Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
16 Jun

Primal Advice for Acne Sufferers

Included among last week’s “Ask Me Anything” responses were several requests for a Primal commentary on acne. A lot of people have asked for this kind of post over the years. The fact is, it’s a great question. Acne is a common problem that gives too many people too much grief. Our medical establishment’s prescription for acne generally involves dehydrating the skin into oblivion, sandblasting it with chemicals, or pumping hormones, antibiotics and potentially toxic meds into the patient. (If any of these methods have worked for you, I mean no offense. I just think people deserve better options than these.) Is there a healthier, more Primal method to a clear complexion? In a nutshell, yes. I’m not talking rabbit-in-a-hat trick but a lifestyle approach with natural options that minimize the systemic and external conditions associated with acne. Let’s look at the full picture.

The Systemic Root

Acne doesn’t have a single definitive cause but can be set in motion by internal and external conditions, all of which have some root in systemic functioning: inflammation, “excessive” sebum (oil) production, pore blockage and “bad” bacterial presence/infection. In large part, the condition of the skin is part and parcel of the body’s overall health. Systemically speaking, hormonal balance (or lack thereof) and associated nutrient levels strongly influence the production of oil, the skin’s vulnerability to invasive bacteria (and presence of “good” defensive bacteria), the natural production and turnover of skin cells, and (of course) underlying inflammation. As hard as it is to believe, the medical community is only this decade beginning to recognize the systemic roots of acne. (Then again, should we really be surprised?)

Now, we all know those folks who eat junk food, exercise once in a blue moon and keep a ridiculous sleep schedule – and yet by some bizarre miracle always have perfect skin. It can seem like a slap in the face to the earnest person who has to work for his/her complexion and still comes up short. (All I can say to this irony is the chickens come home to roost eventually. It’s not metaphysical karma but biological fact. Live a hard and sloppy life, and it will catch up with you at some point, in some way.)

I always say that we’re all cut from the same physiological cloth, and basic biological patterns hold. Nonetheless, subtle differences seem to exist from person to person. Some folks appear to be more vulnerable to acne – hormonal “stages” are a big part of that susceptibility – the teenage years being the most infamous example and early pregnancy or post-pregnancy/nursing being another. Hormonal shifts brought on by stress, exhaustive exercise or medication side effects can also figure into our skin’s condition.

I don’t believe we’re 100% destined to have acne or not, but our susceptibility does appear to vary, and our modern Westernized environment seems to set the stage for that risk. As Loren Cordain’s (and others’) research have shown, acne is ubiquitous in the Western world but limited in other parts of the world and practically unseen in traditional societies. Yet, even Primal folks are subject to acne. What gives exactly? I’d suggest it’s a constellation of influences in modern living that come back to taunt us in the mirror. We live a modern existence full of systemic traps: pollution, personal care products, stress, lack of sleep, and climate controlled living to name a few. Nonetheless, we needn’t sit home on a Friday night.

Systemic Strategies

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. What lifestyle factors actually make for healthy, clear skin? (We’ll get to other strategies later.) I’m sure you can guess what I’ll say first, and there’s good reason for this suggestion of course. Go Primal! First, the obvious and then some additional tips.


Ding, ding! Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. As research has shown, even conventional low glycemic diets make for better skin. Understand also that acne can be a manifestation of food related allergies or sensitivities (e.g. yeast, eggs, gluten, lectins). Dairy is a common culprit(I’ve always said that milk is meant for baby cows.) Women in one study who reported high dairy intake in teenage years were 44% more likely to have experienced severe acne. (Incidentally, full fat dairy isn’t as strongly implicated as lower fat dairy foods.)

Speaking of fat, I suggest that those vulnerable to acne eat plenty of clean fats, and do you can to avoid livestock hormones (the basic reason to avoid milk, which is full of them regardless of organic status). Enjoy clean animal fat and safe, non-oxidized plant-based fats like olive oil, coconut oil, etc. And be sure to load up on antioxidant-rich produce items as well, like garlic, onions, greens and broccoli that support cellular production and repair.


Beyond the power of a clean, anti-inflammatory diet, I suggest adding a good comprehensive supplement as well as extra zinc, vitamin B complex (especially vitamin B3), vitamin A and vitamin D for added help in regulating oil production and further boosting the skin’s natural repair abilities. Research has especially supported the role of zinc deficiency in acne. Women who are pregnant, nursing or have recently weaned are particularly at risk because of higher need for zinc. Of course, make sure you get plenty of omega-3s for extra anti-inflammatory effect. Some folks report good experiences with adding evening primrose, an anti-inflammatory omega-6 as well. Finally, a good probiotic can help your body (and skin) balance its own “good” bacterial defenses.

Environmental Toxins

Chemicals like flame retardants, parabens, phthalates and other plastic-related chemicals are hormone disruptors, which can throw off even the best lifestyle efforts. Eliminate them as much as you practically can (including the paraben-loaded conventional acne creams!).

Stress and Sleep

Stress causes a cascade of hormonal actions that over time deplete essential nutrient stores, especially minerals like zinc. They don’t call it beauty sleep for nothing! Consider it an investment in your appearance as well as overall health. Additionally, take up stress management methods that support the relaxation response to further support hormonal balance.

