"What should I eat for my skin?" This is probably the most common question I get asked.
When you have skin problems such as acne, cysts, eczema, rosacea, your diet can be a huge, game-changing variable. I have treated patients, who have had acne for years, have their skin clear up completely in a matter of weeks from the right food choices.
However, the problem is that most people are confused about what that means.
Worse, they've tried dietary changes and been disappointed with the lack of change. This is dejecting and makes them feel like diet is not a factor with their skin, so they're frustrated because they do not know what is.
Discovering the problem.... without making yourself crazy
Diets, these days, are confusing.
From keto to vegan to paleo and FODMAPs... everyone has a different opinion on what you need to eat.
Should we care about calories? Inflammatory foods? Sugars?
Don't even get us started on the political and ethical implications of what we put into our mouths.
As someone who struggled with acne for over ten years, I have probably done every diet you can name. But it didn't come without emotional implications.
My relationship with food became a source of frustration, confusion and the feeling of deprivation. While I wasn't restricting my amount of food, I found my food choices more and more limited the more I read about a "healthy diet".
I clearly remember once standing in the supermarket, surrounded by a plethora of food, paralyzed from not knowing what to buy. In this stacked food emporium (that we are so lucky to have access to) I felt like I had no choices.
This is not what I want for my patients.
Too many people think that changing their diet for their health and skin is about making cuts. Not eating things...and more things.
At my worst I was a gluten-free vegan that did not eat sugar. While my skin did clear up, I was crabby AF and became anxious about eating out (paranoia: and what's in the sauce???).
Social gatherings were the worst. I could either unabashedly stick to my diet and feel like I was being picky and high-strung...or I could break out.
So, I would avoid eating in front of other people...which is not exactly healthy.
This is why we need to find the SPECIFIC foods that actually aggravate your skin.
I had cut so much out of my diet but there were actually ONE OR TWO things that made a difference in my skin.
I had gone overboard and made huge, generalized cuts that weren't doing anything for my skin. But I didn't know what those were, so I felt like I was imprisoned in this alienating, restricted diet.
This, of course, wasn't sustainable and I would breakdown then binge on foods that weren't good for me. So, if we are going to make long-term changes, we cannot just read something online then make blanket decisions for our diet.
This is not only worrisome nutritionally but may be totally unnecessary.
A Health-based Approach
Let's talk about why we are looking at your diet for your skin. While you may be motivated by vanity, what you're trying to do is eat in a way that is good for your overall health.
Yes. When my patients look to changing their diet to change their skin it's because they suffer from an inflammatory skin problem: rosacea, eczema, perioral dermatitis, acne.... the list goes on. What we are trying to do is decrease the inflammation in their bodies to decrease the inflammation in their skin.
Some medical professionals argue that diet isn't a factor. This to me makes no sense since it's widely accepted that there are foods that trigger rosacea.
There's an actual dermatologist-compiled list of specific foods that trigger rosacea flareups-- so we know our skin is influenced by our diets, it's not just crunchy granola hokum. But it still happens.
I know when I struggled with acne, one dermatologist told me that what I ate made zero difference then promptly prescribed me antibiotics and a topical peroxide. Not only did I get terrible gut issues from the antibiotics and dried out, irritated skin from the topicals -- but I continued to have inflammation.
Cutting out the foods that inflame you helps your body and health in so many different ways - it's not only about how you look but your overall wellness.
I cannot count the times that patients have also found that their asthma gets better, that their digestive problems and bloating goes away or even their joint pain dissipates.
This is real holistic vanity: the pursuit for great skin but feeling stronger and healthier in the process.
So, the key is finding what inflames you. This is why some people find vegan or paleo diets work for them while others find they make no difference.
There are many common inflammatory foods but not everyone will be aggravated each one. Instead of testing out each diet, why don't we audit our own bodies and find out what works specifically for us?
What Most People are Doing Wrong
Many times, frustrated patients will come to see me and say "I've tried everything and nothing works....so it's not diet". But we find out they're wrong.
There are definitely foods they are eating everyday that are aggravating their skin.
The problem is, they believe they've accurately tested an "Elimination Diet", but they've been doing it wrong.
Sometimes they try cutting dairy for a few weeks, then gluten.... then call it quits. But there are MANY more foods that can be the culprit beyond these two things.
I once had an eczema patient, who we found was sensitive to (and therefore inflamed by) shellfish and citrus. Random? Well, feels like it -- but her body could not process them well.
In my Food Sensitivity ID, I use a combo of an Elimination Diet and a Challenge Diet to identify these foods. And I look at foods that have been found to be specific for SKIN issues.
This list was made from my 20 years of observation, which is always evolving.
The mistake you may have made is implementing an Elimination Diet improperly. Too often do I find people have not tested the right foods for skin or they didn't complete the process properly.
They end their experiment with no further clarity as to what they should and should not be eating. We need to be ultra-methodical if we want to do this properly.
The re-introduction part is so crucial but so many people do not focus on this step and end up doing it wrong. We need to test each food twice and we need to record our findings. It may sound laborious but if this is done properly for a few weeks, it makes life afterwards so much easier. Little pain for long-term gain.
