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How to get rid of acne, pimples and other skin problems...

Posted Sep 17 2008 12:12am 12 Comments

"Patients are deluded into thinking that their health can somehow be mysteriously harmed by something in their diet."

This is a quote from an article published in 1971 in "American Family Physician."

That's not all.

The major textbook of dermatology for acne published in 1975 claimed that parents and doctors used the threat of depriving teens of "tempting delights" like candy and junk food only as a way to "keep these imminent sinners in check," not because diet had any connection to acne.

In fact, most of us tend to believe that pimples are for kids!

Not true.

The average age of acne patients has now increased from 20 to 26 years old. 

Millions of adults are experiencing acne for the first time.

And acne rates are rising -- contradicting the belief that this condition is caused by genes.

Eight million people see the dermatologist every year for acne and millions more rely on infomercial products hawked by celebrities or over-the-counter products that total $100 million in sales every year.

And healthcare costs for prescription acne treatment exceed $1 billion a year.

Clearly, this problem, like so many chronic diseases in the 21st century, is increasing.


Let me tell you about a book that I just finished reading.

It's called "The Clear Skin Diet" and will be published later this year.

It's written by renowned dermatologist Val Trelor, MD and Alan Logan, ND, a naturopath.

This book gives us real answers to why pimples are popping up all over!

For the first time, this book links many of the imbalances in the underlying keys to health (The 7 Keys of UltraWellness) to the real causes of acne -- including your nutritional status, stress, toxicity, inflammation, and hormonal and gut imbalances.

If you've been reading my blogs, you know by now what I'm going to say next.

No matter what condition, disease, or health problem you face, the root causes can be traced back to the same underlying factors, because the body is one whole integrated system.

This includes your skin.

The key to healthy skin isn't just dealing with the symptoms -- like lathering on potions and lotions, popping and pricking pimples, or taking antibiotics or strong liver-damaging medication.

There's a better way.

==>  Good skin comes from the inside out, not the outside in!

Before I explain these connections in more detail, and what you can do about it, I want to tell you my own experience with acne.

I never had it.

That is, until I got sick with chronic fatigue syndrome.

This is a disease of toxicity, gut damage, inflammation, hormonal imbalances and stress, among other things. 

I have told the story of my illness and recovery many times, but I don't usually talk about the skin problems I had. 

The trigger that tipped me over the edge -- on a load of mercury and stress -- was a severe intestinal infection. 

Right away, my skin changed.

My skin color turned gray and I developed dark circles under my eyes. 

I started getting pimples all over my face (a new adventure for me at age 36), and strange rashes around my eyes whenever I ate certain foods.

I even developed itchy red patches on different parts of my body.

The skin symptoms completely correlated with a worsening of my gut symptoms and the irritable bowel syndrome that I had developed. 

So what did I do?

Well, I didn't need creams, gels, or lotions such as benzoyl peroxide, retinoid acid, salicylic acid, glycolic acid peels, or topical antibiotics (all of which might help symptoms a little bit). 

I certainly didn't need oral antibiotics (which can cause long-term gut complications, immune problems, and yeast overgrowth) or Accutane (which can cause liver damage and increase the risk of depression and suicide), or oral contraceptives (which I would have been offered had I been a woman).

These are the tools of modern dermatology -- but they overlook the role of overall health in the health of your skin.

I didn't need any of these things.

Instead, what I needed was to heal my leaky gut, correct my food allergies and nutritional deficiencies, detoxify from mercury, reduce inflammation, and rebalance my stress hormones. 

That's just what I did.

And my pimples vanished, my eyes cleared up, and my rashes went away (along with my chronic diarrhea, disabling fatigue, brain fog, mouth sores, muscle pain, and more).

A miracle? Hardly!

I have seen this happen in so many of my patients. 

Beauty and vibrant, clear, healthy skin come from the inside out, not from the outside in. 

