Have you tried every lotion and potion under the sun to soothe your skin woes? I remember reaching for zit cream when pesky pimples showed up in my earlier years. Occasionally it worked, but never long-term. It wasn’t until I cleaned up my diet that I got the glow I’d always wanted, which is why I’m a big fan of Jolene Hart’s work.
Jolene got her start as a beauty editor while researching, testing and recommending products at InStyle Magazine. During this time, she was also going through a 10-year struggle with cystic acne and eczema. Jolene followed the advice of dozens of experts and tried countless editor-tested products, prescription antibiotics and topical treatments. Nothing worked until she turned to her diet for answers. Goodbye, products. Hello, food! Today she’s a health coach (certified by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition), founder of the pioneering coaching practice Beauty Is Wellness, co-founder and Director of Education of the Nutritional Aesthetics Alliance and the author of Eat Pretty: Nutrition for Beauty and Health.
While talking to Jolene, I learned so much about how what we eat and drink impacts our skin, and I know you will too! Here are the juiciest insights and tips from our conversation…
Kris: Some folks think there’s no connection between what we consume and our skin health. Has that cray cray myth been disproved?
Jolene: I’d say an emphatic “yes!” But while this myth has been debunked time and time again, I still come across experts claiming that diet and skin health are unrelated. Did you know that for decades dermatologists were taught that there was no link between diet and acne? This misinformation was based on two outdated and flawed studies.
More scientific research in this area is needed to increase awareness, but there are already studies out there demonstrating strong ties between diet and visible signs of skin aging (study) and connecting a boost in fruit and veggie intake to a healthy glow (study). Not to mention the proof in the mirror!
Kris: What are the biggest trouble foods and drinks when it comes to skin health?
Jolene: I’ve got to point a finger at sugar. The sweet stuff can really be a beauty-buster, increasing our chances of developing wrinkles, breakouts, cellulite and more. The same goes for foods that act like sugar in the body, like pretzels, pastas, crackers and cereals made from refined ingredients, as well as sodas. This is because sugar messes with hormones, blood sugar and the immune system, and can even steal nutrients and hydration from our skin. Healthier sources of sugar, like maple syrup, are definitely better, but can still cause skin problems. I’d recommend that you choose whole, unrefined sources of sugar, and keep an eye on how your intake affects your skin—you may need to cut back.
Kris: On the flipside, what are the most beneficial foods and drinks for your skin?
Jolene: There is quite literally a rainbow of beauty food options. It’s actually kind of difficult to narrow down the list to just a few, since diversity of nutrients is a beauty essential. Getting a range of colorful produce in your diet is a great place to start, since those colors signal the presence of phytochemicals, each of which have their own skin benefits.
In Eat Pretty, I share a chart that lists important phytochemicals for beauty, their benefits and their sources (think UVB-protective quercetin from onions, wrinkle-blocking catechins in cacao and elasticity-strengthening anthocyanins in plums). Some of my favorite, rather unexpected, beauty foods include watercress, which has been shown to reverse and prevent DNA damage (study), making it a powerful anti-ager. Ginger and turmeric are also on that list (I like using the whole, fresh root when available) because they decrease inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a precursor to wrinkles, blemishes and redness in the skin, so a diet filled with anti-inflammatory foods strongly supports skin health.
Hydration is incredibly important too! The skin is about 70% water, so it makes sense that we should keep our daily water intake high to maintain healthy skin. But beyond that, we need water for metabolism, nutrient absorption, elimination and circulation—all of which have a major impact on our skin. My top picks for healthy hydration are filtered water (with or without add-ins like lemon, ginger and infused herbs), as well as drinks like herbal teas and fresh juices or smoothies that are primarily veggie-based.
Kris: Are there any anti-aging secrets we should know about?
Jolene: Blood sugar balance is a biggie. When you skimp on healthy fats and proteins, eat too many sugary or processed foods or go hours and hours between meals, you can set yourself up on a blood sugar rollercoaster. This can deeply stress the body, affect hormone balance and become a catalyst for early signs of aging and other skin issues.
Kris: Do you have any suggestions for folks who struggle with acne?
Jolene: You bet I do—this one is personal. I love working with clients to pinpoint their unique acne triggers! Start by looking at the quality of your diet: Do you consistently build your meals from fresh, nutrient-dense foods that include a rainbow of veggies, healthy fats and clean protein? Are you getting enough dietary sources of zinc, beta carotene and omega fatty acids each day? Try writing down your meals in a food diary to reflect on what you’re really eating, since we often conveniently overlook foods that might be sabotaging our skin.
