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Battling Acne? Treat Your Skin From the Inside Out

February 05, 2021 Charlotte Cho

Photo: Getty Images

Thanks to modern technology and mega skincare advances across the board – many pioneered by the South Korean skincare market -- we have access to a plethora of acne-fighting products. Products that minimize pores, lighten hyper-pigmentation from old pimples, keep sebum production at bay, and give currently existing zits the boot.

I contend that a perfectly tailored skincare routine plays a key role in the quality of skin, and any dermatologist or esthetician would agree. But here's the thing: In addition to a thoughtful cleansing, moisturizing and treatment regimen, you should also take care of your skin from the inside out.

With guidance from Craig Kraffert, a board certified dermatologist and president of Amarte Skincare, and Rebecca Lewis, a registered dietician at HelloFresh, I’m going to help you determine which foods may be causing your acne flare-ups. And as a bonus, I’m throwing in some quick, skin-improving tips for oily skin, dry skin, dull skin, dark circles and even puffiness.

Acne-Causing Food Culprits

Moderation is key, so don't feel like you have to completely nix the following food items from your diet. I suggest experimenting by cutting out certain foods and then seeing how your skin reacts when you add them to your diet again.

Sugar: "Constant exposure to a high intake of sugar raises our insulin levels," explains Lewis. "Chronically high levels of insulin then causes stress in the production of other hormones (like testosterone), and this imbalance has been linked to causing skin inflammation, increasing our sebum production (which clogs pores), all of which, when combined, lead to acne."

Dairy: "Milk appears to be the biggest dietary contributor to acne risk," notes Dr. Kraffert. "Consumption of skim milk more than doubles this risk, while whole milk increases risk by more than 60 percent." Before you panic, know that cheese and other fatty foods do not appear to affect acne risk.

Coffee: "Coffee is a diuretic, which causes our skin to be dehydrated and our skin to over-produce oil. When drinking coffee, just be sure to drink more water so you stay hydrated," says Lewis. Booze: "While alcohol itself dehydrates our skin, it’s often the mixers in cocktails that are the most damaging to our bodies," notes Lewis. "If you’re still planning on having a cocktail, the best of the worst are clear liquors (vodka, gin). A single glass of red wine (5 oz. is a serving) does have healthy antioxidant benefits, but too much cancels out the beneficial effects."

Quick Tips to Improve Your Skin

Reduce Inflammation: Spicy food lovers, rejoice! Spices that help reduce inflammation include turmeric, ginger, green tea, cinnamon, cayenne, garlic, and oregano. Combat Dry Skin: To keep skin hydrated and fresh, drink at least 64 oz. of water a day. Additionally, Lewis says to eat foods with higher water content. Some tasty options include watermelon, grapefruit, strawberries, green peppers, and celery. She says "cucumbers, in particular, have photo-chemicals in them called cucurbitacins, which have anti-inflammatory benefits to help the collagen in your skin tighten."

Keep Skin Glowing: Opt for foods that are rich in vitamin D (animal based) and omega-3 fatty acids. The best option for both? Oily fish. "Acne can be positively affected with a diet rich in fish," says Dr. Kraffert. "In a recent study from Italy, those who consumed at least one daily fished-based meal per week had approximately two-thirds the risk of developing moderate to severe acne compared with those who abstained from fish." Hello, sushi date!

De-Puff: Puffiness and bloating are signs you're consuming too much salt and sugar and not enough water. "Water works wonders to flush out your system and puts an overabundance of sodium back in balance," says Lewis. Foods that help flush out excess sodium include lemons, beets, parsley and asparagus.

Nix Dark Circles: "Dark circles occur when the blood vessels around our eyes show up beneath skin which is very thin there," says Lewis. "To combat, consume foods which help increase the collagen in our skin. Certain enzymes in lemons have been found to be a great source to boost collagen production, which is the foundation of healthy skin."

Has cutting out coffee, dairy, sugar or booze from your diet reduced acne? What lifestyle changes have you made that have improved your skin?

—Wendy Rose Gould

Wendy Rose Gould is a beauty writer and photographer who lives in the middle of the desert, where sunscreen and moisturizers mean more to her than perhaps to the average human. She vividly, and fondly, remembers the first time she used a B.B. cream: in Seoul during a one-year stint she did back in 2009. She currently serves as contributing editor at xoVain and is an editorial writer at Refinery29, ModCloth, and other outlets. For Wendy, a lazy makeup day usually involves at least six products and probably a cat eye. Follow Wendy at @Wendyrgould

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About Charlotte

Soko Glam co-founder and chief curator. Licensed esthetician sharing the love of all things K-beauty.

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