The only partial exceptions to this are wrinkles and skin cancers, which come from sun damage. But even these, too, are worsened by internal inflammation and oxidative stress caused by things like smoking and poor diet.

Now let's look a little at the problem of acne (many other skin problems also respond to this approach, which I will cover in later blogs).

Here are some things that I have learned over the years and that have been very well reviewed and summarized in "The Clear Skin Diet":

==>  A Poor Diet is Bad for Your Skin

* Skin health, and acne in particular, are tied strongly to diet.

* Acne is caused by inflammation and oxidative stress (two keys of UltraWellness).

* Traditional indigenous cultures have little acne, but as soon as they adopt a Western diet or SAD (standard American diet), they see increasing levels of acne.

* Sugar raises insulin levels, which promotes the production of testosterone in women, and inflammation in general, causing acne.

* Saturated and processed fats increase arachidonic acid levels and compete with omega-3 fats in the body, leading to more inflammation and acne.

* Milk and dairy consumption is closely linked with acne (and many other skin and health problems) in part because of the hormones (including growth hormone) in dairy and because of the saturated fats.

* High-sugar milk chocolate can increase acne by increasing inflammation, but dark chocolate does the opposite.

==>  Nutritional Deficiencies Promote Acne

* Widespread nutritional deficiencies of zinc, omega-3 fats, and some anti-inflammatory omega-6 fats like evening-primrose oil promote acne, while supplementing with them can help boost immunity and reduce inflammation and acne.

* A topical form of vitamin B3 (nicotinamide) can reduce inflammation and help acne.

* Antioxidant levels are low in acne patients -- especially vitamins A and E, which are critical for skin health.

* People who eat more fruits and vegetables (containing more antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds) have less acne.

* Certain foods have been linked to improvements in many of the underlying causes of acne and can help correct it, including fish oil, turmeric, ginger, green tea, nuts, dark purple and red foods such as berries, green foods like dark green leafy vegetables, and eggs.

==>  Hormonal Imbalances Cause Skin Problems

* Hormonal imbalances trigger acne -- and diet influences hormones like testosterone, IGF-1 (insulin-like growth hormone), and insulin, which promote acne. 

* The biggest factor affecting your hormones is the glycemic load of your diet (how quickly the food increases your blood sugar and insulin levels).

* Eating omega-3 fats and fiber (to reduce testosterone in women), cutting out sugar (to reduce insulin), and using soy foods (to reduce toxic testosterone levels) help balance hormones.  Exercise also helps improve insulin function.

==>  Leaky Gut and Food Allergies Cause Acne

* Delayed food allergies are among the most common causes of acne. Foods like gluten, dairy, yeast, and eggs can be problems if you have a leaky gut.

* Taking probiotics (such as lactobacillus) can improve acne.

* Good bacteria from probiotics also take up residence on the skin, helping with acne.

* I have seen serious cystic acne resulting from gut imbalances and parasites that resolve when the gut is fixed.

==>  Your Brain Can Cause Acne

* Stress causes acne flare-ups.

* Stress does this by causing increased inflammation and oxidative stress, raising cortisol, and depleting zinc, magnesium, and selenium, which help control acne.

* Stress causes poor dietary choices.

* You can manage stress through meditation, yoga, saunas, massage, biofeedback, aromatherapy, and more.

So getting healthy skin and clearing up acne truly depend on the optimal function of many of the core systems of the body -- your nutritional status, your immune system, your gut, your hormones and your mind-body health. 

I may seem like a broken record, but it's true -- Biology is biology.

I hope you've learned more today about how getting to the roots of illness via the 7 Keys to UltraWellness can help you uncover the source of your health problem, wherever you may find it -- even in a pimple on your nose!!

Now I'd like to hear from you...

Do you suffer from acne?

Have you noticed if your skin looks better or worse when you eat certain foods?

What steps have you taken to keep your skin healthy?

Please let me know your thoughts by clicking on the Add a Comment button below.

