The skin is not only our largest organ, but it is also an organ of detoxification through which toxins are excreted. Therefore the condition of our skin is not impacted by external factors alone; what we put into our bodies is crucial in determining the health of our skin. The more we eat foods that have a high toxic load, are inflammatory or cause indigestion, the more our body will send us signals and aim to eliminate those toxins through the skin.
4 Foods that Cause Unhealthy Skin
Your skin speaks to you by presenting signs that what you eat is not treating the rest of your body right. Therefore, avoiding some foods for a healthier diet might not just be an aesthetic improvement, but it could be the best way to address the warning signs that are telling you that you aren’t putting the right things in your body.
Alcohol: Dry Skin and Acne
Alcohol can cause some skin issues as a result of dehydration and improper gut microflora.
Dehydration of Healthy Skin
Alcohol is a liquid sponge as it damages your internal organs and your skin by keeping water away from them. As a result, it causes headaches and cognitive problems the morning after, better known as a hangover.[i] Alcohol is a diuretic which means that it increases the amount of urine you produce by blocking a hormone needed to absorb water. As the body can’t absorb this water, it leaves the body instead, making you dehydrated because the organs couldn’t capture any H2O. [ii]
This dehydration can cause aesthetic problems for your skin, which is one of the last organs to receive water in your body as it is a lower priority than your heart and liver. Therefore, this dry skin is a sign to drink more water, and drink less alcohol as too much leads to numerous health problems. [iii]
Disrupt Bowel Bacteria
Although how it happens hasn’t been fully explored, alcohol has been shown to corrupt the balance of bacteria in our gut.[iv] This imbalance is suspected to be responsible for acne. Alteration of microbial flora in the gut promotes inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation leads to mental and emotional issues such as stress, depression, and anxiety. Emotions have “an important linkage… to outbreaks of erythema, urticaria, and dermatitis.” These are all skin conditions associated with bowel issues.[v] Therefore, limiting alcohol intake can improve the health of your gut and mental state, preventing healthy skin.
Milk May Lead to Acne, Blemishes, and Rashes
Milk is a complex substance, filled with hormones, sugars, and components meant to be consumed by calfs, and not necessairily by humans.
This creamy white liquid contains 60 different hormones regardless of the variety, and some of the effects it has on your skin could be telltale signs that it shouldn’t be consumed. Dairy is loosely associated with acne, due to hormones and growth factors put in the milk. Some believe that testosterone, a hormone linked to milk, could stimulate our oil glands responsible for developing acne.[vi] [vii]
However, drinking large quantities of milk can lead to significant increases in estrogen levels. Generally, low estrogen levels lead to acne, so replenishing your estrogen might fight skin problems, including acne, healing wounds, and photoaging. [xiii] [xiv] [xv]
Another suspected hormone for causing acne is insulin growth factor (IGF-1), which is also found in milk. This hormone is positively correlated with acne lesions in women. [viii]
Intolerances and Allergies
Additionally, milk allergies and lactose intolerance can lead to skin issues. A milk allergy is an autoimmune reaction to certain components in the milk which the body produces antibodies to attack. These antibodies can sometimes attack the skin and create hives and rashes. [xvi]
In individuals that are lactose intolerant they don’t require the enzymes to properly break down milk. Therefore, bacteria in the digestive tract has to break it down causing a chain reaction of responses which leads to physical reactions like bloating and inflammation. [xix] The series of reactions that results from lactose intolerance could lead to mood changes associated with skin disorders. [v]
1 cup of low-fat, 1% milk also has 12.7 grams of sugar, which is about half of a woman’s daily allowance. [xvii] This influx of sugar, when you drink milk can lead to inflammation throughout the body. To make problems worse, steep spikes in sugar means an overreaction of insulin production which creates skin oils as a by-product, clogging follicles and worsening skin complexion. [xviii]
However, these claims haven’t been fully explored in studies as they do not show cause and effect only that they are correlated. For example, a 2006 study on 6,094 pubescent girls showed that girls developed more acne when they drank milk. However, this was based on self-reported food consumption and only showed that the two were linked, not necessarily that milk causes acne.[ix]
Sugar Leads to Blemishes, Aging, and Acne
The sweet substance has been known to cause numerous problems, and skin issues are one of them.
High Glycemic Foods and Acne
Foods higher on the glycemic index will raise blood sugar much quicker, and sugar is at the top of the list. These foods can worsen acne. A study of 23 young adult males had significant improvements to their acne when they took foods high in the glycemic index out of their diet. Part of the reason for this might be because foods lower on the glycemic index are healthier in general. However, the fact remains that less sugar reduces acne even if it isn’t the direct factor.[ix]
Avoiding Harmful Skin-Damaging Compounds
Sugar also creates toxic by-products called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These accumulate in our tissues contributing to the aging process by affecting collagen, and overall skin health. Due to these harmful compounds, collagen becomes flexible and stiffer and is replace less frequently. This old collagen makes our skin look less plump and supple.[x]
Skin cells are also affected as they replicate less frequently which means rougher drier skin, which is more susceptible to sun damage. Therefore, by avoiding sugar, you can limit the deterioration of collagen and your skin cells.[x]
Along with milk, sugar, and alcohol here are some other foods that can harm your skin:
Gluten Causes Hives and Blisters
If you have a gluten intolerance or suspect that you may have one, looking to your skin for signs might be the best way to find out.
