allergies and avoid foods that trigger inflammation.
  • Eat foods rich in probiotics, fiber, and healthy nutrients.
  • Avoid sugars and refined carbs.
  • Eat organic whenever possible.

Remember that at the end of the day, no matter how comprehensive your skincare routine is – the food you eat can make a critical difference in your overall skin health.



*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.