3 Common Mistakes During A Cleanse That May Make Acne Worse

Naturopathic Doctor By Stacey Shillington, N.D.
Naturopathic Doctor
Stacey Shillington, N.D., is a naturopathic doctor of medicine who is a graduate of Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and McGill University, where she was the recipient of McGill’s prestigious Scarlet Key Award
Before You Try "Cleansing" Or "Detoxing" Away Your Acne, Read This

Healing acne holistically is an internal thing. This is why many acne sufferers try going on a "cleanse" at the start of their journey—as a kick-start on their way to healthy, clear skin. This can be a good thing: Many foods in our current diet are known triggers for acne for those genetically predisposed for it. However, it all depends on what sort of cleanse you are trying. 

See, in my experience, when acne patients embark upon a cleanse to clear their skin, a terrible thing often happens—their breakouts actually get worse. Feeling betrayed by their good intentions, and at their wits' end, they run to their dermatologist claiming that their attempt to clear their skin, naturally, has failed.

I've seen this scenario all too often, and I always find myself passionately defending natural medicine—eating clean is critical to optimal health and clear skin, but it has to be done correctly. So what gives? How can cleansing end up making acne even worse?

There are a few key mistakes you need to avoid when doing a cleanse to clear up your breakouts:

1. Doing a juice cleanse

Balancing blood sugar and insulin levels is a critical first step in healing acne (which is why doctors once called acne "diabetes of the skin" before the advent of modern dermatology). High insulin levels in people susceptible to acne produce a hormone called Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1), which leads directly to an increase in androgens, a hormone that actually causes acne.

In order to balance insulin levels and avoid the production of IGF-1, it's important to avoid excess sugar and make sure you're eating enough protein and fat, both of which help reduce insulin spikes. Unfortunately, juice cleanses tend to be very high in sugar and low in protein and fat. And even though fresh fruit and vegetable juices provide an abundance of nutrients, their high sugar content tends to spike insulin and IGF-1 levels, making acne much worse. 


The fix:

Cleansing diets need to be low in sugar and incorporate fat and protein to keep blood sugar and insulin levels in check. Skip the high-sugar juice cleanses, and opt for natural diets that include healthy fats and proteins, along with the fruits and vegetables so often associated with cleanses. 

2. Fasting 

Acne patients' bodies and skins are often not great at detoxifying their system. In fact, many have a genetic polymorphism that inhibits their ability to detoxify optimally (read: It's an inherited genetic trait). In other words, when the liver needs to convert fat-soluble toxins in the body to a water-soluble substance that can be removed via the kidneys or large intestine, it does so inefficiently.

In order to work optimally, the liver requires an array of amino acids and nutrients. Most of these, particularly the amino acids, are derived from our diet. During a fast, the liver is deprived of the nutrients it needs to function properly and perform this vital task. 

This can be really hard on the body and specifically, the skin: An inefficient liver function can not only make your acne worse, but it can make you feel awful.

The fix:

The body needs nutrients to operate optimally. So be sure you're getting enough food in the form of protein, fats, fruits, and vegetables during any cleanse. Depriving your body of nutrients for even just a few days is not ideal.


3. Cleansing while constipated

Having daily bowel movements is critical to a cleanse, as it helps remove waste from the body. If you're constipated, well, all your hard work will be for naught, literally.

In fact, being constipated can make acne even worse. Not only are toxins just sitting in the large bowel, but they can be inadvertently reabsorbed into the body while they wait. This especially applies to heavy metals and estrogen.

And when estrogen is reabsorbed into the body, it can exacerbate hormonal imbalance and make hormonal acne even worse.

The fix:

Before starting a cleanse, work on eliminating constipation first.


The takeaway. 

The benefits of cleansing as they relate to acne, clear skin, and your overall health are undeniable. We all just need to remember that cleansing to clear your skin isn't a one-size-fits-all just-add-water-and-stir kind of thing. Any cleanse requires careful consideration, and I'd suggest a consultation with a health practitioner, at the very least. After that, start your clear skin journey and cleanse away.


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