Hey lovely, today I’m going to be talking about how to manage your blood sugar to prevent acne.
This was spurred by last week’s acne success story by Meagan, who said that she was not having the success she wanted just by changing her diet and that things got better when she started being vigilant about managing her blood sugar levels throughout the day.
Now I’ve always known that acne has a lot to do with blood sugar and insulin (amongst other things)…. when your blood sugar spikes up high, your body pumps out a lot of insulin to bring it down, and that triggers androgen hormones, which can trigger acne.
When this happens all the time for a long time, your body starts getting less sensitive to insulin (called ‘insulin resistance’), which means you have to pump out even more insulin to bring the blood sugar down, and it kind of spirals out of control.
Well, my usual recommendations are that you eat what are called ‘low GI foods’, meaning foods that don’t spike your blood sugar too much when you eat them. Like vegetables, whole grains, natural sugars, meats and proteins, nuts, etc.
Not processed sugary foods.
However, I’ve never given much recommendation beyond that, because I’ve personally never taken a specific approach beyond that (although I definitely have sung the virtues of making sure you eat enough food throughout the day and don’t skip meals).
But if you’re continuing to have problems with your skin even though you’re eating only really healthy foods… or eating really well most of the time and only having “cheats” (I hate that word) every so often and then always breaking out after them… managing your blood sugar more closely might be worth a try to see if that’s the culprit.
So How Do You Keep Your Blood Sugar Levels Stable?
Well, you know that feeling when you’re really hungry, and you get really crabby and irritated, or sleepy, or .. you just feel crap?
Well that means your blood sugar is super duper low.
So you absolutely want to make sure that you are eating or snacking on something before you get absolutely starving to death… essentially eating around 6 meals a day (although it could be meal / snack / meal / snack / meal / snack… not necessarily 6 big meals).
And of course, these meals and snacks should not be sugary, processed things… instead choose nuts, eggs, a bit of meat (proteins are best) …. beans, whole grains, a piece of fruit, are good… perhaps cheese if your skin doesn’t react to dairy (although dairy in general is supposed to be quite bad on blood sugar, especially a big heaping glass of milk).
See, even though the above things are quite good on blood sugar and don’t spike it that high, the lower your blood sugar is when you eat food, no matter what it is, the higher it will spike after.
So by avoiding allowing your blood sugar to get super super duper low throughout the day, then you can prevent the big spike after.
This also means you should eat breakfast within a half hour or so of when you wake up, because your blood sugar is already pretty low at that time… the longer you go the worse it’ll get.
How to “Cheat” and Not Break Out
Usually we end up eating the sugary stuff or having an unhealthy meal because we are so hungry and our blood sugar is crying for something to bring it back up. But that’s when the spike is the most disastrous.
So this might be hard to plan out for that reason… but you can make a pact with yourself that it’s totally cool to eat some unhealthy stuff now and then… like a few times a week even… as long as you don’t go more than that and that when you do go to eat this (especially if it’s something really sugary), that you have a little protein about 15 minutes before hand, or you eat it with a small meal.
What this does is start getting your body to produce insulin and then the spike won’t be so caraaaazy when you eat the sugary thing.
I highly recommend doing it this way and giving yourself permission to have the unhealthy food a few times a week under the above circumstances….. because total deprivation is a big cause of the binges which cause the huge spikes.
So if you just allow yourself, and allow yourself to TRULY enjoy it, then you won’t feel deprived and your skin will actually do better for it.
Everyone’s Blood Sugar Shiz is Different
That being said, how much trouble you have with blood sugar / acne is definitely affected by how “insulin resistant” you are (remember how I explained that your body becomes less sensitive to insulin over time; needing more and more insulin to do the job?)
So everyone’s reaction to foods and their related spikes will be different, depending on where you at on this scale.
The good news is that a healthy lifestyle full of healthy, low GI foods, as well as exercise and low stress and all the other good stuff we always talk about here… over time, this will make you much more sensitive to insulin again.
So in the beginning, you might find that even the smallest fluctuations in blood sugar results in acne and that being super vigilant about the 6 meals a day is really important for you.
Also, depending on your level of insulin resistance, you may also find that in the beginning a lot of natural sugar is too much (like fruit, fruit juice, maple syrup, honey, dates, etc).
