Understanding the Link Between Gut Health & Acne

  • Gut health and acne may seem like they’re on totally different sides of the wellness spectrum. But the truth is, they’re actually super connected. If toxins aren’t well processed in your gut, you may start to see them exiting your skin (via acne). 
  • Leaky gut occurs when the intestinal walls and microbiome aren’t able to keep up with the build-up of toxins in the body. This may be due to low levels of probiotics in the gut or too many toxins in the body (or both). Either way, toxins make their way into the bloodstream, causing inflammation and breakouts.
  • It’s important to look inward to connect digestive issues and acne. While you’re buying new creams and oil cleansers, make sure you’re also eating healthy foods to get nutrients like probiotics, polyphenols, and minerals that heal your skin from the inside out.

The elementary school version of you lived in a world of blissful skin health

Until middle school and the day your first pimple arrived. After that, face wash became your new bestie. You tried cream, spot treatment, moisturizer, cleansers, and facial scrubs — only to dry out your skin without fixing the actual problem. The breakouts, scarring, and self-conscious thoughts just worsened. Even as you grew out of puberty and rapid hormonal changes, acne was a constant companion.

What if you could show your face again — with full confidence? 

And what if the solution isn’t in the next-best topical treatment?

It could be improving your gut health. 

Table of Contents:

Understanding Gut Health and Your Microbiome

The gut microbiome is made up of trillions (yes, trillions) of microbes that cultivate a healthy environment for the digestive system. These microbes do everything from regulating the immune system to controlling intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut). 

The gut microbiome is in charge of alerting the immune system of any sneaky intruders (pathogens) that may enter through the digestive system. It also “sorts” nutrients and toxins, allowing the “good stuff” to enter the bloodstream, while forcing the “bad stuff” to exit the body. 

This is all fantastic… until the level of pathogens and toxins becomes too much for your gut to handle. We believe this is where acne comes into play. 

Digestive Issues and Acne: How Does Gut Health Affect Acne?

Gut health and acne… what’s the connection? 

We’re living in an age where toxins, microplastics, mycotoxins, parasites, and pollution are just the beginning of what’s entering our bodies. Our microbiome and cells simply can’t keep up with the overload without a little extra support.

As we mentioned, part of the microbiome’s job is to sort toxins and nutrients — guiding nutrients into the bloodstream and toxins to the bowels to be excreted. But if the microbiome and the gut are overloaded or not provided with enough nutritional support, toxins may begin to “leak” into the bloodstream. This is called “leaky gut” and it can cause systemic inflammation, leading to symptoms of fatigue, digestive diseases, brain fog, and more. 

Foreign substances (like these toxins entering via leaky gut) aren’t welcome in the body — and will be forced out by any means necessary. 

That’s where gut health and acne come into play. 

Excess toxins are forced to exit via the skin (instead of through the bowels), which could cause breakouts, blackheads, whiteheads, and even back and chest acne.

Causes of Acne — Adult Acne vs. Teen Acne

Okay, let’s talk about the difference between teen acne and adult acne. Your age and specific acne symptoms can directly impact how you go about treating your gut. 

Teen Acne

Often, the culprit of teen acne is hormonal changes. The shifts happening in your body during puberty can throw off a lot of systems in the body, including an overproduction of oil on the skin, especially around the t-zone (the forehead and nose). 

However, acne and gut health are still very inner connected during this time, as inflammation from food sensitivities, heavily processed foods, sugar, and fast food may show up on the face.

Adult Acne

The ultimate betrayal. All our lives we’re promised that our acne will clear up as soon as we make it into our twenties — and somehow, now it’s worse

When we become adults, our skin begins to lose some of its elasticity and may become less resilient. Breakouts that once healed in a day or two may take up to a week to completely disappear. The same could happen in our gut, too. Our digestion may be a little slower and a little pickier, while hormone imbalances (caused by inflammation, stress, blood sugar imbalance, and more) are extremely common. 

Adult acne often appears on the cheeks or chin, and may become cystic. In this case, it’s important to look at inflammation levels in the body, blood sugar balancing, and opening drainage pathways to ensure toxins are exiting your body the right way.

Foods to Improve Gut Health and Acne

Can the foods you eat actually help improve what shows up on your face? Often, yes! These foods are known for their ability to curb acne caused by digestive distress. 

Probiotics — We have a lot of opinions about probiotics. But at the end of the day, if you know which strains of probiotics your gut is missing, it may be worthwhile to supplement. Otherwise, probiotic foods like yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha could help to rebuild the microbiome and curb leaky gut symptoms. 

Prebiotics — Your gut microbiome is a pro at reproducing healthy bacteria, but only if it has the right nutrients. Prebiotics and fiber give your microbiome the nourishment it needs to thrive. This can help reduce intestinal permeability and manage systemic inflammation. 

Polyphenols — A great boost to your cellular health, polyphenols can help you cover your bases when it comes to the cells of your intestinal wall and skin cells, both of which can be impacted by age and diet. 

