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Impact of Diet

Don’t eat fatty food, chocolate, cheese, dairy, carbohydrate or drink alcohol. This is the
advice often given to those with breakouts in search of clearer skin. But for years,
dermatologists disagreed that a link between our diet and breakouts existed; the
available evidence was weak and flawed.

Skip forwards a decade, and through robust research and larger studies, much has
been done to unravel the myths surrounding the impact of what we eat on breakouts.

And the good news? Chocolate and wine are not completely off the menu (phew!).

Breakouts are driven by hormones, and it is now accepted that levels can be influenced
by the foods we consume. If you suffer from breakouts, now is the time to start paying
attention to the glycaemic index (GI) of the foods you eat. Every food has a number and
the higher the number, the faster your body breaks the food down and converts the
carbohydrates within into sugars. Foods with lots of sugar and refined carbohydrates,
such as sweets, white bread and fizzy drinks, have a high GI, which causes a spike in
blood sugar. This leads to a rise in a hormone called insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1),
which turns up oil production in the skin and leads to the formation of breakouts. This is
likely to explain why some people experience breakouts if they eat lots of chocolate or
overindulge on sugary foods, so remember, a treat every now and then is ok, but
everything in moderation!

Another hormone that strongly influences the production of oil from the grease glands in
the skin is testosterone. A common misconception is that only men have testosterone,
but this naturally occurring sex hormone is needed by both men and women to maintain
muscle mass and healthy bones (and also keep our sex drive in full flow!).With
breakouts, the glands are usually more sensitive to the effects of testosterone, which
like IGF-1, can ramp up oil production.

Exposure to extra testosterone in our diet can also make matters worse – three large
studies have shown a risk of more severe breakouts in people drinking more than 2-3
servings of cow’s milk daily. Cow’s milk contains naturally occurring animal hormones
including testosterone, and to make matters worse, milk can also stimulate insulin
production (causing a rise in IGF-

1.) Together, these can send the grease glands into an oil overdrive. Taking this into
account, a dairy-free diet therefore seems appealing for those in search of clear skin,
but it is worth noting that some dairy-free alternatives may cause more problems.

Dairy alternatives such as soy, almond and coconut milk can be sweetened with refined
sugar, so always look for unsweetened products, or stick with just 1-2 servings of cow’s
milk daily. And if you’re a gym bunny, consider skipping regular whey-based protein
supplements, which often also contain bovine (cow) hormones.

If you are someone who likes to add a supplement to their diet, you can’t go far wrong
with omega-3 fatty acids. Unlike omega-6 fatty acids (found in fatty food), which
promote skin inflammation, omega-3s can decrease IGF-1 levels and reduce
inflammation within the grease glands, which may decrease the risk and severity of your breakouts. Western diets typically have a low ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, which may be why we have a greater problem with blemishes in the UK than our
counterparts in the Mediterranean who eat a lower fat, higher fiber diet.

So if you have breakouts and want clearer skin, there is no need for drastic measures
and strict dietary restrictions. Aim for a low-fat balanced diet, with lots of fruit,
vegetables, fish and whole grains, and limit your cow’s milk intake. And if you are partial to chocolate, try to choose the dark variety - your skin will thank you for the
inflammation-busting zinc!