Clear Up Your Skin: Five Foods to Clean Out Of Your Pantry

July 7, 2020


Dr. Keira Barr

As if the turbulent ride of a roller coaster of perimenopause wasn’t enough, now one has to adjust to the new normal in mid-life. When you look at your reflection in the mirror, you see your skin is behaving anything but normal. You may have thought that the acne of your teenage years was long behind you, so why are you breaking out now? What gives? How can you clear up your skin?

As you go through your lifestyle inventory, you may be giving yourself a high five for many of the things you do right. Like for instance, not binge-watching Netflix to the wee hours of the morning and disrupting your sleep, or breathing deeply and practicing mindfulness to manage your stress. Yet despite this, those zits keep popping out. And now you are about to pop your lid because getting into seeing your dermatologist is not an easy option. 

But even if you do visit your dermatologist to suppress your acne, you will receive a pile of prescriptions. Or perhaps you will order an expensive skincare regimen or over-the-counter creams. However, none of these fixes address the root causes of acne. For this reason, clients visit me. Believe me, I know how frustrating it can be to try every lotion, potion, and salve and not get your desired results. I also understand the embarrassment and anxiety that comes along with not feeling comfortable or confident in your skin. 

How we see ourselves impacts how we treat ourselves. And when emotions are running high, it’s vital not to add more negative emotional fuel to the fire.



So, let’s take a step back. Let us first examine what creates acne. The four contributing factors include:

  1. Dead skin cells in the hair follicle
  2. Excess sebum
  3. Presence and activity of the commensal bacteria Cutibacterium acnes 
  4. Inflammation

When the sebum and dead skin cells clump together, they plug the hair follicle. The bacteria in the plug causes inflammation leading to the formation of acne.

As I explain in The Skin Whisperer, one of the big triggers that play a significant role in skin health is food. And consuming the right kind of foods may even clear up your skin! Thus, instead of looking into your medicine cabinet for a solution, let us take a look in your pantry. 


Life has turned upside down. Along with dealing with the pandemic, you now have to deal with your hormones. You may not have the access or resources to stock your pantry like before. There may be an increase in the consumption of packaged, boxed, and canned food. Subsequently, decreasing the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. The result? Breakouts!

Here, I cover five foods that may be in your pantry right now. And how these foods might be contributing to your breakouts. 

Refined Carbohydrates and Sugar

The Problem

Crackers, cookies, and pasta are a few examples of refined carbs. Carbohydrates break down into simpler sugars. As a result, this increases the enzyme mTOR1 (mechanistic target of rapamycin complex) and the hormone insulin levels. 

As a result, elevated insulin increases the secretion of other hormones such as the Insulin Growth Factor (IGF-1) and androgens. IGF-1 and androgens increase sebum production and abnormal skin cell growth contributing to the creation of acne. 

On the other hand, elevated levels of mTOR1 over-stimulate sebaceous glands and oil production. These changes cause inflammation and the overgrowth of the bacteria cutibacterium acne, an acne creation trifecta.

The Solution

Read your labels to check for added sugars. Choose foods with a lower glycemic index. Alternatively, look for grain-free packaged options or chickpea or lentil pasta. Cutting down on refined carbohydrates and sugars from your diet may not only help clear up your skin but will also be beneficial for your gut.  

Saturated and trans-fats

The Problem

Saturated and industrially-produced trans-fats are commonplace in packaged snack foods. These fats are also present in bottled salad dressings, sauces, and mayonnaise (think peanut oil, palmitate, and vegetable oil). While these food items may be convenient, they can potentially aggravate your complexion. Studies show that saturated fats activate mTOR1, which triggers the proliferation of follicular skin cells. Thus, promoting comedogenesis (acne formation).

 Trans-fats also upregulate the production of pro-inflammatory substances. Accordingly, this increases sebum production and skin cell proliferation contributing to acne formation.

The Solution

Check your labels and look for clean, avocado oil-based mayonnaise. Or mix up your DIY salad dressings with organic extra virgin olive oil. This simple switch in salad dressing may help clear up your skin. 

Casein and Whey Protein

The problem

These proteins can pop up in protein bars and powders. These protein sources are fine for many people. However, since they are derived from milk, it may cause problems for those sensitive to dairy. Casein and whey are the two primary types of protein found in milk. They increase insulin levels and stimulates the production of insulin-like growth factor 1(IGF-1). Hence, increasing sebum production. The increase in sebum clogs pores, causing acne or aggravating breakouts. 

However, when it comes to casein, there may be an exception to the rule. And for this reason, you need to know what type of casein you are getting. There are two subtypes of casein, A1 and A2. A1 is the most common form present in almost all dairy products. It also has been linked to dairy intolerance, digestive issues, and inflammation. Since the A1 subtype casein triggers inflammation, it can wreak havoc on your hormones and contribute to acne. 

The Solution

Check your labels! While you may want to skip the whey, you can opt for the A2 casein-based protein powder. The A2 casein is easier to digest and less prone to irritate your skin. You may also consider using a protein powder from non-dairy sources, such as pea protein, hemp, or brown rice.

Excessive Alcohol Consumption

The Problem

While I’m all about enjoying a glass of red wine (hello polyphenols!) or a refreshing cocktail, consistently overindulging can ruin your skin. Although drinking alcohol like wine, beer, or liquor may not directly cause acne, it can contribute to it. 

Drinking alcohol throws off your blood sugar and messes with your hormones by increasing the levels of estrogen. And not only that, but it also disrupts your gut health.  Studies show alcohol consumption can lead to increased gut permeability and alterations in the gut microbiome. Gut imbalances often manifest on your skin. Several studies link dysbiosis of the gut microbiome to the development of acne.  

The Solution

You are meant to be enjoying your life! So have your glass of wine (ideally biodynamically grown) or cocktail. But be mindful of how much and how often you’re indulging if your acne is flaring. Just reducing your intake of alcohol may clear up your skin. 

Milk Chocolate and White Chocolate

The Problem

Although chocolate itself will not make you break out, what it contains might. Comparing with dark chocolate, milk and white chocolate contain more dairy, sugar, and other additives. 

Especially for acne-prone individuals, dairy and sugary foods can trigger hormonal changes. The increase in insulin levels insulin and IGF-1 increases sebum production. The inflammatory response by the body to these changes leads to acne. What’s more? Filling up on sweets leaves less of an appetite for nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables which can help squash inflammation and create harmony amongst your hormones.

The Solution

You don’t have to give up chocolate! You can go for dark chocolate! Dark chocolate is rich in iron, magnesium, and zinc. The cacao in dark chocolate also contains health-boosting antioxidants called flavonols (flavonoids). However, choose chocolate that contains 70% or more cacao content to reap the antioxidant benefit. You can now clear up your skin without having to sacrifice your sweet tooth!


Bottom Line

If you feel like you have done everything correctly, like applying lotions and creams, and yet you are still breaking out, then it is time to take a look in your pantry. Take a look and weed out any of these ingredients that may be hiding in there. These five ingredients may potentially be contributing to or exacerbating your acne. By eliminating or reducing the intake of these ingredients, you may be able to clear up your skin in no time.