How To Know If Gluten Is To Blame For Your Acne

Written by Hannah Do

I love cooking, baking, and most of all, eating. Unfortunately, I also have a very sensitive digestive system and have to be careful about what I eat. This means there are certain foods that trigger a negative response in my body, like corn, tomatoes, and dairy, to name a few. So I've made some dietary changes over the last four years to get my body back to optimal health.

Among those trigger foods? Gluten.

When I first realized I was sensitive to gluten, I gave up my morning toast, pasta, and lunch sandwiches no problem. I could live without these things in my diet. But then I dug deeper, and I realized the sheer number of things I used and ate on a daily basis that had gluten hiding in them:

  • Granola, protein bars
  • Cosmetics
  • Prepackaged meals
  • Seasoning
  • Vitamins

How on earth did gluten weasel its way into all of these things? Well, since gluten is gummy in texture, it's used as a binder in quite a few products, which means it's a full-time job trying to avoid the stuff.

People like me, who are only considered “gluten sensitive,” don’t face such dire consequences and therefore don’t have to be quite as careful. But I figured the best way to find out exactly how gluten was affecting my body would be to cut it all out and see what happened.

I was focused. I'd given up my beloved morning toast; I was finding a greater love for fruits and veggies. And after a few weeks, I started to notice positive changes: I had more energy, I stopped feeling bloated all the time, my stomach didn't ache, and my skin started to clear up.

Cutting gluten out of my diet wasn't a reaction to a skin issue, but what a lovely surprise this turned out to be! About 75 percent of my blemishes, redness, and swelling had diminished. My skin wasn't completely clear, but there was a big improvement. And the only thing I'd changed was my diet. No new creams or scrubs or cleansers: just omitting gluten and upping my intake of whole, natural foods.


What Does Gluten Have to Do With Skin?

There isn’t just one simple answer. The great debate on what causes acne is still in progress. Some say it’s clogged pores, others swear it’s food, while many believe hormones are to blame. I say any of these can contribute to acne. But one thing I know to be true is that you should never discount what you eat as having an effect on your skin.

I'm not a doctor, so I'm in no position to give medical advice, but what I can offer is the idea that even if gluten isn't causing your acne, it might be worsening it thanks to a little something called gliadin.

Gliadin is a component of gluten and is found in wheat and other cereals. It's essential for giving bread the ability to rise properly, and it's also the culprit behind celiac disease: the proteins activate the disease and the body responds via intolerance and rejection of gliadin (and in turn, gluten).

The reaction? Inflammation.

Distress in one organ or area of the body triggers inflammation somewhere else in the body but becomes most apparent in the skin. In fact, studies have found that more than half of all acne sufferers have gut issues. Digestive conditions like celiac disease have accompanying skin manifestations that only resolve when the underlying inflammation is treated.

The bottom line is that inflammation causes irritation. Any product deemed inflammatory, whether it goes directly on the skin or is ingested, is something you should stay away from if you want to avoid worsening skin issues. If you’re sensitive to gluten and consume it anyway, you’re putting yourself at risk for not only an inflamed small intestine but also inflamed and irritated skin.

Before my own experience with omitting gluten, I didn't know how inflammatory it was in terms of my skin. It wasn't until after I noticed some serious results on my face that I realized the havoc gluten can wreak on a complexion.

It's What's on the Inside That Counts

When it comes down to it, eliminating gluten from my diet was extremely helpful, but it wasn’t the only thing I changed. I started eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. I drank more water than ever before. For the first time, I actually thought about what I was putting into my body.

You know the saying "You are what you eat"? There's honesty in that phrase. The body needs real, whole foods and nutrients to perform at its best level. Living off coffee, cupcakes, and ramen isn’t exactly going to give your body a chance to show you what it can do. Believe me, I’ve tried that diet. Tasty, but not helpful or healthful.

Your interior regimen is equally — if not more — important to the well-being of your skin as your exterior regimen. You’re doing a great thing by trying to fix your skin problems with what nature has to offer.

So, Should You Eliminate Gluten?

Excessive bloating, digestive issues, fatigue, and skin flareups can all be traced back to gluten intake. But don’t assume that gluten is the only answer to your skin problems. Instead of putting all your skin eggs in one gluten basket, I'd suggest trying an elimination diet to help you identify trigger foods.

A few helpful tips:

  1. Create an extensive list of what you will be eating during your elimination diet. This will help you stay motivated and refrain from getting bored by the process.
  2. Write down all the foods you'll be avoiding. Focus on things that are typically linked to skin issues: gluten, sugar, dairy, alcohol.
  3. Don't just eliminate. Make sure you're getting sufficient nutrients — if you're lacking, it could alter the outcome.
  4. Be patient. Don’t give up just because three days have gone by and you haven’t seen any results. Your body needs time to adjust.

So, why not find out what exactly it is that's making your stomach turn and your skin sore?

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