Acne & Wholistic Nutrition For Teens

By: Kelsey Crawford, CN & Karen Kessi, CN

If you struggle with acne you are not alone. Acne is the most common skin problem, and as many as 90% of American teenagers have had acne at some point.

Acne from an Eastern Perspective

From the onset of puberty, teens tend to generate more Heat. When excess Heat makes its way to the skin’s surface, it shows up as a reddened face or skin eruptions. The presence of acne can also mean the influence of Damp in the body. If fried foods, overly spicy foods and excessive sugar consumption are part of the diet, acne can flare up. Managing this will involve cooling down the system, resolving Damp and eliminating Toxins- all of which can be achieved through nutrition. If these suggestions do not produce results, then seeking out a practitioner for a more thorough diagnosis would be helpful.

Acne from a Western Perspective

Our skin has countless follicles also known as pores. Inside each follicle is a tiny hair and an oil gland which secrets a substance called sebum. Normally sebum keeps the skin replenished and lubricated. However, when we are teens, our surging hormones can cause increased sebum production and rapid skin cell turnover. This can lead to clogged pores and a breeding ground for the P. acnes bacteria. The causes of acne vary and can include genetics, nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, stress, and hormone imbalances. Discovering underlying causes can be helpful in knowing the proper steps to take in managing your acne.

Things to Consider:

Thinking of the skin and acne as separate from the rest of the body causes us to miss many of the internal factors involved.


Everyone has both male and female hormones. Imbalances can be caused by disease, medications, lifestyle, substance abuse, stress, and/or lack of sleep. Our diets have much to do with the activity of our hormones. Females with hormonal acne can experience irregular menstruation. But females can also experience elevated levels of male hormones depending on their body chemistry. Higher levels of male hormones can trigger acne; other symptoms may include excess male-pattern hair growth. Some teens with acne experience elevated levels of a powerful male hormone called DHT (dihydrotestosterone) which has twice the effect of testosterone in the body.


Digestion includes the entire processing of the food you eat- from chewing through elimination. When everything is working right, your body can absorb nutrients from your food. Problems with digestion can show up on your skin. A major way the body gets rid of excess hormones and other waste is by having a bowel movement. When you are constipated, these waste products are stuck and can reabsorb back into your bloodstream. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to improve digestion:

• Increase your fiber intake by eating fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fiber also helps the body deal with excess male hormones.

• Try drinking a cup of hot water with lemon juice before eating.

• Chew your food thoroughly.

• Try not to eat too much at once; over-eating can result in higher male hormone levels.


Blood sugar is a different term than the sugar you eat. It is an important nutrient in the body, but too much or too little in not good for us! Spikes in your blood sugar affect your skin’s ability to regenerate, disrupt your hormones, and are linked to acne. To balance your blood sugar:

• Eat smaller meals and snacks 4-6 times a day. Especially breakfast!

• Make half of each meal vegetables, especially dark green ones.

• Eat healthy proteins, healthy fats, and/or lots of fiber with each meal and snack.

• Eat smaller portions of whole grains, starchy vegetables or low-sugar fruits.

• Avoid foods made with sugars, sugar substitutes, fruit juices, and refined flours.


Different fats in the foods we eat can either fuel inflammation or cool it down. Saturated fats, trans fats, and too many processed vegetable oils (like soy and corn oils) are inflammatory and may be linked to acne. However, a higher intake of the helpful omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil has been associated with lowering testosterone. Healthy fats can help!


The helpful bacteria inside your body influence your immune system’s ability to deal with the bad bacteria from outside of your body and on your skin. Those with an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut are more likely to suffer from severe skin conditions such as acne. Probiotic foods (such as miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir) and probiotic supplements are strongly recommended.

Managing Acne Through Diet- East & West

What To Eat:

What we include in the diet is as important as what we take away from it. Fill your body with nutritious, delicious whole foods so you won’t be hungry for things that can aggravate your acne. Focus mainly on plant foods – they provide fiber, balance hormones, improve digestion, reduce inflammation and feed your healthy gut bacteria.