Itchy red bumps are the result of an allergic reaction to gluten. When you eat something you’re allergic to. your body releases histamine. It causes your skin to swell as your blood vessels dilate and hives emerge. This isn’t a long-term problem for your skin as hives disappear on their own, but it is proof that something isn’t working right, and changes need to be made to your lifestyle for healthy skin.[xi]
This is a reaction to gluten where you experience blisters and a rash. When you eat gluten and have a sensitivity, your body produces the antibody, immunoglobulin A (IgA). IgA attacks a protein on our skin causing damage in the form of blisters. Therefore, if you are allergic or have an aversion to gluten, symptoms will show up on your skin, signaling a problem. [xii]
Ways to get Healthy Skin
Other than avoiding the foods listed above, try adding a few things including a healthier diet to rebuild any previous damage.
Alcohol is notorious for dehydration which leads to dry, tight, and flaky skin susceptible to wrinkles, highlighting the need to drink more water. About eight glasses of water should be consumed to get rid of toxins and hydrate these cells for healthy skin. [iii]
Avoiding dairy can be crucial for preventing acne and nut milk might be helpful. Ideally, look for nuts with an optimal Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of about 5:1 to decrease inflammation and reduce acne. [vii]To find a better Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio, try milk from [vii]
Eating complex carbohydrates rather than sugar and its brothers which are high on the glycemic index is vital to produce healthy skin. Vegetables give you the energy you need without huge spikes in blood sugar which your body struggles to deal with. Veggies also fight inflammation, and free radicals, preventing further damage to your body.[vi]
Here are a few more healthy foods for great healthy skin:
Your skin is one of the few organs you can see and feel. Use it to reveal how your diet might be impacting your health. It can tell you what foods you need less of like milk, sugar, gluten, and alcohol avoiding potential problems associated with all of them. If you’re unsure which one it could be, try avoiding all of them for a period of three weeks and then start reintroducing each food one at a time for a week. If you start seeing symptoms flare up immediately, you’ll know that the culprit is!
This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.
[i] Hangovers Causes – Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hangovers/basics/causes/con-20025464. Accessed May 8, 2017.
[ii] Goldenholz S. The Effects of Alcohol & Caffeine on Dehydration. LIVESTRONGCOM. 2015. Available at: http://www.livestrong.com/article/309477-the-effects-of-alcohol-caffeine-on-dehydration/. Accessed May 8, 2017.
[iii] The Benefits of Drinking Water for Your Skin. UW Health. Available at: http://www.uwhealth.org/madison-plastic-surgery/the-benefits-of-drinking-water-for-your-skin/26334. Accessed May 8, 2017.
[iv] Vassallo G, Mirijello A, Ferrulli A et al. Review article: alcohol and gut microbiota – the possible role of gut microbiota modulation in the treatment of alcoholic liver disease. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2015;41(10):917-927. doi:10.1111/apt.13164.
[v] Bowe W, Logan A. Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future?. Gut Pathogens. 2011;3(1):1. doi:10.1186/1757-4749-3-1.
[vi] Metcalf, Eric MPH. Worst Foods for Skin and Complexion?. WebMD. Available at: http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/features/worst-foods-for-your-skin#3. Accessed May 8, 2017.
[vii] Saunders A. Milk and Acne: Dairy Free Alternatives for Acne. HuffPost UK. 2017. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/amy-saunders/dairy-free-alternatives-for-acne_b_9846492.html. Accessed May 8, 2017.
[viii] Cappel M. Correlation Between Serum Levels of Insulin-like Growth Factor 1, Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate, and Dihydrotestosterone and Acne Lesion Counts in Adult Women. Archives of Dermatology. 2005;141(3):333-338. doi:10.1001/archderm.141.3.333.
[ix] Growing evidence suggests possible link between diet and acne | American Academy of Dermatology. Aadorg. 2013. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media/news-releases/growing-evidence-suggests-possible-link-between-diet-and-acne. Accessed May 8, 2017.
[x] Gkogkolou P, Böhm M. Advanced glycation end products. Dermato-Endocrinology. 2012;4(3):259-270. doi:10.4161/derm.22028.
[xi] Miller A. Gluten Intolerance, Skin Hives & Hemochromatosis. LIVESTRONGCOM. 2011. Available at: http://www.livestrong.com/article/550942-gluten-intolerance-skin-hives-hemochromatosis/. Accessed May 8, 2017.
[xii] Dermatitis Herpetiformis – Celiac Disease Foundation. Celiac Disease Foundation. Available at: https://celiac.org/celiac-disease/understanding-celiac-disease-2/dermatitis-herpetiformis/. Accessed May 8, 2017.
[xiii] Adams L. Does Drinking Milk Increase Estrogen Levels in Men?. LIVESTRONGCOM. 2012. Available at: http://www.livestrong.com/article/554285-does-milk-raise-estrogen-in-men/. Accessed May 11, 2017.
[xiv] Stevenson S, Thornton J. Effect of estrogens on skin aging and the potential role of SERMs. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 2007;2(3):283-297.
[xv] Andrews J. Estrogen & Acne. LIVESTRONGCOM. 2010. Available at: http://www.livestrong.com/article/91209-estrogen-acne/. Accessed May 11, 2017.
[xvi] Aynbinder T. Does Eating Sugar Really Cause Acne?. Forbescom. 2017. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/01/20/does-eating-sugar-really-cause-acne/#6f8257aa5af4. Accessed May 11, 2017.
[xvii] Milk, lowfat, fluid, 1% milkfat, with added vitamin A Nutrition Facts & Calories. Nutritiondataselfcom. Available at: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/dairy-and-egg-products/74/2. Accessed May 11, 2017.
[xviii] Aynbinder T. Does Eating Sugar Really Cause Acne?. Forbescom. 2017. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/01/20/does-eating-sugar-really-cause-acne/#6f8257aa5af4. Accessed May 11, 2017.
[xix] 6. Lactose intolerance – NHS Choices. Nhsuk. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Lactose-intolerance/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed May 11, 2017.