Gut health and acne: What you need to know

Would you be surprised if I told you that there could be a strong link between your acne and your gut health? Poor gut health, and especially a build-up of toxins in the gut due to poor detoxification, often manifests with non-gut symptoms, such as poor skin, breakouts and acne. Yes, these are toxins trying to leave your body that you are seeing in your skin!


What causes acne?

The four main reasons for acne are:

  • intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut)
  • poor gut microbiome
  • constipation
  • imbalanced hormones

While hormonal imbalance can as well have its roots in the gut, in this article we will be exploring the three first causes.

Leaky gut

Leaky gut is when the epithelial cells of the intestine aren't close enough to each other and for various reasons, small spaces in between them have appeared. This means that ingested environmental toxins, bacteria and undigested proteins re-enter our blood circulation, rather than being eliminated with our bowel movements. This often leads to bloating, food intolerances, rashes, allergies, autoimmunity, poor skin and acne. An imbalanced gut flora is not capable of keeping the epithelial cells close to one another.


By constipation, we mean infrequent bowel movements, incomplete evacuation (even if it’s daily) and/or hard-to-pass/dry stools. Ideally, you want to go two to three times per day, after main meals. Otherwise, toxins and hormones (such as oestrogen) can build up leading to infectious and hormonal acne.

Poor gut microbiome

While topical creams and cleansers can help to an extent, they are putting a bandage on the issue rather than addressing the underlying cause. Worse, if it’s a conventional, rather than a more natural, organic lotion, it will long-term drive to excessive oestrogen levels, worsening acne.

Healing from within (skin-nourishing foods, targeted minerals, vitamins and polyphenols, probiotic foods and targeted probiotic supplements) will build a healthy microbiome, fight off pathogens, repair the lining of the gut, and is what will make your acne go once and forever!

Gut health and your gut flora

The gut microbiome is made up of 10 times more microbes than cells that make us up! These microbes basically rule us. They are in charge of our immune system and neurotransmitter secretion (aka our mood and sleep). A healthy microbiome doesn’t let intruders like toxins and pathogens (bacteria, yeast, parasites, viruses) enter our body.

How is gut health linked to breakouts?

Unfortunately, today it’s basically impossible to avoid coming into contact with toxins (environmental toxins, mycotoxins, microplastics, mycotoxins, pathogens, pollution, electromagnetic radiation, chemicals, pesticides, xenoestrogens, and so on). Our microbiome and cells simply can’t keep up to that rate of intake without some extra support.

Our microbiome is in charge of absorbing nutrients and guiding them to the cells and eliminating toxins with bowel movements. When our microbiome and gut are overloaded or not provided with enough nutritional support, toxins 'leak' into the bloodstream. Intestinal permeability leads to systemic inflammation, and all sort of otherwise unexplained symptoms (such as fatigue, bloating, food sensitivities, acne, hay fever, brain fog, and anxiety).

You can now see how excess toxins try to exit the skin (instead of the bowels) which leads to breakouts, blackheads, whiteheads, and even back and chest acne.

What's the difference between adult and teenage acne?

Teenage acne

Teen acne appears most commonly because of hormonal changes. However, in teens, we very often see a link between acne and poor microbiome, too. Poor dietary choices like junk food, processed and packaged foods, sugar, and lack of nutrient-dense foods and healthy fats lead to inflammation and an imbalanced gut flora which makes acne worse.

Adult acne

Unfortunately, as we age, our skin begins to lose some of its elasticity (especially if we don't consume enough vitamin C and amino acids for the build-up of collagen) and becomes less resilient. Breakouts that once healed in a couple of days, now take a week to disappear. Unfortunately, our digestion slows down too and there is a build-up of damage.

Adult acne is often seen on the cheeks and chin and may become cystic. Addressing the root causes of inflammation, in addition to gut health, is key, namely hormonal levels, blood sugar balance, and toxin buildup.

What foods improve gut health and acne?

Foods might not be enough on their own to eradicate stubborn acne, but our diet is definitely at the basis of the pyramid of healing from acne.


Not any probiotic food or supplement, though. While probiotics and fermented foods work miraculously for some people, they might make matters worse in others. A qualified practitioner will let you know which strains of probiotics your gut is missing, which are indicated for acne and how to steadily incorporate probiotic and probiotic-building foods in your diet.

