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The Anti-acne Diet

Is there anything more horrifying than waking up and discovering a hideous pimple on your face? OK, I admit there are worse things in life. But when it comes to everyday problems, acne can be really discouraging. Acne is caused by clogged pores and the inflammation of the sebaceous glands and hair follicles. When the glands in the skin produce too much sebum, the oil combines with dead skin cellsand pores become plugged. This creates blackheads and whiteheads.

There is a link between diet and acne—but it’s not what most people think it is. Many of us grew up believing that chocolate and fried foods cause acne, but the real dietary culprits are sugar and foods that promote inflammation. How exactly does it happen? Loren Cordain, Ph.D., a professor of health and exercise science at Colorado State University who has studied the link between foods and acne, says that when you eat too many carbs (too often and in the wrong proportions), your body makes more insulin, which increases production of hormones known as androgens. High levels of androgens cause sebaceous glands in the skin tosecrete more oil that becomes trapped inside the pores, so skin appears shinier and pimples become plentiful. In other words, a diet focused on refined carbohydrates (those in white breads, cookies and cake, and even some salty snacks) sets off a hormonal cascade that causes excess oil production in the skin, leading to clogged pores and pimples.

In one recent randomized controlled trial published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, individuals with acne were assigned to either a diet consisting of 25 percent protein and 45 percent low-glycemic-index carbohydrates or to a Westernized diet rich in refined, sugary carbohydrates. After 12 weeks, those following the experimental diet low in refined carbohydrates experienced an improvement in their skin, as evidenced by a decrease in “total and inflammatory lesion counts.” Their acne had improved significantly compared to the control group.

My Beauty Diet includes all the nutrients you need for beautiful skin and avoids problem foods with lots of sugar and poor-quality fats. By making a few modifications, you can create your own personal Anti-acne Diet. Follow it closely and you should see improvements in your skin in about four weeks.


For Acne
*Avoid highly processed refined carbohydrates and sweet foods. They create a spike in blood sugar that sets off a series of hormonal changes that cause inflammation and acne.

*Identify any food allergies you might have. If you have allergies or sensitivities, stay away from problem foods, which cause inflammation. Keep in mind that you also might be allergic to topical preparations you are using on your skin, including sunscreen or, ironically, beauty products.

*Eat a high-fiber diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grain breads and cereals. The nutrients in whole, natural foods are so good for your skin; plus, these foods do not promote inflammation.

*Add omega-3 fatty acids to your to diet help combat inflammation. Acne may be caused by taking in too little omega-3 fats in relation to omega-6 fats. Such an imbalance can cause inflammation, leading to blocked pores that cause an overproduction of oil, according to researchers.

*Eat plenty of foods that contain beta-carotene. The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which is particularly beneficial to skin.

*Eat plenty of foods that contain zinc. This mineral has anti-inflammatory properties and is very effective against acne. Good sources of zinc include oysters, crab, turkey, wheat germ, tofu, and cashews and pumpkin seeds.

*Drink lots of water to help your body rid itself of toxins that might otherwise contribute to skin flare-ups.

Note: Drugs prescribed for acne include Accutane (isotretinoin) and Retin-A (tretinoin). These are derivatives of vitamin A and should not be taken during pregnancy or if you are planning on becoming pregnant because high doses of vitamin A can cause birth defects.

Lifestyle Tips for Gorgeous Skin

*Drink water, not alcohol. Drinking alcohol contributes to aging skin by dilating small blood vessels in the skin and increasing blood flow near the skin’s surface. Over time these blood vessels can become permanently damaged, creating a flushed appearance and broken vessels on the skin’s surface. Drinking water keeps you adequately hydrated and your skin moist and supple.

*Relax! Stress and worry cause frowning, and over time the muscles in the face actually conform to that movement. Be aware of your stress level and try to relax your facial muscles during the day. A good antaging skin-care program should include meditation, yoga, gentle exercise, or other relaxation techniques.

*Get your beauty rest. Lack of sleep shows up on your face as puffiness, bags, and dark circles under your eyes. Most adults need eight hours of sleep each night to feel refreshed in the morning.


Vitamin E Helps Reduce Scars
Although vitamin E is the main lipid-soluble antioxidant in the skin, further research is needed to prove its effectiveness in reducing scars and stretch marks. One study looked at a randomized group of 159 burn patients who were treated with topical vitamin E for four months. After one year, scar thickness, alteration in graft size, range of motion, and appearance of the scars were recorded. No beneficial effect of vitamin E was seen in any of the patients. In another study, postsurgical patients were given two ointments labeled A and B.

One of the ointments contained vitamin E, and the other didn’t. Patients were instructed to apply each ointment on a separate half of their scars twice a day for four weeks. The researchers concluded that not only did the vitamin E have no beneficial effects on the scars; it actually made matters worse as some patients experienced an allergic reaction to the vitamin E. Bottom line: don’t depend on vitamin E creams to reduce the appearance of scars and stretch marks.

Dairy and Acne
Many people have asked me if dairy foods can cause acne. Here’s the lowdown: Some researchers believe that iodine is what exacerbates acne, and dairy products are a source of iodine. In addition, farmers give their cows iodine-fortified feed and use sanitizing iodine solutions on cows’ udders and milking equipment. Others believe that hormones in milk may be responsible for acne. While research has revealed that drinking milk and consuming dairy products from pregnant cows exposes us to hormones from the cows’ pregnancy, the amount of hormones in the milk is minuscule compared to the amount produced in our bodies, according to Greg Miller, Ph.D., a scientist with the National Dairy Council. The dairy and acne link has not been substantiated in clinical studies. If you suffer from regular acne flare-ups, it is most likely due to other causes.

Topical Treatments
Many of the foods discussed in this post can also be applied directly to your face. For example, many people use yogurt as a face mask. I have read that applying fish oil to your skin can be beneficial, but I have not tried this personally— I don’t want my husband, David, to think I smell like a mermaid!

Many natural substances found in food are now being used in commercial cosmetics. For example, dimethylaminoethanol, which is found in salmon, is used topically to increase circulation. A modified version of vitamin C can be applied to the skin, and of course medications containing vitamin A are used for acne and other skin problems. I asked my friend Valerie, a skin specialist who owns the Face Studio in New York City, for her recommendations regarding food and beautiful skin. You can read what she has to say in the “Expert Advice” section that follows. If you are considering other topical treatments for your skin, be sure to check out Dr. Aron Kressel’s advice in the second “Expert Advice” section.

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