Acne Has Nothing to
Do with Diet – Wrong!
Standard dogma from your medical doctor is
that your oily skin and acne have nothing to do with the foods you eat.
Next time you hear this message, ask for the evidence. You will find this
learned professional speechless and almost empty-handed , because this
incorrect information dates back to a single article published by Dr.
James Fulton in the Journal of the American Medical Association
almost 35 years ago (in 1969). Furthermore, the results of this study
have been justly criticized and effectively discounted for more than 25
years.2 Still countless millions suffer needlessly.
studied 30 adolescents (14 girls and 16 boys) attending an acne clinic and
35 young adult male prisoners with mild to moderate acne. The Chocolate
Manufacturers Association of America provided the study with two kinds of
candy bars – one with and one without chocolate. Both bars were made
mostly of fat and sugar and had similar amounts of calories (557 to 592
calories per bar). The subjects then added one or the other bar to their
usual daily food intake for the next 4 weeks. Nothing else was changed in
their diet during the experiment, except for the addition of the candy
bars. Dr. Fulton and colleagues then counted the pimples on their young
faces. Forty-six of the 65 subjects stayed the same, 10 were better and 9
were worse. (Not unexpectedly, the rate of sebum excretion increased by
60% with the addition of either kind of the high-fat, high-sugar candy bar
(with or without chocolate) in all subjects.3) (Sebum is a
fatty substance secreted by the skin.) Yet the results of this single,
seriously flawed, and completely irrelevant (it only tested the effects of
chocolate candy bars), experiment are the heart and soul of the claim that
“diet has nothing to do with acne.”
Plague” is Found Only Where Rich Food is Eaten
when the pores in the skin (sebaceous follicles) become blocked with dead
skin (hyperkeratinization); then fatty materials (sebum) accumulate within
the blocked pore. This overstuffed pore then becomes infected by
bacteria, resulting in inflammation – the pimple. The bacteria eat the
sebum and thrive. Prevention and treatment are now directed at unblocking
the pore, reducing the accumulation of the sebum, lessening inflammation,
and killing the bacteria, by various pharmaceuticals sold over-the counter
and by prescription. As with all Western diseases, there is a better way
– and that is attacking the cause and invoking the cure with a healthy
Incidence of acne in Western Countries4
79% to 95%
Older than 25
40% to 54%
3% to 12%
Incidence of acne in
underdeveloped countries: often 0%
of people living on their traditional native diets – almost all of which
are low fat-diets, based on starches, vegetables, and fruits – have found
these people have little or no acne. When these healthy people learn the
Western diet, acne becomes an epidemic – as do the other diseases of
modern civilization (obesity, heart disease, diabetes, prostate and breast
cancer). Examples of well-studied populations include the Kitavan
Islanders of Papua New Guinea who live on a diet of 70% carbohydrate from
plant foods, and the Ache’ of Eastern Paraguay with a diet of about 70% of
the calories coming from manioc (cassava – a root vegetable).4 Acne
is completely absent – not a single sufferer – in these two populations
living primarily on unprocessed, low-fat plant-foods.
People living in
Africa on plant-food-based diets show similar freedom from acne. Southern
African Bantu adolescents have an incidence of acne of 16%, compared to
the whites in Africa with a 45% incidence.4 Zulu have been
reported to develop acne only after they move from the villages to the
cities and learn a Western diet.5 People in both Kenya and
Zambia have far less acne than do blacks in the USA.5 People
from Malaysia living on rice-based diets have been reported to have no
acne problems.6 A rice-centered diet is also the reason people
in rural Japan have very few skin troubles. Even those Europeans on
lower-fat diets (Crete, Southern Italy) have less acne compared to those
in Western Europe on higher fat diets.6 The Yemenite Jews
following a healthier, lower-fat diet than European Jews report less acne,
too.6 The picture is clear to me: switch from a
plant-based-diet to a high fat Western diet centered on meat and dairy,
and your face lights up.
there are components of the Western diet that cause the skin to become
unsightly – this is not a normal, natural condition – this is a disease.
