11 Foods That May Be Bad For Your Skin

11 foods that are bad for your skin

Acne and other skin conditions can destroy your confidence.

And leave you feeling helpless.

When you don’t understand what could be causing it.

While the underlying causes of skin conditions are different for each person, the right foods can play a big role in your skin health.

The Link Between Skin and Nutrition

I always say “clear skin is an ‘inside job’” because it can sometimes be a direct reflection of the health of your internal organs — in particular, your liver and digestive system.

Your body is always working hard to eliminate toxins.

So when your liver isn’t up to snuff, toxins can begin to filter through your other organs of elimination such as your skin, which serves as “backup” for your liver.

When toxins are eliminated through the skin, they may cause rashes, pimples, blackheads, and other skin conditions (2)(3).

Now, here’s where your diet comes in:

Each food you eat has the potential to benefit or harm your skin.

For example, fruits and veggies containing antioxidant vitamins aid in the production of collagen (the protein that keeps skin smooth and supple), and may help your liver naturally detoxify to prevent breakouts on your skin (4).

On the other hand:

Refined sugar can break down collagen by cross-linking with other collagen fibers.
Trough a process known as glycation, which is known to form molecules that contribute to aging (but more on that in a moment).

With that said, let’s dive into the foods that don’t promote skin health — and why.

Here are eleven foods that could be bad for your skin, and what to eat instead.

11 Foods That May Be Bad For Your Skin (And What to Eat Instead)

Refined Carbohydrates

Why They’re Bad For Your Skin

If your skin has one nemesis, it could be refined carbohydrates. “Refined carbs” refers to processed sugar and processed flour, which break down into sugar.

Reason #1: Refined Carbs Deplete Your Healthy Gut Bacteria

Refined carbs have poor nutritional value. But they do feed something: the bad bacteria in your gut. Yes, sugar acts as a food for bad bacteria, which gives it a chance to feast, flourish, and crowd out the good bacteria. An overgrowth of bad bacteria has been linked to some digestive conditions (7).

Since acne is a bacterial condition, it makes sense that breakouts are linked to having an imbalance of the “wrong” kind of bacteria in your system. This is why many skin supportive regimens begin with replenishing healthy gut bacteria by eating probiotic foods such as sauerkraut and taking a probiotic supplement.

Reason #2: Refined Carbs Increase Oil Production in Your Skin (And Clogs Your Pores)

As if robbing your healthy gut bacteria isn’t enough, refined sugar may also cause your body to produce more oil and clog your pores.

When you eat refined sugar, your body releases the hormone insulin, which regulates your blood sugar by transporting sugar into your cells. Now, because refined sugar digests rapidly, your body must release large amounts of insulin to “keep up” with bringing sugar into your cells just as quickly as it’s being digested.

Research shows these rapid insulin spikes can trigger production of sebum (oil), which can clog pores and forms pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads (8).

And in case you need just one more reason to nix sugar from your diet…

Reason #3: Refined Carbs Age Your Skin

Processed sugar ages your skin — literally — by creating molecules called “AGEs” (advanced glycation end products). This process is known as glycation, a major factor in premature aging.

You see, when you digest refined carbohydrates, the sugar molecules become “co-dependent” and attach themselves to proteins such as collagen. When sugar molecules latch onto collagen molecules, together, they form brand new molecules: advanced glycation endproducts, or AGEs. Unfortunately, your body can’t break this bond, and those collagen proteins that form smooth, youthful skin become lost forever (9).

When it comes to refined sugar, simply cutting table sugar out of your diet isn’t enough: it’s also important to read food labels because refined sugar goes by many names, including high fructose corn syrup, table sugar, cane sugar, and glucose-fructose (just to name a few).

Let’s not forget that refined carbohydrates include white flour — so we’re talking muffins, pastries, pasta, pizza crust, and white bread as well. Processed sugar and flour hide in the majority of boxed, packaged and store bought foods, including “healthy” versions of processed foods, such as organic ketchup. This is why it’s crucial to read food labels when it comes to maintaining your skin health. Better yet, consider avoiding processed foods altogether.

What to Replace It with (And Why It Supports Skin Health)

Natural sweeteners such as raw honey, maple syrup, apple sauce, green leaf stevia and coconut nectar are low glycemic sweeteners, which means they may have less of an impact on your blood sugar levels and are less likely to trigger skin breakouts when used in small amounts.

If you suffer from a chronic skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis, it’s best to avoid the sugar altogether, including the natural sources. However, green leaf stevia can still be used because it doesn’t interfere with normal blood sugar levels (10).

And what about those no-calorie sweeteners, you ask? Once thought to be the better alternative to refined sugar, studies show artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, Equal, and sucralose may actually cause sugar cravings and raise blood sugar levels, the exact same way processed carbs do (11). Best to avoid those bad boys, too.


Why it’s Bad For Your Skin

Dairy is a common skin trigger for a few reasons:

Reason #1: It’s a pro-inflammatory food.

