Every now and then I see a question where some acne patient laments their lack of success despite following healthy diet. Understandably the person is confused. They’ve been told how diet causes acne and they follow the diet that should get them clear to the tee. And yet results are wanting.
I wanted to address this topic because I see it often and it can be very harmful to the person. The diet itself often causes some stress, and the lack of results may you feel like a failure (i.e. why don’t I get results when others are so successful? What’s wrong with me?).
I think there are 3 reasons for this: just plain bad advice, ignoring other important acne causes, and possibly the diet itself. In this post I’ll talk about these in more detail and hopefully restore some sanity to the situation.
Propagation of bad information
The Internet revolutionized communication. Now anyone can voice their opinions for the entire world to see. Unfortunately this revolution comes with a downside. Now everybody and their uncle has a blog where they voice their dietary ‘truths’ and secrets they don’t want you to know about.
Making sense of all the conflicting claims is not easy, especially since many of them seemingly make sense. It takes a decent understanding of how the human body works before you can separate truth from fiction. You also have to be able to willing to dive into the scientific medical literature for answers.
So we end up with this mess where thousands of well-meaning bloggers spread highly dubious ‘truths’ about acne. Anything from Candida to congested liver to lack of urine on the face are touted as causes. The solutions vary but often include very strict diets and various cleanses.
These websites fall into the 50% good advice, 50% bad advice and 100% horrible reasoning category. They have enough good advice that some people get results. These are then touted as success stories and proof. But because of bad reasoning and not really understanding the pathophysiology of acne they 1) overpromise what diet can deliver, 2) ignore major causes of acne, and 3) recommend diets that are unnecessarily strict and impractical, which often causes a lot of stress to people.
Diet is not a be-all-end-all solution to acne
Diet is just part of the puzzle. Yes, diet can affect acne and studies show that certain dietary changes reduce acne. But none of these studies actually shows really great results. If my memory serves me correct most studies show 30 to 40% reduction in acne. Not bad, but still long way from completely clear skin.
These studies really focus only on glycemic index and insulin as factors in acne. If we would tweak them a bit more we would probably get better results. But it still wouldn’t be enough to get majority of people clear.
So for best results we also need to address the other possible causes of acne, such as:
- Stress and overall negative emotional states, especially if chronic
- Gut problems
- Possible gluten sensitivities, if not addressed by current diet
- Excess inflammation, both systemic and local on the skin
- Genetic sensitivity of the skin to hormones and inflammation
Most natural and so-called holistic health websites ignore the role genetics play in acne. They prefer to ignore or dismiss the findings of science and cling to highly implausible (and many causes disproven) claims that acne is just a sign and that you have to cleanse and fix your body to get clear. And this leads people to desperate wild goose chases after causes that never existed.
Diet itself causes problems
In some cases it’s the proposed solution to acne that’s aggravating acne. This is especially true with the more extreme versions of both low-fat and low-carb diets. Getting most of your calories from fat (as is the case with low-carb diets) causes insulin resistance and glucose tolerance. This is why low-carb forums have so many people complaining of acne breakouts after eating carbohydrates.
Similarly high carbohydrate intake in low-fat diets may overwhelm your glucose metabolism and lead to blood sugar problems. This happened to when while I was on my low-fat, high-fruit, raw food diet. Despite the claims that this diet is good for blood sugar levels it almost made me a diabetic.
The diet may also contain something your body just doesn’t tolerate that well. Or it can be deficient in some important nutrients, as often happens with more restrictive vegan diets.
Finally diets may also have indirect negative effects. For example very restrictive diets that are impractical and hard to follow in real life causes a lot of stress. They create this enormous conflict for people. On the other hand you really want to get clear and do anything you can do achieve it. On the other hand you feel like failure for not being able to stick to the diet and do what it takes.
So in this article we explored some reasons why people don’t see results with various anti-acne diets. Often the failure is rooted in just plain bad advice. Diet can help, but what it can do is vastly oversold. Diet alone usually isn’t enough to get rid of acne. Furthermore the diet itself may also cause acne, either because of the negative effects of the diet or stress caused by trying to stick to it.