Topical, Hygienic and Commonsensical Ideas

Beyond systemic strategies, there are plenty of topical options that are effective for many but tend to be more hit and miss overall. I think it’s important to view their role as supplementary to systemic efforts. From a personal perspective, I understand people being willing to try anything and everything they find – at the doctor’s office, at the drug store, on the infomercials. From a Primal perspective, however, I’d suggest otherwise. The idea shouldn’t be to beat your skin into submission. Most people who have acne actually have very sensitive skin. Rather than looking for products that strip and dry the skin, I’d recommend choices that enhance the integrity of the skin and its natural defenses. There are plenty of natural options that won’t clean out your wallet and that promise fewer side effects to boot. Here are a few of Primal note….

  • Manuka honey: All honey has antibacterial properties, but research shows this New Zealand variety appears to pack more of a punch for acne and other skin conditions.
  • Nicotinamide: A topical form of vitamin B3 can reduce inflammation and help acne and improve skin’s overall condition.
  • Willow bark: It packs an anti-inflammatory wallop.
  • Tea tree oil: Consider it a more natural astringent that has a powerful antibacterial impact.
  • Other botanicals like calendula and feverfew can be soaked and spread over the face with a cotton ball after washing in order to calm skin.
  • Steaming: Visit the steam room at the gym or lean over a pot of hot water with a towel draped around your face to open pores for a good cleansing, natural oil extraction or absorption of botanical agents.
  • Light exfoliants: Use baking soda or oatmeal to exfoliate and encourage skin turnover, but go gentle.
  • Pure water: Those with the worst skin conditions like severe acne or rosacea can benefit from rinsing with distilled rather than tap water.
  • Practical prevention: Minimize bacteria exposure to the face by keeping hands away from the face, cleaning phones, helmets, etc., and using fresh pillowcases (thanks, Shastagirl!)

The idea here is a holistic approach to supporting healthy skin. Although these suggestions might not serve as a magic bullet, they are the best way to get at the root causes of the physiological imbalances behind acne. Furthermore, the natural topical options can support your lifestyle efforts without depleting skin of its natural moisture or defenses and without creating product dependence. Finally, these suggestions can support the overall health and condition of your skin whether or not you have complexion issues. I hope the overview offers those with acne good food for thought and encouragement in their personal Primal regimens.

What say you, MDA community? How did going Primal change your skin? What other strategies and products (natural or otherwise) do you use that complement your Primal efforts? Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts today.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. For random out breaks or those mean zits that pop up before a date, try Lemon Essential Oil. It’s properties will help to calm the swelling, redness and it is also one of natures best antibacterial agents. Try to apply it to the spot directly with a swab (or Q-tip) and not get it everywhere as it can sting a bit for people with extra sensitive skin.

    Also if you absolutely have to pop it then it applying it after the popping will help calm it all down greatly.

    Neil wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • i know you are just trying to help, but please don’t use lemon essential oil on pimples. lemon is one of the most irritating ingredients you can put on your skin and irritation alone can cause/exacerbate acne. there is nothing in a highly acidic citrus fruit like lemon that will “calm” swelling or redness. In fact, it will most likely cause redness!

      Use tea tree oil. A 5% concentration is as effective as 2.5% benzoyl peroxide

      Keegan wrote on June 16th, 2010
      • Exactly what Keegan said… but I’d also like to add that citrus EOs also make your skin photo sensitive for a few hours so you could wind up with a little splotch of sunburn on your face.

        Willow NyteEyes wrote on June 20th, 2010
      • I’m glad to see the reference links. I’ve had bad reactions to products containing citrus oils. Soothing, ha!

        taihuibabe wrote on June 20th, 2010
        • Same here — hives that last for multiple days, etc. I can’t even peel an orange without drama (or latex gloves…)

          Jen wrote on July 29th, 2010
      • Our first layer of skin is acidic, as long as you’re using diluted lemon oil or lemon juice you really shouldn’t worry about it.

        Roth wrote on June 15th, 2011
  2. Be careful of some products you put in your hair like oily gels, creams, and pomades. Especially during the warmer months, they tend to melt and trickle down your face and back causing acne.

    Dan wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • Oil doesn’t actually cause acne. I have acne prone skin and I slather olive oil/sweet almond oil/Vitamin E oil/grapeseed oil on as a moisturizer and it’s never broken me out. Plenty of people do it too.

      The only oils I would refrain from putting on the skin are animal fats and coconut oils because the saturated fat seems to clog pores.

      Roth wrote on June 15th, 2011
  3. Acne, is something that going primal did fix for me. I would get a zit on my face every couple of weeks or so, and a continuous crop on my back. Dropping grains and legumes cleared it all up for me.

    andy brummer wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • Same here. I suffered with acne for more than 5 years. I decided to do a “primal experiment”. My acne was mild at the time but just one month end I was as cleared up as one can be. I still have a few scars but those are amazingly disappearing too. It really is a blessing.