Natural sugar doesn’t spike your blood sugar the same way as processed sugar, but the more you have of it in one sitting, the more it will affect you (although, whole fruit will always be better in the blood sugar department than the other things listed above, as they are more like isolated sugars… so don’t be too afraid of fresh fruit)
So basically, you might need to be a bit more strict about blood sugar in the beginning, depending on your own body, but over time, things should get better in the insulin department and it won’t be such a big deal as long as you keep up a healthy lifestyle overall.
This is likely one of the reason that I can cheat now… like, a lot, with very little consequence to my skin.
I say one of the reasons, because the other major one is learning to let go of the fear and stress over my skin and things I eat. Sounds kind of paradoxical, but the less stressed you are, the easier it is for your body to heal, including your insulin sensitivity. And therefore, the easier it is to stay clear…. and it goes in an upward spiral from there!
If you found this helpful and you want my full system on clearing your skin and keeping it clear.. check out my Naturally Clear Skin Academy for the full meal deal! 🙂
Are you pretty good about keeping your blood sugar stable throughout the day? Or not so much?
Lots of love,
I have been given the advice, and recognize from my experience, that the best way to start get your blood sugar under control is to regulate sleep, exercise and (only) drinking water. Then your hormones are balanced and you do not get cravings for sugar or any other unhealthy food that cause all the blood sugar swings throughout your day. I was pretty good in the above, but have slipped, nobody said having balance was easy.
Thanks for this post. I have a few comments to add that I hope can help your readers.
I had been trying to manage my blood sugar for months after finding your blog. I always ate (what I thought was) really healthy, but as a vegetarian I relied heavily on beans, tofu, processed fake meats as sources of protein. Plus, I cut way down on sugar, but never cut it out entirely because I still had strong cravings. I had made progress, but it wasn’t really working to the extent I was hoping.
After almost 2 years of acne torture, I finally got myself to an amazing & understanding naturopath/acupuncturist who put me on a much stricter diet. His rules are NO sugar (including fruit & natural sugars), NO dairy, NO coffee, NO grains at all, especially gluten, NO beans, soy, or quinoa, NO added preservatives or colors, NO alcohol (though I cheat on this from time to time). This is pretty much the “Whole 30” diet, minus the fruit, if you want a good guideline. You’re basically eating just vegetables, proteins, and fats. This is not just about insulin (thought that’s a big part), it’s also about letting your gut take a break from all inflammatory foods.
I find that by adhering to these stricter rules it’s paradoxically MUCH easier to stick to a low glycemic index diet. Rather than having to make a game time decision about every thing I eat, it’s much easier just to put a blanket ban on all these foods. In fact, I’m barely craving sugar at all anymore after just 3 weeks and have gotten used to eating this way.
Best of all, my naturopath says that I only need to maintain this strict diet for 3 to 4 months. It can be really hard to stick to a plan when you don’t know it’s working, in fact, I had a healing crisis after 2.5 weeks which he managed to talk me through because I have confidence that it will work after that amount of time. Once my gut has had enough time to heal, I will hopefully be able to add some of these problem foods back into my diet (in moderation…though beer might be off limits forever which is pretty tragic).
Note for coffee lovers–I always thought it was the caffeine that was the problem for acne, but apparently it’s the acidic nature of the coffee. I’ve been substituting w/ matcha tea, which is loaded with caffeine, and actually love it!
Hope this helps people!
Jackie, why do you have to leave out quinoa? What is it that you are allowed to eat then, if you are a vegetarian? Can you keep your weight stable with this diet and do you have enough energy for workout? Sorry for all these questions, but I’m really interested :).
I’m not sure why exactly you have to leave out quinoa, other than it’s a grain. Just going by the recommendations of my acupuncturist. The goal is to only eat protein, fat and vegetables.
Admittedly, I’ve been doing this diet as a pescatarian, not a vegetarian. It would be difficult to do as a strict vegetarian, but not impossible depending on how many eggs you are willing to put up with. If you’re a vegetarian for moral reasons, there’s not much you can do to change that, but a lot of people are doing that diet for health reasons, which doesn’t make a lot of sense in this case. The diet also cuts out dairy (other than ghee), which I would argue causes much more pain and suffering than humanely raised meats.
I find I have a ton of energy on this diet. I do intense workouts regularly, meaning hour long classes at least 5 or 6 times a week that range from yoga, to barre, to running, to HIIT. I haven’t lost or gained any weight so far (and I’m not trying to). The key is to replace carbs with lots of fats. Fats are your friend :). I just douse all of the vegetables I eat in coconut oil, olive oil, or ghee to make sure I’m getting enough calories and don’t feel tempted to cheat with banned foods.
