What to eat to fix adult acne

By Geraldine Georgeou

Teenage acne is due to the flood of hormones that help us move from child to adult, but what about skin breakouts in adults?

Well, they are also hormone related. Diet and a low-GI eating plan can help smooth those skin sins.

Acne is a catch-all phrase for pimples, whiteheads, blackheads, papules, cysts, pustules or even nodules.

How does acne occur?

While older acne sufferers prefer to believe their skin problems are due to make up, creams or cleansing routines rather than diets, it’s actually a hormonal condition which normally appears during puberty as testosterone levels rise which tell the skin to ramp up oil production. It can persist into adulthood due to continued hormonal factors. Increased testosterone production leads the hair follicles to become clogged with oil or a bacterial overgrowth, which can become inflamed and turn into those pesky blackheads or whiteheads.

Acne normally shows up as a combination of whiteheads, blackheads, pustules, papules, cysts or nodules. Whiteheads are usually small white raised bumps under the skin, whereas blackheads are often flat, with a dark keratin plug in the centre. Pustules are what you might envisage when you think of a ‘pimple’: a raised pus-filled bump that might range from 2 mm to 5 mm across. Papules or nodules are commonly referred to as ‘hormonal acne’. This kind of acne appears as firm, red, inflamed spots and lesions on the skin. Breakouts often occur along the jawline, chin and neck area; they are painful and can leave permanent scarring.

How can lifestyle and nutrition choices help?

Firstly, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor or dermatologist as there are some topical and oral solutions, like retinoid creams or low dose antibiotics that reduce the amount of bacteria on the skin and encourage repair, growth and hydration. It’s often a case of trial and error to find something that works for you. Diet, however, is an easy approach that can start showing results in a few weeks.

Secondly, it’s worth taking a look at the lifestyle factors that may be throwing your hormones and skin off balance. The following factors can all contribute to the hormonal storm that is acne:

  • Excess alcohol consumption
  • High stress
  • Poor sleep
  • Excessive make-up wearing
  • Lack of exercise
  • Improper skin care

As well as these treatments, there are some changes you can make to your diet that can improve your acne:

  • As with many skin conditions, acne is tied to inflammation and having steady insulin levels can improve acne. This means eating a diet with enough protein, low-GI carbohydrates and healthy fats. Ditching high-GI carbs like white bread, rice crackers and high-GI white rice varieties will go a long way to stabilise your hormones.
  • There is some evidence that zinc supplements can help acne, so check in with your healthcare professional as to whether these are safe for you to take.
  • Dairy is not the villain it’s often claimed to be. Many people eschew dairy at the sign of a pimple, however this link has only been found with milk and not with yoghurt and cheese. Most people will be fine with dairy, so make sure to chat to your dietitians before removing it as you may leave your diet lacking.