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, M.D.

Comments (12)
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I have had pimples since I was eight years old. Since I had my 3 children, 4 yr old son and 15month old twin girls, life is an everyday stress that is almost unavoidable, I have no help. I have some pimples that are rock hard and several shapes and sizes varying from the tip of a pinky finger to the width of a dime. The dime sized like blackhead is on my jawline by my chin. I've had it for about 4-5 years and I have popped it about two times. Each time gets harder and bigger when popped. Now there's literally a hole in my face that doesn't close. No redness or nothing, just a pit. Blood and guts would shoot across the world but it will never go away. Can a pimple last that long?! What should I do. I've developed craters over my entire face because I find more relief in popping my various types of pimples, I feel like I did something to get rid of them, but it's made my face look terrible. Please help me and give me some advice!!!!


i am 22 years old male...i have developed red rashes which are yery small..and it causes itching..i dont know wat the skin is very sensitive to wet clothes and certain to improve the resistiveness
Try consulting with a registered dietician to find out what foods you should avoid. An easy example is go for freshly prepared vegetables and drink water until your urine is always clear. Salt is sometimes necessary for flavor or diet, but consuming (preserved) canned foods or "fast food" introduces at least two times daily intake values for salt. Your skin complexion can give you hints to what kind of diet you have been maintaining. Lots of salts, fats, and oils consumed results in extra oily skin. The opposite end of the stick is your
extremeties and face (often contact harsh chemicals, become exposed to weather conditions, or simply are washed more often) become stripped of natural oils to result in chapped, dry, or flakey skin. We listen to television advertising and apply special cleaners, oils, gels, etc.

This has worked for me for two years: I lost 30 pounds due to combination of exercise, diet, and when I eat meals.

First, try to replace junk food snacking with fresh fruit and vegetables.

Second, increase your metabolism by eating more breakfast and almost no dinner. I mean it. I was steeped in eating late before bed and digesting while trying to begin my sleep cycle. I then heard health advice on the radio, "Eat Breakfast like a King, Lunch like a Prince, and Dinner like a Pauper" and decided I would give it a try. The premise is give your body calories at the start of the day, so the early part of the day will be spent digesting and the late part of the day will be spent breaking down your fat stores to keep you going until you sleep.

Third, exercise for 45 minutes three to four times a week. Anything will work, slowly swim laps, jog, treadmill, or any other ergo machines at the local gym. The end result is to help you feel better, since endorphens (pleasure hormones) are released after physical excersion. That "feel good" feeling is what drives many people to work out so often.
I am 31yrs and have had acne for 3 yrs, incidentally i was diagnosed as having  high cholesterol/ hypothyroidism at about the same time. I noticed  too that my face has become really greasy and even alittle chubby.  I have tried everything- dermatologist, so may antibiotics and creams that sometimes burn so much...i'm really frustrated. at one point contraceptive pills seem to help then stopped. The pills were increasing my triglycerides level so i wasnt too enthused about it anyway. i thought i ate pretty healthy and was stress free while on vacation, yet i got it so bad then, i didnt even want to leave the hotel, and though my boyfriend was of great support, i was extremely sensitive about my condition. really wish i could get a regime that works
I am 30 years old and having eruptions (Acne) on my back, shoulders, forehead and buttocks for almost 12 years now. I have seen quite a few dermatologists in these years but all in vain. There is no itchning or fluid coming out...even when a new acne erupts with a reddish color; but just some pain only upon coming in contact with hands or any other tangible object. Dermatologists suggested few creams, like benzoyl peroxide, which I had applied but  results were not satisfactory - what's more cannot ask anyone to rub cream/lotion on my back or buttocks...3-4 different creams everyday!! I am a vegetarian (don't eat egg also), teetotaler, with oily skin.  Please suggest something. 
You should learn to type properly. I could barely understand you.