The only downsides I’ve found so far are that it’s more expensive and time consuming to prepare this kind of food. It’s also nearly impossible to eat in most restaurants. But given that it’s temporary I’m willing to put up with it (especially compared to the cost of every other acne remedy I’ve tried.)
Check out the Whole 30 diet, which is what I’ve been using for some recipe guides (but leaving out all fruits.) It seems like a huge change at first, but once you get into the groove of it it’s really not that different.
I found that your diet similar like mine it called ketogenic diet a low carb with high fat but still alowing dairy but no milk. I suffered hormonal acne since teenage and got worse while i was pregnant and breasfeed… after I did strictly for 4 months… my skin never been this clear, I had still once on my period day but got clear fast. Now Im off this diet and my skin started breakout again… so its really effect my skin the sugar and all carb including any grain that spike the insuline level… now at least I learn what is my problem and how to control it even tho its really hard to maintain the diet it self
Thank you SO MUCH for all your informative posts, Tracy. You are AWESOME!! And I can’t say this enough. 🙂
Thanks Savannah 😀
Wow! The timing of this article as well Jackie’s above responze could not have been anymore perfectly timed! I am halfway through week three on the paleo diet. Finally started seeing results last week. It’s been hard being off of benzoyl peroxide for the last 3 1/2 months, my skin went crazy!! I was so tempted many times to go back to it. I too have felt sugar cravings leaving me. I feel the best I’ve felt eating like this in a long time. Actually don’t know if I’ve ever felt this good!? All that to say , I know my skin will start reflecting how amazing I feel. It’s a slow process but so worth it! Thanks for the extra dose of encouragement I needed to continue!
How is your skin doing after quitting benzoyl peroxide? I quit the proactiv cleanser which had 2.5% BP and my skin has freaked out. The worst breakout ever. When did your skin settle down after quitting BP? I haven’t used it in over a week.
I thought I had been eating healthy, but when my doctor told me that I was showing signs of insulin resistance I was shocked and decided to track my diet more carefully. I don’t plan on doing this indefinitely, but at least for the next couple of weeks my plan is to track the nutrients in what I eat. The MyFitnessPal app/website is free and an incredible resource for tracking what you eat, as it has a huge database of user-inputed foods and you can save meals and copy them to different days.
After a few days of use I’ve already realized that I’ve been eating way more carbs and sugar than I realized. I never realized that loading up on maple syrup in my oatmeal and eating several bananas a day as a snack added up to so much sugar. Until I actually saw the numbers add up, I realized that what I thought was eating healthily was actually not so. I also realized that I eat very little protein. So now, I’m going to focus on eating greens and vegetables instead of grains and fruit, and adding more protein-sources into my diet.
I would highly encourage tracking the actual numbers of what you’re eating for at least a couple of days, because, as I’ve realized, perception can be very different than reality.
I am so grateful for this post…as I am with ALL of your posts! Although I am still taking all of my supplements (courtesy of your website, what I have learned in your candida cleanse, and your boot camp), I have put my holistic acne treatment on the back burner for several months. I have really slacked on following your food plan guidelines mainly indulging in way too much junk!! I have extreme sweet/sugary cravings on a daily basis. And my skin (and weight) is definitely worse, for all these reasons. 🙁
After reading this most recent post, I am really motivated to get back on track. Spring and summer are approaching and I am fearful that I will once again “hide” inside and cover up under unflattering clothes. I don’t want that again. I want to be free of this burdensome ailment. I want to be healthy. I am so grateful I can do your boot camp (I bought in October, but failed to keep up with the group), read your encouraging and wise words, and make a choice to change my ways.
Good luck Caitlin, you can do it! 😀 (and like I said, we’ll be starting a new live run of Bootcamp in either mid march or early April, so you can have the benefit of going it along in a group
Hi Tracy! So, this weekend I’m doing this project with my friends, and for the project we have to wear makeup to look older. But I’ve been doing the caveman regimen for a month now, and I don’t know if I can wear makeup without breaking out. Is it possible to do this without breaking out? And how would I wash the makeup off?
