Obtaining clear skin can be a difficult task.
There are so many different things to try. So many opinions. So many steps to clearer skin.
If you want clearer skin and a healthier body, there are plenty of things to do. In this post I’ll go over 15 steps you can take to get clearer skin.
The way I like to view it is that if we increase our health and decrease our stressors, then the innate desire of the body to heal itself will take over and your skin will clear and your other symptoms of not-so-optimal health will lesson or fade away. This doesn’t mean I’m a vitalist (someone that thinks the body can repair itself solely on its own without any intervention) because I do believe that supplements are necessary in most cases. But supplements should be used in conjunction with diet, rest, exercise, and stress reduction.
Since diet is usually the easiest for us to change, that’s where we’ll start. There is only one thing (step 1) that needs to come before changing your diet.
Keep reading to find out what that is, along with 14 other steps to take to increase your health and clear your skin.
Just a fair warning: The following list is a very fundamental list of things to do in order to be healthy. You ave probably heard of all of these things and you are probably following all of these steps. If you are, then great! There is a LOT more in store. If you aren’t, then begin here. The more steps we cover, the deeper we will go into how we can use nutrition and functional testing to obtain clearer skin and optimal health.
With that out the way, here are the steps to clearer, acne-free skin – the natural way.
Step 1: Have the Right Mindset
This is the most important step for clearing your skin. In order to attain clear skin, you must be mentally prepared to do what it takes. You must understand what is going on inside of your body whenever you eat certain foods. You must have a basic understanding of healthy foods and unhealthy foods and you must have a strong enough mindset to eat the healthy things and to avoid the unhealthy things.
This comes with time and becomes easier as you continue to learn more and more about how different foods affect your body. This also has to do with how you view yourself. Do you believe that it is worth it to feed your body nutritious foods? Do you feel that you deserve to eat healthy? Do you want to live your life to your fullest potential? How much are you willing to do in order to get clear?
For me, I want to be the healthiest version of myself because I want to perform at the highest level possible. I want to live my life to its fullest potential. I truly believe that I can accomplish great things and that I am worth it. And I truly believe that you are worth it too. You can accomplish anything you set your mind to. All you need is the right attitude, a plan, the steps to get there, the necessary resources and an unrelenting desire to never give up.
Notice that the very first thing to accomplishing your goals is your attitude. Henry Ford once said “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” So think, or better yet, know that you can get clearer skin and be healthy.
Step 2: Stop Eating Artificial, Processed and Refined Foods
You’re probably already doing this, but it needs to be said. These “food like substances” provide no nutritional value and lower your health and vitality. Things such as candy, cupcakes, cookies, prepackaged foods, frozen foods, cereal, imitation foods, conventional muffins and breads, pasta, waffles, pancakes, crackers, sport’s drinks and sodas are all disease promoting and shouldn’t be a part of any diet.
Eliminating these foods is the most important step if you want to achieve clear skin because when we eat these foods, they get broken down into sugar in the body. Sugar is a huge problem for those with acne because when too much sugar is consumed, it causes our pancreas to release the hormone insulin. Insulin transports sugar into our cells. By eating processed and refined foods, too much sugar gets released into our bloodstream, which results in spikes of insulin.
Constant spikes of insulin eventually lead to insulin resistance in which our cells become desensitized to insulin. When we have insulin resistance, the sugar in our bloodstream has a much harder time entering our cells. This leads to higher amounts of sugar circulating in the blood, which leads to inflammation. Acne, like nearly all diseases, is one of excess inflammation. Getting the inflammation down is absolutely critical for clearing the skin.
Processed and refined foods have no nutritional content in them. They are what we call “empty calories.” When we consume real, whole, natural foods, they contain nutrients which help slow down the absorption of sugar, help our cells function and actually build health. The nutrients in real, whole foods like kale, ginger, purple potatoes, squash, and leafy greens fight inflammation instead of causing it like processed foods do.
That’s because real, whole foods have things called phytochemicals in them. These phytochemicals are a class of nutrients other than protein, carbohydrate, or fat, and they help to reverse and prevent disease. Getting in as many phytochemicals as you can will help clear your skin.
Step 3: Eliminate Trans Fats, Also Known as Hydrogenated Oils
I know that you have heard of trans fats before. These fats are made by injecting hydrogen molecules into unsaturated or saturated fats under high heat and pressure to create a more stable molecule. Food manufacturers use this to extend shelf life for their products. Trans fats have been implicated with heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, inflammation and acne. Trans fats have known toxic and inflammatory affects on the body. They raise bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol and increase inflammation.