Pro-inflammatory foods can aggravate or worsen existing inflammatory skin conditions, such as acne, rashes, and eczema (12).

Reason #2: Growth hormones and antibiotics are often found in conventional dairy products.

These hormones may interfere with your body’s natural hormonal balance. In particular, excess estrogen (the female growth hormone) in your system is suspected to contribute to hormonal cystic acne — however, there’s a lack of research to confirm the link between acne and estrogen dominance.

Reason #3: Dairy is a common food sensitivity.

It’s estimated that 75% of the world population and 25% of the US population is intolerant to lactose, the sugar found in dairy — and most aren’t aware they’re sensitive (13).

Repeatedly eating a food you can’t digest can lead to digestive conditions. Food allergies and sensitivities may also trigger an inflammatory response throughout your entire body (14). As you may have guessed, when your body experiences inflammation, it can trigger inflammatory skin condition flare-ups (15).

And hey, it’s worth noting some forms of alternative medicine view dairy as a “clogging” food that congests the skin and liver.

What to Replace it With (And Why it Supports Skin Health)

Replace dairy with unsweetened nut milk, such as coconut milk, almond milk, and cashew milk. These alternatives are hormone, antibiotic and lactose-free, and may have less of a negative impact on your liver and digestion.


Why it’s Bad For Your Skin

Soy was once a popular (and even somewhat trendy) vegan alternative to dairy, but it’s now more popular as a food sensitivity— likely because today, nearly 90% of the world’s soy crops are genetically engineered (16).

Soy also contains phytoestrogens, which mimic the hormone estrogen when absorbed in the body. Similar to the growth hormones found in dairy, phytoestrogens can also disrupt hormonal balance, and lead to excess estrogen in the body if you aren’t deficient in estrogen (17). As we covered above, estrogen dominance may be associated with hormonal cystic acne.

What to Replace it With (And Why it Supports Skin Health)

Choose nut milk over soy milk, and replace tofu with beans or organic, grass-fed meat if you include animal products in your diet.

PS: If you’re a sushi lover, don’t worry— you can replace soy sauce with coconut aminos, which can be found at any health food store.

All of these soy-free options are good for your skin because they’re often less processed (which means they’re higher in nutrients), free from phytoestrogens, and are less likely to be food sensitivities.

Fast Food

Why it’s Bad For Your Skin

Most fast food items are deep-fried in refined vegetable oils, such as canola oil, safflower, and peanut oil, and loaded with trans-fats. While vegetable oils may sound healthy (they do contain the word “vegetable” after all) they can aggravate skin conditions because they’re extremely high in omega-6 essential fatty acids.

Now, let me first say that omega-6s are crucial to our health and well-being. We need a certain amount of them for growth, development and brain function. But as a pro-inflammatory nutrient, problems may arise when we have too many omega-6s and too little omega-3s in our diet (18).

You’re likely beginning to see the pattern here: inflammation is a major underlying cause of chronic skin conditions. So, when we’re consuming too much omega-6s and not enough omega-3s— which are natural anti-inflammatories— our bodies are more likely to show common signs of inflammation: redness, swelling, pain, and the like.

In fact, one study showed those who consumed the largest amounts of fish and seafood had the lowest rate of acne, pimples and oily skin (19).

Since omega-3s are found abundantly in wild fish, algae, grass-fed meats, chia seeds, and seafood, and high amounts of omega-6s are found in fast foods, processed foods, and deep fried foods, you can see how fast foods don’t promote skin health.

And let’s not forget another important fact: many vegetable oils that are used in fast-foods are sensitive to heat and light, and turn rancid when they’re exposed to high temperatures. Dropping these fats in a scorching hot deep-fry basket will oxidize them (read: turn them rancid), which forms free radicals. Free radicals have been shown to destroy our cells— including healthy skin cells— and lead to premature aging (20).

What to Replace it With (And Why it Supports Skin Health)

When you know you’ll be eating on-the-go, avoid deep fried foods altogether by keeping protein bars, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables in your car glove box, desk or purse.

Luckily, more nutritious “fast food” restaurants are becoming more accessible, such as smoothie and salad bars.


Why it May Be Bad For Your Skin

Dwarf wheat, also known as “modern day wheat” — the common strain of wheat we eat today — is said to have a different chemical makeup than the wheat our grandparents ate decades ago. This genetically engineered version of wheat is suspected to be higher in gluten and phytic acid, which makes it harder to digest. Unsurprisingly, the introduction of this wheat coincides with rising wheat and gluten sensitivities (21).

Even when it comes to whole grain bread and pastas, most are still ‘cut’ with white flour, rather than made with fresh, stone-ground whole wheat. And as we covered, white flour is your skin’s enemy numero uno.

What to Replace it With (And Why it Supports Skin Health)

You can replace wheat with wheat-free grains such as spelt, amaranth, kamut, buckwheat, brown rice and quinoa (which is actually more of a seed). These whole grains contain vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, which help your skin retain moisture (22).

