Why your gut health is affecting your acne!

Our body is an intricate system that is VERY good at telling us when something is wrong, and acne is no exception to that!

Acne at it's most basic form is a disorder of the pilo-sebaceous unit where an overproduction of sebum (often thicker and waxier as well) and dead skin cells create a plug or blockage within the pores of the skin. When internal triggers aren’t hugely impactful in this process, cosmeceutical grade skin care and in clinic treatments should do the trick.

If they don’t… that’s because we haven’t addressed the TRIGGER! There is something out of balance within our bodily system and more often than not those causes are

  • HORMONAL IMBALANCES/DISORDERS (PCOS, endometriosis, puberty, post-pill syndrome)

Addressing these categories is COMPULSORY when treating stubborn acne, and here’s why...

Did you know that we are more bacteria than human?

There are more microbial cells in the human body than our own… meaning our bodies microbiome balance is CRUCIAL. Trillions of these microbes and microbial colonies reside along our digestive tract including yeast, fungi and bacteria. These all form a delicate balance of “good” and “bad” bugs.

There is a clear link between our SKIN and our GUT HEALTH or MICROBIOME! Specifically gut DYSBIOSIS (imbalance of microbes/increase in bad bugs) and ACNE.

When bad bugs multiply and feed a number of things can happen:

  • we experience leaky gut where bad bacteria “leak” through the intestinal wall
  • they release inflammatory molecules into the blood stream that spread throughout the body
  • nutrient absorption decreases and cells are starved of nutrients they need to effectively function
  • the skins ability to fight bad bacteria and inflammation decreases… BAD BUGS FLOURISH ON THE SKIN

Our skin has its own microbiome! This microbiome is found predominately in the epidermis and is responsible for skin immunity AND protection by fighting bacteria and inflammation and maintaining a healthy skin pH (that kills bad bugs).

What effects our microbiome?

  • stress
  • diet/excess alcohol consumption (high levels of processed foods and sugars with low levels of fruit, vege and healthy fats)
  • antibiotics and medication 

First lets cover STRESS!

It is massively over-looked in our fast-paced modern lives… why? Because we don’t need to be experiencing big STRESSFUL events to be stressed! 

Seriously look at your day and ask yourself “at any point did I feel stressed, anxious, scared, embarrassed, rushed, overwhelmed or sad?” If yes, chances are you HAVE experienced enough accumulative doses of stress to trigger the same physiological response in our body.

As we have already discussed, stress disrupts our GUT HEALTH! It changes the balance of microbes in our gut, DECREASING good bugs and INCREASING bad bugs. 

We already know that increased bad bugs = inflammatory molecules and poorly functioning SKIN MICROBIOME…

 But what else does stress do to our skin?

  1. Stressful situation 
  2. Spike in cortisol 
  3. Causes testosterone to spike as well
  4. This increases our sebaceous oil flow and changes the texture to be sticky, waxy and thick

Secondary to this:

  1. Insulin spikes
  2. Causes insulin like growth factor (IGF-1) to spike as well
  3. IGF-1 exacerbates the change in sebaceous oil flow further 


If the trigger to your acne is stress… you MUST find ways to manage it! I repeat, YOU MUST MANAGE YOUR STRESS LEVELS! Topicals alone will help, but if we don’t remove or improve the internal trigger you will continue to experience acne.

 Find ways to manage stress like

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Breathing practices
  • Good amounts of sleep
  • Hobbies or exercise
  • Consult naturopath about stress supplements 

That brings us on to DIET!

*I am going to preface this section by saying what's right for one person isn't always right or SAFE for another! Always consult with your GP, nutritionist or naturopath when making changes to your diet or supplement choices!

We already know that when bad bugs feed, they release inflammatory molecules into the blood stream that can effect our body systems. Literally CREATING INFLAMMATION within our skin! But what do they love to feed on?

You probably already know what I am about to say... SUGAR!

When our diet isn't optimal and we are eating a lot of processed foods like lollies, chocolate, cakes, refined carbs (including bread) and ALCOHOL, bad bugs multiply and thrive.

Lets jump away from the microbiome for a second so I can remind you of the physiological effects that SUGAR has on our skin.

  1. Eat sugar
  2. Blood sugar levels increase
  3. Stimulates the release of insulin in our blood
  4. Causes insulin like growth factor (IGF-1) to spike as well
  5. This increases our sebaceous oil flow and changes the texture to be sticky, waxy and thick
  6. We experience congestion, inflammation and acne

Sounds familiar doesn't it? Very similar physiological response in body and skin to stress, but just from a different trigger... sugar!