Minerals and Electrolytes — Hydration is key to flushing out toxins and keeping your skin elastic and healthy, but chugging water isn’t the most effective way to hydrate down to our cells. Most of us aren’t getting the vital mineral nutrients we need through diet, simply due to processed foods, modern diets, and soil quality — and we need minerals to retain water. Simply adding a few mineral drops to your daily smoothie or lemon water could do a lot for your skin health.

Foods to Avoid to Get Rid of Acne

Can your meal choices impact your skin? Absolutely. Learning about your food sensitivities and what your body can tolerate may be key to eliminating acne for good.

Processed Foods — Not only can processed foods wreak havoc on gut health with ingredients that are difficult to digest, they simply don’t give us the nutrients we need to thrive. Especially for teens, processed foods can really impact skin health and cause more problems in the future. 

Toxic Oils — Vegetable oils and seed oils are chemically altered oils created by an extraction method using heat and solvents. Recent research shows that despite having a few beneficial compounds (like fatty acids), the way these oils are processed and consumed make them toxic to our bodies, causing oxidation and inflammation.

Processed Sugars — We all know excess sugar is bad for us. But especially if you’re looking at gut health and acne, processed sugar has to take center stage as a culprit. If you’re struggling with a leaky gut already, adding more sugar for your body to process is a recipe for disaster. Additionally, high-glycemic foods are known to cause acne and should be avoided. 

Highly Processed A1 Dairy — One study shows that dairy is known to invigorate acne, but only in Western populations. Interesting, right? We believe this is because Western populations are more likely to consume highly processed and A1 dairy. 

By making a few simple switches (choosing raw milk or A2 dairy), you may be able to curb the effects of dairy-induced inflammation.

Foods that Cause Sensitivities — Food sensitivities can often cause skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, eczema, and more. Just like toxins, allergies show up on your skin. 

Look at different food groups like sugar, gluten, and dairy and how they impact your body. Remember, you may not need to eliminate these food groups entirely, you may just need to find a healthier version (raw milk, European or ancient grain flour, and unprocessed sugars like maple syrup). 

Lifestyle Factors to Consider for Gut Health and Acne

Don’t let anyone tell you that food is the only factor that impacts acne — it isn’t. In fact, other lifestyle factors like sleep, stress, exercise, and chronic illness could be the main offenders, and they’re definitely affecting your gut too.

Stress — Does your job make you feel physically ill? Stress is one of the leading causes of inflammation. If you’re eating an extremely clean diet and have no chronic gut symptoms, stress could be doing all the heavy lifting when it comes to breakouts. 

Sleep — Have you ever gone to sleep with a canker sore and woken up without it? That’s because when you sleep, your body cleanses and restores itself. The brain, gut, skin, and organs are all impacted by the quality of your zzz’s. If you’re getting less than seven hours every night, it may be time to create a better bedtime routine and see if it can help restore your complexion. 

Exercise — Just one way to boost endorphins and eliminate toxins (through sweat), exercise can also help us process emotions and release inflammation. If you’re sitting behind a desk all day and experiencing breakouts, it may be time to incorporate some movement into your daily routine. Start with a brief lunch break walk or join a low-impact yoga class.

Give Your Cells the Boost They Need to Kick Acne to the Curb

Seriously, skin health is cellular health. Intestinal permeability and skin health all have a lot to do with cellular performance and longevity. While you’re working to optimize your diet, hydration, and sleep schedule, make sure you’re doing everything in your power to bring restoration to your cells. 

One of our favorite resources for gut and cellular health is Gut+. After hearing so many positive testimonies from our doctor-recommended butyrate supplement over the last 20 years, we wanted to hit the next level and create a prebiotic + postbiotic gut gamechanger

The short version? Gut+ gently cleanses the microbiome of unhealthy bacteria, while feeding the good bacteria so it can thrive. 

When the microbiome is supported, the skin is supported.

Try Gut+ for Acne and Gut Health

References

Reynolds, R. C., Lee, S., Choi, J. Y., Atkinson, F. S., Stockmann, K. S., Petocz, P., & Brand-Miller, J. C. (2010). Effect of the glycemic index of carbohydrates on Acne vulgaris. Nutrients, 2(10), 1060–1072. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu2101060

Ambreen, G., Siddiq, A., & Hussain, K. (2020). Association of long-term consumption of repeatedly heated mix vegetable oils in different doses and hepatic toxicity through fat accumulation. Lipids in health and disease, 19(1), 69. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12944-020-01256-0

Meixiong, J., Ricco, C., Vasavda, C., & Ho, B. K. (2022). Diet and acne: A systematic review. JAAD international, 7, 95–112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jdin.2022.02.012

Chilicka, K., Dzieńdziora-Urbińska, I., Szyguła, R., Asanova, B., & Nowicka, D. (2022). Microbiome and Probiotics in Acne Vulgaris-A Narrative Review. Life (Basel, Switzerland), 12(3), 422. https://doi.org/10.3390/life12030422

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