Avoid ‘damp’ foods if you’re prone to breakouts, and try healthy fats to clear up your skin

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  • The food you eat can help or hurt your skin health.
  • “Damp” foods like dairy and oils, as well as refined carbs and sugars, have been linked to acne.
  • Good fats – in avocados, nuts, and fish – and fiber are essential for healthy skin.

The idea of healing your skin through what you eat is not a new one.

Eastern systems of medicine, like the Chinese and Ayurvedic traditions, have long theorized that “damp” foods, such as dairy and oil, can cause problems with skin, Dr. Taz Bhatia said at the Environmental Working Group’s annual CleanCon.

But it bears reminding that what you put in your body matters just as much as the products you put on your face, Bhatia – a doctor who is board-certified in holistic and integrative medicine – said in a discussion about skincare at CleanCon.

Modern life, Bhatia said, has given us too many options to choose from on both fronts, with harmful additives galore.

After running through some tips for buying non-toxic beauty products, Bhatia recommended some dietary themes for keeping skin clean and healthy. Here are a couple of food groups to avoid, and some others that may benefit your skin.

Watch out for ‘damp’ foods, like dairy and oily snacks

The old Chinese theory about dampness may have some truth to it. Many of the foods considered to be damp – like cheese, greasy chips, and egg yolks, Chinese medicine expert Mona Dan told Well + Good – have the potential to affect skin.

Dairy consumption has been linked to an increased risk of acne, although there’s no evidence that eliminating dairy will improve skin. Some dairy products contain the hormone insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which can spur oil production and worsen acne.

Foods containing oils and saturated fats can also lead to increased inflammation in the body. Inflammation underlies several skin conditions, including acne, eczema, and rosacea.

However, some tenets of traditional Chinese medicine don’t line up with what we know about skin health today. For instance, raw fruits and veggies are considered “damp,” but they contain essential antioxidants for skin in higher concentrations than their cooked counterparts.

Cut down on white carbs and added sugars

Refined carbohydrates – basically all the bread, pasta, and sweets you would expect to be unhealthy – have been linked to acne time and time again.

People with acne tend to consume more refined carbs than those with clear skin, studies have found.

Binging on sweets is especially tied to acne risk; one study found that people who frequently consumed added sugars had a 30% greater risk of developing acne. This may have to do with how refined carbs cause blood sugar and insulin to spike, which also leads to increased IGF-1.

Make sure you’re getting good fats from fish, nuts, and seeds

Although some oily foods may mess with your skin, it’s important to incorporate some healthy fats and oils into your diet.

Healthy fats – such as unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids – are essential for keeping your skin plump and glowing.

You can use the Mediterranean diet to guide your choices of health fats and oils. Foods like avocados, olive oil, salmon, and tuna are known to contain unsaturated fats and/or omega-3 fatty acids, which may help fight inflammation.

Eat fiber-rich foods like whole grains and bananas to keep things moving

Fiber is essential for keeping your bowel movements regular, lowering bad cholesterol, and feeling full for longer. On top of that, maintaining a healthy gut is a shortcut to healthy skin.

Poor gut health has been linked to increased inflammation, which in turn can exacerbate skin conditions like acne and dryness.

What’s more, fiber helps your digestive system better absorb nutrients and antioxidants that may help your skin and overall health. If you’ve been loading up on nutrients like vitamin C and collagen while skimping on fiber, your skin might not be getting the full benefits.

Prebiotic fiber – which can be found in foods like bananas, artichokes, onions, garlic, and whole grains – is best for supporting a healthy microbiome and positively impacting skin.