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The REAL Cause of Acne

Affiliate Disclosure | in Natural Remedies | by | with 142 Comments

The Real Cause of Acne

Hey Mommypotamus, I want you to write about clear skin :) you have such gorgeous skin and I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. maybe even discuss the connection between acne and sugar / gluten / dairy. or the connection between different allergies or dysfunctions and babies with atopic dermatitis, eczema etc thank you :)

~ Alexandra

Aww, shucks, Alexandra! I’ve gotta say, clear skin is NOT something I take for granted. Back in college I had horrible, seriously disfiguring acne. I searched for over an hour for a pic to post as proof, but you know what? There isn’t one. I was so embarrassed I never let anyone near me with a camera. Sorry about that. However, when it comes to the real cause of acne, I do have thoughts to share!

The REAL Cause of Acne

Candida diet? Check. Raw food diet? Double check. Supplements, teas, microdermabrasion? Yes, yes and yes. I tried every over the counter acne treatment and diet I could get my hands on with minimal success. Eventually I came to understand that acne is not caused by bacteria alone . . . otherwise we could infect each other with acne, right? Nope, it’s caused by compromised liver, kidney, digestive and hormone function.

For the sake of making this halfway interesting, I think our subject organs should have names. Let’s start with the liver . . . how about Bob? It’s a good, solid name for a hardworking, jack-of-all-trades kind of organ, don’t you think? Okay, Bob it is.

Photo courtesy of Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research

Imagine Bob is a guy with a net. One of his major functions is to remove and break down used hormones and toxic substances from our blood, like the odd floating cup or plastic bag going down a stream. It’s all good until that stream becomes a raging river of trash and Bob is out there in nothing but his knickers trying to scoop like mad as gunk rushes by.

The stuff he misses is cycled back into our blood, including androgenic hormones that send signals to our sebaceous glands to make more oil. (Keep in mind that this is their second time around, so that’s MUCH more oil than Bob intended.)

It’s not just the oil, though. As more an more toxins build up in our bloodstream the body gets stressed. In an effort to restore homeostasis other organs like our skin are recruited for detoxification purposes. As the toxins near the surface of our skin they meet a surplus of oil thanks to the extra androgenic hormones, which creates warm, friendly petri dish for acne.

So How Does This Raging River Scenario Happen?

According to Food Renegade, “The biggest dietary culprits [for liver problems] include caffeine, alcohol, sugar, food additives, and excessive intake of Omega 6 essential fatty acids. But, there are environmental culprits too: pesticides, herbicides, synthetic chemical fertilizers, and even doctor-prescribed medicines.”

Puberty and menstrual cycles are factors also, because they increase the load of hormones Bob needs to clean from the blood. However, as long as he isn’t overwhelmed with environmental toxins the extra hormones aren’t a problem.

Sometimes, though, it’s not just the river – it’s Bob. The man thrives on B, D and A vitamins (found only  in animal products) as well as vitamin C. He needs to be well fed to do his job, which means lots of cod liver oil, grassfed butter, liver or seafood along with certain veggies and herbs. (As a side note, zinc doesn’t seem to be a huge part of Bob’s diet but many acne sufferers are deficient in this vital mineral. For a list of zinc rich foods click here.)

Sometimes, It’s Not Just Bob and The River

The real cause of acne is upstream. Here’s what I mean: Caffeine, alcohol, processed sugar (fruit and honey are usually okay in moderate amounts), etc. also damage our digestive tracts, which are our first first line of defense when it comes to deactivating toxins and pathogens. Eliminating problem foods may not be enough to heal holes created in the gut lining (called “leaky gut”). If steps are not taken to repair the holes, proteins and other food substances will pass  into the bloodstream in their undigested state. The liver will continue to be overwhelmed and the body, who doesn’t recognize these proteins in their whole forms, will launch an attack (create antibodies) against these proteins. This kicks off a domino effect which can lead to eczema, asthma, ADD, and other problems.

The two other systems (which shall remain nameless) are the kidneys and hormone producing organs (thyroid and adrenals). Similar to Bob, the kidneys are rigorous housekeepers that filter blood and expel waste from the body via urine. To nourish them well, consume generous amounts of cabbage (preferably fermented into sauerkraut), garlic, onions, berries, red bell peppers, cauliflower, extra virgin olive oil and wild salmon.

To support the thyroid and adrenal glands -which regulate hormone function and give us soft, supple skin -make sure to consume liver from grassfed animals, green leafy vegetables, and plenty of seafood. (If you can’t quite stomach the idea of liver you can get them in dehydrated (dessicated) capsule form.

Overwhelmed? Feel A Little Like Bob?

If you’re struggling with acne here are some suggestions that may help. Of course, each situation is unique and I am only speaking generally, so use your judgment.

  1. Do a cleanse. First a gentle full body cleanse you might consider the Standard Process Purification Program and then, if you feel it is needed, a cleanse that concentrates on the liver. Kari, a reader who knows more on t he subject than I do, says “You need [to start with] a complete cleanse and not just a liver cleanse. You want to clean out your system. If you focus to harshly on the liver it can be dangerous. Make sure you are eating or supplementing w/ lots anti-oxidants. This will help the toxins leave your body and not reattach somewhere else.” (P.S. Daddypotamus did the SP cleanse a few years back and inspired a cleanse-friendly cookbook. You can find it here)
  2. Acne sufferers often have a cluster of conditions such as fatigue, digestive problems, headaches, etc. If you have other health conditions listed here that you would like to work on, consider the GAPS protocol. (Need help getting started? This guide is very helpful)
  3. Get some sun! Remember that the liver needs vitamin D to function and the best source is sunlight.
  4. Get the junk out of your diet and eat foods that support the liver (check out Food Renegade’s article for a fantastic list of foods, herbs and spices), kidneys and hormone producing organs
  5. Specifically, avoid genetically modified foods (GMO’s). Only one human feeding study has ever been conducted on their safety (which found that pesticide producing genes in soy were NOT killed by stomach acid as makers claimed. They continued to live and produce toxins in the intestinal tract.) However, we can gain insight into the potential for organ damage by animal feeding studies. According to Real Food Digest, “
    The livers of mice and rats fed GM soy feed had profound changes. Some were smaller and partially atrophied, others were significantly heavier, possibly inflamed, and some showed signs of a toxic insult from eating GM food.” Oh and rats fed GM Soy experienced a pretty significant indicator of GM effects on organs – their pink testicles turned dark blue.
  6. Eat probiotic rich foods. The more good bacteria we have in our digestive tract the more easily we neutralize toxins and pathogens. By helping our body get rid of them quickly we avoid the need for detox efforts through the skin later. (New to cultured foods? Jenny over Nourished Kitchen has a class that can help you get started)
  7. Try eliminating grains and/or dairy. When digestive function is compromised grains/dairy can sometimes aggravate the problem. You might try eliminating them to see if your skin improves. If it does but you’re not getting full results, check out suggestion #2. (Note: Raw dairy can be beneficial for healing allergies in some instances. It all depends on whether you have enough good bacteria in your gut to break down lactose, among other things. Everyone is different!)
  8. Don’t over cleanse! Stripping skin of it’s natural oils may seem like a good idea, but it often just triggers oil production. Try the oil cleansing method for acne instead.

