'Skin dieting' is the new way to get better skin. But is there any truth behind it?

Whether you're a skincare dork or not, chances are you're familiar with the buzz around diet and skin. These days, the two terms have become intrinsically linked. 

You've seen celebrities and wellness influencers on Instagram talk about their flawless skin and how 'good skin starts in the gut'. You've seen 'experts' touting the benefits of 'skin diets' to help you nab a clearer complexion. Collagen bars, glow powders, and beauty shakes are everywhere you look.

These days good skin is no longer about what you actually put on your skin, but what you put in your body. 

But is there actually any truth behind this? Can you really eat your way to better skin? 

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Video via Mamamia

We all know that eating a balanced diet rich in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and the rest of the essentials, is a very IMPORTANT thing to do - it's the foundation for good health, after all.

The problem here, though, is that buzz words, trends and products are now being used to frame certain food groups into two specific categories. Foods that are 'good' and a cure-all for skin issues, and those that are classified as 'bad'.

"I think that the reasons for the focus on diet and skin are many," said dermatologist Dr Katherine Armour from Bespoke Skin Technology. "First of all, diet is something that we can control ourselves without having to seek external help."

But, where is this all coming from? 

"The supplements industry is huge. So we are constantly bombarded by campaigns suggesting that we can fix a myriad of health issues with supplements – and this includes issues with our skin," said Dr Armour.

However, when it comes to treating common skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis and rosacea, there's a lot more to it than cutting out carbs and going on a juice detox. It's a little (ok, a lot) more complex than that.


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While some foods and ingredients have been shown to help improve skin conditions, experts say that thinking of your diet as the most effective way to improve your skin is problematic.

"I’m always very concerned when I see patients who are restricting their diets very aggressively when there is no good evidence for a benefit of this with their particular skin condition," said Dr Armour. "It is not uncommon for me to see people avoiding sugar, wheat, dairy, and meat in the belief that it will cure their skin condition." 

While diet absolutely plays a role in skin health, Dr Armour said simply just 'eating healthy' will not fix your skin - there are so many other factors at play.

"The genesis of good skin results from a complex interplay between our genes, environmental protection (against UV light and pollution), a healthy diet, and good skin care," she said. "I think that reviewing our diet in terms of skin health is definitely relevant. It just isn’t the be all and end all."

GP and skin cancer physician Dr Imaan Joshi from Skin Essentials agrees that while looking at your diet as a general guiding principle can support good skin health, placing the focus solely on diet as a means to 'fix' your skin is not beneficial. 

"We know that tried-and-true advice that’s not sexy and trendy doesn’t sell, which is why we have such an explosion of supplements/cookbooks/influencers for skin, detoxing diets for skin and more," said Dr Joshi.

"As any other unregulated industry, people with skin conditions are therefore frequently targeted by companies spruiking their products and using influencers and celebrities to sell these without evidence to support them."

Can the food you eat 'cure' skin conditions?

While the fluffy phrases and terminology used by wellness influencers, health brands and celebrities might often be treated as fact, experts say that the evidence behind these kinds of claims are often flimsy and more research is needed in this area.

"There are areas which are lacking in good scientific evidence. I often see patients who are restricting their diet in potentially dangerous ways as they’ve been led to believe that it will fix their skin problem, or prevent ageing," said Dr Armour.

Just like our general health, Dr Armour said skin health tends to do best with the “all things in moderation” mantra - seeing certain foods as strictly 'good' and 'bad' is not the correct approach.


But what about the evidence that is already out there when it comes to skin and diet? We've all heard of cutting out dairy to improve acne, and ditching spicy foods to curb rosacea flare-ups - is any of this actually beneficial?

"To an extent, yes," said Dr Joshi. "Unprocessed foods, fruits and vegetables all contain essential vitamins and minerals that can support skin health; healthy fats (nuts and seeds) are all beneficial in supporting good skin health."

Image: Getty

"Drinking water over soft drinks, alcohol and caffeinated beverages for the most part helps with skin hydration and better function. Water is also important to keep your internal systems working well. Too much alcohol, sugar and for people prone to it, dairy, can negatively affect skin health and quality."

However, it has been noted that while sugary foods potentially play a role in skin conditions such as acne, the research around dairy and carbohydrates is poor. 

