How to Get Rid of Acne, Not Just Treat the Symptoms

Mark Hyman, M.D. by Mark Hyman, M.D. | July 28th, 2009 | 34 Comments
topic: Health & Wellness, Healthy Eating

Beautiful woman faceAcne rates are rising — contradicting the belief that this condition is caused by genes.

Eight million people see the dermatologist every year for acne, and millions more rely on infomercial products hawked by celebrities or over-the-counter products that total $100 million in sales every year. Clearly, this problem, like so many chronic diseases in the 21st century, is increasing. Why?

Let me tell you about a book that I just finished reading. It’s called The Clear Skin Diet. It’s written by renowned dermatologist Val Trelor, M.D., and Alan Logan, N.D., a naturopath. This book gives us real answers to why pimples are popping up all over!

For the first time, this book links many of the imbalances in the underlying keys to health (The 7 Key of UltraWellness) to the real causes of acne — including your nutritional status, stress, toxicity, inflammation, and hormonal and gut imbalances.

The key to healthy skin isn’t just dealing with the symptoms — like lathering on potions and lotions, popping and pricking pimples, or taking antibiotics or strong liver-damaging medication.

There’s a better way.

Beauty and vibrant, clear, healthy skin come from the inside out, not from the outside in. Here are some things that I have learned over the years and that have been very well reviewed and summarized in The Clear Skin Diet:

A poor diet is bad for your skin

  • Skin health, and acne in particular, are tied strongly to diet.
  • Acne is caused by inflammation and oxidative stress (two keys of UltraWellness).
  • Traditional indigenous cultures have little acne, but as soon as they adopt a Western diet or SAD (standard American diet), they see increasing levels of acne.
  • Sugar raises insulin levels, which promotes the production of testosterone in women, and inflammation in general, causing acne.
  • Saturated and processed fats increase arachidonic acid levels and compete with omega-3 fats in the body, leading to more inflammation and acne.
  • Milk and dairy consumption is closely linked with acne (and many other skin and health problems) in part because of the hormones (including growth hormone) in dairy and because of the saturated fats.
  • High-sugar milk chocolate can increase acne by increasing inflammation, but dark chocolate does the opposite.

Nutritional deficiencies promote acne

  • Widespread nutritional deficiencies of zinc, omega-3 fats, and some anti-inflammatory omega-6 fats like evening-primrose oil promote acne, while supplementing with them can help boost immunity and reduce inflammation and acne.
  • A topical form of vitamin B3 (nicotinamide) can reduce inflammation and help acne.
  • Antioxidant levels are low in acne patients — especially vitamins A and E, which are critical for skin health.
  • People who eat more fruits and vegetables (containing more antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds) have less acne.
  • Certain foods have been linked to improvements in many of the underlying causes of acne and can help correct it, including fish oil, turmeric, ginger, green tea, nuts, dark purple and red foods such as berries, green foods like dark green leafy vegetables, and eggs.

Your brain can cause acne

  • Stress causes acne flare-ups.
  • Stress does this by causing increased inflammation and oxidative stress, raising cortisol, and depleting zinc, magnesium and selenium, which help control acne.
  • Stress causes poor dietary choices.
  • You can manage stress through meditation, yoga, saunas, massage, biofeedback, aromatherapy, and more.

Read more about causes of skin problems here.

So getting healthy skin and clearing up acne truly depend on the optimal function of many of the core systems of the body — your nutritional status, your immune system, your gut, your hormones and your mind-body health.

I hope you’ve learned more today about how getting to the roots of illness via the 7 Key to UltraWellness can help you uncover the source of your health problem, wherever you may find it — even in a pimple on your nose!

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, M.D.


  1. Is nicotinamide still a prescription drug? Or is it over the counter now with a different name? I had heard of Nicomide but it wasn’t covered by most insurance plans and it was quite expensive

    Jenna | July 29th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  2. Jenna: I’m pretty sure nicotinamide is just an over-the-counter vitamin; you should be able to pick it up at a drug store. Nicomide is a drug based on it.; I wouldn’t be surprised if the vitamin was just as effective. :)

    Siona | July 29th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  3. The message for acne treatment is that it’s not the problem but the result of a imbalance in the body. Whether that imbalance is hormonal or dietary or what ever is what needs to be addressed to have success.

    getting rid of acne | August 2nd, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  4. I’m glad that you covered the internal side of acne. Many people don’t realize that you have to fight acne both internally as well as externally. I believe a well balanced diet and reducing stress is very important.