Lastly, patients report that they they have tested for food sensitivities and are eating according to them. But we find out that this work was done years ago and that their skin problems have cropped up afterwards.
We change. Our bodies change.
So, we need to re-examine our habits when our symptoms change too. It's not a once-and-for-all thing.
Just like food sensitivities can disappear over time too (more on that below). No, we aren't constantly doing investigative diets (that would be stressful) - but if you have a big change in your skin and health, you should do another check in.
Just like when your doctor runs labs to check in again, we should look at our dietary factors too.
Isn't there a Blood Test?
You may have read about a blood test to identify food allergies. But if you've read all about them, you may have also read about their controversy.
This is the IgG blood test and it looks at your antibodies. It aims to see if your body produces a lot of antibodies against a variety of foods, which would be indicative of an immune (inflammatory) reaction to it.
I have many super smart colleagues that run these and I don't doubt they see benefits to them. But for my practice, with skin, I don't find it the right tool.
First, it's not a universally accepted test. Some medical professionals say that it's not legitimate, it's not accurate or that the antibodies measured are not enough evidence that it causes an immune reaction.
Second, even if it was perfectly accurate, we are only looking at the immune component. What about other reasons foods bother you and your skin? What if it was an issue of poor digestive enzymes?
When we do a Food Sensitivity ID, we look only at outcomes. Does it aggravate my skin and body? Do I produce symptoms? This means we aren't only looking at one way the body can be aggravated.
Third, I don't love it because it's quite expensive and my care is already private so I try to ease as much financial investment as I can (but not compromising results).
You can do the Food Sensitivity ID for free. As long as you know what you're doing, you can do it on your own as many times in the future as you like. Teach a gurl to fish and all that jazz.
Sure, getting some blood taken is easier. But if you wanna get rid of your acne, eczema.....whatever. Sometimes it takes WERK.
Yeah, that can be a drag but in my 20 years treating skin and the hundreds of Food Sensitivity ID programs I have led, patients are happy they did it.
In fact, I only take on patients ready to do the work because, if not, we cannot say for sure they'll see change.
Being strategic and specific: The Method
Ok, so what exactly is the Food Sensitivity ID? It's a program that lasts 3-6 weeks.
It's not a diet but a short-term plan to figure out what you can and cannot eat for clear, happy skin.
We start with step one of eliminating a list of foods that I have found to be the major culprits over my two decades of experience.
This list is similar to other health professionals that run elimination diets but is tweaked for skin specifically. It's actually an ever-evolving list as I watch patterns in my practice. It's doesn't change often but I am always observing for shifts in what aggravates people.
Sometimes it's the food itself but sometimes it's also the pesticides or processing ingredients that comes in contact with the food. So, that is why I like to keep up on changes.
I will be honest - the list isn't easy. Yes, the usual suspects of gluten, dairy, sugar make it on there but there's other surprising foods too - like citrus and vinegars.
But this part is TEMPORARY.
Phase two is all about reintroduction. Here is where we get you clarity. You slowly introduce them back into your diet and note if there are flareups in your skin or other symptoms of inflammation in your body.
BUT that's not where it stops.
I have patients re-eliminate the food and re-test it again to make sure the first reaction was not from stress, period changes, new topicals or other factors. If we replicate the flareup, the food is named. This is all outlined in my guide HERE.
Long-Term Clear Skin
My main goal is to help people have comfortable, clear skin...for good. No quick fixes that only last temporarily. When we discover EXACTLY what foods aggravate our skin, we can make long-term lifestyle changes that support our overall health and skin.
But does this mean we can never eat that food again? Is it a life sentence of eating this new way?
No. For a couple of reasons.
First, sometimes we get over our food sensitivities. I've seen it many times.
Once we avoid the aggravating food, in time, our bodies rebalance and we can eat it again. It's like a wound that no longer is being picked at daily...so it finally heals over and becomes resilient.
I do recommend avoiding it for a while, then cautiously testing it in small amounts to see if it's still a skin trigger.
How long? It depends on the food and the severity of the reaction.
For some people it's in a few months, for others it's in a couple of years. But you do have another choice.
You can eat it anyway. Huh? Yes.
My patients that react to dairy don't have to avoid dairy for the rest of their days. It's not like they can never eat office birthday cake again. What it does mean is they know if they do, they'll break out/ flare up/get itchy/ red....so they can make the call if it's worth it. Sometimes it is.
After you do a Food Sensitivity ID, you'll know which foods cause your skin to flare up. No more wondering in frustration, no more anxiety because you are unsure if what you're eating is the problem, no more grappling in the dark.
You get clarity. But this also means you have an informed CHOICE.
You can decide to eat something that flares your skin but then know that you can avoid it more strictly for that week, and your skin will probably rebalance. Or not.
You can also decide that eating it is worth it. But at least YOU are making that decision. You're not ignorant to what is wreaking havoc on your skin. It's about empowerment and feeling in control of your skin/health/body.
However, if you're like most of my patients, you'll be happy to avoid it to enjoy your calm, clear complexions.
Wanna learn how to do this? My full instructions HERE.