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How to Get Rid of Acne, Pimples, and Other Skin Problems

How to Get Rid of Acne, Pimples, and Other Skin Problems

IN A 1971 ARTICLE PUBLISHED BY American Family Physician we see a quote: “Patients are deluded into thinking that their health can somehow be mysteriously harmed by something in their diet.” That’s not all.

The major textbook of dermatology for acne published in 1975 claimed that parents and doctors used the threat of depriving teens of “tempting delights” like candy and junk food only as a way to “keep these imminent sinners in check,” not because diet had any connection to acne.

In fact, most of us tend to believe that pimples are for kids!

Not true.

The average age of acne patients has now increased from 20 to 26 years old.

Millions of adults are experiencing acne for the first time.

And acne 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.

And healthcare costs for prescription acne treatment exceed $1 billion a year.

Clearly, this problem, like so many chronic diseases in the 21st century, is increasing.


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, MD and Alan Logan, ND, 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 to the real causes of acne — including your nutritional status, stress, toxicity, inflammation, and hormonal and gut imbalances.

If you’ve been reading my blogs, you know by now what I’m going to say next.

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.

No matter what condition, disease, or health problem you face, the root causes can be traced back to the same underlying factors, because the body is one whole integrated system.

This includes your skin.

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.

Good Skin Comes from the Inside Out, Not the Outside In!

Before I explain these connections in more detail, and what you can do about it, I want to tell you my own experience with acne.

I never had it.

That is, until I got sick with chronic fatigue syndrome.

This is a disease of toxicity, gut damage, inflammation, hormonal imbalances and stress, among other things.

I have told the story of my illness and recovery many times, but I don’t usually talk about the skin problems I had.

The trigger that tipped me over the edge — on a load of mercury and stress — was a severe intestinal infection.

Right away, my skin changed.

My skin color turned gray and I developed dark circles under my eyes.

I started getting pimples all over my face (a new adventure for me at age 36), and strange rashes around my eyes whenever I ate certain foods.

I even developed itchy red patches on different parts of my body.

The skin symptoms completely correlated with a worsening of my gut symptoms and the irritable bowel syndrome that I had developed.

So what did I do?

Well, I didn’t need creams, gels, or lotions such as benzoyl peroxide, retinoid acid, salicylic acid, glycolic acid peels, or topical antibiotics (all of which might have helped symptoms a little bit).

I certainly didn’t need oral antibiotics (which can cause long-term gut complications, immune problems, and yeast overgrowth), or Accutane (which can cause liver damage and increase the risk of depression and suicide), or oral contraceptives (which I would have been offered had I been a woman).

These are the tools of modern dermatology — but they overlook the role of overall health in the health of your skin.

I didn’t need any of these things.

Instead, what I needed was to heal my leaky gut, correct my food allergies and nutritional deficiencies, detoxify from mercury, reduce inflammation, and rebalance my stress hormones.

That’s just what I did.

And my pimples vanished, my eyes cleared up, and my rashes went away (along with my chronic diarrhea, disabling fatigue, brain fog, mouth sores, muscle pain, and more).

A miracle? Hardly!

I have seen this happen in so many of my patients.

Beauty and vibrant, clear, healthy skin come from the inside out, not from the outside in.

The only partial exceptions to this are wrinkles and skin cancers, which come from sun damage. But even these, too, are worsened by internal inflammation and oxidative stress caused by things like smoking and poor diet.

Now let’s look a little at the problem of acne (many other skin problems also respond to this approach, which I will cover in later blogs).

People who eat more fruits and vegetables (containing more antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds) have less acne.

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.

Hormonal Imbalances Cause Skin Problems

  • Hormonal imbalances trigger acne — and diet influences hormones like testosterone, IGF-1 (insulin-like growth hormone), and insulin, which promote acne.
  • The biggest factor affecting your hormones is the glycemic load of your diet (how quickly the food increases your blood sugar and insulin levels).
  • Eating omega-3 fats and fiber (to reduce testosterone in women), cutting out sugar (to reduce insulin), and using soy foods (to reduce toxic testosterone levels) help balance hormones. Exercise also helps improve insulin function.