      Primal Toad wrote on June 16th, 2010
      • yeah same here! I was an acne queen and I am 34. SInce I went primal I havent had a problem :)
        So glad

        Carla wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • what do you mean? i don’t understand.

      allen wrote on March 22nd, 2011
  4. I’ve been struggling with acne for a long time now and going Primal didn’t seem to change it. It did make my skin a lot softer and less dry/flaky but the spots remain. Strangely enough, going off all dairy (I eat yogurt) tends to make it worse.

    Thanks for putting all these suggestions in one post. I’ve got a few things left to try.

    Kat wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • Kat, are you eating a lot of nuts or fruits? Remember, fruits still have sugar, regardless of whether or not it’s natural. Spikes in blood sugar contribute to acne greatly.

      Roth wrote on June 15th, 2011
      • Kat, I have the same issue! I use a castor/grapeseed oil to wash away make-up and dirt and it was working beautifully – then I ditched dairy and my face exploded!

        I wonder if it’s all the fruit I eat….

        Lauren wrote on August 20th, 2012
        • Were you eating the same amount of fruit when you were eating dairy? How was your skin then?

          Agi wrote on August 26th, 2012
  5. I used to have moderate acne on my face, but after going Primal, I realized the ProActiv solution I was using every night really went against “Grokking it” in every sense of the word.

    I’ve tried a few things, but have been “over-the-counter med” free for two weeks now, and I’ve noticed quite a difference in my skin. I still get oil, and I still will get the occasional flameup on my face (which occurs when I don’t get enough sleep!), but besides that, I’m really happy. I’m now using olive oil for about an hour before bed 3-4 times a week, which I rinse off right before lights out. I’m also using fresh-squeeze lemon juice as an astringent, and baking soda paste (just mix with water) as a gentle exfolliant. Not complaints here!

    Thanks for the article, Mark.

    Andy wrote on June 16th, 2010
  6. In this post you say that milk is full of hormones regardless of their organic status. Anything to back this up? A lot of commercial milk products specifically say they do not use hormones. What are you basing that statement on?

    DajM wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • Milk by nature has hormones in it — no matter what the animal. Human breastmilk is full of hormones. Why would you think cows would be any different?

      Jennifer wrote on June 16th, 2010
      • Because the likes of growth factors required to grow a cow are quite different to those required to grow a human. And also the digestive tract of a calf is quite different to that of a human baby and will thus require different levels of regulation that will stem from the composition of the milk. All mammalian milk might be 98-99% the same, but it is the 1-2% difference that can count for a lot.

        Look up Prof Loren Cordain’s work on milk and paleo eating.

        Jamie wrote on June 16th, 2010
        • I wasn’t suggesting at all that human milk and cow milk are the same. That’s why the PB doesn’t encourage a lot of dairy. My point was that cow milk — like all animal milk — naturally contains hormones intended for the growth of the animal baby.

          Jennifer wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • That’s an expert answer to an inetestring question

      Chris wrote on February 15th, 2012
  7. Awesome post, I would highlight two things that worked for me.

    1. Zinc is a real key. For some reason, I had a zinc deficiency for years, including white flecked fingernails, and only recently addressed the issue with supplements.

    (I also found that zinc deficiency can lead to loss of appetite, which might explain some issues with being a hardgainer.)

    2. The other key, IMHO, is probiotic supplementation. A glass of homemade, unsweetened kefir a day. These two things clear up my skin most of the way, and I am a very imperfect, 80/20 primal person.

    Mike wrote on June 16th, 2010
  8. I started using the oil cleansing method a couple of years ago, and have had wonderful results. I no longer use any kind of soap or acne treatments on my face. I don’t even use the oil for cleansing much anymore, just water. My skin is softer and much more balanced. At night, I spread coconut oil on my face before bed. If there is something flaring up, it is usually gone by morning.

    Lorraine wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • I totally agree! I haven’t used soap on my face in months. Grok wouldn’t have had soap, and it just strips away the skin’s natural oils, which usually makes the skin over compensate by producing MORE oil. So even oily skinned people should try skipping the soap IMO.

      Alyssa wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • Hi Lorraine,

      I did it the opposite way: I’m currently washing my face with water only, and then I plan on using the OCM once or twice a week. I did try OCM before (once) but it seemed to have given me some kind of rash. Any thoughts?

      Alain wrote on June 16th, 2010
      • The rash you experienced could be all the impurities coming out. On one of Sean Croxton’s shows I heard there could be a period of that, but after it’s over your skin will be flawless.

        Wenona wrote on December 4th, 2013
    • Right there with ya on the coconut oil, Lorraine. I still use some soap on my face every now and then, but for moisturizers I’ve been using coconut oil exclusively every evening and almost every morning and my once acne-prone skin as never been softer, clearer or in better shape. I’ve been doing this about three months but I saw improvement almost immediately – within days.

      Julie wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • I tried this. Coconut oil made me break out more, not less. :(

      Jamie wrote on June 16th, 2010
      • Same here. Coconut oil is VERY Comedogenic.

        Ailu wrote on June 17th, 2010
        • I had the same problem. The OCM worked well for me until the temperatures hit the 90s here in Texas, and then I started breaking out worse than I have in years! But I’ve since switched to natural, oil-based soaps and that seems to have made the difference.