What did I miss?? Leave a comment below and let me know!

Photo Credit: Foundry Park Inn


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142 Responses to The REAL Cause of Acne

  1. Betsy T says:

    Oh Mommypotamus – this was the most engaging and educational blog! I smiled through the whole thing, and learned several things! Priceless and going on my nutritional FB page immediately – you are my hero – nuff said! Here’s to Bob 😉

  2. Heather says:

    Oh my, THANK YOU Dr. Betsy! I honestly felt like I bombed on this one but decided to publish anyway because the reader that asked might find it useful. So glad you liked it!

  3. Emily Brown says:

    Ditto to Dr. Betsy!!! You never cease to amaze me, Heather, with the depth of knowledge paired with such captivating approaches in your writing! Loved EVERYTHING about this one! 😀

  4. Wendy says:

    you got it!!!! suffered for years, thought I tried it all.
    the birth control pill kept it so pretty – but when I went off it to get pregnant my skin went mad – I mean sooo bad!

    In an effort to get pregnant started doing simple long term cleansing. cleared out the liver, started cleaning my skin with coconut oil mixed with lavender essential oil (make it yourself & rinse with hot water). I make my own coconut oil moisturizer too.
    then I discovered gluten!!! once that was gone my skin was free and free it has stayed for so long.

  5. Great post! I never had acne on my face, but I had it across my back (gross, I know). Once I started doing some juicing (mainly green juices), stopped using vegetable oils (we switched to coconut oil) and started eating clean, my acne disappeared! It was really crazy actually! I wish I would have changed my eating habits sooner. When I was 16 I went to Mexico for a family vacation and I was too embarrassed to wear any shirts that showed my back at all because the acne. I was hot and miserable!

  6. Heather says:


    If only I could fully heed the warnings. After being rushed to the ER this weekend with excruciating pain, I was told I had multiple large kidney stones. After being sent home on large amounts of pain killers, nausea medicine and flomax to assist them in coming out. I lay here in misery reading this article and realizing my acne has been becoming increasingly worse over the past month along with not being able to lose weight. If only I would have heeded the sign posts. Now with my low purine/low oxalate diet I am not supposed to consume: berries, cabbage, spinach, greens, legumes, and a whole list of things I feed my family on. It’s a very difficult thing to find the fine line between doctor recommendations and what my body does best on.

    thanks for the article

  7. Emily Woodall says:

    Great post; Lots of great info! My only concern here is figuring out HOW to cleanse my liver. There is a dizzying volume of information regarding liver cleansing on the web…it’s so overwhelming! And, how do you know who to trust? Can you do a liver cleanse using only real, whole foods? Or, do you need some supplement? Does anyone have any recommendations or experiences to share regarding liver cleansing? Thanks! =-)

    • Heather says:

      I don’t have any personal advice, but I’ll ask around!

    • I don’t know if you have ever heard of Arbonne, but they make incredible pure, Swiss Skin products as well as Health and Wellness that are gluten free and vegan certified. Anyway, they have an awesome 7-Day Detox Cleanse, a Daily Herbal Tea that supports kidney/liver health, as well as Probiotics/Prebiotics. Everything comes with a 45-day money-back guarantee. I am a Consultant with Arbonne, but I wouldn’t be if I didn’t LOVE these products and truly believe they are the best!! Check out my website at: You can contact me there as well if you have questions. Hope this helps!!

    • Lana says:

      Hi Emily, check out – you can do a search for a ‘Liver Tincture’ – Shoshanna is incredible and has some nice videos on youtube as well to explain how to do things! My husband and I are excited to finish preparing our tincture in the next couple days and start our liver cleanse (basically you order a bag of pre-mixed herbs, soak them in alcohol or whatever you choose for I believe 6-8 weeks, then strain the liquid into a little jar and take it daily until you reach desired results!)

    • Laura says: has a liver cleanse mix that I’ve used with success. It’s good to take fiber with it as well and lots of water.

      • Laura says:

        Haha, didn’t see the comment right above me- totally agree with everything Lana said. :) A lot of tinctures can be made with glycerin, honey, or vinegar, but the liver one needs to be done with alcohol as it takes the herbs straight into the liver.

  8. Margo Snider via FB says:

    great info as usual. Sharing this on my fb page!

  9. Esther says:

    I just completed Dr. Hulda Clark’s Liver Flush:

    It was do-able and the results are amazing!

    • Heather says:

      Thanks for the recommendation, Esther!

    • Laura says:

      I tried Hulda Clark’s liver cleanse…it appeared to work. However in research I read that the “stones” you secrete are actually just the congealed olive oil mixed with bile and all the acid you’ve ingested. I haven’t found anything really conclusive stating whether the cleanse works or if the olive oil “stones” are really what you see. Do you know anything about that?

      • Heather says:

        Sorry, I am not familiar with that one :(

      • Mary Light says:

        The stones are not “just” olive oil an bile. The olive oil aids in the secretion of bile, due to lubricating liver and gallbladder tissue in general, and allowing for congestion and stagnation on those organ tissues to release and promote movement. There is a lot of cleansing of sedimentation that goes on in this process, ALONG WITH the increase and release of bile, all of which increase peristalsis which leads to further eliminative cleansing. Pair that with the external application of a castor oil pack, and one has the potential to release all kinds of accumulations in the liver/gallbladder structure. There is a very basic physiology behind it, and those who try to detract from this process will say it is “just” oil /bile….but those who have successfully completed one or more cleanses know first hand how their bodies feel. See our website or FB page for more :

  10. Heather says:

    Does anyone know if these flushes/cleanses are okay with kidney stones?