Leaky Gut and Food Allergies Cause Acne

  • Delayed food allergies are among the most common causes of acne. Foods like gluten, dairy, yeast, and eggs can be problems if you have a leaky gut.
  • Taking probiotics (such as lactobacillus) can improve acne.
  • Good bacteria from probiotics also take up residence on the skin, helping with acne.
  • I have seen serious cystic acne resulting from gut imbalances and parasites that resolve when the gut is fixed.

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.

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 may seem like a broken record, but it’s true — biology is biology.

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

Now I’d like to hear from you…

Do you suffer from acne?

Have you noticed if your skin looks better or worse when you eat certain foods?

What steps have you taken to keep your skin healthy?

Please let me know your thoughts by adding a comment below.

Mark Hyman MD is the Medical Director at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, the Founder of The UltraWellness Center, and a ten-time #1 New York Times Bestselling author.

Comments (30)

  • C

    Over the past few years, I’ve constantly had some sort of minor blemish on my face; nothing that concerned my dermatologist or raised an eyebrow of friends, but a little pimple here or there or maybe a cyst that took a long time to sink down. Within the last few months, I’ve really cleaned up my diet and my complexion has become much worse. I am 30 with the complexion of a teenager. I do yoga regularly, drink plenty of water, try to include turmeric, ginger, and berries, eat a lot of leafy greens, avoid preservatives in a major way, and don’t use chemicals on my face.
    As you could imagine, this is very frustrating. Any help you could offer would be appreciated.

    • Thank you for your message and your interest in Dr. Hyman’s work. Your question and constellation of symptoms represents a complex medical condition. Questions regarding conditions like these cannot be answered in a responsible manner via the Internet.

      Wishing You the Best of Health!

      Dr. Hyman Staff

    • try taking fiber and probiotics – worked for me. Every morning I use “organic triple fiber”, followed by “all flora critical care” probiotic pill and it has helped my skin immensely. Both of those supplements are sold at Whole Foods. It’s posible that you have some stuff going on in your gut that needs to be flushed out and both of those will help. Good luck!

    • I have the same thing. I have made major changes to improve my diet (no gluten, dairy, corn, soy, peanuts, eggs, sugar). My acne is worse, mostly on my nose. The one thing I’ve added is a protein shake that has STEVIA. I wonder if Stevia is causing my breakout. So I stopped the Stevia food yesterday and will wait and see if my skin improves. Have you learned anything more about this? I’m also not sleeping as well as I used to sleep before I got healthy. I’m 56 with pimples on my nose!

    • For every period if my life when I eat a wholesome diet acne on my face vanishes, except for that one pimple wich pops up once a month…
      However, acne on my back still remain. I have no clue how to get rid of it?

  • I just want to say that I love your book “The Blood Sugar Solution”.I was very impressed with everything you had to say….so much so that I bought extra copies and gave them to family and friends.What you say about high fructose corn syrup is absolutely 100% true. After reading your book I stopped drinking soda pop ( coke to be what I was drinking mostly) and just after a week, my skin started to clear up and my psoriasis was almost gone.
    But then I did something stupid…..I gave into a moment of weakness….and I drink a coke.I started to feel bad all over again and my psoriasis came back.But then I saw your show on PBS ( I taped it because it came on at 3am) and after watching it, I realized you only get one life…..and why would I want to put something so toxic in my body, let alone my family.So …..long a little shortened……I got rid all EVERY single fructose containing product in my house and started eating healthier.So Mark, God Bless you for both the book and the show 🙂 I have to say, with my diabetes 2 and other health problems, I have a way to go, but I intend to stay on the right track…..and every time I even think of drinking something so toxic as a coke or eat something with high fructose syrup, I am going to reread that section of your book to remind NEVER to go back.Thank you thank you thank you a million times over for all the information.And thank you for being honest…..true and a good doctor.Lucky the patient that has you for a doctor 🙂

  • i am having many pimples on my face for almost 1 year, what should i try to get rid of it fast? can i get some home stuffs to reduce my pimples?