Even though trans fats, aka hydrogenated oils, are banned in other countries and certain states, they are still found in our food supply today. The negative effects of trans fats cannot be overstated. Many processed foods may claim that they are “trans fat free” but that means nothing, as federal laws allow foods to contain 0.5 or less grams of the stuff per serving, which they label as “hydrogenated oil” on the ingredient list.
You can pick up a bag of chips that says “trans-fat free” on the label yet they can still contain hydrogenated oils due to this loophole. That is why it is crucial that you read every ingredient label on everything you buy. That’s also why eating real, whole foods is easier. You don’t have to worry about that if you eat a real food.
We should never consume artificial trans fats ever. This is one of only half a handful of ingredients that is allowed in our food supply that we should never, ever eat. The others are conventional dairy products and synthetic, artificial ingredients. Luckily, nearly all trans fats are found in processed and refined foods, so by following the second step (eliminate processed and refined foods) you’ll be staying clear from trans fats.
Step 4: Ditch the Dairy
You probably have already heard of or made the connection between dairy products and acne. Dairy is hands down the most notorious aggravator of acne. There are a multitude of reasons for this. Dairy products contain dozens of hormones. These hormones set off chain reactions in the body which leads to inflammation that directly affects the acne process. Dairy contains precursors to a hormone called dihydrotestosterone which increases sebum in the sebaceous gland.
Dairy products also increase insulin and another hormone called insulin-like-growth-factor-1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 creates a hormonal cascade in the body that leads to increased cellular proliferation, or reproduction, of skin cells (called kerotinocytes). So when you drink milk, your keratinocytes start to build up on one another.
IGF-1 from dairy also causes the dead skin cells on the top layer (called corneocytes) to stick together instead of following their normal cycle of shedding off. This blocks the pore and creates a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, especially p. acnes, the “acne bacteria.” This then grows out of control.
Even just one glass of milk has been shown to increase insulin levels by over 300%!(1) Not only that, but dairy products increase androgen, or sex hormone levels in the body, which increases sebum production. Increased sebum plus increased cellular proliferation plus blocking of the pores equals acne.
Step 5: Shun Sugar
This one should be pretty obvious. Sugar raises insulin and IGF-1 in the body, which both lead to increased sebum production. If you have dysbiosis (bacterial imbalance) in your gut, sugar will contribute to that. Sugar can feed candida. Sugar increases inflammation, the cornerstone of acne and nearly every disease. Studies have shown that diets with lower glycemic loads help to reduce acne.
By following these steps, you’ll not only help to clear your skin, but you’ll also decrease your chances of developing serious health conditions down the road. By increasing your health with these steps you’ll improve your performance in the gym and at work, be more in tune with your body, decrease sugar cravings, increase your mood and overall well-being and balance out your hormones.
Step 6: Go Gluten Free
Being someone who’s life revolves around health and nutrition, I have yet to find a figure of authority who recommends gluten to be part of someone’s diet. You may be under the impression that only paleo advocates recommend going gluten free, but even those who advocate a vegetarian or vegan diet recommend avoiding gluten for ultimate health and healing.
Gluten is a very inflammatory molecule and we are finding out that more and more people than recently thought are sensitive to this special class of proteins. Acne, allergies, constipation, diarrhea, ibs, ibd, rashes, psoriasis, eczema, brain disorders including depression and more have all been linked to gluten sensitivity.
Even those who might not be sensitive to gluten still benefit from the removal of gluten from their diets. Take the number one tennis player in the world, Novak Djokovic, for example. He stopped eating gluten to increase his performance on the court and noticed huge improvements in his game. The same thing happened when Lebron James decided to stop indulging himself with gluten containing foods. As someone who strives to lower inflammation and be as healthy as possible, that’s reason enough to not eat gluten.
Gluten causes an inflammatory reaction in the gut that damages the intestines in most cases. For healthy individuals, they heal the damage gluten does before any symptoms can occur. For compromised individuals, they may experience symptoms because they can’t heal fast enough. This can lead to increased intestinal permeability also known as “leaky gut.” We have now discovered that even those without increased intestinal permeability are negatively affected by gluten.
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled cross-over trial (RDBPC), intake of gluten significantly increased overall symptoms compared with the placebo. RDBPC trials are what’s known as the “gold standard” in science. They are what proves hypothesis’ right or wrong. The negative effects of gluten consumption in this study happened in people who were not celiac and not allergic to wheat. You do not have to test positive for celiac to reap the benefits of going gluten free.