Foods To Include Consider This
Whole Grains: Amaranth, barley, buckwheat, kamut, millet, rice, wild rice, rye. Energetically Neutral to Cool; counteract Damp Heat. Rich in nutrients and fiber for the microbiome.
Vegetables: Asparagus, broccoli, celery, cucumber, potato, spinach, zucchini, mushroom,
dandelion greens, lettuce, alfalfa sprouts, bok choy, sea vegetables, olives.
Energetically Cool; Bitter and Salty in flavor; counteract Damp Heat. Rich in fiber, antioxidants and other nutrients.
Fresh Fruits:
Apple, avocado, lemon, pear,
tomato, watermelon, cantaloupe, blueberries, figs, strawberries, grapefruit, mandarin, cranberry,
Energetically Cool. Rich in fiber, antioxidants and other nutrients. Include a fat or protein like
almond butter with fruit for a balanced snack.
Nuts, Seeds & Legumes:
Flax, chia, hemp, sunflower & pumpkin seeds, tofu, lima, lentil, pea, chickpea.
Energetically Neutral to Cool except for pumpkin seeds (Warm) which are high in zinc and aid in healthy digestion. Nuts and seeds are an excellent source of healthy fats and can help balance hormones.
Bone broth, crab, tuna, salmon,
sardines, squid, oysters, grass-fed beef, pork, chicken, turkey, chicken/duck eggs.
Bone broth provides healthy proteins, fats and
other nutrients. Healing for digestion/bowel and skin. Anti-inflammatory. Helps regulate blood sugar. Seafood is energetically Cool. Salmon is Warm; however, it is full of healthy fats. This is also true of grass-fed meats (also high in zinc).
Oils, Culinary Herbs/Spices, Ferments &

Mint, green tea, chamomile, nettle, aloe, marjoram, olive/sesame oil, soy sauce, miso, pickles, kraut.
Energetically Neutral to Cool: remove Toxins from the body.

Foods To Limit Or Avoid

• Cow’s milk and other dairy products can aggravate your acne, especially those made with added hormones like RBGH. Eventually, you may be able to reintroduce certain forms of dairy – such as goat’s milk kefir, raw milk cheeses, and pasture butter. Also keep in mind that cow’s milk is more dampening than goat’s or sheep’s milk.

• Artificial ingredients, junk foods, fast foods and packaged processed foods can make acne worse. Often, they’re made with chemicals, unhealthy fats and refined sugars and flours.

• From an Eastern perspective, wheat is considered Damp and it may be helpful to avoid for a period time. Limit excessive use of garlic, hot spices and caffeine which are very stimulating and can aggravate Heat.

Helpful Supplements and Herbs

High quality, food form multi-vitamin & mineral supplement- To cover common deficiencies in essential nutrients. Take as suggested on the bottle or as directed by your practitioner.

Zinc- has anti-inflammatory effects and may decrease sebum production. Also strengthens skin and heals wounds. Many teens are very low in zinc. Zinc supplements can reduce the absorption of tetracycline drugs, often prescribed for those with acne. Take 30mg daily on a full stomach for 6-12 weeks.

Cod liver oil- for its healthy omega-3 fats and vitamin A. Take at least 2000mg daily. If you’ve been taking Accutane, wait 6 months until the prescription is completed (substitute other fish oil)

Probiotics- for the health of your micro-biome. The dosage is variable based on the strength of the product. Take a high potency, multi-strain, enteric-coated probiotic as directed on the bottle or as directed by your practitioner.

Vitex, aka Chastetree Berry- For females only. Helps with hormone balance. Take one 600mg capsule twice daily (best between 7AM & 8AM) for 3-6 months after symptoms disappear. Not to be taken while on birth control pills or during pregnancy. Caution for those who are anemic and those on medication to regulate dopamine.

Saw Palmetto- Shown to reduce the male hormone DHT. Take as suggested on the bottle or as directed by your practitioner. Not to be taken while on birth control pills or during pregnancy. Caution for those who have hormone related cancers. Those taking supplemental iron should allow two hours between ingestion of Saw Palmetto and iron.