If your diet isn’t in need of a tune-up, it’s time to look more closely at food allergies, digestive health, hormonal balance and stress. I’d say that these are the top four acne culprits. When you look at your body as a whole, sometimes you find that one of these root causes fuels another—food allergies exacerbate digestive issues, chronic stress leads to hormonal imbalances, etc. Maintaining healthy, radiant skin requires a truly integrative approach, and the benefit is that you begin to understand your body better. A topical blemish cream might heal this week’s breakout, but looking at the health of your skin from the inside out can get you clear skin for good!
Kris: Thanks so much, Jolene!
If you’re feeling crappy about your complexion, I hope this info inspires you to clean up your diet and consider other potential root causes. And as always, I recommend connecting with an open-minded health practitioner in case your own exploration isn’t resolving your issues.
Your turn: Have you discovered any nutrition or lifestyle game-changers for your skin? Share your wisdom in the comments!
Peace & glow,
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Wow, I can really relate to this! Despite a “clean” vegetarian diet most of my life, I suffered from cystic acne for over 30 years. Accutane was the one thing that would help, temporarily, but it always came back with a vengeance. Not to mention the horrible side effects, including hair loss. Completely cutting out grains, refined sugars, and dairy was a game changer for me. The inflammation went down in a matter of days. I personally do well with some high quality, ethically sourced animal protein, but I realize that’s not for everyone. I have also changed out all of my personal care items. You could literally eat everything I put on my skin. I am finishing up at IIN, and am looking forward to working with women individually and in small groups to achieve vibrant health, particularly when it comes to their skin. I look forward to reading Eat Pretty…sounds like it will be an excellent resource off me. Thanks for an awesome post!
@Elizabeth – double wow _ i could repeat nearly everything you just wrote! Accutane – check. Acne coming back with a vengance – check. Cutting out grains and dairy and seeing dramatic results immediately – check, check, check! And no processed foods! Less sugar! I’m not going to IIN right now (though hope to in the future!) but I am looking at opportunities as a nurse practitioner with similar goals to your own! Good luck and here’s to fighting acne and inflammation! 🙂
And thanks Kris and Jolene for covering this topic!
Wow cannot believe the similarities in our stories! I don’t know if I’m supposed to do this in these comments, but feel free to shoot me an email. [email protected]. We both want to help people with this and maybe could collaborate in some way in the future.
Hey Elizabeth! I just read your comment & I too have a similar story…vegetarian suffered from cycstic acne & used accutane at 16!!! It helped for a hot second and then it came back. So glad to hear that dairy seemed to help you. I recently (3wks ago) cut dairy, soy, peanuts & gluten but have had my worse acne ever since doing so. Did yours break out then get better? My cousin said the second she got off dairy hers cleared too. Crazy! Anyway, glad to hear things are going well for you now!
My skin issues cleared up the moment I quit milk – I try not to have any dairy but milk is a killer for my skin. If you get spots try that for a few weeks – miracle! X
Great tip, Georgina! xo, kc
I found cutting out sugar (I eat palm sugar)
Most dairy- with the exception of raw dairy on occasion, and most gluten has helped my skin tremendously as well as drinking a cup of hot water with a table spoon of unrefined coconut oil first thing in the morning and a few through out the day.
Raw fats really seem to agree with my body- avocados, coconut milk, (without any of the additives such as guar gum etc as that affects my digestion) coconut oil, raw kefir, cold pressed olive oil, flax oil.
I too have cut out these items along with corn & corn products. I was getting a hive like rash all over, whenever I ate corn chips, which has now cleared up. Corn is difficult to digest for most people.
I wholeheartedly agree with Jolene regarding diet and glowing skin. When my digestion is spot-on, my skin rocks! My morning smoothie contains 3 servings of dark, leafy greens and 1 serving of frozen raspberries, as well as healthy fats & protein. Like Elizabeth, I discovered that even the cleanest vegetarian diet of 18 years did not work well for my body. Once I (reluctantly) added animal protein and dramatically reduced the amount of whole grains in my diet, my skin literally transformed!
As a non-native Texan, I have seen the difference that living in a dry, windy (think: Vata-Pitta if you’re into Ayurveda!) has on my skin. As for the “climate action”, I notice a night-and-day difference when I use hyaluronic acid+non-toxic moisturizer+a dab of oil (Argan, etc.). Without the acid base, my skin just can’t retain moisture in my environment.
