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Cutting Gluten Helped Manage My Acne: Here's Why It Worked For Me

Hannah Do
Contributing writer By Hannah Do
Contributing writer
Hannah Do is the founder of Thank Your Skin, a beauty blog dedicated to honest skin care advice and information.
Can Gluten Cause Acne? Here's How I Realized It Did For Me

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 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
  • 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.

I'm considered "gluten sensitive," which doesn't fall under the clinical umbrella of celiac disease, so I don’t face as dire consequences as someone with celiac. 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.

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What does gluten have to do with skin?

Let's rewind a bit: What you consume shows up in the skin, be it puffiness from salt intake or inflammation from sugar. For me? I found that eating gluten was also spearheading that inflammation and worsening my acne—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.

Since we know that the gut and skin are inextricably linked (dubbed the "gut-skin axis"), it makes sense why this inflammation would result in acne for me. In fact, research has found that more than half of all acne sufferers also have gut issues. I knew I was sensitive to gluten, yet I consumed it anyway (hey, those protein bars and pre-packaged meals are handy!). Not only was I putting myself at risk for 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 was wreaking on my 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. Read: More anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich, fiber-fueled foods meant less inflammation in my gut—and less blemishes down the road. High-fat, water-dense produce helped support supple, plump skin. Living off coffee and cupcakes wasn't giving my body a chance to show me what it can do. Tasty, but not helpful or healthful.

Why you might want to take a look at your diet, too.

I should note that gluten doesn't necessarily cause acne—there's no clinical data that says so. So if you can tolerate gluten, by all means! But if you have an intolerance or sensitivity to the inflammation already, you may find that it helps manage your skin woes. It certainly did for me. Consider this a friendly reminder to take stock of what you put on your plate—don’t assume that gluten is the only answer to skin problems (again, salt and sugar are also common culprits for many). Perhaps try an elimination diet, like I did, to help you identify any potential trigger foods.

A few helpful tips that worked for me:

  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. Add in skin-healthy foods like these.
  4. Be patient. Don’t give up just because three days have gone by and you haven’t seen any results. I certainly didn't see results immediately; my body needed time to adjust.

The bottom line? When it comes to skin care, internal measures are just as important as topicals—I learned that first-hand.

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