One thing I want to mention is that if you are currently eating gluten and wheat, you should get tested for celiac and wheat sensitivity with the cyrex array 3. If it comes back positive, then you will know to never eat gluten again. If it comes back negative, you will still eliminate it, but after a year of being “gluten-free” you will know that it won’t be detrimental to your health if you have it every once in a while. If you’ve already stopped eating gluten then there is no point in getting the array 3.
Gluten is also one of the primary foods that contributes to insulin resistance. The other is dairy. Gluten sensitivity can show up in many forms, and in those with acne, it shows up as red spots on their face. One way how gluten causes inflammation is by activating a specific protein called zonulin in our digestive tract. This protein opens up the tight junctions in our gut and lets foreign things through.
This is similar to how bridges open to let boats through. We only want very specific things to enter our bodies through our intestines. Gluten “opens the bridge” and lets anything get through, which creates an inflammatory response in our bodies and can lead to acne and autoimmune disease.
Just be sure not to fall for the trap of eating processed gluten-free “health” foods. Many foods with “gluten-free” on the label are there just as a marketing tactic. Always eat real, whole foods. If it has a marketing claim like “gluten-free” on the label, it probably isn’t even healthy.
Step 7: Eat More Vegetables, Especially Leafy Greens
Almost everyone is majorly lacking in the vitamin and mineral department. In today’s world we need more vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytochemicals and other nutrients than ever before, and yet we’re getting fewer than we’ve ever gotten. There is more stress affecting our bodies today through the pollution of the air we breathe, the water we drink and bathe in, and the food we eat. New food sensitivities are popping up every day because of the manipulation of the food itself and the additives, preservatives, herbicides and toxins we spray on them.
Environmental contaminants, lack of sleep, stress from work and a host of other factors make the need for more disease-fighting vitamins and minerals more urgent than ever.
With the erosion of our soil due to mono-cropping and industrial farming, we’re getting fewer and fewer vital nutrients. That means we’re getting less of the nutrients we need to fight off inflammation, the cornerstone of nearly every disease, including acne. The recommended amount of fruits and vegetables is 7-9 servings a day.
That’s incredibly hard to do. That’s why I recommend green smoothies. Fill up the blender with 75% greens and 25% fruits so you can drink your greens and get in the amount you need. Juicing is also a viable option. Just be sure to only juice vegetables, as fruit juices contain too much sugar and can contribute to metabolic chaos.
Another reason to eat green vegetables is because they are considered to be “alkaline” foods to the body. Most of what we eat (grains, meat, dairy), are acidic foods. Only fruits and vegetables are alkaline foods. Our “alkaline-acid balance” is one part of the health puzzle that needs to be addressed in order to achieve clearer skin and optimal health.
We should aim to have a predominantly “alkaline” diet with lots of fresh vegetables and sprouts and leafy greens. If you can handle eating fruits and vegetables raw (some people like myself experience g.i. distress), then I recommend trying to get in more raw foods when available. If you notice raw foods gives you g.i. problems, making smoothies or cooking them is something to try.
Step 8: Make Some of Those Vegetables Fermented
If I told you that we have more bacteria in our gut than we have human cells in our entire body, would you believe me? The bacteria and yeast in our digestive system, known collectively as the micro biome, determine the state of our health more than almost anything else. When the different bacteria in our gut become out of sync with each other and one starts to dominate the others, that’s called dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis and many other gastrointestinal problems are a large issue in those with acne. Getting the ratio of “good” to “bad” bacteria to its healthy ratio of around 85% good to 15% bad is critical for not just clearing up the skin, but for many aspects of your health and wellbeing. Just as gluten can have neurological effects, so does the balance of bacteria in our guts.
Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut or kimchee can provide you with healthy probiotics to fight off acne, restore balance to your digestive system, break down your food, produce neurotransmitters and make you feel better, both physically and emotionally.
Step 9: Filter Your Water and Drink More Water
I’m going to repeat that again. Drink. More. Water.
One thing though, it better be filtered!
Toxic chemicals are polluting our water supply. Along with the intentionally added chlorine and fluoride, other chemical toxins such as pharmaceutical residues end up in the water we drink and bathe in. These chemicals disrupt our hormones, which create downstream reactions that eventually lead to the formation of acne in susceptible individuals. When you take showers, the warm water opens up the pores on your skin and even more of these toxins enter your body. This is something that you absolutely don’t want, and that’s why getting water filter for your shower is critical. I personally use the Pelican Shower Filter to filter out things like chlorine and pharmaceutical drugs. When I first started using a shower filter I noticed that my skin and my hair immediately became softer and my dandruff finally went away.