          Deanna wrote on June 17th, 2010
        • The OCM completely stopped my acne! However, I think different people respond to different oils, for me almond, olive, and coconut work great. My friend finds grapeseed the best. I eventually stopped using oil every night, now I only do the OCM if I have worn makeup or sunscreen, and sometimes I use a little oil as lotion. My skin looks better than it has since I was 10, and I don’t seem to burn as easily either.

          Rachael wrote on June 18th, 2010
      • The coconut oil has to be 100% virgin, cold pressed and organic.

        Nicole wrote on December 8th, 2013
    • Be REALLY careful with the oil-cleansing method, it can actually cause acne. I started doing it about seven months ago and stopped a couple weeks later when I noticed pimples cropping up. I struggled with acne as a teenager for about a year and it went away after a course of tetracycline (I didn’t know any better at the time, and it permanently messed up my digestion). Well, the oil-cleansing method somehow caused a resurgence of my teenage acne, it’s the exact same as it was then, around my chin and mouth area. Even though I stopped oil-cleansing and went back to my old routine, the acne continues! It’s a HUGE problem in my life now, I cannot get rid of it. I even tried another course of antibiotics in desperation, but had to stop since I couldn’t resign myself to the terrible health ramifications. I am 37 now and can’t believe my flawless do-anything-to-it skin seems to be gone for good. I just started paleo and am really hoping this takes care of it.

      Mary wrote on January 27th, 2015
      • Honestly, that sounds like more of a hormonal issue….the fact that it’s mostly around your mouth and chin, and you’re no longer using the OCM. Simple oil on your face wouldn’t cause effects that last months.

        Tianna wrote on March 12th, 2015
  9. Cetaphil works wonders. Get a loofah on a stick, lather that puppy up well with cetaphil and scrub away.

    Nick wrote on June 16th, 2010
  10. I dont know how much a primal diet affects acne but for certain the condition of our skin is an indicator of health. I can tell when my daughter is going to flare with crohns based on her skin-acne, rashes, dry skin etc. Its made me respect my “outsides” a lot more.

    janice wrote on June 16th, 2010
  11. Sugar is a huuuuuuge factor in acne for me. Whenever I cut it out or minimize it my skin is gorgeous!! I’ve also found that a being a bit heavy handed on the almond butter can also cause a breakout. It’s delicious, but be wary people!

    Great post Mark!

    Alyssa wrote on June 16th, 2010
  12. I agree with Lorraine coconut oil on my face has worked wonders and nothing but water to cleanse in the am and this coming from a person who has been seeing a Derm since she was 15. Another thing that has helped those awesome monthly breakouts some of us women get is progestrone cream…what it’s done for my PMS acne and PMS in general is amazing. So to wrap this up, if I was stuck on a deserted island and could only have two things it would be coconut oil and Progest cream. :)

    Stacey wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • Stacey, what brand and concentration do you use? I also breakout with pms regularly, pretty badly. Also, silly question but- is it applied directly to your face? I know those creams are generally applied…elsewhere, haha. Thanks, appreciate your reply! -Rachel

      Rachel wrote on November 25th, 2012
      • I know you asked Stacey, but thought this info might help. If you have breakouts at that time, you need to support your ovaries. Look up Dr. Berg on youtube, he may offer some free info. From personal experience, following the reduced carb guideline and eating primal for only a month basically cleared my skin up everywhere (mild to moderate acne on face, neck, back). I reduced my consumption of dairy too, but didn’t totally eliminate it. I only washed my face once a day, with a wet microfiber washcloth in the shower. No soap, no toner, no moisturizers, no extras.

        I’ve had issues with menstrual cycles and breakouts since I was 15 (I’m 38 now). Iodine supplementation (I use Lugol’s, usually 4 drops once a day in a few swallows of veggie juice) has helped me be more regular, with lighter and shorter periods, less pimples. Very few people are actually allergic, some may get what appears to be a breakout but I’ve heard it’s the body clearing out toxic bromine. Dr. Brownstein also offers info on iodine. Do some research before deciding to try it :)

        Many days of topical application of iodine, with a piece of plastic wrap (to prevent evaporation) can help diminish scars once they’re not raw anymore.

        Wenona wrote on December 4th, 2013
        • Dr. Jorge Flechas has said that cysts anywhere (skin, ovaries, breasts, uterus, prostate, thyroid) are a sign of iodine deficiency.

          Wenona wrote on December 4th, 2013
  13. For me, the key has always been eating clean food and sleeping a lot.

    Great post mark

    Jean-Patrick wrote on June 16th, 2010
  14. I have had acne since I hit puberty. I’m 25 now and still struggling with it. Eliminating dairy definitely helped, but I still have a lot more than I’d like.

    My dad is 53 and still struggles with acne (although he does eat an unhealthy diet whether you’re primal or CW!)

    I’ve tried (and eliminated) everything. I may be doomed. :)

    onesekzimama wrote on June 16th, 2010
  15. I’ll second Lorraine on using the oil cleansing method! I’ve had amazing results, my skin is much more even overall, less dry cheeks and oily t-zone like before. It’s all just soft and smooth.