  11. Esther says:

    P.S. My brother-in-law is a certified nutritionist and chiropractor for 20 years. He sees incredible results from his patients who do this flush. Amazed at how it clears up so many other issues. Sometimes it takes 2-3 times of doing the flush over a few months time to see full and complete results. I had 2 other health care professionals highly recommend this one as well.

  12. I gave up on having clear skin YEARS ago, I eat really healthy and still have horrible breakouts all over my body, thanks to all of your wonderful tips I think I’m going to give it a go and try to clear up my skin once and for all! I have never heard anyone explain things as well as you did in this article and I now that I really understand what’s going on, I feel confident that I can get my healthy skin back!

    • Ann says:


      My daughter and I have both suffered for years and years with acne problems. Mine started after I had my first baby and developed P.C.O.S. and metabolic syndrome. Hers developed over half a year while planning her wedding, but had been happening occasionally since puberty. Ours are a mostly blackhead variety, that will turn into whiteheads and get inflamed during the two weeks prior to our periods. Hormonal much?

      What has cleared both of our skins over this past year has been the elimination of sugars, processed foods, and excessive carbs. I gave up wheat and all other grains in October. Three weeks later I decided to go all the way and started eating between 25 and 75 grams of carbs per day. Enough to get my veggies, but no more. And none of my veg is starchy veg at all – no potatoes, rarely carrots, no beans etc. My daughter went very low carb, 25 grams or less per day.

      The end result? Both of us have skin like we had before acne ever entered our lives, minus a scar here and there. The texture is great, and I’m now able to cleanse twice daily with a good quality organic bar soap. Yup, bar soap. It doesn’t get oily anymore and it doesn’t break out.

      It can be done, but perhaps your situation, since you are already a clean eater, is some kind of a toxic response to sugars, or your metabolism responding to too many carbs. Insulin does crazy things to the body. Just a thought.

      • nilly says:

        Hi Ann

        Thank you so much for this response!

        My acne is exactly how yours used to be – blackheads that turn into whiteheads.
        I have exhausted every single avenue but never tried the low carb lifestyle.
        Please can you share some more information on what this entailed?
        Are you vegan? What would you eat in a typical day?
        I’d really appreciate some feedback – I’m getting married this year so rather desperate.
        Thank you in advance :) xxx

  13. Heather says:

    Esther, Did you do the other cleanses first? I see where it lists ingredients to do it, but not directions on how to do the others.

    • Esther says:

      My dr. did have me do a kidney cleanse first which helped to prepare for the liver cleanse: One beet, shred and grate, add 2 TB. of extra virgin olive oil. Add juice of 1/2 lemon. Eat raw, on empty stomach once a day for 10-14 days. In preparation, he also had me take several supplements by Standard Process: Spanish Black Radish, Livton, and Renafood. I would highly recommend finding a location practitioner who can guide you through the process and customize everything according to your body’s needs. There are so many variables that can happen during the flush. All the best to you!

  14. Robin says:

    Such a great post! I suffered from acne from about the age of 11 on. I often suspected that food could be the answer. As I’ve changed my diet over the past year I am FINALLY feeling more confident about my skin. As a 30 year old, it’s about time! :)

  15. Gwen Brown says:

    Hi Heather,
    Great article!
    I learned some amazing stuff about how the liver works at this nutritionist’s site:
    The articles on morning sickness and gall bladder disease were especially interesting. Did you know that bile will recycle the ‘waste’ back into your bloodstream unless you eat soluble fiber? Recycling dirty bile causes it to become ‘sludgy’ and thicker…which can lead to stones. Increasing your soluble fiber intake will force the liver to make clean bile, and break the cycle. I’ve found beans and apple products to both be good sources, but it does need to be *soluble* fiber, specifically.
    Also, the liver is in charge of breaking down lipids (fats), and the kidneys do the water based filtration. Hormones are lipid based. So anytime you are going through hormonal stuff like pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding/weaning, coming off of the pill…even losing weight pumps extra lipids into your bloodstream, so those are ‘at risk’ times for gall stones and liver problems…and for many women, acne.

    I have been enjoying the Love My Liver tea from Savvy Teas & Herbs…it has a wonderful spicy ‘chia’ taste, and I usually don’t care for ‘herbal’ tastes. :) HTH!

  16. Kati says:

    Gorgeous post mama! You have done yourself proud :) We just finished a nice dinner of liver and onions tonight so I am feeling full and happy. I heard Sally Fallon on a speaking engagement mention that one meal of liver provides the same nutrition as thirty days’ worth of red meat dinners. I’d love to see people encouraged to add this to their budget dining options. Talk about a big bang for the buck!!!

  17. Jodi says:

    I did not have acne as a teenager, but developed adult acne in my early twenties. Face, upper arms, upper back. Horrible and painful! Embarrassing! I struggled for another 10years or so before coming across Acnease, a product suggested and sold through my chiropractor. It worked!!! It targets the problem from the hormonal/liver standpoint. Once you complete it, it is essentially cured. You can always go back to it if you need to, but most people do not need to. Check out their website at

  18. Thanks Margo! And yay, Melissa! I’m glad you found the info helpful!

  19. Nicole Singh via FB says:

    Totally agree!!! Suffered from horrible cystic acne for thirty years so bad that I had to get steroid shots in the cysts weekly at one point. Did the Body Ecology diet e.g. No sugars what so ever and easy to digest foods and in 6 months my skin was clear

  20. Wow, what a huge turnaround. Love it!

  21. alexandra says:

    I’m do happy you decided to answer to my request :)

    generally, I had been following these diet guidelines for almost two years and the break-out issue is trully the only thing that’s bothering me about my health.

    the thing is I’m breastfeeding my 27 month old and I’m not sure if it would be wise for me to do any clense / detox right now. So I was looking for more diet related info which you were so kind to share with us

    thank you and congrats on this wonderful blog


  22. Brillantly done, Heather! So fun and creative and informative. XO.

  23. marina says:

    This is the best depiction of why acne happens that I have ever read, thank you for your talented writing! I will be sharing this link with my clients! :)

  24. sara r. says:

    I had terrible acne for all of my teenage years, until I got married and went on birth control. I knew in the back of my head that BC wasn’t “fixing it”, that there was some other issue involved. My skin actually cleared up in pregnancy, then I found traditional eating, and it’s never come back :) I am pretty sure now that I suffered from it so much not because of gut imbalance specifically, but because I just didn’t eat enough fat (or eat enough food altogether!) I was always a chunky teenager, and was terrified my whole life of getting “fat”. When I switched my diet I got clear skin and lost 20 pounds, so YAY for that. Unfortunately I still have the scars from my long acne battle- are there any natural ways to minimize those that you know of?