    Marc - Acne Skin Control Blog | July 27th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  5. I’m glad others are discovering the direct relationship between acne and nutrition. That is actually what my entire blog is dedicated to.

    Would love a guest post from ya ;)

    George | July 31st, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  6. I’ve also read that beverages such as sodas and certain alcoholic beverages can cause acne; they definitely make it worse.

    Drinking lots of water doesn’t prevent acne but along with an acne preventing diet, drinking water definitely helps.

    how to remove pimples blog | August 3rd, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  7. Thanks for the great information. I have witnessed how fruits and veg works in curing acne!

    cure face acne | August 5th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  8. Having acne is, or can be devastating, especially if you suffer from a moderate to severe case of it. What many do not realize is that moles, warts, and skin tags can be just as devastating and equally as hard to get rid of.

    Mole and warts | August 9th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  9. Great information-diet is the number one thing people overlook…sometimes it’s not a quick fix that will help you but a healthier approach

    Chloe | October 13th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  10. Diet is most definitely linked to acne!

    I wasn’t buying into all these fancy chemicals that they were pumping out to “cure” acne. Since I’m extremely cautious about what I put on my skin or what I take into my body, when I had severe acne I sought a more holistic acne cure.

    My insulin levels were through the roof and I consumed all the wrong things in staggering quantities.

    All I did was change a few diet habits and research the healing elements of some herbs and stones and that did the trick.

    I’m just glad that someone finally said it was diet related instead of pushing that garbage of it being “hereditary” or a “teenage problem”. Thanks Doc!!!

    Jane | October 26th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  11. Wow – great article! The bullet point about indigenous cultures having little acne until they adopt our lousy diet says it all. It’s about time we start connecting the dots between our poor lifestyle choices and the unwanted effects they produce.

    Jane | November 8th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  12. I think diet is huge as an influence in the causes of acne. As a teenager you tend to eat a lot of junk food and this aggravates the condition. Sure hormones also play a part but the old tale that chocolate gives you pimples also has some merit. As an organic farmer for the last 20 years I have read and seen what a good healthy diet can do for you especially those that are sick and need to make radical changes to bring their bodies back from dis-ease.

    Ross | November 10th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  13. Acne is one of the major skin problem people are facing nowadays. This article shares information to how to prevent and maintain a soft and beautiful skin you’ve always wanted.

    Anonymous | January 8th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  14. So what is this I hear that you shouldn’t wash your face often.
    What is the daily limit? I allow my daughter to wear some makeup but I make her wash it off before dinner and again before bed.

    I am getting conflicting advice and would like some scientific proof or something…

    Concenred Father | January 25th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  15. I read above that: Nutritional deficiencies promote acne. How do you determine that your Nutritional deficiencies is the problem. I eat right and work out but I still have problems.

    The people at my school says that this is a ‘young person thing’ and I will grow out of it. But then I read that adults have acne and pimples too!

    Help Please.

    Amy | January 25th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  16. Oh, I’ve never thought that nutritional deficiencies are also one of the causes of acne. I really learned a lot from this article! This article is really nice since it made people to be aware about the causes of acne. Thank you for sharing this!

    Anonymous | April 13th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  17. It’s true: if you want to control your acne problem, you need to adjust your lifestyle. Lowering stress is a great way to relieve many types of skin problems, not just acne. A friend of mine has bad eczema that always flares up during exam week at school. As you mentioned, using biofeedback to treat high, prolonged levels of stress can be a great first step at treating acne — for the longterm!

    Mark | April 19th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  18. Hi Mark,

    I do not believe that diet related to acne. Acne caused by too many parameters that diet is not one of them.


    Anonymous | April 24th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  19. Diet is huge as an influence in the causes of acne. As a teenager you tend to eat a lot of junk food and this aggravates the condition. Sure hormones also play a part but the old tale that chocolate gives you pimples also has some merit. As an organic farmer for the last 20 years I have read and seen what a good healthy diet can do for you especially those that are sick and need to make radical changes to bring their bodies back from dis-ease.

    Adam | May 11th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  20. Thank you Dr. Hyman! My daughter has a problem with acne and I definitely agree that healthy skin is dependent on many of the core systems of the body. I think your suggestions will help to improve overall health, not just skin health.

    Anonymous | June 13th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  21. For me the first and responsible to the acne is our brain, yes the stress cause a lot of acne specially when you do not sleep on time or you sleep only 5 hours below a day. Dr. Hyman your blog is amazing – keep posting the things that cause and can prevent the acne. Thanks.