    I started making my own body scrubs as well with coarse sugar and sweet almond oil. I usually add a few drops of this or that essential oil, whatever I’m in the mood for in a given week. Massage that over your skin and rinse off, no need for moisturizer and so, so soft!

    Simone wrote on June 16th, 2010
  16. If thinking about buying (and taking) a zinc + magnesium supplement, is there anything to look out for? For example, I know some supplements require others in order to work correctly (thats why the damage control formula is effective, an all-in-one) but if we were just looking for zinc and magnesium are there any other things they rely on to work effectively? I never take supplements so any advice is appreciated.

    Justin wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • i take ZMA from Now Supplements every night before bed. Its got both zinc and magnesium. It helps with getting a deep sleep, too.

      ben wrote on June 16th, 2010
      • I read that as, “I take a Zima every night before be.”

        Couldn’t help but crack up:)

        mike wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • My naturopath recommends zinc picolinate specifically for acne, so I’d look for one with that particular formulation.

      Kim wrote on June 16th, 2010
  17. I have had acne since being a teen, and I am now 54 years old. I still get little zits and huge acne lesions.

    The only thing that has ever helped me was a very low daily dose of Spironolactone, because my acne is caused by a hormonal imbalance. Treating my skin topically and eating right and getting proper sleep is of no use.

    Spironolactone is typically used as a water pill, but it has properties that make it a very effective acne product. In regards to acne, spironolactone is an anti-androgen, meaning that it helps to block the effects of the androgen hormones that contribute to acne formation.

    Spironolactone is particularly helpful in treating hormonal acne as well as certain forms of adult acne.

    I want to be primal, and I am, probably about 95%. But, as much as I abhor taking unnecessary medications (I take no others), I abhor the nightmare that my skin is even more.

    If I have to take a tiny pill every morning for the rest of my life in order to avoid having to go out in public with boils all over my face, I will do it.

    If there was an alternative, I would do it. Don’t hate me because I am (now) beautiful…

    RSL wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • I had 11 glorious years on spiro — truly my “miracle drug.” I went off in back in January because I was worried about the carcinogenic effect in rats. I am breaking out again, but nothing I can’t handle — and I am still working on refining my diet, so I believe it will only continue to improve.

      One thing I want to note is that I feel it had a HUGE negative impact on my body composition. I quite simply could not put on muscle, no matter how hard I worked out. Now, muscle-building is a breeze and I finally am achieving the body I always wanted. I thought spiro may have been hindering my weight training, but I have been truly shocked by the difference. I was on 100mg/day.

      JessicaR wrote on July 1st, 2010
      • That’s the androgen-reducing effect. Women need androgens to build muscle, too!

        Ginger wrote on November 6th, 2010
    • Hi,RSL. Have you ever been to The information about cleansing there is spot on, and if you’re eating primally, then you can jump straight into the cleanses. You should see a bunch of benefits very soon!

      Patrick wrote on February 1st, 2011
    • I suggest researching iodine supplementation. Look up Dr. Jorge Flechas, Dr. Brownstein and maybe Dr. Berg (on youtube). I know Dr. Flechas has done interviews which were posted online about iodine helping with cysts including acne cysts. One of the benefits of iodine is that it regulates hormones. I hope this works for you then you can stop the prescription :)

      Wenona wrote on December 4th, 2013
  18. Cut out the caffeine. I have suffered from acne since I was 15. Even through my adult years, it was bad. Just constant big zits. Almost 40 years old now, I decided to cut out Diet Mountain Dew when starting Primal and my face cleared up immediately. As in 2 weeks. My face looks like a baby’s butt now. Diggin’ it.

    JoeBlue3 wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • Are you sure it was the caffeine? It could have been all the other stuff they put in Mountain Dew.

      Mike Berger wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • It’s not the caffeine really. It’s the raised cortisol from coffee/caffeinated teas.

      Roth wrote on June 15th, 2011
    • Mountain Dew is famous for having brominated vegetable oil. Bromine is toxic and displaces iodine, a necessary nutrient. So while the caffeine could have contributed to your acne, bromine very likely did. Anything that contains bromine (Gatorade, most breads, etc) will do the same.

      Wenona wrote on December 4th, 2013
  19. Thanks so much for this post! I had minimal acne in highschool and what seems ten years later it has come back and much worse. I have done tons of research and thought it could be a hormone imbalance. I have been primal since January and it has cleaned up the acne I get on my face but I still get the seriously painful huge red cyst like mountains along my jawline. I take the supplements suggested in the post and I have totally done away with dairy. I do have grains maybe 2-3 times a week in the form of a sandwich. My next step I guess which I have thought is the probiotics. Has anyone had positive results with probiotics?

    Nicole wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • Nicole,
      I would recommend cutting out all grains as your immediate next step. All of them. Wheat, corn, rice, everything. See if that helps. My acne flareups seem to be connected to grain intake. The more I learn about grains the less I think anyone should be eating them.

      Angela N wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • I can do dairy and have clear skin, but I get acne EVERYWHERE if I so much as look at grains the wrong way.

