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The Clear Skin Diet: 6 Food Groups Proven to Improve Acne ----- Back

22.11.19 - Knowledge

The Clear Skin Diet: 6 Food Groups Proven to Improve Acne

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Words by Antoinette Barnardo

Clear skin is the ultimate goal of every individual, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, or religion. Due to the media's portrayal of models with airbrushed skin, clear skin is often associated with having flawless and imperfection-free skin. 

However, we've already established that this beauty ideal is unrealistic and can be damaging to your self-esteem. Instead of focusing on having Photoshopped-worthy skin, you should focus on getting healthy skin by adopting the right diet. 

You Are What You Eat 

Acne, UV-induced skin aging, fine lines, and pigmentation issues are definite opposites of clear, healthy skin. As a result, topical skincare products are often used to treat and prevent these blemishes from forming. However, these topical products are not the only tools in your skincare arsenal as a clear skin diet can help you to achieve good skin health too. 

A 2012 study published in the Dermato-Endocrinology Journal found that the following antioxidants promote skin health

  • Carotenoids
  • Lactobacilli
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • Polyphenols
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C 
  • Vitamin D 
  • Vitamin E 

As such, the ideal clear skin diet is rich in foods with antioxidants to provide your skin with the nutrients it needs for glowing skin. 

The Clear Skin Diet Includes These Foods

Since eating antioxidant-rich foods and drinks is the golden ticket to good skin health, it's essential to include them in your diet for clear skin. Based on the Healthy Eating Plate created by the Harvard School of Public Health, making these dietary changes isn't difficult at all. 

According to the Healthy Eating Plate, you should consume the following food groups in the recommended amounts for balanced nutrition: 

  • Vegetables and fruits — 1/2 of your plate 
  • Proteins — 1/4 of your plate 
  • Whole grains — 1/4 of your plate
  • Plant oils — in moderation 
  • Water, coffee, or tea — limit milk and dairy products to one to two servings per day, and limit juice and smoothies to 150 ml per day 

To help you understand what constitutes a clear skin diet that abides by the nutritional guidelines set out by the Healthy Eating Plate, we will explore the types of foods in each food group and the antioxidants they contain. 

1. Eat Your Fruits and Veggies in Colors

It's recommended to eat fruits and veggies of all colors as these will provide your skin with antioxidant-rich nutrients that promote glowing skin. 


Many brightly colored fruits and veggies contain carotenoids like beta-carotene and lycopene. Carotenoids are a group of vitamin A derivatives that provide your skin with photoprotection. 

Beta-carotene can be used as an oral sun protectant to prevent UV-induced pigmentation. A 2000 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that the oral consumption of beta-carotene for 12 weeks significantly reduced UV-induced erythema

While lycopene has no vitamin A activity, a 2006 study in the Royal Society of Chemistry found that eating lycopene-rich foods showed decreased sensitivity towards UV-induced erythema. As such, both beta-carotene and lycopene can reduce the symptoms of UV-induced erythema and promote clearer skin. 

These are the foods rich in beta-carotene, lycopene, or both: 

  • Carrots 
  • Kale
  • Mangoes 
  • Papayas 
  • Pumpkins 
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes 
  • Watermelons

Vitamin C 

Vitamin C is also commonly found in most fruits and veggies and is a top choice for achieving clear skin. Its anti-inflammatory, tyrosinase-inhibiting, and photoprotective properties help to fight free radicals, prevent UV-induced pigmentation, and slow down photoaging.

For blemish-clearing foods that are rich in vitamin C, go for: 

  • Bell peppers 
  • Blackcurrants 
  • Blueberries 
  • Citrus fruits 
  • Guavas 
  • Kakadu plums
  • Parsley 
  • Rosehip 

If you find it difficult to include vitamin C-rich foods in your diet, try a vitamin C supplement instead. This way, you’ll still ensure your body receives the daily ascorbate content it needs.  

2. Protein Power

Clear skin diet: Raw salmon with herbs on top

It's important to get the right types of proteins that contain antioxidants like polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin D, and Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), all of which boost skin clarity. 

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are also known as healthy fats. They consist of: 

  • Omega–3 fatty acids — α-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Omega–6 fatty acids — linoleic acid 

Based on a 2010 study conducted by the Department of Dermatology at the University of Connecticut Health Center, omega–3 fatty acids, like DHA and EPA, can relieve inflammatory skin diseases such as acne, psoriasis, and dermatitis. On top of that, orally consuming linoleic acid has proven to speed up wound closure per a 2016 study in the PLOS ONE scientific journal. 

Given the strong scientific evidence, you should include these healthy fats in your clear skin diet by eating: 

  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseed 
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Sardines 
  • Tuna

Vitamin D

This fat-soluble vitamin is essential for wound healing and protects your skin cells against photodamage. Vitamin D is naturally produced in your skin but this ability decreases by as much as 50% when you age, according to a 1985 study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. 

As such, consuming vitamin D-rich foods, like fatty fish and egg yolk, will help supplement the vitamin D content in your body that's needed for healthy skin as you grow older. 

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

CoQ10 is a fat-soluble substance that's naturally produced by the body and stored in the fat tissues. A 2017 study published in the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has demonstrated that CoQ10 reduces wrinkles and improves skin smoothness for a more youthful complexion. 

To help you slow down skin aging, opt for: 

  • Oily fish like salmon, tuna, trout, and herring 
  • Organ meats like liver and kidney 

Consume CoQ10-rich foods with a good source of fat, like olive oil, to increase its bioavailability. 

3. Choose Whole Grains

There is an increasing awareness that whole grains are a healthier replacement for processed foods such as white bread and white rice. This is because whole grains are rich in skin-nourishing minerals like zinc. 