Along with filtering your water, you have to drink more. The rates of dehydration in the world are staggering. Acne and many other conditions can be exacerbated by dehydration. Ideally, you should be peeing at least once every 2 hours to continue to filter out toxins from your body and continue moving matter through your intestines. Be sure to use a water filter for your drinking water also. For me, constantly filling up my Brita filter got to be too tedious so I ended up buying a New Wave 10-stage Water Filter. It was definitely worth it.
Step 10: Switch Out Your Fats and Oils
Here’s the rundown with fats and oils.
Firstly, they should all be organic (as should most everything we eat). Rancid fats cause massive amounts of inflammation in the body and greatly disrupt the proper functioning of the sebaceous glands.
- Organic Coconut Oil – Cook with it at any temperature.
- Organic Olive Oil – Can be cooked with at low to medium temperature as long as it’s a super high quality olive oil. Good to put on top of salads and other meals after they’ve been cooked.
- Organic Flax Seed Oil – Never heat this oil. Always keep it refrigerated and capped. Limit this oil. If you want to eat flax, get the whole seeds and use it in your smoothies.
- Canola Oil – Avoid this oil at all cost. This is an industrial oil that has been highly processed. Canola oil is genetically modified and treated under high pressure at high heat. It is not a healthy oil.
- Vegetable Oil – Avoid this oil at all cost. This is an industrial oil that has been highly processed. The processing methods and packaging creates free radicals that cause cellular damage in the body when consumed.
Oils are a debated topic when it comes to acne. Generally I believe that we should limit our oil consumption. For most of human history we weren’t using oils to the extent to what we are today. Steaming and using water is a better option when cooking things.
At this point you should have completely eliminated all of the processed foods, ditched the dairy, gone gluten free, drastically increased your vegetable intake, started eating fermented foods, drink plenty of filtered water, only consume healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, organic coconut oil or organic olive oil, and make sure that the meat you do eat comes from responsible sources not laced with antibiotics and hormones. Take a look at our fat burning foods list for more healthy eating ideas.
That may seem like a lot or it may not. Hopefully you already eat a very clean diet and this isn’t overwhelming.
If it seems like a lot, I have some bad news. These things are literally the fundamentals of eating for optimal health. As you know, you can go much, much deeper. Some people go vegan and completely eliminate all animal products from their diet. Others also eliminate all oils. Some people do water fasts and cleanses. I’ve been there and have done it all. This is actually good news because it means that we can continue to improve and refine our diets and lifestyles. And that’s what these next set of steps are for.
Step 11: Upgrade Your Meats and Eggs
If you eat meat and egg products, it is absolutely crucial that you buy only the highest quality, which is:
- Grass fed and grass finished beef
- Pasture raised chicken, eggs and pigs
- Wild Fish. Wild Caught is OK too.
Never buy conventional meat products. These are loaded with hormones, antibiotics, stress hormones, and they are filled with GMO’s because all these animals are fed is genetically modified feed. They are also loaded with pesticides and herbicides that transfer from the plant to the animal when you eat them. The condition of industrial farming is abusive to animals and unsustainable for the world.
Even though I eat animal products, I will never, ever in my life eat any animal product that isn’t of the highest quality because of how detrimental conventional animal products are to our health. Conventional animal products don’t just hurt us; They also harm the earth.
And remember, unless otherwise stated, restaurants use the animals from giant feedlots that are injected with hormones and antibiotics and contain all of the harmful things we’ve discussed. That’s why when I eat out it’s always at places like Whole Foods or a healthy restaurant where I can get a salad or a mushroom soup or something that doesn’t involve an animal.
I don’t want to contribute to industrial farming practices. For the meat that I do eat, I make sure to get it from places where I know the animals are able to live in a way more natural way.
Step 12: Seek Out Local Foods
A lot of foods, even organic fruits and vegetables, travel hundreds or thousands of miles before they end up on your grocery store’s shelves. As soon as a fruit or vegetable is picked, it starts to lose its nutrients. If a fruit or vegetable is picked in California or South America, it then has to go in a truck or a boat and travel a day or two to a sorting factory.
Then it has to leave the facility and travel to the supermarket which takes another couple days. Then it stays on the shelf for another couple days. Usually you don’t eat the stuff right away, so it might stay in your fridge for another couple days. It can be over 2 weeks old before you eat it!
By that time, the fruit or vegetable has lost a lot of its nutrients and will have a harder time defending your body from the inflammation that is causing your acne. Fresh picked fruit or vegetables that are eaten a day or two after they are picked contained large amounts of anti-inflammatory nutrients.
