Acne and Nutrition

A talk with Maria Marlowe, known as the Acne Nutritionist helping thousands of people clear their skin through diet and lifestyle changes using her Clear Skin Plan.


What role does lack of nutrition play in acne breakouts?

Nutrition plays a large role in acne. While acne was once thought to be a bacterial infection, it’s now known to be an inflammatory condition. Chronic inflammation in the body leads to inflammation of the skin and acne breakouts. The foods we eat have a tremendous influence on the inflammation levels in our bodies.

Refined and processed foods, like baked goods, sugar, and vegetable oils increase inflammation, while whole foods, such as vegetables, fruit, and wild seafood, reduce inflammation. Dairy and sugar/refined carbohydrates are some of the most well-established acne triggers. Simply replacing inflammatory foods with more anti-inflammatory foods will start to make a positive impact on the skin.

Acne is caused by inflammation and there are several things that cause inflammation: gut imbalance, hormone imbalance, stress, nutrient deficiencies, and pro-inflammatory foods.

Additionally, various nutrient deficiencies have been associated with increased risk of acne, as has poor gut health. The gut and skin are intricately connected, so it’s important to clear any digestive issues, such as constipation, bloating, gas, diarrhea, or dysbiosis to achieve clear, glowing skin.

From a holistic nutrition standpoint, how can you tell the root cause of someone’s acne?

There are multiple root causes of acne, and most people have some combination of them. As a holistic nutritionist, I take a food diary from each client and ask detailed questions about their other, non-skin symptoms. Things like PMS, nails breaking, gas/bloating, are all clues to underlying imbalances. With this information, I’m able to offer a targeted plan of action that includes specific dietary and lifestyle recommendations. 

What are the main culprits of acne?

Acne is caused by inflammation and there are several things that cause inflammation: gut imbalance, hormone imbalance, stress, nutrient deficiencies, and pro-inflammatory foods. All of these factors, including stress and hormone imbalance, are impacted by diet. So ultimately, I’d say food and stress are the two main culprits of acne.

Beyond food and stress, harsh skin care can also be problematic, as it strips the skin of its natural and protective microbiome and skin barrier. When acne is treated too aggressively with scrubs and peels, it can make the skin more raw, red, and irritated, and slow the healing process.

Of course, breakouts can also be caused by topical clogging of the pores – for example, maskne or the use of a comedogenic beauty product – but for chronic acne, the inflammation caused by food and stress is likely the primary culprit.

What type of supplements can be used to help clear up acne? Are nutrients best absorbed through diet?

For clear, radiant skin (and overall health) it’s best to eat a healthy diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods and use supplements for an added boost. In general, a high-quality probiotic can be incredibly beneficial and then depending on an individual’s unique needs, targeted supplementation as needed.

How can estheticians incorporate healthy meal plans into their service offerings?

An esthetician could partner with a Nutritionist to provide healthy meal plans tailored specifically to supporting skin health.

They can sign up to be an affiliate for The Clear Skin Plan, a proven, science-backed, doctor-approved program and meal plan to clear acne in 90-days or less. It contains over a hundred delicious, skin-clearing recipes and weekly meal plans for both vegan/vegetarians and non-vegetarians. It will help their clients see results more quickly and will be incredibly beneficial when paired with regular facials.

What are the best foods and nutrients for acne-prone skin?

Vegetables, particularly anything dark green or orange, as well as fruit, wild salmon, and seafood. Omega-3 is important, which can be found in wild seafood, flax, chia, and walnuts.

How do adrenal fatigue and stress affect acne?

Stress is another large contributor to acne. Besides contributing to chronic inflammation, when we feel stressed, or with adrenal fatigue, our bodies produce more of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn stimulates oil production. Excess oil can clog your pores and lead to breakouts.

One of the first studies that showed a link between stress and skin was published in 1953 in the Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine. When researchers conducted a purposely stressful interview with acne-prone individuals, they reported an acne flare-up within just a few days. Multiple similar studies since then have found similar results, including one that found feelings of fear and crying were associated with increased oil production.

What are the benefits of an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich diet that goes beyond the skin?

An anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich diet provides so many benefits. Besides keeping your skin clear, it also helps to keep it ageless, by protecting the skin from wrinkle-causing free radicals. It keeps your brain sharp and healthy, your immune system strong, it supports healthy digestion, balanced hormones, a healthy weight, more energy, and a balanced mood, and reduces your risk of a whole host of chronic diseases.