In a 2006 study by the Department of Dermatology at the University of Baghdad, rosacea patients who consumed zinc sulfate experienced clearer skin with minimal side effects. As such, choose zinc-containing whole grains like: 

  • Barley
  • Brown rice 
  • Steel-cut oats 
  • Quinoa 
  • Whole wheat pasta

4. Include Plant Oils

For decades, a low-fat diet has been seen as a healthy diet, but that may not necessarily be the case. This is because low-fat foods are usually high in carbohydrates which increases the risk of heart diseases and diabetes. 

Moreover, low-fat carbs like white bread, sugary drinks, and processed snacks tend to be digested quickly. This makes you hungry more often and may result in unwanted weight gain. 

To lower the risk of health diseases and weight gain, replace low-fat carbs with plant-based oils that are rich in unsaturated fats and vitamin E. 

Vitamin E

Small bowl of olive oil surrounded by olives

This fat-soluble vitamin is needed for the maintenance of your skin barrier, the foundation for healthy skin. Based on a 2000 study by the Department of Medicine at Cabrini Medical Center, vitamin E reduces inflammation and pigmentation, making it an effective protectant against skin damage caused by UV irradiation

For healthy plant oils that are rich in vitamin E, choose: 

  • Coconut oil 
  • Corn oil 
  • Olive oil 
  • Rapeseed oil 
  • Safflower oil 
  • Sunflower oil 
  • Soybean oil 
  • Wheat germ oil 

Since plant oils are to be consumed in moderation, include them in your diet as cooking oil or salad dressing. 

5. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

Six to eight glasses of water a day has long been the golden rule when it comes to getting adequate hydration for your body and skin. On top of that, you can also drink coffee or green tea for a much-needed caffeine boost and a healthy dose of polyphenols. 


According to a 2010 study by the Department of Dermatology at the University of Alabama, polyphenols may be used to manage UV radiation-induced inflammation, oxidative stress, and DNA damage

While more research is needed to prove this theory, it won't hurt to load up on these healthy, polyphenol-filled drinks as part of your clear skin diet: 

  • Coffee 
  • Green tea 
  • 100% fruit juices like pear, apple, or cherry 

6. Prebiotics and Probiotics

Prebiotics are specialized plant fibers that promote healthy bacteria growth in your gut whereas probiotics are live organisms that are needed for healthy digestion. As such, prebiotics and probiotics are essential to a healthy gut. 

If you're wondering if there's any link between a healthy gut and clear skin, the answer is a resounding yes. In a 2016 study published in the Bioscience of Microbiota, Food, and Health, participants who drank a bottle of prebiotic and probiotic fermented milk daily for four weeks saw clearer skin compared to those who didn't drink the test beverage. 

To include prebiotics and probiotics in your diet, go for: 

  • Chickpeas
  • Fermented milk, e.g. kefir, Yakult 
  • Garlic 
  • Green bananas (in smoothies) 
  • Jerusalem artichokes 
  • Kombucha 
  • Lentils 
  • Miso 
  • Natto 
  • Onions 
  • Sauerkraut
  • Yogurt

One thing to note about ingesting prebiotics and probiotics is that you may experience more frequent bowel movements. This could be a sign that your gut microbiota is flourishing so that you're well on your way to clearer skin. 

The Clear Skin Diet Excludes These Foods

Other than topping up on antioxidant-rich foods, there are certain blemish-triggering foods that you should avoid to make your clear skin journey a smoother one. 

1. Alcohol

Did you know that some people experience facial redness after having a drink or two? This is known as alcohol flushing and can be easily avoided by refraining from alcoholic beverages. Giving up your glass of red wine will be worth it if it results in the clear skin you’re hoping for.

2. Milk 

While some might say that there is no strong evidence that drinking milk can cause acne, a meta-analysis performed by the Tehran University of Medical Sciences proves otherwise — there is a positive relationship between milk consumption and acne breakouts. This is further supported by a 2008 study by the Harvard School of Public Health which highlighted a similar positive relationship between skim milk intake and teenage acne

Other dietary and lifestyle factors may contribute to acne breakouts. But given the strong evidence of milk as a potential blemish-causing beverage, it might be better to keep it out of your diet to ensure clear skin. 

3. High-Glycemic Foods

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there is a close connection between a high-glycemic diet and skin problems like acne breakouts. A 2010 study done by the University of Sydney and Macquarie University explained that high-glycemic foods lead to higher insulin levels which can worsen your acne by increasing sebum production and inflammation. 

For clearer skin, replace processed foods like white bread, potato chips, and sugary drinks with low-glycemic foods like whole grains instead. 

4. Spicy Foods

The National Rosacea Society shared that in a survey of 1,066 rosacea patients, 45% indicated spicy foods as a common cause for their facial redness. So if you're suffering from rosacea, it might be a good idea to stay away from spicy foods to up your chances of clearer skin. 

Eat Your Way to Clear Skin

Given ample scientific evidence that an antioxidant-rich diet can help you achieve good skin health, it’s time to eat your way to clear skin. On the plus side, since the clear skin diet is chock full of healthy foods, be prepared to lose a few pounds too. 

One thing to note though is that the clear skin diet outlined above is merely a guideline. Certain foods that help clear up your skin may trigger skin issues for others. This is because everyone’s dietary needs and subsequent skin reactions are unique. Keep a journal to identify the foods that work for you and those that don’t. 

Last but not least, the clear skin diet does take time to work. Since your skin cells are renewed once every four weeks, try the clear skin diet for at least a month to see results. For a wholistic approach, pair the clear skin diet with a good skincare routine that works for you. Practice consistency and self-discipline by sticking to your diet plan and steering away from potential triggers to ensure your clear skin diet is a definite success. 

Words by Antoinette Barnardo

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