Hey Chloe, well I can’t say how it would affect your skin per se, but I think the spirit of the caveman regimen is that you should never let skin care woes get in the way of actually living life…… often people wear pounds of makeup because they’re afraid of what others think, where as this situation is that you’d be wearing makeup because you’re doing something awesome with friends. So therefore…. I say do it, have the most fun possible, and just wash it off after, and keep going with the caveman…. the caveman will always be there after
This really helps. Thank you!
My naturopath suggested a supplement called PGX that I take with meals or a snack. You have to drink a lot of water with it. It keeps you full and reduces my blood sugar crashes after each meal. Learning about blood sugar has helped me understand my acne better, and although it still isn’t going away for me (probably because of other reasons), I can see a slight difference with PGX.
I will have a hard time eating within 30 mins of waking up, but I would really like to incorporate the principals outlined here. My daily routine is to go straight from sleeping to work, where I sip ginger or mint tea for 4 hours, then I have a regular lunch. Sometimes I have an apple or banana 2 hrs before lunch. How do I avoid spiking my blood sugar without eating too much before lunch? I don’t have the time or desire to eat before lunch. I sit at a desk most of the day so I dont like to eat more calories than I need to sit at my desk! I also like to flush my system with water (herbal unsweetened tea) first thing in the morning before eating.
Hi Mary, maybe you could try having a few small snacks spread throughout the morning? Instead of like one big meal…. I know some people don’t feel like a big meal in the morning, but it really can crash your blood sugar really low if you don’t eat at all before lunch
Hi Tracy. Maybe I’ll keep a stash of almonds on my desk and just eat a few every once on a while.
What is your opinion on retinoids (vitamin A) for acne?
I think natural Vitamin A sources can be really helpful… like from cod liver oil for example
Hope you are doing well beautiful..
I am a big fan of yours for many reasons. Obvious reason put aside that you have helped me so much with my confidence and everything but you are such an inspiration to me. I would REALLY appreciate some advice and feedback from you. I really look up to you and it is so nice to see your blog be such a help to everyone. I stumbled upon your website through some google searches a while back and if it wasnt for you coming up in google I would have never found you. I recently launched my new site for my wedding planning business and I have a blog I really help to gain more followers in.. I wanted to ask you for any advice or feedback on how I can do that. We have been posting regularly etc. but I have no idea how it can be discoverable on google.. I’ve thought about running a SEO campaign but they are expensive and seem like you can run into scams.. I really want it to be successful and for their to be some more interaction on the blog page. How can I be found on google like your website ? Is there any secret to it? Did you do a SEO campaign? ANY feedback or suggestions would really help and I really appreciate your time in answering my question even though its not acne related! lol.
Hey Leora 🙂 My main thing is simply writing a lot of helpful articles with info that people are interested in … it’s slow going in the beginning though because you get more “importance” in google when you have people with relevant websites (ie. similar niches) linking back to your site. It’s kind of like a snowball. I really just grew mine organically, I never really paid too much attention to SEO. But the internet is really crowded these days, and there’s lots of other ways to gain attention for your blog…. Facebook ads is a big one right now… making youtube video or podcasts, or writing short Amazon books… running contests (ie, people can only enter if they share your page or an article or something). Or collaborating on something with someone in your niche who has more of a following, and therefore you get exposed to their audience. Good luck!! x
My website is http://www.bestbride.la for your reference : )
Hi guys – so I’ve been going through the acne problem for about 10 years. I had about a 5 year break with 95% clear skin while I was on beyaz birth control and spironolactone. However, they just stopped working. After trying countless supplements and food restrictions, I believe my hormonal imbalance is that I am sensitive/have high androgens. The strangest thing is – the only thing that dramatically reduces the acne on my face is a very hot Epsom salt bath. All of the bumps flatten. I can’t quite figure out what this means? At first I figured it was the magnesium. But I’m wondering about the heat, higher the heat, lower the blood sugar correct? Could it be my blood sugar levels are just so high? I thought so, so I checked! My younger sister is a Type 1 diabetic by the way. My numbers were all within range around the 100s. Maybe those two days I checked them were just lucky?! When I was younger I often had problem with fainting spells either caused by low blood sugar or low blood pressure. There are some clues here – but I just can’t put them together. Help!
Its a informative research. I am 47 & not diabetic. But just 100 gm sugar (banana, soft drink, apple etc) triggers acne at pressure points (size of acne depending upon the sugar intake) 1 or 2 tablets of Ponstan subsides the acne in few hours. I do workout regularly & not over weight. Pl advice