I have had spots on my temples since I went into menopause 9 years ago. Nothing seems to make them go away, they will eventually just disappear after maybe 6 to 12 weeks but they leave scars like acne. The doctors do not have any idea about anything related to menopause, basically nothing surprises them and there only answer is hrt. Have you heard of this problem and can you recommend anything?

My thanks

Hazel Francis

If you have a problem getting rid of body acne, be aware of your bathing technique: start at your head and work down instead of the other way around.

Ensure you wash your hands after eating, driving, working, or any activity which leaves deposits of dirt, grease, or oil on your hands. Make a concerted effort to not touch your acne-prone areas with your fingers during the activity. The back of your arm/wrist/hand/fingers can be used as long as they remain clean.

From my own experience, pimples are the bodies reaction to an infection in the pores/hair folicles of the skin. When the body sweats, oils and other chemicals are removed via sweat glands. Bacteria in the pores then eat and multiply, depending on how much "food" they get. White blood cells "arrive on scene" and clean up the mess, producing a pimple.

More from:

When we eat red meat, our bodies contain more protein and fatty acids than someone on a vegetarian diet. Thus, more proteins and fatty acids are excreted through the apocrine glands of a meat eater than those of a vegetarian. A the underarm of a meat-eater has more “food” for bacteria to eat and multiply with, so there's more body odor. It's all starting to make sense now.

But what about the author's claim that junk foods cause body odor? Although I am unaware of any studies that relate to this issue, I have a theory. Junk foods are more difficult for the body to digest. Organs like the liver, stomach, and intestines may not know what to do with the chemicals and preservatives contained in these foods. Since these “toxins” can't be eliminated through the digestive tract, the body may send them to the apocrine glands for excretion. This process may increase the overall production of fatty acids and proteins in the sweat, making a perfect environment for bacteria to grow. This may also be the case with the red-meat eaters, as there are plenty of undigestable materials in meat. (This is also applicable to smoking, drinking, and drug use.)

I am 55 and I have been getting pimples on my moustache for the past month.  I have been putting petroleum and anti bacterial creams on them, but they are not working.  My father has been in hospital on life support now, my daughter just had a baby, and my employment situation is bleak.  Are the pimples just stress or .....?

Hi I have now in the last 7 months since moving away from home developed acne on both my cheeks.  I use dermalogica creams. I am studying performing arts and have to use foundation throughout the day which may may my problem worse.


Should I have an allergy test done first?




Dear Dr Hyman

I'm 22 years old and had problem with acne almost my whole life specially this past two years. I tried every thing i went to specialist for a years and she keep givning me clindaxol which help me at first but after a while I got alrgic to it and i switch it to clindasol cream which doesnt help me i used it for almost a year and i didn't see any result. it's two years now tat my face is full of pimples and here was not a day that i could wake up and see my face clear. Now I'm going to other docor who promised me i could have a clean skin by 6 weekd and i had to go and see him each week and lots of monet and he would take out the pimple which are under skin but now it's 6 weeks and  i still have pimples and has not imporove at all. I DONT know what i have to do, the pimples i get stay for long times it's not like other pimples which would dry after few days i usuly have them for weeks. i don't have any hope now i triedsd every thing dont know what to do. i also take Vitamin A and Drink Green tea i spend so much money on my skin and dont know what else i can do.

Dear Dr. Hyman,

I am a 35 yr old mom who never in my young life had a problem with acne up untill now.  This has been very hard for me to get rid off and as I was reading your information about what to do and how to eat. I hate to say that I feel that there is nothing for me out there.  I did the topical and even went to my family doctor but like you mention it does more bad than good and I also thought that the medecine that was being prescribed was only going to help temporarely and end up damaging one of my organs.  I eat pretty healthy no high fats and no sodas this is rather a very painful experience. I am also taking 3 mega b stress vitamins every day but it calms it down sometimes.  Could this bacteria get any worse or very serious? Please help me.  

 Thank you in advance for your help in Rialto, Ca.

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