    • Heather says:

      I love Sea Buckthorn Oil for healing all kinds of skin issues. You can buy it at Mountain Rose Herbs ( but be careful! It’s bright orange and can stain clothes. I use just a little dab mixed with extra virgin coconut oil. Beauty blog coming soon!

  25. […] healthy fats aid in hormone function, but coconut oil is special. Bob the liver reaaaaally likes coconut oil because – well, because Bob gets to sit back and do NOTHING! You […]

  26. Jennifer says:

    Wow, this is a fantastic explanation, and makes sooo much more sense than “you have dirt and bacteria on your face, so wash more with this really expensive soap.” In your tips section, you mention Kari, a reader, who mention a 7 day detox that is gentle and complete. Could you provide more details? Is there a webpage about this particular detox? I have looked around some sites, but I see sooooo much about detoxing, and lots of it is conflicting, unclear, or just wants to sell you a product. I would love to hear more of her recommendation! Thank you!

  27. Pauline says:

    It mean if want to get rid of acne then we should keep our liver and kidney fit and healthy. For that we can take healthy diet mostly green vegetable can help us lot in this matter. Thanks for this worthy suggestion.

  28. Ashley says:

    Wow- I feel like this post was written for me! I have recently had adult onset of cystic acne. It’s been so depressing I don’t even want to leave my house! I changed to oil cleansing 2 months ago hoping it would clear it. It did, at first… then it came back twice as as bad! My derm only offered BCP, accutane or antibiotics that I take for a YEAR!! none of those are options I would consider… So THANK YOU! I love that you’re helping us get to the root of the problem and not masking symptoms! :)

  29. If you use the right skin care, acne can almost always be made better, but, I did a green kick challenge for about a month where I had a green smoothie for breakfast every morning, and my skin was glowing after a week. I really need to do that again.

  30. This was a good post but I disagree with your stance against sugar. To support liver detox it is required that you get adequate protein in the diet (you mention animal foods), but the liver requires sugars for the energy needed to detoxify the body. I generally recommend fruits and honey. For some, supplementing with cane sugar can be helpful. One does need a nourishing diet and a diet with as low an intake of PUFA as possible (including fish oil). Without PUFA the liver is not prone to the same level of lipid oxidation and damage from endotoxin. This generally makes it more efficient. Lastly, MCTs (think coconut oil) protects the liver from endotoxin stress.

  31. That makes sense since green smoothies would assist in the detox process!

  32. Is there a cleanse you would recommend?

  33. Thanks for your comment, Gabriel Alcocer! I’ve edited the post to clarify that I think fruit and honey are usually okay (every person is different so I can’t say that categorically).

  34. True, but fruit sugar and honey are usually easy to digest when compared to starchy fruits and veggies. I meant to ask. Is it you who has the baby food book? We are expecting and I need a recipe source?

  35. Pranee Idom Bickel – People have success with different ones based on their unique needs, so I don’t have a “favorite” one really. If it were me, I’d find a good herbalist who will take the time to understand my body and suggest a gentle whole body cleanse to start with and go from there.

  36. Congratulations, Gabriel Alcocer! Yes, I am the one that has the baby food book :) The recipes are not typical baby food, but more whole family recipes that are baby-friendly (easily digestible ingredients rather than grains and starchy veggies). It also has a section on how to encourage good micrometabolic imprinting through the birth process and with breastfeeding.

  37. Melanie says:

    I suffered from acne from age 11 until my late 20’s. Even with eating a very healthy diet. I tried everything under the sun that I could find, even prescription meds. What finally worked for me was limiting grains particularly wheat. Mercola wrote a few articles about this a few years ago
    I can tell almost immediately in my skin if I’ve been eating too much.

    • Heather says:

      Thank you SO MUCH, Melanie! I was thinking a long those lines when I suggested GAPS (because it’s a grain-free diet), but for those that don’t want to do something quite that intense I added another recommendation to try removing grains. Muah!

  38. I have also found that many of my patients with cystic and/or body acne see significant improvements from doing a 30 day parasite cleanse.

  39. Gia says:

    Love the post and totally agree with everything!
    Except…problem for me, my skin was beautiful and clear until recently – when I found out I was pregnant. All of a sudden I started getting large, painful cysts on my chin and some smaller near my mouth and nose. I follow a mix of SCD/GAPS and I can’t think of anything that I’m eating that would be a problem.
    I’m hoping maybe it’s just tied to first trimester hormones, but I really don’t like it!
    Any suggestions are much appreciated! (Or even just knowing this has happened to others and it will clear up soon would be great).

  40. Thank you so much for this easy to understand and informative post! I have been suffering from acne since I was a senior in high school, the only thing that keeps my skin clear is the Practice skincare and I would love to not have to use it anymore as I’m sure it’s pretty toxic. The only time my skin is naturally clear was when I was pregnant with each of my children after the first trimester! It was so clear and glowing, then I had my children and a month later the pimples were back…boo. I have also found when I practice food combining and staying away from sugar, my skin does better, but unfortunately I have never stuck with it for very long. I am finishing up a 21 Day Sugar Detox (I will finish Monday) and feel some good changes happening to my health, I also have started food combining again. I plan to do several Sugar Detoxes this year to help me conquer my inner sugar monster :-)

  41. My auto correct is so silly sometimes, I meant Proactive skin care:-)

  42. Lisa C says:

    Great post. It touched on some information that I didn’t really understand before, so I thank you for giving me a deeper understanding of acne. I used to have severe acne, but it’s cleared up tremendously by changing my diet. Interestingly, I do have a kidney issue as well as a “stagnant” liver as my ND called it, and I’m pretty sure I have PCOS which tends to increase androgen hormones. I’m working on all of these things right now, so maybe after I’ve made more improvement, my skin will be amazing? That would be nice.

