Acne: It’s More than Skin Deep

a girl looking in the mirror while popping pimples

Sometimes a pimple is just a pimple, but many times it’s a sign our bodies need some extra care. Our skin often reflects overall health. As our largest organ, it can signal that something deeper needs looking after.

We often think of acne as being isolated to the skin, but if we look deeper, we can see there are systemic issues going on. Yes, we should be caring for our skin with external measures to keep pores clear, but we need to be caring for our bodies as well. Poor diet, digestive problems, hormone imbalances, and toxins and heavy metals are often the real culprits behind a chronic acne problem.

External skin care

In addition to natural, soap-free acne cleansers, or even the seemingly counterintuitive “oil cleansing” method (many people with acne swear by it), there are other approaches that can reduce bacteria and balance oil production.

A few drops of antiseptic essential oils such as tea tree, lavender, sandalwood, and oregano mixed in pure water and sprayed or blotted onto the skin can be helpful.

Raw manuka honey can be used as a nourishing antibacterial and exfoliating mask or cleanser. Lemon juice and/or baking soda can also help exfoliate skin, and apple cider vinegar has antibacterial properties and the right level of acidity to help protect skin.

Whenever undertaking a new topical regimen, it’s important to start with a small test area to make sure your skin responds well.

From the inside out

Acne is much more prevalent in industrialized societies, which may be a result of the Western diet, environmental toxins, or other modern influences. A few lifestyle changes can make a big difference.

It’s important to avoid inflammatory, processed foods like sugar and sweets, trans-fats, dairy, deep-fried foods, and chemical additives. Also, eliminating gluten helps some people. These ingredients can wreak havoc on our digestive system, which is directly related to skin health. They can also contribute to hormone imbalance, feed bad bacteria, and weaken the skin’s protective and repair mechanisms.

Instead, emphasize green leafy vegetables such as chard, kale, and spinach; brightly colored vegetables like peppers, squash, and sweet potatoes; sulfur-rich foods like broccoli, cabbage, and eggs; healthy fats like omega 3s and olive oil; and lean, organic protein. Probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, low-fat yogurt, kefir, and miso contain beneficial bacteria that can support skin, digestive, and overall health. There are also many herbs that can help by reducing inflammation and free radical damage, including ginger, turmeric, oregano, thyme, and rosemary.

Antioxidant-rich fruits like berries, melons, and mangos are good for the skin, but use fruits in moderation as they can spike glucose levels, resulting in inflammation.

Detox & nourishment

Unprocessed, clean foods like those mentioned above help reduce inflammation, nourish the skin and body, and promote detoxification. In addition, a number of supplements can help further these benefits.

Food-based sources of A, B complex, C and E (mixed tocotrienols) provide antioxidant support and promote detoxification. Zinc helps fight bacteria associated with acne and supports skin repair. Antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid, CoQ10, and N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) support skin health and fight inflammation. Nutritional enzyme supplements reduce inflammation, and support digestion, circulation, and tissue repair. Be sure to stay hydrated with plenty of filtered water as well.

For more complete detoxification and overall health support, consider supplements that include a combination of alginates from seaweed and modified citrus pectin (MCP). MCP safely removes heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, and mercury from the body, while actively supporting cellular health, cardiovascular health, immunity, and more. Alginates are also known for their ability to detoxify heavy metals and radioactive isotopes.  


Isaac Eliaz, MD, LAc

Isaac Eliaz, MD, LAc, is medical director of the integrative health center Amitabha Medical Clinic in California.