    Anonymous | June 22nd, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  22. Dairy are NOT linked to acne because of its saturated fats! Low fat dairy products trigger acne more than fat dairy products, and low sugar dark chocolate – the fat is mostly saturated – is actually good for acne. At least according to dr Mark Hyman and the authors of “The clear skin diet” Valorie Treloar and Alan Logan.

    Hanna | October 26th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  23. Thanks for everything. I love your blog.

    Luis | March 21st, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  24. You are right diet and stress do contribute to acne

    mike | September 10th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  25. I myself has lots of acne and been depressed about it, thanks for sharing this helpful article and wonderful tips.

    Anonymous | October 23rd, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  26. Hi, Everyone :)

    This is a good advice: Use effective at-home products for acne prone skin.
    Here is a helpful mask for acne and clear skin:

    Aspirin and Lemon Juice Mask for Acne and Clear Skin:

    - 3-6 aspirin.
    - 1 lemon.
    - Baking soda.
    - Coffee cup, rolling pin or glass cup (to crush the aspirin).
    - Warm honey, moisturizer made for the face or natural oil such as olive, almond or coconut.

    1.) Based on the amount of coverage needed, use 3-6 aspirin.
    2.) Crush the aspirin into small pieces by rolling a coffee cup, rolling pin or glass cup over them. Place aspirin in a dish.
    3.) Squeeze in the fresh lemon juice (about 1 tablespoon per 3 aspirin) and allow the aspirin to dissolve into a paste.
    4.) In the event you have dry skin, add a tablespoon or so of warm honey, moisturizer or a bit of oil (olive, almond or coconut works). Stir well.
    5.) In the event you have oily skin, you can skip this part and add a few more drops of lemon instead.
    6.) Apply as a mask or spot treat the pimple or itchy area.
    7.) Allow to dry.
    8.) Remove the mask with a warm, wet washcloth dipped in baking soda.

    Thanks for this article.

    Guy Shane

    G Shane | April 17th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  27. Hello, Mark!
    Thank you for you great post! My question is if I have an acne, how will I know what vitamins and minerals are lacking in me? Only from a blood check? I’m afraid that all these food supplements may do the opposite reaction and harm my health, maybe because of overdosage. What do you think? Also I’ve read many blog posts that told stress is not the cause for acne. Sometimes these posts were from people related to medicine. Thanks.

    Kim | June 5th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  28. For whatever reason, my son developed acne on his back. Maybe it’s from from lack of sleep and stress from school? …

    Anyhow, I bought the Citrus Clear Acne Wash online and it was excellent at treating any acne and even helped to prevent most of it. My son washed with this Citrus Clear wash at night before bed – and it works great!! He has had no body acne since he started using this product.

    Maria Giz | June 19th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  29. My daughter is already having problems with acne and our dermatologist recommended Citrus Clear – so I tried this and it worked immediately. She is washing her face and using it daily and is a much kinder and gentler than other acne products. She loves it !

    Jessica P | June 28th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  30. I have a problem with this article. I feel like the main point that is stressed is that people with acne are eating unhealthy foods, which I can understand. Food does play an important role in clearness of the skin, but there are so many other issues at hand. This article supports a stigma that people with acne don’t eat vegetables or fruit and are not healthy people, which is not always true. From personal experiences I suffered from cystic acne that was based on hormone imbalances and it took getting that in control before anything cleared up.

    Hannah | July 17th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  31. Thanks for sharing. I have had problems with acne scars since college. I was embarrassed at having to travel to different places. Your article is a great article and useful for me.

    Anna | November 3rd, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  32. Personally I had to live with acne for over three years and during this time many remedies probe dermatologists that challenged me in my ability, but not acne would disappear with any of these products.

    Finally with the same techniques shown in this article I managed to remove my acne forever and I just had to make changes in my diet and condumir more fruits and vegetables which helped me almost immediately.

  33. After taking Roaccutane (formerly known as Accutane) for 6 months, I was left with some pretty severe scarring all over my lower back. I found applying tomatoes daily reduced scarring after a few weeks. That is only one remedy, if you would like more info, please visit my blog posts on

    Anthony | January 15th, 2014 | Comment Permalink
  34. Wow nice title and post.

    I loved the concept you have represent here.

    Thanks for sharing…!!!

    David Anderson | April 17th, 2015 | Comment Permalink

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