    I think it’s really important to understand that acne is a symptom rather than a disease. Therefore, there are many things that can cause it. But one of the most basic causes is too many toxins in the body. This is really basic, but I would also mention that it’s so important to have regular, healthy bowel movements. The bowel is perhaps the most important exit of toxins from the body. If they don’t leave the body on a regular basis, they will get circulated back in, which puts more pressure on the skin to detox. Fiber, of course, is important for picking up toxins and carrying them to the bowels. Also super basic is getting *right* amount of exercise (varies individually), since exercise just makes the body function better all around. Of course, it goes without saying that an all-around healthy diet is important, too–you have to focus on the whole body, not just the problems you are targeting.

  43. Chris RB says:

    Hi. Great article. I’ve recently transitioned into a whole food, paleo-type diet (grain free), and noticed some improvement in my facial skin. I am still experiencing some back acne, but from what I understand this generally takes longer to clear up than facial acne and am hoping the diet will eventually remedy this.
    In the meantime, I was wondering if you (or anyone else) has any recommendations for a good soap to use as part of my anti-acne regimen.

  44. amy says:

    I am guessing that there will be changes as well in the non-GM soy feed. Perhaps not changes that have to do with the liver, but certainly issues in other ares. The Weston Price Foundation has great information on the dangers of soy (including organic!).

    The livers of mice and rats fed GM soy feed had profound changes. Some were smaller and partially atrophied, others were significantly heavier, possibly inflamed, and some showed signs of a toxic insult from eating GM food.” Oh and rats fed GM Soy experienced a pretty significant indicator of GM effects on organs – their pink testicles turned dark blue

  45. Kari Martin via FB says:

    So, is this the 7 day cleanse you were referencing and what about nursing?

  46. Kari Martin via FB says:

    So, is this the 7 day cleanse you were referencing and what about nursing?

  47. Kari Martin via FB says:

    So, is this the 7 day cleanse you were referencing and what about nursing?

  48. dallaston says:

    Quote – “The man thrives on B, D and A vitamins (found only in animal products)”…
    Vitamin B1, also called thiamine, is found in rice, beans and nuts as well as in fortified breads or cereals.
    Vitamin B2 can be found in almonds and avocados, as well as in dark green leafy vegetables.
    vitamin B3 is in peanuts, peanut butter and fortified grain products.
    vitamin B6 is in bananas and avocados.
    Vitamin B9 can be found in citrus fruits, peanuts and some mushrooms.
    Vitamin B12 is in fortified cereals, soy milk or meat substitutes.
    vitamin D: The best source is sunlight, vitamin d is present in foods fortified with torula yeast (a vegetative micro organism).
    vitamin A- cantaloupe melon, spinach, carrots, pumpkins, tomatoes, dark greens

    No animal products there, then…

    • Heather says:

      Hi Dallaston! Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I should have written that “The man thrives on B12, D and A vitamins (found only in animal products).” B12, as you say, is found in vegetarian foods only in “fortified” form (i.e. added in). Fortified vitamins and minerals are synthetic and not comparable to the real thing in terms of bioavailability.

      Regarding vitamin D, torula yeast is not as natural as it sounds. It is commonly used as a flavor enhancer to replace MSG, and therefore I do not consider it a valid natural source.

      And though nutrition labels often say that a food has X amount of Vitamin A, what they really mean is that it has beta carotene. Contrary to popular belief, beta carotene is NOT the same as Vitamin A. It is a precursor . . .and as I wrote about here it is a poor one at that! True bioavailable Vitamin A is found only in animal products such as fermented cod liver oil, pastured butter, egg yolks, liver, and seafood.

  49. Kari Martin – I was thinking of another one found at my local health food store but I can’t find it online. I wouldn’t go with that one because one of the “detox” ingredients is caffeine . . . sounds to me like it is more of a quick fix weight loss thing. Though consuming liver cleansing foods like kombucha and beet kvass are recommended while nursing, actual detoxes are not because the toxins released will flow into breastmilk. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, I’m having some trouble updating my post right now but as soon as I am able I will clarify about the 7 day recommendation

  50. Shawna says:

    Ha ha! I am laughing to myself, because I have had acne since I was 16. It has only disappeared during birth control pill usage and breastfeeding, so I always assumed hormones were the culprit. I didn’t understand the liver function process that you just described. But if all that is true, then I guess I am lucky I inherited my grandfather’s superhuman liver! He was an alcoholic for his entire life, and he dies at the ripe old age of 83 from a brain tumor….completely unrelated to liver. Anyhow, my diet contains healthy foods, but I have never eliminated caffeine, GMO’s, and processed sugar completely. I am tempted to try one of your cleanses and see what my superhuman liver is really capable of…

  51. Milla says:

    I haven’t really had any major issues with acne since I started traditional foods (touch wood!). However, I still get mini-breakouts – not acne, just some small pimples – whenever I’m in the city. The water is full of chemicals (showering feels like emptying a chlorinated swimming pool onto yourself) and the air isn’t the cleanest either – especially when you live in London, and most of the dirt falls on you in the form of rain. All this goes away when I go somewhere secluded on holiday (and with lots of sun! London is a recipe for vitamin D deficiency). Sun really does wonders for the skin.

    • Heather says:

      I totally agree, Milla!

    • Laura says:

      totally agree about the sun, too. My usually problem skin (working on that) was perfect the summer I worked on a farm and was out in the sun 8+ hours a day. I rarely used sunscreen but never really burned- just got really tan and perfect looking skin.

  52. Aubrianne Kluver via FB says:

    Panteothenic acid (vitamin b-something) changed my life. I’ve also been working on detoxing my liver, detoxing extra estrogen and cleaning up my diet — white carbs get me every time! But that vitamin helps in the meantime like nobody’s business. 1 gram a day until it clears up, and then cut to 500mg. I notice a difference in about 2 days. And actually, I dont have to take it anymore!!