Thank you, again, Kris for another wonderful interview post! Keep up the joyful work!
Can you be very specific about foods that can help with chronic eczema? I’m GF, really close to vegan, eat lots of veggies every day, drink lots of water, green tea and juices/smoothies. Also enjoy golden milk every night (almond milk, turmeric paste), etc. I’ve been a bloody, itchy, scratchy mess for months (and years). What am I missing?
I found when I cut almonds/almond milk out of my diet, most of my eczema issues went away. Try coconut milk instead and see if that helps. I was tested for almond allergy and it came back negative but my tree pollen allergies are so high that they think there could be a cross allergy happening.
Hi Melinda! Jolene had some helpful advice for you that I wanted to share: “While chronic eczema is often billed as a mystery, food allergies are certainly a common trigger that you may want to look into. Try keeping a food diary to document what you’ve eaten in the days before a flare-up. Also, supplementing omega-3s and probiotics, along with staying well-hydrated, can help improve the situation from the inside out. I love your regular golden milk habit but, echoing the commenter above, be sure that almonds aren’t an allergen too!”
Hi Melinda, I have a similar story to yours – I’ve been vegan for 11 years and 2 years ago changed to whole-foods vegan diet, so I hardly eat any processed food, am pretty much gf, don’t eat (refined) sugar, drink lots of water, exercise regularly, and take supplements (vegan omega 3, vegan vitamin D3, probiotic, B12) and STILL my skin is terrible (in fact it’s probably got worse the past year, though I’ve had problems all my life). I have on-off eczema (I think triggered by weather more than anything), but the worst is my acne… In my teens I tried every kind of medication (including Chinese medicine and herbs) possible, and the only thing that helped was going on the contraceptive pill. I’m no longer on that now – I don’t think it’s good for my body or a long-term solution – but I don’t know what else to try. I think it could be related to stress (I’m finishing a degree and it’s been the worst experience of my life) but I do meditation daily and started journalling and nothing seems to help. It’s very frustrating!
Strangely enough, coffee is a major acne trigger for me. I now drink black tea, prepared the same way (with soy milk) and my skin has greatly improved. I don’t know if it was the caffeine or what, there isn’t much info online about any acne/coffee relationship. I thought I would share in case others had the same issue.
Hi Muffini! Thanks for your question. Here’s Jolene’s take: “This is so interesting, and I love that you’ve paid close enough attention to your body to figure out this connection! I definitely see the link between caffeine and higher cortisol, the presence of which could be just enough to throw your hormones out of balance and affect your skin. Caffeine can also affect blood sugar and stress the liver. Black tea also has caffeine, albeit a smaller amount, so you may want to see if cutting that out affects your skin as well. Thanks for sharing!”
Coffee is also an acne trigger for me. I’ve recently cut out caffeinated teas as well (I only drink herbal now) and my acne and eczema have greatly improved.
I never had big troubles with my skin but since I eat a HCLF vegan diet I recognized that I don’t have dark circles under my eyes. They were never very strong but they were there. Also my skin seems to shine.
Couldn’t be any better
That’s wonderful, Isabel! Love it.
Giving up meat and cutting out sugar has helped me immeasurably with redness!
I changed my lifestyle over 15 years ago. I do not eat any dairy or meat & I try to eat mostly organic & lots of raw fruit & veggies. I stop using all products on my skin about 7 years ago & only using coconut oil on my skin & hair… then I had a couple of years of making my own products with essential oils & such but it was very time consuming & a couple years ago I started out on a mission to find companies that were making products with only pure, natural & organic ingredients & I discover NYR Organic & love the products so much that last year I became a consultant… my skin was doing well but now with a full regimen of cleansing, toning & moisturizing for my face & wonderful bath & shower, cream products my skin is as though it 35 again & I am now 58… so thankful for my company…
I truly know now that what we eat matters so very much to what our skin is like but also when we stop placing chemical toxic products on your skin is so very important & a good daily regimen with good pure quality products can really help give your skin the feel & look you want… 🙂
I am working to clear occasional hormonal breakouts. I’ve had my hormones tested, but they came back normal. I’m trying to cut back on dairy because I’ve heard this can be a trigger. Now though, I seem to be left with marks from my acne. Does anyone have any suggestions of natural ways to lighten these marks? Thank you!!
I have been mixing 6 drop organic Rosehip oil with my favourite super-hydrating natural moisturiser every morning/night for 6 months and my scars and complexion are looking much better. Try it!
