The Important Relationship Between Gut Health and Acne

The Important Relationship Between Gut Health and Acne

Whether you realize it or not, your digestive system (also known as your “gut”) is pretty much the epicenter of your entire body. From your physical health to your mental health, all of this can be traced back to your overall gut health.

The fact is, there are a ton of things that come into play that can affect your gut health. The things you eat, the environment around you, and even your mood are all key players in the game of a healthy gut. Maintaining it, therefore, is of the utmost importance.

But what exactly is your gut health? What can you be doing to maintain it? And ultimately, what is the gut skin connection

Let’s go ahead and dive deeper into this subject together, friends. By the time we’re done here with this little science lesson, you’ll be an old pro on the subject – and you’ll no doubt realize how vital good gut health is for your skin’s health, too.

What Does "Gut Health" Even Mean?

If you’ve ever had a tummy ache, then you probably already know how it feels when your digestive system is out of whack. Those grumbles and rumbles, pain, and bloating were likely a sign that something was amiss in your gut.

That, at the bare minimum, is the sign of a gut disturbance. So, what exactly is “gut health,” and why does it matter if you’re trying to achieve healthy skin? Your gut health is just that: the state of your digestive system and how it’s currently functioning.

When things are chugging along smoothly, you probably don’t even notice your gut. It’s when something isn’t quite right that you may start to pick up on these issues. From there, you could start to notice a myriad of symptoms that point to poor gut health.

In the most basic of terms, your gut health is the relationship between your gut flora – all of those yeasts, bacteria, viruses, and everything else that comprises your microbiome – and your wellbeing. When things are good, then it’s no biggie. (1)

But when they aren’t? Well, that’s when problems can arise for not only your digestion, but your skin health as well. When things throw your gut health off, such as an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, it can lead to gas, bloating, pain… and yes, even acne. (2)

Yes, it’s true. That current breakout on your face, for example? Even if you’re doing everything else right, and you have your skincare routine down pat and everything else is allegedly in check, poor gut health can throw a wrench into things quicker than you can say “gut-brain axis.”

What Does Gut Health Have to Do with Acne?

So what’s this “gut-brain axis” that we just mentioned, and what does it have to do with gut health and acne? Once upon a time, people mistakenly thought that our stomachs were isolated systems. If your tummy hurt, it had no bearing on other symptoms that you were experiencing. (3)

We now know that this couldn’t be further than the truth. The fact of the matter is, our guts are the host to a complex ecosystem (that aforementioned cocktail of good and bad bacteria and yeast, called your “microbiome”) and they actually play a major role in the rest of your general health.

This is called the gut-brain axis. In the most basic of senses, when your gut isn’t healthy, it can have far-reaching repercussions on your body. Researchers have even discovered that many common mental illnesses can be traced back to your gut health.

But it’s not just your brain that’s affected by poor gut health. When your stomach isn’t feeling its very best (a condition known as “gut dysbiosis”), that can lead to a host of other issues, too. Namely, inflammation. (4)

This inflammation, in turn, can affect the rest of your body. As you probably already know, systemic inflammation can be blamed for everything – ranging from digestive bloating to mysterious skin rashes and acne breakouts and even the sinking of the Titanic.

(Okay, we made that last part up. And just so we’re on the same page here, Jack could have totally fit on that plank of wood WITH Rose.)

The takeaway here, though? If your gut health isn’t doing so hot, you can start to develop inflammation – and in turn, cause acne. By taking good care of your gut, though, you’ll be one step closer to clear, smooth, and healthy skin!

What Are Signs of Poor Gut Health?

If your gut health isn’t up to par, there may be a few signs that it’s trying to tip you off about it. However, they can be somewhat subtle, so you need to stay on high alert about it. Some of the biggest red flags that there’s something rotten in the state of Gutmark are:

  • Acne breakouts (especially cystic acne). Numerous studies have shown that poor gut health is synonymous with acne breakouts. (2)
  • Gastric upset (such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation). It’s been long understood that one of the key triggers for IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is poor gut health. (5)
  • Inflammatory skin issues (such as psoriasis and eczema). Strong evidence points toward an unhappy gut leading to rashes, bumps, itchy scaly patches, and skin inflammation. (6)
  • Chronic and ongoing headaches. If you’re prone to migraines, it could be traced back to an overgrowth of Helicobacter pylori. (7)
  • Extra susceptibility to illness (like colds, the flu, and other bugs). If you get the sniffles more often than your peers, then your gut health may be the culprit. (8)
  • Sore and aching muscles and joints. Osteoarthritis has been shown to be strongly linked to gut health, as is skeletal muscle pain. (9 & 10)
  • Feeling tired and worn out often. Feeling run down and exhausted all the time has been shown to be a side effect of poor gut health. (11)
  • Craving sugar more often than not. If you can’t keep your hand out of that bag of cookies or candy, your gut may be to blame. (12)
  • Mood swings and anxiety. Those feelings of malaise and sadness can actually be caused by gut dysbiosis. (13)
  • Unexplained food sensitivities and allergies. Changes to your gut flora might be to blame for your random allergies and flare-ups. (14)
  • Autoimmune disorders (such as celiac disease). An impaired gut barrier (also known as “leaky gut syndrome”) has been shown to cause autoimmune diseases. (15)