      My advice would be to wrap that sandwich in lettuce, cabbage, or other large leafy greens, skip the grains, and if that doesn’t help after a month or two, THEN try probiotics.

      Assuming you can figure out what works for you, I find that fermented cod liver oil and standard omega-3 fish oil in combination make things heal up a lot faster, especially when restricting omega-6.

      Ginger wrote on July 3rd, 2010
  20. I’ll have to look into the zinc.

    My dermatologist wanted to put me on Accutane, but I’m just unwilling to do that to my body (especially since I’ve gone primal – there isn’t much in the world less primal than Accutane, in my opinion).

    I’ve gotten fed up with dermatologists trying to treat your symptoms instead of looking at the big picture. I went to an herbalist, and they got me set up on a liver cleanse, liquid vitamin D, probiotics, gave me jojoba oil, and told me to eliminate dairy & wheat. That’s done more for me than the dermatologist did.

    Mark, what do you think about herbs that are supposed to help your liver function better? Do you see that as being beneficial to acne?

    Monica wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • Accutane is just a huge dose of Vitamin A, I was on it and it was horrible, crazy dry skin. (This was before going primal) It did help some, only seem to get zits around my jawline no and no where near as severe. Do it natural!

      Dave wrote on June 16th, 2010
      • You should read up on the side effects of Accutane. My doctor is the same, seems a little bit of acne wants to write a perscription right away. But that stuff causes serious issues. I had a friend on it who aside from extream mood swings (to the point of screaming and yelling at people and losing a few friends as a result) it also gave him several nose bleeds that required trips to the hospital. The same way it dries out your skin it also dries out the tissue on the inside of your nose.

        Leanne wrote on June 17th, 2010
    • Accutane has been connected with strong depression and even suicides. I would stay clear of it! Besides, the main reason why you have acne is because your body is trying to dispel toxins through your skin. The cause of it trying to dispel all these toxins with your skin is that A) your digestion is bad, B) your kidneys need cleansing, and C) your liver is in desperate need of a flush and cleanse. It’s most likely to be all three or just the kidney+liver stuff.

      Even if you’ve been eating healthily for quite a while, all those toxins that you’ve been receiving before you went primal are still causing problems and your kidney+liver really need to start fresh. I don’t like to be one of those people who go around spreading links, but the best website that I know of that goes into detail (for free) about these cleanses is The free program is all you need! Try it!

      Patrick wrote on February 1st, 2011
    • I did what you so wisely choosed not to do – ate Accutane. But since I have realized it destroys my gut and immune system, I am skipping that crap.

      People, do not go the easy way, don’t eat Accutane! It will punish you in some way, sooner or later.

      Tove wrote on March 14th, 2012
  21. Willow bark works because it contains salicylic acid. It’s probably easier and cheaper to just use a commercial salicylic acid-containing face wash. (Not all chemicals are evil.)

    j wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • I agree. I was using a combination of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide on my my mild young adult-onset acne (I’m 26, never had a zit as a teenager.) Since starting the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (similar to primal, but baby-food-ified for those of us with digestive diseases) I cut out grains and my face cleared up in a month. Now all I use is the salicylic acid as an exfolient.

      Ashley wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • You can also use crushed up aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) either as a mask or as a spot treatment. I’ve used it in the past and it works very well to reduce redness and dry up active acne. Just make sure you get the pills that don’t have the enteric coating. The plain (usually cheaper) white ones are the ones you want.

      I’ve found that for me, cutting out all sugars, grains, and coffee (though I do drink tea) and taking a 5000 iu vitamin D3 pill a day with dinner has pretty much cleared up my adult acne.

      The sugar and grains increase inflammation and coffee causes your body to produce cortisol (studies show drinking black tea actually reduces cortisol levels), both of these seem to aggravate my acne prone-skin. If I’m feeling particularly inflamed (I can just feel it on/in my face), I’ll take a fish oil pill as well.

      Stephanie wrote on January 19th, 2012
  22. Stress is the primary reason I get breakouts. I took Accutane as a teenager, and would still recommend it to someone with severe acne (as long as they understand the risks).

    Pootzen wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • Been really hesitant about using accutane, but I do keep hearing good things.

      NIck wrote on August 20th, 2013
      • Please try the natural stuff first. Cutting out grains, dairy, sugar are all beneficial. Research iodine (regulates hormones), Dr. Jorge Flechas, Dr. Brownstein, Dr. Berg on youtube, bentonite clay (oil and impurity adsorbing/absorbing), activated charcoal (absorbs/adsorbs toxins), Real Salt or Himalayan salt (healing).

        Wenona wrote on December 4th, 2013
  23. I stopped washing my face almost a year ago. I’ve been oil cleansing with a mixture of 80% extra virgin olive oil and 20% castor oil. My skin has never been so beautiful!!! I used to have mild breakouts and blackheads as well as dry patches around my chin. The website below is how I discovered oil cleansing.

    I also don’t ‘wash’ my hair. I use a tsp of baking soda and rinse with a tsp of apple cider vinegar (with the mother) and water. If you have really hard water this may not be the best option for you.