  • I definitely have an acid problem/sugar problem, and spice problem. All those things break me out really bad. I’m sure it comes from medication over the years and from dealing with a female that had skin pproblems. I even developed spots on the bottom of my feet and in my hands from dealing with her sexually. What can I do?

  • I have struggled with skin issues on and off throughout my adult life. I narrowed it down to my early 20s when I got into fitness big time and became very very strict with my diet. I ate the same thing day in and day out, exercised extremely intensely, and maintained a body fat level that was too low to support monthly menses. But I became addicted to the lifestyle. Needless to say, after years of this, my body became extremely depleted. I struggled with IBS, acne, and fatigue. I go sometimes months without any skin issues at all, but for some reason it comes back and my skin will flare up for weeks at a time. I do eat an extremely healthy diet, no deprivation anymore. Still all wholefoods. Lots of healthy proteins, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and properly prepared grains (soaked to remove phytic acid)

    For me I don’t think that stress necessarily brings on my break outs. I think that it aggravates a pre-existing issue. Like a gut that has never been properly healed and definitely definitely definitely hormonal disturbances. Top that with stress and you’ve got yourself a bomb fire waiting to explode.

    I find that when my skin does break out that nothing topical really works. I stopped buying all sorts of expensive products….including the all natural stuff from the store and have gone back to just using a simple tea tree oil liquid soap (Dr. Bonners) and a simple moisturizer. I don’t feel that my diet is necessarily lacking in nutrients….only that I’m either not absorbing the nutrients, or my hormones are still out of whack. These are things I need to discuss with a naturopath which is what I plan to do at the beginning of the year when I move and get resettled.

    Great Blog Dr. Hyman. I love all your articles and truly enjoyed your lecture from IIN. Your book The Blood Sugar Solution was fascinating and I share this info with family and friends. Keep up the good work and keep us all informed. We need doctors like you. If you ever need a health coach on your staff….don’t EVER hesitate to ask.


  • Hi Dr Hyman…
    Im begging for your help..
    Ive done everything possible at only 19 years of age.. and ive been having digestive and skin issues since im 15. Saying it ruins my life is no exagerration..
    Ive taken birth control pills over the past years, all antibiotics for acne (without a break), stomach acid medication, anti depressants. anti anxiety pills, basically every laxative, gaviscon, milk of magnesia, overload of tums, stomach emptying medication, resotran for colon peristalsis, ibs medication .. the list goes on. because doctors are supposed to be people you can trust concerning your health issues… WRONG.

    over the past 8 months ive made alot of progress.. stopped birth control, antibiotics, any medication. (beginning of the year) . i went straight to taking natural hormonal balancing supplements, and many colonic, probiotics, healthy eating. ive been gluten free for 3 months approx. ive had severe constipation for about 4 years .. but the past 2 months ive been doing the candida diet as well with also candigone at half dosage. my acne has always been present and pretty bad, i used to be so sick from any kind of food, always bloated , never have actually normal bowel movements, sometimes it would be weeks without one. Ive made progress but i am still lost. is my acne only digestion related???? do i have leaky gut as well????? are my probiotics strong enough at 25 billion???? am i wasting all my time with this candida diet ????? am i causing set backs without knowing????? id do anything to have you help me, im so depressed from not being able to eat anything, always having horrible acne, and rare bowel movements . my body always feels horrible. PLEASE help me figure out what to do next. i believe i can one day go back to feeling okay.

    thank you

  • I cannot believe the average age of acne has increased so drastically! That said, I think it’s great people are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of diet on the prevention of acne. All too often, people assume taking drugs, rubbing in creams, or doing something of the like will reduce acne. And, they probably will…but are they really good for you in the long run?

  • Dr. Hyman! I am a third year medical student struggling with chronic joint pain, eczema, cystic acne. I’ve developed new food allergies in the past few years (I’m 26) to eggs and now milk. Eating these foods flares my eczema and joint pain. I have tested negative for lupus, RA, etc.

    I want to do a parasite cleanse and have some vermox, but am afraid to take it because it’s hard on the liver. Any natural alternatives for a parasite cleanse/gut healing regimen?


