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Acne and Gut Health - The Link Between Digestion and Your Skin

Updated: Mar 11, 2023

If you experience acne, have you thought about the inside of your body as much as the outside?

What if your digestive system is host to some important clues as to why you are suffering from acne?

Let’s take a closer look at acne and the potential link between digestion and your skin, and what you can do with 5 easy steps to support this vital connection.

What is Acne?

Acne is one of the most common skin conditions, estimated to affect 9.4% of the global population, making it the eighth most prevalent disease worldwide.

Around 80-90% of people will experience acne at some point during their lifetime.

The onset of acne usually occurs during adolescence and in young adulthood. It can also go on to affect adults into their 20s, 30s, and even 40s.

Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that acne is most common in post-pubescent teens, with boys most frequently affected, particularly with more severe disease forms (1). Adult women are also increasingly being affected by acne (2).

Acne vulgaris is the most common form of acne, consisting of whiteheads and blackheads, and is found typically on the face, neck, and back.

Acne causes spots and oily skin, which can often become inflamed and painful to touch. It can be mild to severe in symptoms..

Acne occurs when sebum - an oily substance that lubricates hair and skin - and dead skin cells plug the hair follicles. Bacteria can also trigger inflammation and infections, contributing to more severe acne.

What Are the Common Triggers for Acne?

Acne is a multifaceted disease, but these common factors are thought to trigger or worsen acne, including:

  • Diet - A diet high in sugars, dairy, fast foods, and highly processed foods may trigger or make acne worse.

  • Hormonal changes - Hormonal fluctuations, whether in teens or adulthood, are linked to acne.

  • Stress - Being in a highly stressed state, especially for prolonged periods of time, may be closely linked to acne and breakouts.

Are Skincare Products for Acne the Answer?

What is the first thing you turn to to help clear your spots? A topical product.

Many lotions, cleansers, and serums are all cleverly formulated and targeted towards treating acne. They perform different functions such as controlling excess sebum, smoothing the skin’s surface, exfoliation, reducing oily skin, and so on.

While many products help manage acne on the surface, they are not the only solution to your skin breakouts.

What if the health of your skin depended more on your gut health than the lotions and creams applied topically?

What is the Role of Digestion in Skin Health?

Looking more closely at the digestive system’s role, you begin to understand this connection much more clearly. Our digestive system is the place that enables us to break down and absorb nutrients from our food.

Common signs that the digestive system isn’t working as well as it could be, include bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, acid reflux, or if you are generally feeling quite sluggish.

An unhealthy gut may lead to an increase in systemic inflammation.

Significant research shows that many inflammatory skin conditions, such as acne, are triggered by poor digestive health. Your skin is your biggest organ, and it's no surprise that it can be a reflection of your internal health.

Your inner health impacts your outer beauty, and nowhere is this more noticeable than your skin.

What Contributes to Poor Digestive Health?

  • A diet high in processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and sugar

  • Food sensitivities, such as gluten, eggs, and dairy

  • High alcohol intake

  • A stressful lifestyle

  • Certain medications

Is There a ‘Leaky Gut’ Connection to Acne?

A central review of studies published in the journal Gut Pathogens in 2011 found evidence that the gut lining may be more permeable than usual in people with acne (3).

Intestinal permeability, or ‘leaky gut,’ is a condition in which the tight junctions in your intestinal lining becomes looser instead of being closely meshed together. As the lining breaks apart, this allows foreign substances through the gut lining into the bloodstream. As these more harmful or toxic substances enter the bloodstream, they can cause inflammation and aggravate skin conditions such as acne.

Again diet, food sensitivities, stress, medication, and so on can all be factors to consider when supporting the integrity of the gut lining and addressing a potential ‘leaky gut.’

How Does Your Microbiome Affect the Gut-Skin Axis?

While more research is needed, we’re beginning to understand more about the close relationship between gut and skin health and how they interact.

The gut microbiome seems to play a large part in regulating the gut-skin axis.

Your microbiome is crucial for your health, and is made up of microorganisms situated in the gastrointestinal tract. These microorganisms play a vital role in our digestion and immune health.

A review published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine highlighted the close connection between acne and the gut, arguing that the gut microbiota could be involved in acne’s pathogenic process (5).

When the balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria becomes disturbed, known as dysbiosis, this can cause increased intestinal permeability or ‘leaky gut.’

As explained above, ‘leaky gut’ leads to an increase in inflammatory mediators in the circulation and may contribute to acne development.

How to Support Your Gut-Skin Axis?

The good news is there is a lot you can do for your digestive system to help fight acne and support the close relationship between your skin and gut health.

Here are 5 easy steps to support your gut-skin axis:

1. Eat Slowly

Digestion begins in the mouth and to ensure food is broken down before it reaches the stomach, eat slowly and always chew food properly. Eating slowly allows your digestive system time to secrete the gastric juices it needs to digest your food properly. Eating in a rushed way gives your digestive system a more challenging time doing its job, leading to uncomfortable symptoms such as excess gas and bloating.

2. Support Stomach Acid

Adequate stomach acid is needed to help break down the food you eat. You can strengthen your stomach acid by mixing a cup of water with a bit of apple cider vinegar and drinking it fifteen to twenty minutes before you eat a meal.

3. Take Probiotics

Take a probiotic product to help support the ‘good’ gut bacteria and fight the ‘bad’ gut bacteria. The balance of bacteria in the gut helps to aid in digestion and immunity and support the gut lining’s integrity. Probiotics are an essential part of any gut healing protocol, and research shows they can help reduce ‘leaky gut’ markers (6).

4. Elimination Diet

If you suspect certain foods trigger inflammation in the gut or make your skin problems worse, try an elimination diet. This involves excluding certain foods from the diet for 3-4 weeks before introducing them back one at a time to see if it triggers a reaction. Alternatively, you can take a Food Intolerance Test to quickly establish any major food culprits, which may be exacerbating your acne. I always include this at the outset of my Nutrition for Skin Health Programme.

5. Manage Stress

Stress is linked to gastrointestinal upset and inflammation, so find time to relax and unwind each day. Meditation and deep breathing exercises are good ways to calm the nervous system and aid relaxation. Yoga, Pilates, and walking are gentle forms of exercise, which can help ease anxiety and relieve stress.


You can see a strong link between acne and gut health. What lies deep within the body may hold vital clues to what is happening outside the body.

If you are experiencing teenage acne or adult acne, then supporting the gut-skin axis is an essential part of your skin healing protocol.

If you would like to find out more about my Nutrition for Skin Health Programme, which takes you through this step-by-step, contact me for further information at or book a 20 minute discovery call to see how nutritional therapy can help your skin problems.



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