Can the keto diet cause acne?
Dr. Aysha Butt is the Medical Director of FROM MARS, and is a GP Partner at Woodcote NHS Medical Practice.
The keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that has become a top trend in recent years. The diet can help you lose weight, but the impact it can have on your skin is less clear cut. Some claim it can give you acne, others say it does the opposite and clears your skin up.
So, what to believe?
Here we’ll run you through the need-to-knows on what the diet is and how it can affect your skin.
WHAT IS THE KETO DIET?
The ketogenic diet, or keto diet for short, isn’t about eating less and starving yourself. It’s about changing what you eat.
Keto dieters eat foods that are high in fat but low in carbs. Foods like pasta, rice, bread, potatoes, chocolate, cake, sweets, and beer are out. Whilst eggs, cheese, meat, seafood, butter and oils are in. The keto diet is famously known as the diet that lets you eat bacon. Winner.
Cutting back on chocolate, cakes, and beer sounds sensible, but how does eating more bacon, butter, and cheese help you lose weight?
HOW DOES THE KETO DIET WORK?
The idea behind the keto diet is to change how your body uses food as fuel.
With a normal diet with plenty of carbs, your body breaks down the carbs into sugar. This sugar (mostly glucose) is used to fuel your body. You might burn some fat too if your sugar levels run low, but sugar is your body’s main source of energy.
If you switch to a diet that’s low in carbs, your body doesn’t have enough sugar to fuel itself. So, it starts to burn fat instead. After a few days on the keto diet your body enters a state called ketosis where your liver uses your fat reserves to create a different fuel source called ketones. Your body uses these ketones for energy rather than glucose.
Essentially, the keto diet makes your body burn fat rather than sugar. This can stop you putting on more fat, and it can cause you to lose it too.
DOES THE KETO DIET CAUSE ACNE?
First things first. There haven’t been any scientific studies that can say conclusively how the keto diet affects skin condition. The current knowledge on the keto diet and acne is based on a mix of older studies on diet and acne, knowledge of how the body works, and anecdotal evidence from doctors and those who’ve tried the diet.
There’s a general consensus though that the keto diet could cause acne, or worsen it, in two ways:
Firstly, diets high in dairy and oils have been linked with acne. They can cause your body to produce more of a natural skin oil called sebum, and this oil can block your pores giving you acne.
Secondly, switching to a ketogenic diet may stress your body, particularly at first. This stress could cause an inflammatory reaction and could worsen the inflammation that accompanies more severe acne outbreaks.
Before you dismiss the keto diet, to complicate matters there is also evidence that it could have the opposite effect. The keto diet could actually help with your acne.
CAN THE KETO DIET HELP WITH ACNE?
Whilst eating more dairy and more fat can be associated with causing acne, there’s a stronger association with sugar and carbohydrates and acne. It’s thought this is because carbs and sugars increase the levels of certain hormones in your body, like insulin, that can cause acne. A number of studies have shown the keto diet can reduce the levels of these hormones. The diet has even been suggested as a potential way to cure acne.
The keto diet has also been shown to reduce inflammatory processes in the body. It could cause an initial rise in inflammation as your body adjusts to the diet – which is why you can get acne when starting keto, but over time it might reduce this inflammation, so acne may be reduced.
CAN THE KETO DIET CAUSE OTHER SKIN ISSUES?
The keto diet can cause a red and itchy skin rash. The medical term for the rash is prurigo pigmentosa, but it’s more commonly called the keto rash. How the diet causes the rash isn’t understood, but it can be treated using skin products like moisturisers, and even with antibiotics.
SO WILL THE KETO DIET BE GOOD OR BAD FOR MY SKIN?
With the keto diet you could end up eating more of the food that causes acne, or possibly less of it. And the diet could both increase and decrease inflammation. Confused yet? Will it give you acne, or cure it?
The truth is, we can’t say for sure. The link between diet and acne is complicated and is still hotly debated by scientists. Everyone responds to food and diets differently. You won’t know how the keto diet impacts you until you try it.
Even if the keto diet does give you acne, or makes it worse, you have options.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF THE KETO DIET GIVES ME ACNE?
Firstly, you should adopt a daily skin care routine that helps keep acne at bay. It should involve cleansing, toning, the use of an acne treatment, and moisturising. Read more about skin care for acne with our helpful guide
When it comes to acne treatments, while you can buy plenty over the counter, stronger medications require a prescription. At FROM MARS we sell a topical acne treatment called treclin. It combines an antibiotic and a retinoic acid called tretinoin in one gel and is medically proven to be an effective treatment for acne. Treclin can reduce inflammation, kill bacterial infections in your spots, and improve the quality of your skin. Start your online consultation with us today.