Thanks so much! I will definitely look into this oil!
Hi Sarah! Jolene has some great feedback for you—wishing you the best! “This is tricky because, depending on your skin type, pigmentation that lingers after a breakout can be really hard to avoid. This pigmentation will fade over time, and I find that the more skin healing nutrition you have in your diet, the faster your skin rebounds from acne overall. Plenty of greens, healthy fats and beta carotene-rich foods like sweet potatoes, butternut squash and carrots can boost the skin’s inherent ability to heal.” ‘
Thank you both so much!! It made my day to have you reply 🙂 I will try to consciously add these types of foods to my diet!
I have been using aloe gel from the actual plant for my acne scarring. I put it on several times a day and leave it on my skin. There’s no need to wash it off. My skin has been peeling as a result, which lightens the scars and skin looks healthier. I’ve heard of using kojic acid, papain, tamanu oil, and turmeric for scarring, but I haven’t tried them. I’ve also heard of using essential oils like Helichrysum. Hope you find something natural that works well for you!
I didn’t suffer from acne until I hit my 20s; the only thing that worked was Proactive; but I hated using products full of chemicals. Through reading, studying and experimenting, eating a predominately raw, vegan diet cleared up my skin. A year of stress, poor eating and unfortunate lifestyle change came and gone and my acne is back, worse than I have had before! I’ve started to clean up my diet and am working on ridding most stress (that is the hardest part for me) and I am definitely noticing a difference.
I haven’t found much information about caffeine; coffee and I are great friends, but I am wondering if it is hindering my health…? Any thoughts on caffeine/coffee?
I think coffee can really emphasize the experience of stress in the body. It also effects the hormones and adrenal glands, and depletes vitamins and minerals from the body. You might like the book “Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life” by Dr Claudia Welch. She mainly discusses the effects of stress, and natural ways to create a healthier lifestyle.
Thank you, I really appreciate your feedback and reference.
Hi Lauren! Here’s what Jolene had to say on this—hope it helps! “I’d have to agree that the caffeine in coffee can compound daily stresses or a stressful time in your life; it also steals some beauty minerals and is acidic in the body, so even though it does have a strong content of antioxidants, it’s not something I’d consider to be a beauty food. [Check out my blog post ‘Is Coffee a Beauty Food?’ on this exact topic!: http://bit.ly/1IZ8rox%5D. It sounds like you intuitively feel that your diet has been off balance, and stress has been affecting you— both of these are major acne triggers that I’d look at first to clear your skin!”
She is absolutely right, but I wouldn’t have believed it 6 months ago. I was first diagnosed with psoriasis in 1983 when some injuries from a biking accident wouldn’t hear up but instead turned into psoriasis plaques. I am pretty lucky that it was never as severe as some of the other cases I saw, but still enough to be self conscious about and nearly always dressing to try to cover it up. Years of trips to numerous dermatologists who eagerly prescribed all manner of topical steroid creams and ointments, painful injections, etc. Off course I spent a small fortune on moisturizers and remedies, too. None of them ever suggested dietary changes, even when asked. I do have sensitive skin and a number of contact allergies to everything from metals to antibacterial soap, plastics, and other things. As it turns out, food must have been the cause. A new doctor suggested changes: eliminate deadly nightshade veggies, soy, eggs, dairy, and gluten. It was very difficult and depressing at first (and I lost a little weight trying to figure out what to eat, lol) but my skin is so clear and beautiful now I will never go back! Within two weeks of no cheating, a big spot on one knee that was continuous for five+ years was gone, then the rest of it in two or three more weeks. My skin feels like it used to after I put on the moisturizers!!!! WOW! It is so amazing that some people don’t believe me. I mostly ate pretty healthy stuff anyway, but these changes still made a difference.
That’s a fantastic story, Denise! Happy to hear you found your solution.
I would add two more really important things to any list for removing inflammation and clearing up skin issues. 1) stop eating other foods that cause inflammation, primarily wheat. Today’s hybridized wheat is not like the wheat of yesteryear; it’s more of a frankenfood and is known to cause inflammation in the body….somewhere (could be anywhere). 2) do a digestive system reboot which will clear out the bad bugs, primarily the yeast that’s accumulated from antibiotic use, sugar use, etc. but could be bad bacteria or parasites too. And add back in good bacteria (probiotics).
These two steps are crucial and often get left out. Try them and THEN you’ll see your skin clear up and glow!
