As if being stuck at home, isolated from your friends and loved ones, and having to adjust to a new normal wasn’t challenging enough, you look in the mirror to see that your skin is behaving anything but normal.
Since you’re stuck at home you’ve stopped wearing makeup and using your haircare products that could potentially irritate your skin, so what gives...why are you breaking out?
As you go through your lifestyle inventory, you give yourself a high five for not binge-watching Netflix to wee hours of the morning to disrupt your sleep and you’ve been doing your best to breathe deeply and practice mindfulness to manage your stress, but those zits just keep popping out and you are about to pop your lid because getting into see your dermatologist is not an option right now.
But even if you were to visit your dermatologist, and get a pile of prescriptions or order an expensive skin care regimen or over-the-counter creams to suppress the acne, none of these fixes addresses what actually causes the acne, which is why clients visit me. Believe me, I know how frustrating it can be to try every lotion, potion and salve and not get the results you are looking for. I also know the shame, embarrassment and anxiety that comes along with not feeling comfortable or confident in your skin.
How we see ourselves impacts how we treat ourselves, and when emotions may already be running high right now, it’s vital not to add more negative emotional fuel to the fire.
So, let’s take a step back and examine what actually creates acne. The four contributing factors include (1) dead skin cells in the hair follicle (2) excess sebum (3) presence and activity of the commensal bacteria Cutibacterium acnes and (4) inflammation. When the sebum and dead skin cells clump together, they form a plug in the follicle and the bacteria in the plug causes inflammation leading to formation of acne.
As I explain in The Skin Whisperer, one of the big triggers that play a significant role in skin health is food. So instead of looking in your medicine cabinet for a solution, we need to take a look in your pantry. Because life has been turned upside down and you may not have the access or resources to stock your pantry as you have before, your consumption of packaged, boxed and canned foods may have increased and your servings of fresh fruits and vegetables has decreased. The result: breakouts.
Here, I cover 5 foods that may be in your pantry right now and how they might be contributing to your breakouts.
Refined Carbohydrates and Sugar
The Problem: Refined carbohydrates like crackers, cookies and pasta are broken down into sugar which results in increased levels of the enzyme mTor1 (mechanistic target of rapamycin complex ) as well as the hormone insulin. The problem with this is that elevated levels of insulin promotes increases in other hormones including both Insulin Growth Factor (IGF-1) and androgens which result in an increase in sebum production and abnormal skin cell growth which contribute to the creation of acne. While elevated levels of mTOR1 may over-stimulate sebaceous glands and oil production, cutibacterium acnes overgrowth and inflammation -- an acne creation trifecta.
The Solution: Read your labels to check for added sugars, choose foods witha lower glycemic index and look for grain-free packaged options and alternative pastas like chickpea or lentil.
Saturated and trans-fats
The Problem: Saturated and industrially produced trans-fats are commonplace in packaged snack foods as well as bottled salad dressings, sauces and mayonnaise, (think peanut oil, palmitate, and vegetable oil). While these food items may be convenient, they come at a cost of potentially aggravating your complexion. Studies show that saturated fats activate mTor1 which triggers proliferation of follicular skin cells thereby promoting comedogenesis(acne formation). Trans-fats have been found to upregulate chemical signaling cytokines like IL-1 and IL-17, as well as NF-kb and toll like receptors which stimulates inflammation via recruitment and activation of neutrophils, increased sebum production and skin cell proliferation all of which contribute to acnegenesis.
The Solution: Check your labels and look for clean, avocado oil-based mayonaise and or mix up your own DIY salad dressings with organic extra virgin oil.
Casein and Whey Protein
The problem: These proteins can pop up in protein bars and powders and while perfectly fine for many people, since they are derived from milk, they may cause a problem for those who are sensitive to dairy. Casein and whey are two types of protein found in milk which can increase insulin levels in the skin which stimulates the production of insulin-like growth factor 1(IGF-1) resulting in increased sebum production. The increase in sebum contributes to clogging the pores and can cause or aggravate acne breakouts. When it comes to casein, there may be an exception to the rule, so you need to know what type of casein you are getting. Casein can be found in either the A1 or A2 subtype. A1, which is the most common form in almost all dairy products is linked to dairy intolerance, digestive issues and inflammation which can wreak havoc on your hormones as well as trigger inflammation all of which contribute to acne.
The Solution: Check your labels, and while you may want to skip the whey, if you want to use a casein based protein powder, look for one containing beta A2 casein which is easier to digest and less prone to irritate your skin. Also consider using a protein powder from a non-dairy source including pea protein, hemp or brown rice.
Excessive Alcohol Consumption
The Problem: While I’m all about enjoying a glass of red wine (hello polyphenols!) or a refreshing cocktail, overindulging on a consistent basis can wreak havoc on your skin. Although drinking alcohol like wine, beer or liquor may not directly cause acne, it can contribute to it. Not only does drinking alcohol throw off your blood sugar, and mess with your hormones by increasing levels of the hormone estrogen and its metabolites, it also disrupts your gut health. Studies show alcohol consumption can lead to increased gut permeability and alterations in the gut microbiome. When you have gut imbalances, that disharmony can often manifest on your skin. Several studies link dysbiosis of the gut microbiome to the development of acne.
The Solution: Life is meant to be enjoyed, so have your glass of wine (ideally biodynamically grown) or cocktail, but be mindful of how much and how often you're indulging if your acne is flaring.
Milk Chocolate and White Chocolate
The Problem: While chocolate itself will not make you break out, what the chocolate is made from might. Milk chocolate and white chocolate overall contain more dairy, sugar and other additives compared to dark chocolate. Especially for acne-prone individuals, dairy and sugary foods can trigger hormonal changes including increased levels of insulin and IGF-1 leading to increased sebum production and inflammatory responses in the body which can lead to acne. What’s more is that by filling up on sweets, it leaves less of an appetite for nutrient dense fruits and vegetables which can help squash inflammation and create harmony amongst your hormones.
The Solution: You don’t have to give up chocolate, rather choose dark chocolate. Rich in iron, magnesium, and zinc, the cocoa in dark chocolate also contains health boosting antioxidants called flavanols (flavanoids), but choose chocolate that contains 70% or greater cacao content to reap the antioxidant benefit.
If you feel like you have been doing all the things and applying the lotions and creams and you are still breaking out, take a look in your pantry and see if any of these ingredients are hiding in their and potentially contributing to or exacerbating your acne.