    Katie wrote on June 16th, 2010
  24. You forgot to add sun exposure to your list of things every teen should do (or anyone with acne)

    the UV rays sterilize the skin making infections less likely to occur

    Roman wrote on June 16th, 2010
  25. Coconut oil works fantastic! Makes my skin look great and it has great antibacterial properties.

    Gena wrote on June 16th, 2010
  26. I was just about to email you and ask about acne! For me, wheat and sugar are HUGE acne causes. I’m in my thirties and still trying to clear acne, but avoiding these is a big help. I agree with another girl that too much almond butter also causes a breakout.

    I also was on Proactiv. Read an article that dry powdered milk should be mixed with water and used as a cleanser, because of its lactic acid. Tried it for the first time last night and it even removed makeup! I was impressed. I’m a little afraid to try oil cleansing for fear of breakouts.

    Also read an article that raw milk from grass fed cows is healing to acne. The grass fed vs. grain fed is the difference because of the nutrients and high vitamin content it makes in the milk. Just started trying it. Also yogurt and butter from grass fed cows.

    Last, according to traditional Chinese Medicine, acne sufferers probably not only have hormonal imbalance but fatty liver, and I just read, I think here, that saturated fat intake is essential for de-fatting the liver.


    Kristina wrote on June 16th, 2010
  27. I never had big problems with acne–aside from the occasional menstrual-cycle breakout– until I was in my 30’s. It was right around the time I moved in with my husband.

    I’ve experimented since then with eliminating grains & dairy, which definitely help, and then I eliminated parabens in all personal care products, which helped a LOT, both on my face and my back. Like many people here I just wash with water and moisturize with a little (olive) oil.

    But here’s the kicker–I’m firmly convinced that the water in our house is a factor. Whenever we go on vacation, my skin clears up. This week I am house-sitting for my teacher, and already (after 24 hours) I can see my skin healing, the redness and flakiness disappearing.

    Anybody else seen this pattern? I bought an Aquasana shower filter and it definitely helped.

    (It’s past-due for replacement, so I’m not seeing as good of results as I was…) I just wondered if there was any literature on this. Ph-balance, maybe?

    And YES–thanks for the post, Mark. I was hoping you’d cover this topic.

    Holly wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • Do you live in Southern Cal? We have awful water; mostly due to high salt content (that’s everything from sodium to calcium and a bunch of other stuff). My family owns a commercial greenhouse and the water is killing the plants, literally. Filters or reverse osmosis is the way to go just for your face distilled water is probably cheapest but carbon filters or whatever in your shower will take out the chlorine (so harsh on skin) plus some of the other salts

      Sue wrote on July 19th, 2010
      • Nope–Kansas. Lot of limestone formations around here. Alkaline water. I’m looking into the fluoride factor….

        Holly wrote on August 4th, 2010
        • I live in Kansas too, and my dermatologist said Kansas water was really horrible on skin! I wash my face only in distilled water, and drink only purified water.

          Chanel wrote on August 18th, 2010
        • Following up on my own comment–I switched to a fluoride-free toothpaste 5 weeks ago, and started dosing myself with fish oil, D3 and a B-complex. Initial results are VERY promising. I’m pretty sure the fluoride was a culprit, and the vitamins are helping my skin heal. I just went through a menstrual cycle with virtually no new breakouts…

          Holly wrote on August 25th, 2010
      • I moved to LA from Ohio last August and noticed that my acne started to get bad again. :(

        Tina wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • if ur on vacation n getting lots of ocean water time – that’s why. sea salts r exfoliating gently and working at cleansing your face in preperation for the sun exposure that really help as well. i try to soak my face at home but it’s never the same.

      my question is really about the eggs – when i cut soy (crazy hormones!) n oatmeal my face improved. but then i started eating more eggs and just now thout maybe that’s the problem – or the nightshades which i cut a couple dats ago but still waiting to see results. anybody heard of the egg being a problem? it’s devastating – i literally used to have amazing skin all my life – turning 30 is the worst year =(

      r3x wrote on October 3rd, 2011
      • I’ve eaten at least two eggs every day for the past two years. (And bacon on most of those days, too.)

        For me, sugar is the culprit for flare-ups, not eggs.

        Adam wrote on October 3rd, 2011
      • I’m reading this post b/c eggs broke me out and I’M FRUSTRATED X(

        I was thinking and thinking.. what could possibly break me out so bad? I haven’t had a breakout in 6 months. It was the eggs.. I ate about 20 pastured eggs in the past 3 days. I actually thought it was exercise and I gave that up for a bit.

        DD wrote on July 9th, 2013
  28. I have had acne since puberty and between the 4 dermatologists I have seen in my life, not one ever told me to try modifying my diet. I am 36 now and still suffering from breakouts. I started doing CrossFit 7 months ago and have cleaned up my diet by essentially eliminated grains, dairy and crap sugar from my diet and have really good results with my skin. I am grateful for the all-round positive results in how I look and feel!

    Melanie wrote on June 16th, 2010
  29. Can anyone suggest an appropriate level of zinc if one were to take it for clearing up acne?

