There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Breaking out as an adult is stressful. While some people grow past the days of zits and blackheads post-adolescence, others suffer from hormonal acne well into their 30s. The reasons vary for everyone, but one often overlooked culprit for these painful, under-the-skin clusters is the gut. As nutritional therapist Andrea Grandson explains, not only is skin the largest organ in the body, but it also reflects your internal state in a visual way. This makes the phrase “you are what you eat” ring loud and true. Here, experts explain how your gut health impacts hormonal acne and what you should do in defense.
You might have a leaky gut.
It’s not exactly what it sounds like, but Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, says that a leaky gut means your gastrointestinal tract is inflamed. When this happens, food that’s not completely digested enters your bloodstream, leading to breakouts. Dr. Zeichner notes that experts are only beginning to scratch the surface on the connection between the gut and skin and how gut health impacts hormonal acne. However, some data suggests oral probiotic supplements can help restore a healthy balance of good bacteria, reduce inflammation, and improve skin quality.
You might have an unhealthy microbiome.
If it’s been a while since biology class (we feel ya), here’s a refresher from holistic plastic surgeon Anthony Youn, M.D. A microbiome is a complex ecosystem of trillions of bacteria that hang out in the gut. When your stomach is healthy, everything functions as normal—and your skin may stay fresh and clear. But when your microbiomes are off, Dr. Youn says everything in your body is impacted—from the brain to energy levels and, of course, hormonal acne. In addition to probiotics, Dr. Youn suggests adding more gut-healthy prebiotics, such as fiber-rich veggies and meals, and stocking up on fermented foods.
You might need more healthy fats in your diet.
Don’t be fearful of fat, Grandson says, because the right kinds not only help you lose weight but fight your breakouts, too. She explains that hormones are created from the types of fats we choose to consume. Gut health depends on these healthy fats to digest food and ward off inflammation.
You should always speak with your doctor before radically changing your diet. However, Grandson says there’s a reason so many nutritionists swear by the Mediterranean diet. “Watch how Europeans add olive oil to their bread and pasta. Not only does this process slow down the release of sugars from carbohydrate-rich foods, it [also] naturally suppresses the body’s inflammatory response and helps to make healthy hormones,” she explains. If you don’t get enough of these, you could experience acne, PMS, heightened sunburn, and a low immunity level. So stock up on avocados and olive oil ASAP!
You might have low stomach acid.
Find yourself reaching for a TUMS after each and every meal? Something’s up—and Grandson says your stomach could lack essential acid. This can happen when your pH balance is off by blocking nutrients from being extracted from the food you eat. This can also cause your meal to sit too long in your stomach, Grandson explains, where it begins to ferment and creates soaring levels of toxicity that are expressed through your skin in the form of acne rosacea.
To solve this issue—and clear your pores—Grandson recommends testing your stomach acid levels first. You can do this by drinking or eating beets and then checking out the color of your urine. If it’s pink, your gut flora may be compromised. If your theory proves correct, Grandson says to decrease acidic foods such as sugar, alcohol, meat, and grains, and replace them with more fruits, veggies, and water. You can also sip on apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to balance your levels.