Additional Recommendations

Exercise- Among other things, working out helps balance your blood sugar. It improves circulation and relieves stress. Be sure to wash excess sweat off of your skin right after work-outs.

Sleep- From an Eastern perspective the metabolic process, which removes excess oil from the skin, works best between 11PM and 3AM during sleep. Make sure you are getting adequate rest. Inadequate sleep will disrupt hormones, mood and appetite.

Hydrate- Tight dry skin has a harder time releasing oil and debris from its pores. We can hydrate from the inside by drinking enough water and eating healthy fats. We can also hydrate from the outside by using an appropriate moisturizer. Many people with acne avoid moisturizers because they already have oily skin. “Oily” skin just means that your pores are producing too much oil, but it doesn’t describe the actual moisture content of the rest of your skin. Hydrating your skin loosens it so oil flows naturally to the surface and doesn’t get stuck in your pores.

Avoid Alcohol , Tobacco and Drugs- These items aggravate inflammation and Heat and introduce toxins to the system. They dehydrate the body and spike blood sugar.

Try Acupuncture- As few as 8-15 treatments can improve acne in up to 80% of patients.

Use Natural/Organic Skin Care Products- for example, apply a French green clay & raw honey mask once a week. In a small bowl, stir together 2 teaspoons of clay, 1 teaspoon of raw honey + 1 drop of grape-seed oil. Apply to face and leave on for 8-10 minutes. Gently rinse off with lukewarm water, then splash cool water after. Pat dry and moisturize.

Sample Menu
(1) Buckwheat granola & hemp milk, cantaloupe & organic chicken breakfast sausage
(2) Broccoli & asparagus scrambled eggs with baked organic turkey bacon & grapefruit
(3) Chia seed & spirulina smoothie with seasonal fruit, hard-boiled egg, pumpkin seeds
(1) Curry chicken lettuce wrap & fresh fruit (organic strawberries & watermelon)
(2) Tuna & spinach salad sandwich on rye served with baked potato “French fries”
(3) Sesame noodle with seaweed, cashews, purple cabbage, green onion & scrambled egg
(1) Split pea and ham soup with bone broth base, toasted rye bread
(2) Salmon burger & kale salad (with olive oil, lemon juice & toasted sunflower seeds).
(3) Tofu with spinach & zucchini (sautéed in sesame oil) with whole grain jasmine rice
(1) Fresh blueberry mint green tea served with sliced apple & almond butter
(2) Celery, cucumber & rice crackers served with garlic hummus & Greek olives
(3) Organic, nitrate-free, grass-fed beef jerky, miso soup & seaweed rice crackers


Aubrey, Allison. “Diet and Acne: For a Clearer Complexion, Cut the Empty Carbs.” NPR’s The Salt. 20 Feb 2013. 15 Jan 2016.

Balch, Phyllis. Prescription for Herbal Healing, 2nd Edition. New York: Penguin, 2012.

Bowe, Whitney and Alan Logan. “Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future?” BioMed Central. 31 Jan 2011. 15 Jan 2016.

Caperton, Caroline et al. “Double-blind, Placebo-controlled, Study Assessing the Effect of Chocolate Consumption in Subjects with a History of Acne Vulgaris.” The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. May 2014. 15 Jan 2016.

Cohen, Misha. The New Chinese Medicine Handbook. Beverly, MA: Quarto Publishing Group, 2015.

De-Hui, Shen et al. Manual of Dermatology in Chinese Medicine. Eastland Press, 1995.

Feeney, Rylen. “Food in the Treatment of Disharmony.” The Wellspring School for Healing Arts, Portland, OR. 7-8 Nov. 2015. Lecture.

Ferdowsian, H. R. and S. Levin. “Does Diet Really Affect Acne?” Skin Therapy Letter. 15 Dec 2015. 15 Jan 2016.

Gaby, Alan, Ed. A-Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions, Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006.

Gladstar, Rosemary. Family Herbal: A Guide to Living Life with Energy, Health, and Vitality. North Adams, MA: Storey Books, 2001.