Some probiotic foods are live yoghurt, water, coconut or goat’s kefir, unpasteurised sauerkraut, beet kvass, unpasteurised apple cider vinegar, organic cottage cheese, pickled/fermented vegetables, olives and capers in brine, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, natto, tamari, miso.


Prebiotics and fibre work as fuel for your probiotics. Some prebiotic foods are garlic, onion, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, Jicama, asparagus, rye, plantain, unripe bananas, oats, konjac, resistant starch, carbs that have been frozen or refrigerated, and so on. Don’t worry if you can’t tolerate them, your practitioner will find gentle ways to add them to your diet.


Polyphenols give rise to different kinds of probiotic strains and populations and help heal a leaky gut and tame inflammation. They can be found in a number of brightly coloured foods and drinks.

Minerals and electrolytes

Hydration is key to flushing out toxins and keeping your skin elastic and healthy. Water on its own can actually leave you dehydrated. We need electrolytes and correct mineral ratios to keep it in. Modern diets, stress still our minerals, and we are already not getting enough due to soil quality today. You don’t have to spend your money, sea salt and Himalayan salt are the world’s best electrolytes.

What foods should I avoid if I have acne?

There are certain foods that are definitely the root cause of acne, and there are other foods that seem innocent but might drive acne in people that are sensitive/intolerant to them.

Processed foods

Like packaged snacks, additives and white flours. Not only do they mess up with our gut microbiome but they also 'steal' important nutrients in the body's effort to process them. They are ripped off enzymes and make the digestive process more difficult.

Industrial and vegetable oils

Such as canola, soybean, sunflower, safflower, rapeseed, corn oils and margarine. Such oils are chemically altered oil created by an extraction method using heat and solvents and have nothing to offer to our bodies. They create inflammation and an excess of free radicals leading to poor skin.

We need to be consuming lots of anti-inflammatory high-omega 3 fats (from oily fish, chia seeds, flax, hemp seeds, pasture-raised eggs, dark leafy greens, walnuts, algae, and grass-fed meats).

Refined sugar

Sugar is sugar but refined is definitely driving your acne worse! Sugar increases the glycemic load of the food/meal leading to insulin spikes and hormonal imbalances that make acne worse over time and sometimes even overnight!

Conventional dairy (A1 dairy)

There are two main culprits in dairy: lactose and casein (milk’s sugar and protein respectively). Some people are intolerant to one, other or both. In addition, conventional dairy is full of growth hormones (more hormones? No thank you!), antibiotics (wreak havoc on our microbiome) and vaccines. For this reason, there is a great difference between supermarket dairy and good-quality organic cow’s (ideally raw) and goat/sheep’s milk (A2 dairy) products. Animal milk is inflammatory to anyone over seven years old. You might, however, be able to enjoy some good quality, local yoghurt, kefir and cheese.

Foods that cause sensitivities

Food sensitivity tests are great as long as you do them after being on a gut-healing program for six months. Otherwise, a list of false positives will come up, making you follow a miserable diet! Make sure you choose a practitioner that is knowledgeable about the subject.

Not everyone reacts to all types of sugar, gluten, and dairy. Your practitioner will be able to help you structure a personalised dietary protocol that suits your needs and lifestyle. If you need to eliminate any of the above (or other major allergens) your practitioner will plan a re-introduction protocol for you.

How is my lifestyle affecting my acne?

Food is definitely not the only factor that impacts acne. Major health pillars like sleep, stress, exercise, and chronic illness or inflammation could be the main offenders, and they are definitely affecting your gut, too.


Are you living with chronic stress? If your diet has been healthy for a while and you can't pinpoint any gut symptoms, stress could be at the root of your stubborn acne. Luckily, there are many steps we can take to balance those chronically high cortisol levels.


During early sleep (11pm-1am) your cells cleanse, detoxify and restore themselves. The brain, gut and skin are all impacted by the quality of your sleep. The timing, duration and quality of your sleep are all equally important for healthy skin. If you are struggling with a sleep hygiene routine, a qualified practitioner will help you.


Toxins are eliminated via sweating. In addition, regular exercise helps calm down chronic inflammation. Exercise doesn’t have to be rigorous, gentle exercise offers the same benefits to your skin.

If you need help to improve your gut health and acne, contact a nutrition professional for one-to-one support.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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