Recent evidence shows that acne isn’t exclusively a skin condition, it’s also a gut condition. In this first post in a series about Natural Care for Acne, we’ll look deep inside—all the way to the gut—to find out what causes acne and how to begin healing the gut to reduce breakouts.
The problem with conventional acne treatments
Let’s start by talking about the health of the skin barrier, your outermost layer of skin.
The skin barrier regulates the skin’s moisture levels and protects the delicate layers underneath from harsh external elements. If the skin barrier isn’t strong, all sorts of epidermal disruptions can occur including eczema, rosacea, and acne.
Researchers are realizing that the use of conventional acne treatments—including benzoyl peroxide, topical retinoids, and antibiotics—can actually work against the skin by attacking the microbiota of the skin, drying the skin out, and weakening the skin barrier.
In the quest to rid the skin of acne-causing bacteria, these treatments destroy the skin’s beneficial bacteria and antioxidants and make the skin barrier vulnerable to inflammation and free radicals.
So how do you keep your skin barrier healthy and fight acne at the same time?
It starts in the gut
Acne is an inflammatory condition, and most—if not all—inflammation can be traced back to the gut.
We now know there’s such a thing as a ‘gut-skin axis’—or, a relationship between the gut and the skin. Studies have shown a high correlation of gastrointestinal issues among people who are affected by acne. These issues include abdominal bloating, gastric reflux, constipation, and dysbiosis.
There’s also evidence showing how the gut-skin axis relationship can go sour when an imbalance of the gut microbiota expresses itself as an inflammatory condition (a.k.a. acne) in the skin.
The complexity of the gut-skin axis isn’t fully understood, but one way an unhappy gut is thought to lead to acne is through the production of insulin‐like growth factor‐1 (IGF‐1). When the gut microbiota go out of balance, their production of IGF‐1 goes into overdrive. This triggers an increase in the body’s level of sebum (a fatty substance secreted by the glands in the skin) and sets the stage for blocked pores and acne.
So how do you keep your gut healthy and happy to benefit your skin?
Taking care of the gut
When setting out to increase your gut health, start by taking a long, hard look at what you’re putting into your body. What you eat and drink on a daily basis has a huge impact—for better or worse—on the condition of your digestive system.
Eating well for gut health
Diet plays a massive role in gut health. It’s thought that the typical western diet—thanks to its high glycemic load from an abundance of refined carbohydrates—prompts the body to increase the production of IGF-1...which eventually leads to the development of acne.
So to begin crafting a gut-friendly diet, look at all the places that refined carbohydrates and sugar show up in your diet. It’s not just sweets and desserts that carry a high glycemic load: white bread and all refined grains, potatoes, white rice, white pasta, refined cooking fats and oils, sweetened drinks, wine, and beer can all trigger an increase of IGF-1.
So what foods should you be eating for gut health?
Fermented foods with natural prebiotics and probiotics are great options. This includes fermented dairy products with live cultures (like cheese and yogurt), raw krauts and kimchi, tempeh, miso, and raw vinegar.
Anti-inflammatory foods are also great for the gut: non-starchy vegetables (especially green vegetables like broccoli and kale) in abundance, root vegetables, starchy vegetables (like pumpkin and sweet potato) in moderation, mushrooms, berries and cherries, beans and legumes, nuts, seeds, turmeric, cinnamon, meat and fish in moderation, high-fibre whole grains, and high-cocoa percentage dark chocolate (but in small quantities to keep your sugar intake low).
Drinking well for gut health
Drinking the right kind of tea can help heal the gut as well as increase the skin’s hydration levels.
The polyphenols in green tea contain anti-inflammatory properties. They also promote good bacteria while acting as an antimicrobial toward harmful bacteria. Studies have suggested that the polyphenols in tea are even able to reduce acne by regulating the skin’s production of sebum.
You can get your daily dose of polyphenols with Pukka’s Supreme Matcha Green. It tastes great, it’s easy to steep, and it’s packed with skin-nourishing antioxidants.
In the evenings, switching to a herbal tea allows you to continue hydrating while avoiding the caffeine in green tea.
Pukka’s Cleanse tea is specifically created to purify the skin. The blend of nettle leaf, peppermint leaf, fennel seed, dandelion root, licorice root, and aloe vera leaf supports the detoxification of the liver as it soothes and brightens troubled skin.
A digestive boost
If you feel that your gut is in total disarray, it could be time to get a boost from a supplement.
Bio-Intestin, a daily capsule from organic farm-to-supplement company Hifas da Terra, provides digestive help with active compounds from shiitake, lion’s mane, oyster and king trumpet mushroom powders. The superfood blend of mushrooms contains optimal sources of enzymes, amino acids, sterols and fibres that work together to support and maintain the healthy functioning of the digestive system.
Digestive and breakout help
Omega 7 Sea Buckthorn Oil contains Omega 3,6,7,9 and vitamin A which maintain normal structure and function of the skin. The active ingredients in sea buckthorn oil—which include antioxidants, vitamin C, flavonoids, polyphenols and polysaccharides—are great for the skin.
Sea Buckthorn Oil supports the digestive system and the metabolism of nutrients.
It’s also rich in linoleic acid (LA) which strengthens the skin barrier and protects against water loss. LA, which is a natural component of healthy sebum, has been shown to reduce acne breakouts by stimulating the function of sebaceous glands to unblock pores and decrease blackheads.
More to come
And that’s just the start of our look at Natural Care for Acne.
Next in this series, we’ll travel to a different part of the body—the mind—to see how it influences the health and appearance of the skin.
Now available, the next post in our natural care for acne series: What to do about acne caused by stress-related gut issues
Keep in mind, when you take on a holistic approach to acne, your progress may seem slow. But it’s the changes that occur deep inside us that last the longest and come with the greatest benefits. Hang in there!