Dr Armour said, "While there are clear biochemical mechanisms via which milk consumption may lead to acne development, we need far more scientific evidence before dairy restriction can be recommended. Again, all things in moderation."

For Ashli Templer, founder of Yours Only Co, after being diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis (a condition where antibodies fight the body's thyroid, resulting in inflammation), SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and eczema, she was forced to make some lifestyle changes, adjusting her diet in order to help ease the symptoms.


"It’s interesting as I have been across this 'trend' my entire life and have been dieting for both my body and skin. Both Hashimoto’s and SIBO affect me in various ways. Overall, I need to be really careful, and eat foods that break down quickly i.e. no red meat, and foods that fuel my body," explains Ashli.

"The SIBO has led to a lot of ongoing issues (there’s a lot to it!) – if I eat foods I’m intolerant to, I break out. For example, my salicylate intolerance leaves me with general (horrible) IBS symptoms, and when I overdo it (like eating an apple) I will flare up in hives." 

Ashli also doesn't consume sugar, gluten or dairy and since making these changes to her diet said she hasn't experience eczema in years. However, she stresses this isn't a one-size-fits-all approach.

"We’re [often] told if you have eczema, cut out gluten and dairy, but it’s not right for everyone," said Templer. "We can’t assume that diet will solve everything, but in my opinion, it’s the place to start. It’s a holistic approach.

"You don’t want to cut things out without a specialist on hand, as you might be cutting out an entire nutrient-filled food groups for no reason. We then need to look at [other factors] like stress, what you’re putting on your body and [even] what you’re cleaning your house with."

What are the dangers of restricting foods?

When it comes to those struggling with skin conditions, placing the focus solely on food and restrictive eating feeds into a dangerous territory of diet culture. Not only does this affect people physically, but emotionally too - creating an aura of guilt and shame around skin conditions.

"Restrictive diets that exclude entire food groups without need or basis, risk long-term vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Even under medical care and prescribed treatments, skin takes on average of three months to begin to show improvement. Restrictive diets are not usually sustainable for the vast majority, which may then contribute to a sense of failure," said Dr Joshi.

Studies show that skin disease often has physiological, psychological and social impacts. People who deal with skin issues are more likely to struggle with their self-esteem issues, anxiety and depression - and the narrative around 'you are what you eat' only escalates these feelings.

Image: Getty


"Dieting, for any reason, we know now, is largely unhelpful and mostly harmful to one’s mental health due to its very nature and the fact that most people simply cannot sustain a restrictive pattern of eating," said Dr Joshi. "It’s a set-up for failure and associated shame and guilt in someone whose self-esteem may already be at rock bottom."

"There’s a fair bit of shame attached for people with less than 'perfect' skin, even if we disregard filters and Photoshop. And I suspect for those people with acne, rosacea, pigmentation and other issues, being told a (usually) super restrictive diet will fix their skin problem is not only harmful but also dishonest and may affect their psychological health."

What should you do if you're struggling with a skin condition?

Okay. If changing your diet and lifestyle is something that has worked for you and has helped improve your skin condition, go you! By all means do whatever is best for your skin (and health).

What's important to remember here, however, is that what worked for that beauty influencer on Instagram, might not work for you - unfortunately it's not as straightforward as that. Looking at your diet alone as a means of attaining 'better' skin isn't the right approach for most people. 

While it can be hard to escape all the misinformation we see online, if you're struggling with a skin condition, the best possible approach is to see a professional.

"Start with a medical doctor. Invest the time and effort in a skin assessment to try to get to the problem affecting your skin, related underlying issues for it and be realistic about treatment options, which may include prescription medications," said Dr Joshi.


"I commonly say, with motivated patients, results will take three to six months on average. The longer you put it off or get the wrong advice, the longer it takes to arrest the disease process and begin to affect improvement."

For those finding it difficult to deal with their skin conditions, Ashli said changing your mindset and connecting with like-minded people who are going through a similar experience is something she found to be incredibly helpful.

"Switch the narrative in your mind of “why me” to “this is me, and I have a story”. I never understood why I was hit with the allergy stick, but it has allowed me to learn so much about the body, and connect with so many other people in the same boat," she said.

"The first thing you need to do is find a Facebook group around your condition, and start chatting to people in there (or just read the conversations!) – it will make you feel like you’re not alone, and it could help you with some needed advice. Then, go see a specialist (more than one) to get to the bottom of it."

Feature image: Getty

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