  53. Heather James via FB says:

    For 4 months, I was gluten/dairy/soy-free… no improvement. Granted, I didn’t do everything listed here but if one did, it would seriously be a full-time job. I struggle just to keep myself and 3 kids regularly fed, bathed, dressed, watered etc… just the basics. It is completely impossible to do everything that one must do to have a totally healthy, well-rounded life. Regular exercise? Ok… but at the expense of meditation. Meditation? Ok… but at the expense of reading to the kids. Spending time with and reading to the kids? Ok… but at the expense of using that time going to the health food store and instead fixing just whatever for dinner. It’s maddening. For a person (me) who can’t even remember to drink enough water in a day (I have to set alarms on my phone and half the time, I forget even that), this is maddening. Not that this isn’t good advice… I guess I’m just raging at the fact that we’re set up for failure and that clean, healthy living is harder and one must seemingly swim upstream to achieve it.

  54. Heather James via FB says:

    For 4 months, I was gluten/dairy/soy-free… no improvement. Granted, I didn’t do everything listed here but if one did, it would seriously be a full-time job. I struggle just to keep myself and 3 kids regularly fed, bathed, dressed, watered etc… just the basics. It is completely impossible to do everything that one must do to have a totally healthy, well-rounded life. Regular exercise? Ok… but at the expense of meditation. Meditation? Ok… but at the expense of reading to the kids. Spending time with and reading to the kids? Ok… but at the expense of using that time going to the health food store and instead fixing just whatever for dinner. It’s maddening. For a person (me) who can’t even remember to drink enough water in a day (I have to set alarms on my phone and half the time, I forget even that), this is maddening. Not that this isn’t good advice… I guess I’m just raging at the fact that we’re set up for failure and that clean, healthy living is harder and one must seemingly swim upstream to achieve it.

  55. Meagan Riegle Jenks via FB says:

    Gluten free has been huge for my skin, but one of the best things for me, where I saw pretty immediate results, was drinking apple cider vinegar. I hate it, but it works!

  56. If my husband stays away from gluten and dairy he is free and clear but as soon as he slips, HUGE breakouts and even sores. Try elimination diet, it may be another food.

  57. Jennifer says:

    Hi Heather,

    Thank you for this post! There is so much information out there on this topic and your use of “Bob” was not only entertaining, but easy to follow!

    I have been a whole foods vegan for about 3 years now. My intake of processed/refined food is very rare. Green tea and dark chocolate are my only sources of caffeine.

    Through your blog and others (Weston Price) I am starting to toy with the idea of incorporating some animal products (grass fed butter from the farmer’s market, for example) into my diet. This is something I am working on and will keep you up to date when/if I decide to experiment.

    I will be traveling to Scotland in September and plan on eating real salmon and local raw cheeses, so perhaps I will see how that goes and perhaps continue when I return to the states.

    My skin has been a gross fascination with me for years. I went on Proactiv at the age of 17 and over the last 10 years I periodically have gone off it it to try more organic or natural approaches without any luck (just a lot of frustration!)

    I have been using the oil cleansing method now for about 4 months and I am quite happy with it. However, I do continue to have breakouts along my jaw/neckline. I am still experimenting and I try to eat a variety of foods in moderation. We eat a lot of alternative grains/seeds in my home and I have begun eating a spoonful or two of raw fermented cabbage every other day (or when I remember!)

    Thank you for this blog and all of your info sharing. I look forward to continuing to be a part of the conversation :)

  58. Donna says:

    A coworker of mine recently shared that she gives her son an antibiotic to control his acne. After I told her (tactfully, mind you) that constant antibiotic exposure has deleterious long-term effects on gut health, she replied, “I can’t just let him walk around with a crater face. Do you know how cruel kids are in school? And I can’t blame them – one of his friends has terrible acne, and I think it’s disgusting.” I challenged her to think about the fact that she shares an opinion with 8th graders, whom she sees as cruel and immature, and that she as an adult can inform them and teach compassion.

    She continued, “Besides – do you know how hard it is to get a teen-age boy to wash his face?” This is a similar argument I’ve heard from male genital mutilation proponents who claim that surgery is a better option than teaching guys to wash themselves.

    Despite these opinions, she was attentive when I shared information about probiotics, the effects of antibiotics on both the user and bacteria (the creation of super bugs), and the benefits of nutrition-as-medicine. Maybe she’ll consider this information in future decisions. We have to keep this information circulating so people like my coworker can hear it.

    • Heather says:

      Yes, we do! Back when I had acne I seriously considered Accutane, but didn’t go that route for financial reasons. I had no idea how much damage stuff like that could cause to gut flora (among other things!) back then, and am so glad someone took the time to tell me. Good for you for tactfully sharing information with her!

      • Erika says:

        Heather- when you recommend consulting a professional, are you suggesting a nutritionist, herbalist, acupuncturist, chiropractor?

        • Heather says:

          There are people practicing in all of those disciplines that are more or less qualified based on their approach. Some chiropractors mainly focus on physical alignment, while others take a more holistic approach and look at diet, hormonal balance, etc. In other words, I think it depends more on the practitioner than the title :)

          • erika says:

            Have you heard of EstroBlock? It is a supplement that is supposed to rid your body of excess estrogen. I know that it is better to get what your body needs from the foods you eat, but do you think some supplements are necessary because of what our food supply lacks?

  59. Aubrianne – how do you detox extra estrogen?

  60. Heather – i totally feel your pain. It’s tough. Friends, family & spouse support is a must. “It takes a village to raise a child.” It always has.

    Y’all don’t wanna know what we’ve been eating this week with all the reading & searching I’ve been doing!

  61. Erin Shaw via FB says:

    WHERE is the info on whole body and liver cleanses that was mentioned in the article?? Ive been looking for something that I can trust for a long time…PLEASE point me in The right direction!!!

  62. Erin Shaw – There isn’t one that I think is a good fit for everyone. For example, I like the Standard Process 21 Day Cleanse (I even wrote a cookbook that can be used with it!), but I think it’s a bit too restrictive on healthy fats like coconut oil and don’t think the fiber supplements are useful for everyone. It might be a good place to start, though.

  63. Erin Shaw via FB says:

    Thank you! Any thoughts on a liver cleanse?

  64. Erin Shaw via FB says:

    Thank you! Any thoughts on a liver cleanse?