Grains like buckwheat are low glycemic and may have less of an impact on blood sugar levels.

Sprouted wheat is also lower in phytic acid and may be easier for some people to digest.


Why it’s Bad For Your Skin

Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other whole grains, such as spelt, oats (unless certified gluten-free), kamut, rye, and barley. Gluten also sneaks into many unsuspecting foods, such as sauces, condiments, and processed meats. Many people have a hard time digesting gluten (23).

But how does gluten affect your skin? A lot of it has to do with how gluten affects your gut.

First off, you have a protein that’s produced by your digestive tract called zonulin.

Zonulin’s job is to moderate the tight junctions between the cells in your digestive tract, which prevent undigested food particles and pathogens from passing through (24). While this a good thing, gluten exposure can trigger your body to overproduce zonulin. This breaks apart the tight junctions instead (25).

Broken record alert: immune responses may cause or worsens inflammatory skin conditions (26).

What to Replace it With (And Why it Supports Skin Health)

Coconut flour and almond flour are two low glycemic, grain-free options that are alternatives to wheat flour. Brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet and certified gluten-free oats are also nutrient-containing alternatives to glutenous grains.


Why it’s Bad For Your Skin

Red wine may be touted as a good source of antioxidants, but alcohol may actually be worse for your skin when it comes to acne and anti-aging. Alcohol contains sugar, which spikes blood sugar levels and may contribute to aging by depleting collagen. It’s also dehydrating, which prevents your skin from retaining moisture and can cause dark circles around your eyes.

What to Replace it With (And Why it Supports Skin Health)

Sure, there may be no real replacement for alcohol when you’re out for drinks with your friends. But sipping on a glass of kombucha or coconut water instead of a boozy nightcap will be more likely to benefit your skin in the long-run.

If you do have the occasional cocktail, try sticking to clear spirits, which are lower in sugar, and choose hydrating coconut water (or even regular water with a splash of lime) for your mix.

Processed Meats

Why They’re Bad For Your Skin

When you wake up to puffy, swollen skin, take inventory on yesterday’s meals to see if you ate a lot of salt (this includes restaurant foods or processed foods, which can pack a sneaky, high sodium content).

Processed meats such as bacon, and cured meats (such as chicken done in a brine), contain sodium, which can lead to water retention and can cause swelling and puffiness in your face.

Studies also suggest sodium nitrates, which are a preservative added to many processed foods, can break down collagen and elastin and may cause signs of premature aging (27).

What to Replace it With (And Why it Supports Skin Health)

Replace processed meat with organic, grass-fed meats whenever possible to avoid excess sodium and sodium nitrates. Grass-fed meats will likely be higher in omega-3s than conventional meats, and may be free from hormones and antibiotics (28).

Spicy Food

Why it’s Bad For Your Skin

It’s unclear why, but spicy food can trigger flare-ups in existing skin conditions, especially acne.

Acne and other inflammatory skin conditions are a sign of excess heat in the body — and therefore, eating spicy foods, which have warming properties should be avoided.

What to Replace it With (And Why it Supports Skin Health)

While nothing can take the place of hot sauce or spicy buffalo wings, try using herbs (except cayenne) and coconut aminos to flavor your dishes instead.


Why it’s Bad For Your Skin

Have you ever woken up after a stressful day to find a monster sized zit staring back at you? There’s a definite link between stress and skin breakouts…but what does caffeine have to do with it?

Studies have shown regular caffeine consumption can increase your cortisol levels, which may impact your skin by causing inflammation, and throwing the rest of your hormones out of whack (28).

What to Replace it With (And Why it Supports Skin Health)

Believe it or not, bone broth is an alternative to coffee. It contains skin supportive nutrients such as glycine, collagen, and gelatin, all in one cup— in fact, here’s why many people agree bone broth is the new coffee.

You can also replace caffeinated coffee with decaf, or better yet, herbal teas like dandelion or burdock root which promote detoxification (29).


Why They’re Bad For Your Skin

Nuts are an excellent source of healthy fats, but certain nuts naturally have a higher ratio of omega-6 essential fatty acids. As we’ve covered, omega-6s are a pro-inflammatory nutrient that may trigger acne flare-ups and other skin conditions.

Nuts that are highest in omega-6s are walnuts, brazil nuts, pine nuts, and pecans.

What to Replace it With (And Why it Supports Skin Health)

This isn’t to say you have to remove these nuts from your diet entirely. In fact, it’s better to focus on first removing processed foods and fried foods, which contain larger amounts of omega-6s. You can also focus on nuts and seeds with a higher omega-3 ratio, such as macadamia nuts, cashews, hemp, chia seeds and hazelnuts.

This list of foods that may be bad for your skin may seem overwhelming, but hopefully, it’s guided you on how you can support your skin health. By understanding why certain foods can trigger skin problems, you hold the power for creating a beautiful skin from within.

Did you know these 11 foods that are bad for your skin? Check out what to eat instead.

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