1) A high-fat
diet increases the amounts of fats in and on the skin (sebum). With
extreme changes in food intake such as almost total avoidance of fat (like
the McDougall diet) or inclusion of fat as the sole source of food the
amount of sebum production has been found to be greatly altered.3
Please note that it does not take much fat on the skin to plug the
pores, feed the bacteria, and cause acne in susceptible people. Also note
the bacteria eat vegetable oil as well as animal fats.
2) The rich
Western diet increases sex hormones causing precocious puberty (girls
mature at 12 rather than 16 – boys mature earlier too). Earlier
maturation of women is known to be associated with more severe acne.7
Excess male hormones (androgens) in men and women are well known to
cause acne and increase production of sebum.
hormones adversely affect the sebaceous glands causing them to become
easily plugged. Insulin-like growth hormone-1 (IGF-1) is known to be
increased by dietary protein (meat, poultry, etc.), and especially by
dairy products. Research shows elevated IGF-1 levels are associated with
factors that may play a lesser role are:
4) Acne is
promoted by lack of antioxidants and other plant-derived nutrients that
keep the skin healthy.8
circulation to the skin from a high-fat diet allows the skin to be more
susceptible to acne.9,10
6) Fat and oils,
brought to the skin by hands picking up greasy French fries and burgers,
cause acne – this directly-applied grease plugs the pores and feeds the
that acne is related to surging hormones during adolescence, but to blame
acne on puberty is like blaming heart disease on old age. People get more
heart disease as they get older, but only when they eat the wrong diet.
Heart disease does not exist where people eat healthy, such as in rural
Africa and Asia. Heart disease is also cured when sick people change to a
healthy diet. Same story with acne.
Acne may be the
best angle you will ever use to sell a healthy diet to your teenage
children. After changing to plant-based, low-fat foods you (and they)
should expect to experience a noticeable reduction in the oiliness of your
face and hair within about 4 to 7 days. The pimples start to resolve
shortly after that, but sometimes it takes as long as a month to start to
show improvement. Strict adherence to the diet is absolutely essential,
because I have found that small indiscretions result in a crop of pimples
within a day or two. One night out to the pizza parlor will mean a
face-full of flare-ups before you can say, “I shouldn’t have ordered the
extra cheese and pepperoni.” This means you must follow a diet based on
starches with fruits and vegetables – strictly avoiding all added fats,
including nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, soybeans, and vegetable oils –
even the so-called “good” fats. Wash all oils from your hands before
touching your face, shampoo the oil from your hair daily, and use a “buff
pad” to help open your pores and thoroughly clean your skin. If your skin
is not improving, then my first guess is you are not adhering
strictly enough to your diet and skin care. After all, millions
of people living in Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, rural Africa and Asia who
eat a plant-based diet are acne-free throughout their lives – so why can’t
you also be acne-free, if you behave like they do?
1) Fulton JE
Jr. Effect of chocolate on acne vulgaris. JAMA. 1969 Dec
G. Diet and acne. Nutr Rev. 1981 Feb;39(2):104-6.
JE. Diet and acne. Int J Dermatol. 1977 Jul-Aug;16(6):488-92.
4) Cordain L.
Acne vulgaris: a disease of Western civilization. Arch Dermatol.
5) Rosenberg EW
. Acne diet reconsidered. Arch Dermatol. 1981 Apr;117(4):193-5.
6) Hoehn GH.
Acne and diet. Cutis. 1966; 2:389-94.
DM. Diet and acne revisited. Arch Dermatol. 2002
8) Logan AC.
Omega-3 fatty acids and acne. Arch Dermatol. 2003
9) Rim SJ.
Decrease in coronary blood flow reserve during hyperlipidemia is secondary
to an increase in blood viscosity. Circulation. 2001 Nov
10) Kuo P. The
effect of lipemia upon coronary and peripheral arterial circulation in
patients with essential hyperlipemia. Am J Med. 1959