  65. Erin Shaw – Not really. They’re not recommended for pregnant/nursing wpmen. I’ve been one or the other (or both!) for the past 5+ years now so doing one hasn’t really been an option :)

  66. Anna says:

    I have read lots of research on acne, and I’m not sure the “liver is overloaded” explanation holds up. Acne starts when a pore (hair follicle) becomes plugged; a plugged hair follicle is called a comedone. The bacteria that cause inflamed acne grow very well inside comedones. If you can prevent comedones, you can prevent acne. Comedones can be caused by putting comedogenic ingredients on the face. However, the hormones insulin and insulin-like-growth factor (specifically, IGF-I) also cause comedones by causing the cells that line the hair follicle to multiply rapidly, and also inhibiting apoptosis (natural cell death). What you end up with is a follicle that is so crammed with cells that the cells start to suffocate each other (the cells suffer from hypoxia). The low-oxygen, crammed environment is perfect for P. acnes. Eating a low-glycemic diet can be really helpful for clearing up acne, because it generally results in less circulating insulin. However, there there is one type of food that low on the glycemic index, but very high on the insulin index, that can be helpful to avoid. Dairy! It doesn’t matter where the dairy comes from–whether it’s raw, etc.–it all causes a surge of insulin. This is because whey protein is insulinogenic–it stimulates insulin production from the pancreas. And in case you’re wondering, one glass of milk, or one cup of yogurt, stimulates much more insulin from the pancreas than a slice of white bread. Cheese is low in whey, and thus also fairly low on the insulin index, but it does contain testosterone (produced during fermentation from precursors) that can aggravate acne. Besides being insulinogenic, milk–ALL milk–also contains large amounts of IGF-1, which promotes comedone formation. The IGF-1 is NATURALLY present in cow milk, presumably because it helps the calves grow.

    So yes, eliminating grains and dairy can help with acne, but I would argue that it works because it lowers circulating insulin levels and IGF-1, and not because it improves digestion. You can have VERY POOR digestion and still have skin like a porcelain doll. My brother’s acne disappeared when he developed severe Crohn’s. He had skin like a porcelain doll. I would guess that if they had measured his insulin levels at that time, they would have been extremely low.

    One more thing…insulin also promotes acne by stimulating the gonads (testes or ovaries), resulting in higher androgen levels.

  67. Great post!!! Thanks so much…I have just gotten over a kidney infection and had a huge breakout. You just shed some light on that for me :)

  68. Patricia says:

    “Excessive intake of Omega 6 essential fatty acids” This is so true. You can easily overeating nuts and get too much omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 3 and 6 intake should ideally be equal, and not in excessive amount.

  69. I use the oil cleansing method. or “OCM” and LOVE it.

  70. […] personal care products, it must be addressed by diet. Read Mommypotamus’ fantastic post on†acne†to help get you […]

  71. Raquel says:

    I really wanted to incorporate raw milk into my diet but now I’m pretty sure I have a true allergy. I tried raw kefir and got a huge pimple on my face. Then I tried raw yogurt and now I have a monster pimple on my neck. Butter makes my eyes itchy the next day after eating it :(

  72. k pope says:

    “The man thrives on B, D and A vitamins (found only in animal products) as well as vitamin C”

    This is horribly WRONG. If you research, you’ll find that B12 is actually the only vitamin that doesn’t occur in natural plant-based foods and must come from an animal source (or supplement.) At least clear up what you meant because the way it is phrased sounds like you’re are saying B, D, and A all must come from animals, and that’s just not true. Please edit this misinformation.

    Otherwise, this was a great article.

  73. Jessica P says:

    My daughter is already having problems with acne and our dermatologist recommended Citrus Clear – so I tried this and it worked immediately. She is washing her face and using it daily and is a much kinder and gentler than other acne products. She loves it !

    • Ash says:

      Hi, my name is Ashton. I have had an issue with acne for about 6 months now. About two years ago my dermatalogist put me on a oral and facial regimen and i never had acne. Then summer of 2014 came like a hurricane of acne. I got it all over my face mainly the jawline. The following November i became a huge fan of motivational speaker Anthony Robbins. I started up on a super greens drink amd alkalized my diet (my diet before consisted of 99% animal protein… Eggs, bacon, turkey…) immediately my skin cleared up. Now hear i am four months later. About a month ago (early February) my acne showed its ugly self again. This time in almost a rash like state on my cheeks (looks alot like rosecea but dermatologist said it is not) so i found myself on dermatologist drugsagain. I am knowon two different topical gels both having a tretinoin (vit. A) concentration of .025. I am a month amd a half out and have not found any change. So i beleive it has to be with what goes on inside my body. With the super greens drink, i was actually overdosing (only supposed to take one scoop of servings and was taking three… Oops) this means i was taking in 3X the daily recommended amout of beta carotene needed on a daily basis. To add to that i have the vitamin a from the two tretinoin medicines my dlctor has me on. So i am wondering is this causing hypervitamosis A in my liver? If so can this be what is causing my rosecea like acne in my cheeks? Thanks

  74. Sarah says:

    You see, I was hoping to find that “AH-HA” thing that would solve my skin problems, but no luck. I eat well, what you, other readers and I would call well, I very rarely eat any junk and don’t eat processed sugars. I eat a lot of grass-fed meat, lots of pastured butter…still, I have acne. Here and there on my face, not severe, but almost always present. Same as my upper back between my shoulders, so I know it’s not a reaction to a cleanser. I’ve tried cleanses and noticed no difference, but would be willing to try again if it weren’t for nursing…
    hmmmm…going to try to increase my gelatin, but other than that, I was wondering what you thought of diet and hormone balance- any suggestions?

  75. Daniela says:

    I’ve been battling with acne my entire life and am constantly trying to figure out what causes it. I know some of the foods that make it worse are cheese and milk, even raw and grass fed but when I was pregnant and nursing my skin was flawless for the first time in my life and the day my first period returned it was right back again, even worse. This confused me even more leading me to believe it is hormonal. I’ve been really strict with eliminating cheese and milk from my diet as hard as it is, but still allowing yoghurt, kefir and goats cheese which I thought I was fine with but I am still getting some acne. So maybe I need to eliminate all dairy. I have also tried eliminating grains and that doesn’t seem to make a difference. I will try one week without any dairy and then see what happens.