While this can seem super scary at first glance, bear in mind that having an unhealthy gut isn’t the end of the world. Treating the cause of these issues – namely, your gut dysbiosis or leaky gut syndrome – can actually put you back into remission and back on the path to good health.

Fortunately, it’s much easier than you may realize. And yes, in case you’re wondering, we have the inside scoop on how to really nurture your belly. Keep reading, as we’ll break it down into bite-sized pieces (no pun intended!) for you below.

What Contributes to Poor Gut Health?

Believe it or not, poor gut health can’t be blamed on just any one single thing. There are quite a few things that can mess with it, in fact. By avoiding these common pitfalls, you can help minimize unwanted gastric upset and dysbiosis:

  • Not eating a diverse diet. Not only can an unhealthy diet upset your gut flora, but eating a healthy anti-aging diet can actually help bolster and support it. Reach for a whole-foods based diet full of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins. Taking certain vitamins for gut health and acne can also help, too, such as vitamin D. (16 & 17)
  • Avoiding exercise. Did you know that regular exercise can help strengthen your gut health? If running isn’t your jam, feel free to take a walk around the block, going for a leisurely swim, or even picking up heavy things putting them back down. (18)
  • Sipping on one too many cocktails. Alcoholic beverages have been shown to upset your gut flora and your liver (and the liver and acne connection can’t be ignored, either). Instead of trying to drown your microbiome in booze, instead reach for a tall, refreshing glass of H2O. Curiously enough, the occasional glass of red wine can also be helpful, too! (19 & 20)
  • Using tobacco products. If you’re starting to notice a pattern between healthy lifestyle choices and gut health, you wouldn’t be wrong. Even if you smoke only rarely, that cigarette can have lasting damaging effects on your microflora and overall skin health. (21)
  • Not getting enough shut-eye. Think that pulling an all-nighter won’t have lasting damage on your gut health? Think again. Even mild sleep deprivation has been shown to throw your gut health out of balance, leading to unwanted issues. (22)
  • Letting stress get to you. Elevated stress raises a hormone called cortisol, which has been shown to be seriously inflammatory and all-around nasty. It can also tick off your gut’s microbiome, leading to painful gas, bloating, and other unpleasant side effects. (23)
  • Slacking off on fiber and prebiotics. These aren’t to be confused with probiotics, which serve a totally different purpose. Prebiotics and probiotics are a type of fiber that has been shown to feed your gut flora, keeping it happy and in balance. (24)
  • Being overly reliant upon antibiotics and medications (even birth control). This isn’t to shame those of you who needed to take antibiotics because you were sick, though. But yes, studies have shown that antibiotics can wipe out all both bad and beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract, leading to an imbalance in your gut’s ecosystem. (25)

How Can I Support My Gut?

If you’re looking to support your gut, there are a few things you can be doing to help promote optimal health. That way, you can help ensure you’re doing everything you possibly can in your mission for clear and glowy skin.

Tip #1: Eat a clean, fiber-rich diet.

If you want to keep your gut microbiome flourishing, then you need to make sure you’re eating the right diet for it. You’ll want to abstain from heavily processed foods, as those can negatively impact your gut’s flora.

On the other hand, be sure to help yourself to a diet that’s full of healthy, whole foods. Plant fibers are great for feeding your gut bacteria, keeping them happy. You also want to make sure you choose organic foods, as conventional pesticides can be detrimental to your gut health. (16 & 17)

Tip #2: Reach for fermented foods.

The importance of eating probiotic foods can’t be overstated. While prebiotic fiber is also important, as it provides fuel to your microbiome, it’s probiotic foods that help replenish it. In turn, you’ll have a belly full of happy, good-for-you bacteria. (26)

Tip #3: Take care of your teeth.

Did you know that there’s a huge overlap between your oral health and your gut health? If your teeth are teeming with bad bacteria (such as from tooth decay), that can make its way down into your intestines. In turn, your gut flora can become contaminated with dangerous germs. (27)

Tip #4: Pass the (dark) chocolate.