    • Hi Syd,
      Thank you for your interest In Dr. Hyman’s work. Unfortunately he cannot provide you personalized medical advice in this forum. In order to provide you the proper care you need we hope you will seek the attention of a local qualified Functional Med practitioner soon. To locate a doctor near you who practices functional medicine like Dr. Hyman, go to and scroll down to where it says “locate a practitioner” and enter your location. Progress accordingly from there.

      You can also make an appointment to be a patient at Dr.Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, MA. Please go to:
      Wishing you the best of health,
      Dr. Hyman Staff

  • In your article, you said… “Instead, what I needed was to heal my leaky gut, correct my food allergies and nutritional deficiencies, detoxify from mercury, reduce inflammation, and rebalance my stress hormones” …. My question is how did you do each of those things?

    I have had acne for years and just found out yesterday that my oxidative stress level is high as well as my Mercury and Cadmium levels. In reading your article, I realize that these may very well be contributing factors to my acne issue. I would love some recommendations on things to start doing, especially for the reduction of the mercury levels. Thank you.

    • Hi Debbie,
      Thank you for your interest In Dr. Hyman’s work. Unfortunately he cannot provide you personalized medical advice in this forum. In order to provide you the proper care you need we hope you will seek the attention of a local qualified Functional Med practitioner soon. To locate a doctor near you who practices functional medicine like Dr. Hyman, go to and scroll down to where it says “locate a practitioner” and enter your location. Progress accordingly from there.
      Wishing you the best of health,
      Dr. Hyman Staff

  • Great article! I’ve been suffering from acne since I was 8 1/2, in and out of dermatology offices, and was called “ugly” and “pizza face” for many years by my peers, which damaged my self confidence. I am 46 now, still have oily (and very sensitive) skin, and it still breaks out.

  • I had tried a lot of methods to rid myself of my crippling acne. This program worked. My acne had cleared up and very quickly, I might add. My skin is now remarkably clear. Not a day goes by where I don’t thank the lord that I found this powerful solution. It really works, I will recommend anyone who wishes to stop suffering and do something about his acne to order your program. It was the wisest decision I have ever made about myself. See this free presentation and it’s reveals a somewhat unusual tip to eliminate your acne forever and gain beautiful clear skin in 30-60 days. End the breakouts & see results in less than 7 days! Check it out…

  • Respected Doctor,

    i am having 3 & 4 pimples on my face ,that pimples go and come more time its very pain i think its food allergy or not ?

    please give me good solution

  • Could you please elaborate on cystic acne and gut imbalances? I seem to have both, and though I don’t think I have a horrible diet, perhaps I’m just less tolerant to bad foods than most. I often don’t have good, healthy-looking stuff come out the other end(you know what I mean…), even when I’m not sick or Ill.

  • Good news, therapeutic breakthrough in the treatment of acne and eczema
    Just as gastrointestinal microbiome therapy is proving to be essential for gut and immune health, I’m sure that probiotic skin treatments will become the standard of the future.

  • Very useful tips. To get rid of acne, pimples and other skin problems, it is always vital to take proper care of your skin and to know the best solution for your skin problem, you should know the main causes behind that.

  • I have had Cystic acne covering just about every space of skin on my face for about a year now, I’m 20. I got it somewhat under control with antibiotics awhile back and keeping it to a minimum by applying tea tree oil every couple hours, if I don’t it gets out of control. For about a month and a half i have been gluten/dairy/sugar free. Basic diet of eggs, fresh fish and veggie salads along with many supplements probiotics and detox etc.. I haven’t noticed any difference with my skin and am still getting bad acne when I stop the tea tree.
    I’ve had a candida test as well and it’s not that.
    I’m not sure what else could be the problem.

  • These are great points, and I have one of the biggest issues with acne treatments is that most that really work are just as toxic as the pimples them selves, and are not a good long term solution.. The best option is a natural remedy, and I’ve been looking for something that works well but very difficult to find… I did come cross a good article indicating 3natural options for treating acne, can someone take a look here

    and let me know if they tried any of them? and if any worked well?

    Thank you

  • sir..
    there is a problem on my back..there are acne on my back and on my skin as well as on my face.even i am not able to turn my head around. . I have no clue how to get rid of it? sir please help me.