  76. Jen says:

    Great article. Most helpful.
    Any tips on healing a leaky gut eg foods to heal? I recall reading that raw cabbage juice can help heal the gut.
    Look forward to any advice!

  77. Vita says:

    I agree with everything you wrote here! My acne was aggravated by certain food items, mainly lack of omega 3 and too much sugar/carbs. Going Paleo really helped.
    However, I don’t think it’s all just about our kidneys, liver, digestion system, etc. Skincare is just as important. Using chemical products and stripping the skin can also be a massive reason why people have acne – ditching all products and using just olive oil, OCM and water has completely sorted out my skin. On most days water only is enough to keep my skin completely happy.
    I agree that being in the sun and making enough Vitamin D is also so important.

  78. Mayor61 says:

    I have pretty bad skin: at 30 I have to use acne medication… That aside, my skin is so sensitive that I often get huge problems with my skin starting to painfully peel off. Needless to say, I’m not very keen on face washes. I’ve tried some before, but they were so irritating and caused break outs.

    The only thing my sensitive skin can use is the Made From Earth Grapefruit Glycolic Wash. First, micro-beads are big, so even if you scrub a lot, they won’t scratch you. Second, I did not notice any break outs after using this product every other day for a month now and my skin looks much more radiant and feels really smooth.
    I’m one of those people who really need to use sensitive skin products, but I’ trying to move away from Clinique to more natural/organic like Made From Earth.

  79. Anna says:

    Do you have any suggestions for alternatives to Standard Process Purification Program? I did some research and it is not safe for someone with a gluten allergy.

  80. Rainbow light vitamins orthomol it was specially registered at a forum to tell to you thanks for support

  81. Melana Bucher says:

    I have had acne for over seven years now and I recently started looking at all organic ways to treat acne. I know diet is a huge factor and I can’t wait to try changing my diet to completely organic. I don’t have the means to go completely organic yet, but I would like to start implementing more organic foods to my diet. Where should I start? By the way, great post, I loved reading this!

  82. Alexis says:

    Can I just say THANK YOU!!! I am 17 right now and have had bad acne since I was 13. Many people have said that the only reason I did was because I was (am) young. Well I’ve tried every over the counter medication ever heard of and It has only gotten worse. But here’s the thing that I just realized might be connected: I have a wheat allergy, am lactose intolerant and corn intolerant. And even after not eating all of those hings my face did not get better. But now that I’ve seen this post I will definantely try some of the things you have suggested. Thanks sooooooo much! You are my hero

  83. Brookolyn says:


    I am on the GAPS diet and eat very healthy. What should I do if I still have acne?

    • Amanda @ Mommypotamus Support says:

      Brookolyn, Heather’s not a doctor and cannot diagnose conditions, but in general the theory behind GAPS is that a compromised gut can create a variety of symptoms, including acne. Some of her friends have found that GAPS was helpful for reversing their conditions but not all saw results immediately. It seemed to be a process. Might be worth consulting with a GAPS practitioner to see if you could accelerate the process.

  84. I enjoyed this article and i did add to my knowledge of what causes acne.Thanks mommypotamus

  85. C says:

    what about baby acne?

    • Anna says:

      Hi C,
      I know this response is a little late, but… your baby’s acne might not be acne after all. It could be milia, specifically “primary” or “pediatric” milia. If the bumps you are seeing on your baby’s face are small and white, pinkish but not bright red, then that’s what it is (most likely). If they are indeed red, inflamed bumps then he or she is suffering from baby acne, which can be caused by all sorts of things. It may be caused by the hormones in breast milk, or any medications you might be taking. Chances are it isn’t serious, and will likely clear up on its own. Babies are going through a lot of changes very quickly, so I have no idea if this is even relevant to you still! Hope all is well,

  86. Brittney says:

    Thank you for this article , it was very informative about how the liver works. I have been searching the web for information about acne. I took a morning after pill about 8 months ago and I developed acne . It started on my forehead the first month and eventually spread to my cheeks. I’m 25 yrs old and prior to this I have never had acne only 1 or 2 bumps every once in a blue moon. My husband and I have been looking for ways to resolve this issue naturally, because I’m terrified to try anything artificial for fear it will make things worse. If your have any advice I would love to hear it. Hopefully you will see my comment , I know this was a posted some time ago.

  87. Alisha says:

    Hi! I’m Alisha, and I found this article while searching for information on phosphorous kidney stones. I’ve been struggling with kidney stones since I had my first daughter 5 years ago. They were tested and came back as struvite/phosphorous stones causes from chronic kidney infections? What can I do do help this?

  88. Anthony says:

    Hi Heather

    i’ve suffered with chronic back acne for 6 years and after numerous visits to top dermatologists in and around Durban SA. The only answer they had for me was Roacutane, which i have been on with bad side effects and a bad relapse after stopping! I thought i had tried everything!

    Untill i heard about body builders that use steroids, having to use liver supplements to counter act the potential back acne side effects.
    2 weeks after starting with a liver supplement my back was clear!!!
    The relief i have now if second to none!

    i still have terrible scaring on my back, which i hope you can help me out with.
    My back looks like the moon with craters deep and wide spread.
    what is an effective procedure/cure for scaring?

    I would also like to know what potential long term damage a sluggish liver could cause? has dirty blood been going through all my other organs?

    Great article and i wish more qualified people knew about this!!!

    best regards

  89. Patricia says:

    “The man thrives on B, D and A vitamins (found only in animal products) as well as vitamin C.”

    What? Did you just say that vitamins B, D, and A are only found in animal products? Animal products are not even the best sources of these vitamins, let alone the only sources. Best source of D (actually a hormone) = sunlight; A = sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens; B = more complicated because several vitamins, but can be found in dark leafy greens, other vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and fruits. B12 is the only one difficult to obtain via plant foods (though certain sea vegetables and macroalgae do contain it), and thus is the ONLY vitamin vegans are recommended to supplement. B12 is not, however, produced by animals themselves but is actually manufactured by bacteria and gets stored in animal flesh. (The B12 used to fortify foods is sourced from bacterial cultures.)

    I appreciate your post as a whole and find it valuable, but as a committed, educated vegan, statements that perpetuate the myth that we need animal products to be healthy disturb me–especially when they are as blatantly untrue as the above claim that vitamins B, D, and A can only be found in animal products.

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