We all know beauty (i.e. our skin, hair, and general wellness) has as much to do with what we're putting in our bodies as it does what's happening on the outside. Our diets significantly impact how we feel and look, but the foods we consume could be affecting our skin even more directly than we thought. We've all been warned to steer clear of greasy foods, dairy, and even chocolate at some point in our lives—though bio-individuality makes it so the effects of such foods are different for every one—for clearer skin.
So, how much of what we've heard actually holds true? I asked a clinical skincare expert who specializes in acne—and helps clients identify food allergies that could be wreaking havoc on their skin—to tell me the top ingredients that are typically to blame for breakouts. The usual suspects were on her list, but, surprisingly, a healthy ingredient was also a top offender. And, while certain foods are often to blame, everyone reacts differently. Many individuals with specific food sensitivities are completely unaware they have them. When it comes to skincare, you can identify that you have a sensitivity, and ultimately determine the food culprit, by recognizing which areas of your face are prone to breakouts.
Where You Break Out
"There are areas on your face where you break out that correlate with your insides," explains clinical skincare specialist Jacky Banayan of JackyB Skincare in Beverly Hills. She also says that if you have full breakouts around your mouth, underneath your jawline, or on your forehead, chances are those breakouts are caused by a hormonal issue as well. Though, your hormones can also be triggered by food.
Why You Break Out
Banayan calls out the top food acne triggers to be dairy, gluten, soy, and nuts—specifically almonds, which probably comes as a surprise to most. "This is because almonds are super high in estrogen," she explains. She notes that soy can also trigger skin irritations because it too is high in estrogen, and dairy is basically a "cocktail of hormones that we're not equipped to digest." Oftentimes, knowing that soy and dairy should be avoided for clearer skin, people will replace soy milk or regular milk with almond milk, but then still not see their complexion improve. This could be why.
Of course, this isn't the case for everyone. Banayan clarifies that if you don’t have a hormonal imbalance, that extra dose of estrogen isn’t necessarily an issue. "Personally, I can have almond milk and not break out," she describes. "But if you have hormonal acne and you take out dairy and you take out gluten and you’re freaking out that you’re still breaking out, it’s most likely that you’re absorbing that estrogen from almonds."
What To Do Next
Short of taking a food sensitivity exam, pinpointing the foods that could be causing your skin to break out requires you to be mindful about what you're eating and how your skin reacts in the days that follow. "When I have a client who does not have access to a food sensitivity exam, I have them write a food diary," says Banayan. She suggests taking a selfie every morning and recording everything you eat throughout the day in a food log. You will then be able to refer to it when you're breaking out, allowing you to understand possible causes. Various food groups affect those with various skin conditions differently.
Banayan says for those with rosacea and more acidic skin, individuals prone to redness and inflammation, triggers may include caffeine and high sugars in addition to dairy. "For me, whenever I eat and I have chocolate or have sugar—like a lot of sugar, I’m going to get a pimple the next day," admits Banayan. "For everyone, it’s not always this fast. Some people who have rosacea, they’ll get huge rosacea flareups from citrus or coffee." When you begin to see a pattern, you can then eliminate potential triggers from your diet and see if your skin improves. As Banayan described earlier, noticing where your trouble areas are can also help you better understand what's at work internally.
Now here are the exact foods that will help balance your hormones.
Kucharska A, Szmurło A, Sińska B. Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2016;33(2):81-86. doi:10.5114/ada.2016.59146