That’s why eating locally is so important. You get more nutrients per calorie when you eat local which means that you can eat less and still have the same anti-oxidant capacity in these foods which helps to clear the skin. Go to localharvest.org to find out where you can get local foods.
Step 13: Stop Eating Unfermented Soy
Did you know that soy, once considered a healthy choice, has since been shown to negatively affect the body by being an endocrine disruptor (it messes with your hormones). “Lifetime exposure to estrogenic substances, especially during critical periods of development, has been associated with formation of malignancies and several anomalies of the reproductive system.
Soy milk, soy burgers, and tofu are not healing foods and can inhibit thyroid quality.99% of soy in America is genetically modified, which may cause gastrointestinal distress. The gut and the skin are intimately connected. If your gut is not functioning properly and you have skin problems, I can almost guarantee that your poor skin health is due mostly to poor gut health.
Soy is in nearly every processed food and it’s in a lot of “healthy”? foods as well. Always read the ingredient labels on everything you buy. If it has soy oil or soy in it, put it back. The only exception to this rule is fermented soy products such as Tempeh, Natto and Miso. Fermented soy products like Tempeh, Miso and Natto are actually very healthy.
Natto is the single most powerful bone building superfood on the planet and is the most bio-available food-based source of vitamin K2. This helps to lay down calcium into bone and produce osteocalcin.
Step 14: Drastically Reduce or Eliminate Your Grain Intake
This one is a bit controversial. If you’ve followed rule number 5 (go gluten-free), the only grains you should be eating at this point are non-gluten grains like quinoa, buckwheat, and rice. If you still have acne though, then it’s highly probable that your blood sugars are out of balance or you have a digestive disorder such as leaky gut.
Eliminating all grains can help with this. If you have a digestive disorder or digestive complaints, you may find that eliminating grains gives you great relief. I have irritable bowel disease, and even though I stopped eating gluten for about 6 months and felt much better, it wasn’t until I quit my weekly meal of quinoa that I noticed a much greater improvement in my digestive health.
Why I advocate limited to no grain consumption for clear skin.
Grains have only been the staple in our diets for the past 10,000 years. Humans have been evolving for over 2 million years. 10,000 years is nothing on the evolutionary scale, and most of us haven’t properly adapted to eating grains (blood type B’s may be the exception).
Grains increase glucose levels in the blood and therefore insulin levels, which we discussed in step 2. Grains also contain anti-nutrients called phytates and lectins that attach to minerals in your gut and prevent them from being absorbed. Zinc is one of the minerals that lectins in grains attach themselves to.
Acne patients have 5 times less zinc than those without acne, so we want to maximize all the zinc we actually do get. Not eating grains can help. Those with acne are also nutrient deficient in many other minerals that the lectins in grains attach themselves to. Along with all of this, grains also contribute to the acidity in the body.
You’ve probably heard that meat is acidic. Well so are grains. Here’s the difference though. Out of every food available for us to eat, grains are the absolute lowest in vitamins and minerals. This is before accounting for the anti-nutrients they contain, which would lower their nutrient content even further. Even if you could tolerate them, the fact that they’re so low in nutrients compared to every other source of food really doesn’t justify eaten them as a staple food in my opinion. That’s why I recommend going grain free.
In place of grains I recommend starches such as sweet potatoes, purple potatoes, yams, yucca, vegetables, and fruits. If you want to eat grains, they should be soaked and sprouted before eating them to remove the anti-nutrients. Some people can handle things like sprouted buckwheat. Rice can be tolerable for some people. I just prefer the more nutrient dense foods like carrots, zucchini, squash, any vegetable, sweet and purple potatoes, plantains, taro, and other foods that are higher in nutrients than grains. If you have digestive complaints, drastically reducing or eliminating grains is definitely something you can try.
Step 15: Have Vegetables With Every Meal and Eat Them First
It’s been shown that eating vegetables such as a salad as the first part of your meal will decrease blood sugar and insulin levels after your meal. The fiber from the vegetables will get mixed in with the rest of the food and prevent loads of glucose to surge through your body. This is a good thing because acne is linked to increased blood sugar levels. In fact, keeping your blood sugar levels normal (under 90 before meals, below 140 1 hour post and under 120 two hours post), is one of the best things you can do for your health and your skin.
Eating vegetables first will also help you feel fuller faster without any deprivation, as the “bulk” from the vegetables pushes against your stomach and signals your brain that it’s full. Eating vegetables first also helps you get in more vegetables throughout the day so you can reach the recommended 9 to 12 servings a day, which last time I checked is only being met by less than 5% of the population.
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