Yes, finally, an excuse to nibble on a square or two of the good stuff after dinner! Real talk, though. Dark chocolate is full of polyphenols, which have been shown to help keep your gut flora nice and happy while they work in your favor. (28)

Not the biggest fan of dark chocolate? Not even a problem. Other foods that are rich in polyphenols include red wine (in moderation!), blueberries, broccoli (ever try it roasted with a bit of garlic and olive oil?), almonds, and green tea. 

Tip #5: Nix the artificial sweeteners.

On the other hand, you’ll want to be sure to steer clear of anything with artificial sweeteners. Research has shown that not only can they raise your body’s insulin levels just like sugar can, but they can also harm your gut flora, too. Avoid, avoid, avoid, okay? (29)

Tip #6: Be mindful of medications.

This doesn’t mean that you should stop taking your prescribed medications. However, it’s not a bad idea to discuss your current treatments with your doctor, especially if they can harm your gut health. Certain medications (such as antibiotics and Accutane) can destroy your gut health. (25 & 30)

Just a bit of advice here, by the way. If your dermatologist has been recommending Accutane, you might want to reconsider that option. This medication is extremely harsh, and choosing an Accutane alternative can help you get clear skin without the dangerous side effects.

Tip #7: Keep tabs on your hormones.

Did you know that there’s a fairly cut-and-dry correlation between gut health and hormonal acne? When your hormones start to sway out of balance, this can lead to digestive issues – and even weight gain, bloating, and acne. A hormonal acne supplement, though, can be super beneficial in restoring that balance. (31)

Tip #8: Take a closer look at your lifestyle.

Finally, you want to be mindful of your overall lifestyle when trying to keep your gut health in check. This includes staying aware of your overall stress levels, making sure you get enough sleep at night, and aiming for regular exercise. Together, they can make or break your microbiome. (18, 22, & 23)

Do Probiotics Actually Help with Acne?

You’ve probably heard the buzz about probiotics in the news lately. Researchers have been really touting it as the cure-all for pretty much everything under the sun, claiming that it’s teeming with health benefits and can help support healthy gut microbes. But when it comes to your acne, does it really live up to the hype?

If you’re wondering, “Do probiotics help with acne?” in a word, the answer is yes. The mechanism of action is multifactorial, too. In other words, probiotics aren’t just a one-hit wonder when it comes to clear skin.

Studies have shown that taking probiotics can help feed your stomach’s microbiome, keeping it healthy and balanced. However, they do more than that. They can also help moderate your body’s sebaceous glands (the part of your body that makes your skin’s oils) and reduce the proliferation of C. acnes, too. (32)

In layperson’s terms, this means that ingesting probiotics can kill the bad germs on your face. It can also increase the production of something called ceramides, which can improve the texture of your skin’s sebum. This means that we’re looking at a double combo of less pore-clogging material and fewer inflammation-causing bacteria.

The Takeaway

When it comes to clear skin, it’s actually so much more than just washing your face and using various creams and serums on it. Sure, they can be effective, but it’s important to remember that your body is a complete system. So if something isn’t working right, it could affect other parts of it.

In other words, if your gut isn’t healthy, it can start to show up on your face in the form of acne, rashes, and other issues. By making your gut health a priority, though, you can help ensure that your skin is smooth and healthy and blemish-free.

Remember, a holistic approach to wellness is always the best way to go. Many treatments are just bandages, but by treating your whole body, you can get the beautiful results that you want (hashtag skin goals!) – as well as a happy tummy in the process, too.



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Source 18: Exercise and the Gut Microbiome: A Review of the Evidence, Potential Mechanisms, and Implications for Human Health

Source 19: Alcohol’s Impact on the Gut and Liver

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Source 25: Antibiotics as Major Disruptors of Gut Microbiota

Source 26: Fermented Foods: Definitions and Characteristics, Impact on the Gut Microbiota and Effects on Gastrointestinal Health and Disease

Source 27: Can oral bacteria affect the microbiome of the gut?

Source 28: Beneficial Effects of Dietary Polyphenols on Gut Microbiota and Strategies to Improve Delivery Efficiency

Source 29: Artificial Sweeteners Negatively Regulate Pathogenic Characteristics of Two Model Gut Bacteria, E. coli and E. faecalis

Source 30: Isotretinoin Use and the Risk of Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Case Control Study

Source 31: The Gut Microbiome and Sex Hormone-Related Diseases

Source 32: The effect of probiotics on immune regulation, acne, and photoaging