I’ve always had adult acne, especially on my chin line. Drinking lots of water helped, avoiding sugar etc but it never went away.
I started taking folic acid pre pregnancy and bam! 75% of it went within a month. So crazy and such a cheap supplement. I then went to a naturopath due to mood/muscle growth/apetite issues and discovered hormone imbalance – nothing major, but multiple hormones (testosterone, oestrogen, DHEA, thyroid) depleted and ‘just’ above the lower threshold where doctors would do anything (so I was considered medically normal even though I had a spectrum of low hormones and assciated symptoms.)
Now taking natural supps to support thyroid along with my folic acid as per my naturopaths prescription. Also avoiding certain foods that can affect thyroid as much as possible (gluten, goitrogens) and my skins is practically fixed. I get 1-2 pimples pre-period and if I’m naughty (drinks!) maybe one which I blame on dehydration.
Don’t stop looking until you’ve found the cure! It’s unique for all of us but it’s out there.
I think I am going to ditch dairy again. I recently moved to another country and increased my dairy. My skin has started breaking out. I have been wondering the cause, this may be it.
Thank you! On the response regarding acne, Jolene suggests looking into hormone imbalance, stress, food allergies, if diet is pretty good. What path should I take to look into these things. For me, I think it is horomonal, digestive. I always get cystic pimples at period time. I also have these great new cystic pimples on my back, which, in my 34 yrs never experienced. This began happening with a more intense workout routine I began last October. I get have patches of tiny pimples to mostly on my cheek and forehead. I am also an IIN grad, I learned so much and it helped me in many ways, but, I cant seem to beat the acne. Hope this isnt an overload of info, but maybe you have a suggestion on some options to look into. Thanks!! ✌
Hi Carmela! Here are Jolene’s thoughts on this: “Cystic acne that pops up around period time often has a hormonal link—so I would trust those instincts! A few things to look at: what is your stress level like? Are those workouts too intense, and therefore compounding the stress on your body? You may want to try swapping intensive exercise with something more calming, but still challenging, for a time to see how it affects your skin. Or add more stress-relieving time into your day to day routine. Blood sugar stability is also key for balancing hormones; that’s something that is very important to watch for acne. As for digestive health, you probably learned the basics of supporting a healthy gut while you were at IIN, which will support hormonal health even further.”
I really appreciate you asking the question and her answer about helpful tips on struggling with acne. Thank you!
I started having issues with rosacea when when we moved way up north. The 6 months of winter here are really tough on my skin. I’ve found that drinking 3 quarts of water (2 quarts are not enough and 1 gallon was way too much!), especially in the winter, is really helpful. Making a smoothie from juicing fresh vegetables and blending with frozen berries helps too but I’ve noticed it makes a difference what I use – organic vegetables and the berries we pick each summer seem more effective than nonorganic and frozen berries bought at the store. If I’m getting red in the cheeks, I usually can trace it back to having too many smoothie-less days. Lastly, I control my rosacea with homemade skin products – I make my own lotions from organic shea butter, coconut butter, coconut oil, and olive oil (or cold-pressed oil with high Vitamin E content such as sesame or avocado),
This is great!
That is so good article. I had a terrible problems with my skin. Therefore i quit with meat, dairy products , I drink a lof of water each day . I am vegan and it is 2 months . My skin is not best yet but I know that it takes more time to have absolutely perfect skin. Sometimes when i look at my face and I see that i have some breakouts but im trying to be patient with it.. 🙂 thank your for more information
Hi! I love this dialogue and I love whole foods from the earth, sea and land – yes, I’m an omnivore, it works best for my body. I was raised extremely health conscious (thanks mom!) have a passion for cooking, teach yoga and recently married an extraordinary man who moved this California girl (& cat) out to the Minnesota countryside complete with a huge garden, beehives, 2 kids, a cat and a dog! I gained 10lbs in a year as I slowly integrated my health habits into my new family lifestyle. And, have since lost it, bringing awareness and appreciation for what is ‘real food’ into their lives. We live by the 80/20 rule; we enjoy our pizza and wine and the occasional burger and fries. I don’t know why I’m writing all of this because I really have only one simple question… My new hubby has always had chronic psoriasis; not terrible but enough to make me wonder if it might be something to do with diet?! When he is eating ‘clean’ it seams to be less inflammatory. Any suggestions or insight? I should also note that he is a worrier and has a bit of anxiety, can’t sit still… it’s a work in progress. I’m complete opposite. Good balance 😉