    Andy wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • Try 50mg per day of zinc picolinate, which is the form of zinc specifically indicated for acne.

      Kim wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • I needed closer to 90mg/day (of zinc citrate) to clear mine up. However the zinc has since stopped working for me :\

      Amanda wrote on June 20th, 2010
      • that’s well over the upper limit (40mg) for zinc. I wouldn’t do that indefinetly or you might get zinc toxicity. zinc also interferes with copper absorption.

        Andy wrote on September 1st, 2011
  30. I buy the most basic laundry detergent with basically nothing in it. Think about rolling around on your sheets and pillowcases and having your clothes on all day. If you use laundry detergent that has fragrances or other additives, this may be contributing. I second that a good Omega 3-6 balance and staying away from refined sugar seems to be most important, or in other words, eating primal. Fish oil has done more for me than Accutane ever did.

    joe baya wrote on June 16th, 2010
  31. really hate how you take slights at the medical community every chance you get, part of the reason i stopped reading this site on a daily basis. it’s juvenile at best.

    casey wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • Respect that you feel that way, but it is one of the reasons I keep coming back.

      Grokette wrote on March 11th, 2012
  32. Casey – Well, I’m glad you still come back here to get great information!

    Brad wrote on June 16th, 2010
  33. …also constipation I think plays a heavy role in acne. When you’re regular (which for me goes back to avoiding wheat and sugar) the complexion is much better!

    Kristina wrote on June 16th, 2010
  34. Anybody have thoughts on what form of zinc is preferable? I can only find zinc citrate on it’s own. I’m already taking magnesium seperately and get adequate calcium, so I’m not so hot on taking a CalMagZinc, which seems a lot more common.

    I don’t know about dosing for zinc citrate though, the links provided don’t refer to it. I’ve googled about zinc for skin before, but dosing recs vary like what.

    Also, let’s try not to hate on milk, people. Raw goat milk has helped me through some times when I couldn’t eat much else.

    Lis wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • I’ve posted this in other replies, but – zinc picolinate. 50mg a day. I use Douglas Labs’ version and it’s about $12 for 100 capsules. Sweet!

      Kim wrote on June 16th, 2010
  35. Ive had acne since I was an early teen and I’m 28 now. I like the idea of the coconut oil I think I will try it. I know I have used it before on my dog when his ears got a really bad infection. The oil took the redness and the flaking away in less than two days. So we shall see.

    Carrie wrote on June 16th, 2010
  36. Some say eliminating dairy helps. I believe that (high quality) dairy products have helped my skin-it’s definitely more shiny. Possibly from butyric acid or K2? Then again, I never had a problem with acne.

    zach wrote on June 16th, 2010
  37. I used to get bad acne as a teen and into my early twenties. I cut out iodized salt and that seemed to do the trick. It may have been something else, but I have heard here and there since then that iodine can cause acne. Since I am sure I get enough iodine in foods I don’t prepare at home, this hasn’t been a problem at all.

    Erick wrote on June 16th, 2010
    • yes–I had a problem with too much iodine because of a multi-vitamin I was taking. I quit taking it and the hard, painful red bumps went away within days.

      It was a friend who tipped me off–he talked about iodine overdose from eating too much shellfish on a vacation, with the same skin symptoms.

      Holly wrote on June 16th, 2010
  38. I have had problems with acne for many years and the main culprit seems to be diet and gult health.
    The main foods I find that cause my skin to flare up are:
    1. Sugar
    2. Vegetable Oil (This is in so many things and harder to avoid than you’d imagine esp when eating out)
    3. Table Salt (Pure sea salt seems to be okay!)
    4. Any food combination which has a high sugar and a high fat content.
    5. Butter (even a small amount)
    6. Dairy (can tolerate a little but two cups of milk and can feel skin flaring up)
    6. Too much omega 6 (love those nuts but too many causes problems)
    7. Harsh cleansers – may provide a little relief in the short term but my skin seems to adjust to it and then breaks out worse with continued use.
    7. Too much animal products – yes I know we are on a primal forum but when I first started primal my skin went a little bumpy because I went too mad on the meat/fish and my skin just looked dull (guess too much acid, so important to balance with veggies.

    I can’t emphasis how much Intermittent fasting helps, it rests the stomach. I think of my digestion like a wheel after eating and that wheel can’t keep going all of the time and needs breaks. Eating three solid meals a day and being strict on yourself about snacking really helps. Sometimes skip dinner and in the morning you might see a slight improvement. Chew slowly and eat when resting.
    Obviously been active and positive help massively too.
    I’m now clear and I really feel for others as it is incredibly depressing. Don’t let the cycle get you where you think I cut out x its not working so to hell with it! You need to persevere!
    Good luck!

    avey wrote on June 16th, 2010
  39. Great post. Related to Zinc/Vit E- I am always willing to get new supplements. But I start to wonder if my 10+ supplements every morning are ever a stress to my system? That may sound counter-intuitive, but I am curious if there are specific guidelines about what supps to take together, when to take them, etc ( beyond the “take twice daily with food”). And should I really “feel” a difference when taking supps?

    Heather wrote on June 16th, 2010

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!