As anyone who has struggled with acne is aware, there is a profound connection between the foods we eat and how they affect our skin. For this reason, trying to eat plenty of antioxidant-rich produce, healthy fats, drink enough water, and avoiding common allergens like wheat, dairy, and soy are a good game plan. But what if you are doing everything “right” and are still suffering with a combo of random cystic breakouts and fine lines, no matter how vigilantly you avoid the most common acne-triggers?
This was my story a few years ago—I became borderline obsessive about keeping my diet “perfect” in order to heal my skin, and the irony was that no matter how “clean” I tried to eat, my acne remained painful, cystic, and embarrassing. Determined to get to the root of my own breakouts, I decided to do some digging and uncover which nutrients our skin truly thrives on in order to heal and regenerate. What I discovered was that the quality of our digestion, hormones, and skin is dependent on a few vital nutrients that are commonly missing from the average “healthy” diet.
Also known as clarified butter, this multi-use fat has surprising properties important for skin health. Although traditionally made from cow’s milk, the dairy proteins that contribute to acne are strained off during the ghee-making process—leaving behind a delicious nutritional powerhouse of fat-soluble vitamins A,D, E, and K2. Vitamin K2 is a particularly important nutrient that most people are deficient in, due to the fact that it is found only in a few ancestral foods like ghee. It also improves elastin production in the skin, which is essential to healing acne scars as well as smoothing fine lines and wrinkles.
Try a tablespoon of ghee blended into your morning coffee or tea for a daily hit of acne-healing fat-soluble vitamins.
Liver is one of the most nutrient-dense sources of preformed vitamin A on the planet. The form of vitamin A found in liver (retinol) combats acne in a few important ways: It helps prevent dead skin cells from clogging pores, suppresses androgen formation (a major cause of hormonal acne), reduces sebum production, and prevents the oxidation of fats that can lead to inflammation. Retinoids are the biologically active form of vitamin A in the body and are not to be confused with carotenoids like beta-carotene—the type of vitamin A found in orange veggies. Carotenoids are a nutritious form of antioxidants but are not easily converted into the form of retinol needed by the body to heal acne and create glowing skin. Since the liver is the organ where the animal’s toxic load is filtered, choosing grass-fed, pasture-raised, and organic is vitally important. Also, since vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, make sure to eat your liver with some healthy fat (like ghee) to ensure maximum absorption.
As the richest food source of zinc, oysters are an important addition to any skin healing protocol. Zinc is vital in healing because it lowers chronic levels of inflammation and increases the efficiency of the immune system—preventing bacteria on the skin from becoming inflamed. Zinc also reduces keratin production, which helps prevent pores from becoming clogged, kills bacteria on the skin, and even reduces testosterone—the main hormone that causes acne when in excess.
Try it: If you don’t eat oysters, squash contains a potent amount of zinc. Try making spaghetti squash 3 ways here!
This little fish packs a powerful acne-fighting punch with a dense source of omega-3 fats, calcium, selenium, and protein. Omega-3 fats found in sardines (and other oily fish like salmon) help reduce inflammation that can trigger clogged pores and acne. Small fish like sardines are also the lowest mercury-containing fish and have been proven to drastically improve acne, the appearance scarring, as well as decrease fine lines and wrinkles.
Try it: Mix sardines on top of avocado toast.
Although this list may seem daunting at first, there are plenty of ways to incorporate these ancestral foods in a way that is simple and delicious. Plus, only a few ounces per week of each food is enough to hit your recommended allowance of acne-healing nutrients like vitamin K2, vitamin A, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.