Jumping back to the microbiome. Microbes actually COMMUNICATE with our brain (and our skin)! When we are experiencing gut dysbiosis, signals tell the brain that there is something wrong with the gut! This is why MOOD disorders are also linked to poor gut health! As if the negative emotional effect of having acne isn't enough... this is all the more reason to focus on improving gut health when treating acne.

So the simple answer to this is to CLEAN UP YOUR DIET! Significantly reduce the amount of refined sugars, carbs and alcohol that you consume and focus on:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Healthy fats
  • Water (drinking approximately 2-2.5L per day)
  • Probiotic and fermented foods

I know it can be difficult to entirely remove ALL sugary foods and snacks, and for some can create a negative relationship with food. So I'll offer a different focus.

  • Have plenty of fresh and dried fruits on hand 
  • You CAN eat some chocolate... but, opt for high quality dark chocolate (good source of antioxidants)
  • Always have a source of healthy fats and proteins with every 'sweet' snack such as NUTS and SEEDS (good source of minerals)

I'll repeat that... every snack (and meal for that matter) should contain HEALTHY FATS, PROTEINS AND CARBS! Why? Because as we have already discovered, high levels of sugar in the gut and spikes in blood sugar feed bad bugs, cause inflammation and increase sebaceous oil flow.

Including healthy proteins and fats with every snack and meal will dramatically stabilize your blood sugar and insulin levels to PREVENT inflammation and acne! 

It would take about 4 weeks to see the levels of diet-induced inflammation and gut symbiosis to settle after cleaning up the diet. This then needs to be applied to 'life cycle' of an acne lesion and the physiological effect of

Lastly, lets cover HORMONAL IMBALANCES!

More specifically how contraceptives can negatively impact your gut health and create spikes in certain hormones when discontinuing.

*I am going to disclose that you should ALWAYS consult your GP before making changes to your contraceptive options. I am no way trying to deter you from taking the pill, but trying to guide on how you can minimise negative effects on your body. I also want to recognise that for some, taking hormonal contraceptives is a medical necessity.

Treating acne with a hormonal contraceptive pill is a very common practice. Why? The synthetic hormones within the pill suppress androgens to reduce sebaceous oil flow within the skin.

Is there a connection between the hormonal contraceptive pill and gut health? YES! The contraceptive pill is a long term medication that puts our gut and liver under an extended period of stress. Our gut health can suffer and we could experience:

  • GUT DYSBIOSIS (imbalance of microbes/increase in bad bugs)
  • LEAKY GUT where bad bacteria “leak” through the intestinal wall

The pill can also effect how our body is processing important nutrients! According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the following NUTRIENT DEPLETION occurs on the pill:

  • Vitamins B2, B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12
  • Vitamin E
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

This is a little ironic because all of which are extremely beneficial to help FIGHT INFLAMMATION. It can be difficult to replenish with diet alone and may require SUPPLEMENTATION.

Unfortunately the pill can be a BAND-AID fix for acne. When we come off the pill and no longer have synthetic hormones suppressing androgens, we experience a rebound or SPIKE! What can follow? AnINCREASE IN SEBACEOUS OIL FLOW and quite often post-pill acne.

Once discontinuing the contraceptive pill, these symptoms usually present between 3-6 months afterwards and can persist for up to a year. This is because the body needs time to re-calibrate itself and begin normalising the natural production and balance of hormones.

The best thing that you can do to support your body while on and coming off the pill is consult with you GP and a NUTRITIONIST or NATUROPATH! 

If you are curious to learn more about the effects of the contraceptive pill on your body and how to avoid post-pill symptoms I recommend reading these books:

  • Beyond the pill by Dr. Jolene Brighten
  • How the pill changes everything by Sarah Hill

 Here are my key takeaways from this blog:

  • All of this information can be applied to all other inflammatory skin conditions such as rosacea, eczema and dermatitis.
  • If you do not address the internal trigger of your acne, topical skin care and in clinic treatments alone will not get rid of it.
  • Stress increases the level of bad bugs, inflammation and sebaceous oil flow. You must find ways to manage stress.
  • Sugar feeds bad bugs, creating further inflammation and increasing oil flow. Reduce the amount of refined sugars, carbs and alcohol that you consume.
  • Spikes in blood sugar can cause testosterone to spike and therefore increase oil flow. Possibly leading to breakouts!
  • Include a source of healthy fats and proteins with every snack to stabilize your blood sugar.
  • Eat lots of fruit, vegetables, health fats, fermented foods and water!
  • The contraceptive pill can cause gut dysbiosis, leaky gut and increase inflammation.
  • The contraceptive pill also depletes important nutrients such as vitamins B2, B6, B9 (folic acid), B12, magnesium, selenium and zinc.
  • The best thing you can do to improve your gut health and support of your body on the pill is to first consult your GP and then a nutritionist or naturopath!

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