But here’s what your dermatologist won’t tell you: It’s possible to clear up adult acne for good, without all those fancy treatments. In fact, I’ve helped dozens of my patients clear up their adult acne in less than a month — even if they’ve tried medications and expensive creams without any luck.
What is the real cause of adult acne?
- Blackheads: These small pimples occur when excess oil and dead skin cells clog your pore but are open at the surface of the skin, which causes them to oxidize and turn black.
- White heads : White heads appear when a pore becomes clogged, but are closed at the surface, leading to a white bump.
- Papules: These pimples take the form of small red bumps and form when oil and skin cells block a pore and mix with bacteria on your skin.
- Nodules: These pimples occur when pore becomes clogged and swollen further underneath the skin than the three types of pimples above.
- Cysts: These also occur when a pore is clogged by oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria but they occur even deeper below the surface than nodules.
Adult acne can also occur anywhere on the face and can also flare up on the chest, shoulders, or even the back.
You’ll often see acne blamed on excess oil production, bacteria, or inflammation — but that’s not the full story.
- Hormone imbalances: Underlying hormone imbalances, like estrogen dominance or PCOS, can often go undiagnosed and contribute to acne.
- Diet: Certain foods have been linked to an increased incidence of acne. For example, a meta analysis of 14 different studies showed that there was a significant link between dairy products and an increased risk of acne. In addition, foods with a high glycemic content — such as simple carbs like candy, bread, cakes and pasta — affect insulin and can contribute to acne .
- Stress: Emotional stress has been connected to an increase in acne incidence and severity.
All of these factors can contribute to the development and severity of acne individually, but they also all have something in common. And if you’re a frequent reader of the HAPPY GUT ® Blog , you won’t be surprised to learn that that connecting factor is the gut.
The gut health-acne connection
When we have a skin issue, we often spend a lot of time wondering what we can do to fix the problem from the outside, meaning topically, and we’re often told that “bad bacteria” on the skin cause acne. Acne has been connected to a loss in diversity of the Cuti Bacterium acnes species of bacteria and an increase in other types of bacteria, but as the authors of a study published in 2020 explain: “The interactions between the bacteria involved in acne extend beyond the skin itself.”
In fact, research has shown that patients with acne have different gut bacteria than patients without acne.
Therefore, the true underlying cause of acne lies in the gut and with the balance of good and bad bacteria in the microbiome. This may seem a little “out there” but there has been plenty of research to back up the connection between gut bacteria and acne. In fact, scientists have even been able to connect acne to specific strains of gut bacteria. For example, a study of 31 acne patients showed that the bacterial strain Actinobacteria was less abundant and Proteobacteria was more abundant in the guts of people with acne.
So what causes these imbalances? Mostly, our diet.
Studies have connected specific gut bacteria — ones that tend to increase when we eat the Standard American diet — to a higher risk of developing acne, confirming that a high-sugar, high-carb, processed foods diet can contribute to breakouts. When you eat excess amounts of dairy or sugar, it contributes to the growth of sugar-eating bacteria , which take over the gut ecosystem and can contribute to acne.
And it’s not just bacteria, either. A poor diet can also allow Candida albicans , a sugar-eating yeast, to grow out of control. Over time, an imbalanced gut microbiome and candida overgrowth can start to damage the gut barrier, which is a phenomenon known as leaky gut.
When leaky gut occurs, the intestinal wall becomes more permeable (imagine the holes in a cheesecloth getting wider and wider) and larger molecules that are not supposed to slip through the gut barrier are allowed to escape the GI tract and enter the bloodstream. When this happens, it leads to an increase in inflammation that can contribute to acne . This creates more chronic inflammation, hormone imbalance, and can even contribute to psychological stress , which all leads to — you guessed it! — more acne.
The problem with conventional acne treatments
- Hormone-based Contraceptives have been linked to an increased incidence of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and oral estrogen can increase intestinal permeability, which is one of the main causes of IBD and a whole host of chronic health conditions.
- Accutane , which is an isotretinoin treatment, has been known to damage the intestinal mucosa and aggravate existing gut health issues. Studies have suggested an association between isotretinoin and ulcerative colitis (UC); however, another French nationwide study suggested no causal association with UC and a decreased risk of Crohn’s disease (CD). So, it is unclear, but still possible there may be a link with UC in susceptible individuals.
- Tetracycline , the common acne treatment, is an antibiotic that has been shown to create slight alterations in the composition of intestinal microbiota, which can ultimately lead to leaky gut, inflammation, and poor skin health. In other words, the very treatment for improving acne makes you dependent on it long-term for healthy skin, because if it is stopped, the underlying imbalances it has created in the gut microbiome become apparent.
5 Action Steps for Clearer Skin in Less Than a Month
1. Eliminate These Foods
The link between diet and acne is undeniable , especially when it comes to high-glycemic foods, dairy, and unhealthy fats. In my practice I see patients kick acne by eliminating acne-causing foods like:
- Simple carbs
- Added sugar (cane sugar, brown sugar, brown rice sweetener, HFCS — high-fructose corn syrup, and even artificial sweeteners)
- Chocolate (especially milk chocolate)
- Fried foods (often made with unhealthy omega-6 vegetable oils)
- Unhealthy oils, like hydrogenated oils, vegetable oil, and canola oil
- Grains (especially gluten in people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity)
2. Invest In Stress Relief
3. Take Gut- & Acne-Healing Supplements
- Zinc: 30 mg of zinc — studies have shown that supplementing with 30 mg of zinc led to a clinical success rate of 31.2% .
- Probiotics: A high-quality, high-potency probiotic can help you promote a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut, reducing leaky gut and its side effects. I recommend the HAPPY GUT ® Restore 100B CFU Shelf-Stable, Broad-Spectrum Probiotics .
4. Lean On DIY Treatments
Instead of wasting your money on expensive creams and serums, try using natural remedies that you can make at home. Some of my favorites are:
- HAPPY GUT ® Easy Exfoliator : Dampen a cotton round with apple cider vinegar. Then dip it in a small amount of aluminum-free baking soda (pure sodium bicarbonate). Then, using the cotton round, apply the mixture to your face and rub in small circular motions. Once you’ve exfoliated the whole face (you can also use this on your shoulders, chest, and back) you can rinse and moisturize.
- The Hydrating Honey Mask : Honey is anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and incredibly hydrating — not to mention an easy skincare ingredient that you probably already have at home. Just use raw honey (or Manuka honey if you have it, although it’s much more expensive) and apply it to your face up to three times a week for at least 10 minutes. Just promise you won’t lick it off at the end. Lol
- Tea Tree Oil Spot Treatment : For an at-home spot treatment that’s highly effective and easy to use, mix equal parts tea tree oil with almond oil and apply to blemishes before bed using a cotton swab.
- At-Home Probiotic Mask: You can buy expensive probiotic-infused face masks at most luxury skincare stores, but you can also make one at home using full-fat probiotic-rich yogurt. For even more benefits, mix the yogurt with honey, apply, and wait at least 10 minutes before rinsing.
5. Do A Cleanse
As someone who’s struggled with his own frustrating health issues in the past, I know how much acne can affect your psyche and make you feel hopeless. But if you commit to the five steps above, I know you will see a significant improvement in your skin. How? Because my approach to acne gets to the root cause of the issue, your inner garden — THE GUT.