Gremley, Jessica. “3 Best Natural Treatments for Hormonal Acne.” 25 Oct 2013. 15 Jan 2016.

“Growing Evidence Suggests Possible Link Between Diet and Acne.” American Academy of Dermatology. 08 Feb 2013. 15 Jan 2016.

Hass, Elson. Staying Healthy With Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2006.

Hyman, Mark. “Do Milk and Sugar Cause Acne?” 11 Feb 2011. 15 Jan 2016.

“How to Cure Acne – Taking a Look at Natural Cures for Acne.” Facing Acne. 15 Jan 2016.

Kaptchuk, Ted. The Web Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. Chicago: Congdon & Weed, Inc. 1983.

Ke, Song and Sheila McNamara. Traditional Chinese Medicine. New York: Penguin Group, 1995.

Kern, Daniel. “5 Facts About Female Acne.” 15 Jan 2016.

Kern, Daniel. “Diet and Acne.” 15 Jan 2016.

Leggett, Daverick. Helping Ourselves: A Guide to Traditional Chinese Food Energetics. Totnes, UK: Meridian Press, 2014.

Leggett, Daverick. Recipes for Self-Healing. Totnes, UK: Meridian Press, 1999.

Lipski, Elizabeth. Digestive Wellness, 4th Edition. City?: McGraw-Hill, 2012.

Logan, Alan and Valori Treloar. The Clear Skin Diet: A Nutritional Plan that Works. Nashville: Cumberland House, 2007.

Lu, Henry. Chinese System of Food Cures: Prevention and Remedies. New York: Sterling Publishing Co. 1986.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Acne.” 15 Jan 2016.

Metcalf, Eric. “Can Foods Make You Break Out?” WebMD. 15 Jan 2016.

Moninger, Jeannette.“YourGuide to Teen Acne: What Helps, What Hurts.” WebMD. 15 Jan 2016.

Murray, Michael and Joseph Pizzorno. The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Third Edition. New York: Atria, 2012.

Oaklander, Mandy. “The New Science of Clear Skin.” 13 May 2014. 15 Jan 2016.

Pappas, Apostolos. “The Relationship of Diet and Acne.” DermatoEndocrinology. 25 Sep 2009. 15 Jan 2016.

Schmid, Ronald F. Traditional Foods Are Your Best Medicine. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 1997.

Thomas, Pat. “What Doctors Don’t Tell You: Natural Ways to Prevent Acne.” 15 Jan 2016.

Tierra, Lesley. Healing with the Herbs of Life. New York: Crossing Press, 2003.

Trotter, Makoto. The Complete Acne Health & Diet Guide: Naturally Clear Skin Without Antibiotics. Toronto: Robert Rose Inc., 2015.

Wang, Lihua. Chinese Home Remedies: Harness Ancient Wisdom for Self-Healing. Franklin Lakes: Career Press, 2005.

Wang, Yuan, et al. Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen: Recipes from the East for Health, Healing, and Long Life. Cambridge: De Capo Press, 2010.

Yoon, Ji Young et al. “Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate Improves Acne in Humans by Modulating Intracellular Molecular Targets and Inhibiting P. acnes.” Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Feb 2013. 15 Jan 2016.

Written & Researched By: Kelsey Crawford, CN & Karen Kessi, CN. Copywrite © 2016 for the Wellspring School for Healing Arts

Related Posts

Oaxaca + Late Summer Feast + Nightshade Free Menu

Oaxaca + Late Summer Feast + Nightshade Free Menu

This is a collection of Oaxaca cuisine inspired recipes, free of nightshades for those who’ve been missing out on some of their favorite traditional dishes due to this allergy. I hear similar stories of a longing for Italian food for the same reasons… additionally this […]

Pickled Fennel Root Garnish Recipe

Pickled Fennel Root Garnish Recipe

 Pickled Fennel Root Garnish This garnish is a wonderful addition alongside crème fraîche, served with wild caught salmon. It also compliments sautéed spicy cumin and lime jackfruit for tacos, for those eating vegetarian & vegan.  I recommend making this garnish two days in advance to […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.