Digestion and Acne: How Does Gut Health Affect Skin?

Anna Denson
Written by
Anna Denson

100% honesty here: I hate the word gut. It makes me shudder. I can’t even tell you why — it just grosses me out in a totally unreasonable way.

Everyone else seems to hate the word moist, which I have no problem with. (Moist is great! Moist sounds like cake!) For me, though, it’s gut. Gut. Ugh!

But as much as I’d like to hide my head in the sand ostrich-style, gut health has far-reaching implications and can’t be ignored. This isn’t Las Vegas; what happens in the gut DOES NOT stay in the gut.

Now, before you ask, I’m not talking about ways to downsize a cute lil’ beer belly. (Or, in my case, margarita belly.)

Gut health means tackling our overall well-being from the inside out, by encouraging good bacteria and protecting our gastrointestinal tract from damage.

It’s more important than you realize. Healthy digestion can impact everything from our mood and metabolism to our complexion!

How? It’s all about...


The Gut-Skin Connection 

Or perhaps you know it by its secret alias: the gut-brain-skin axis. 

When we learn about biology in school, the human body is usually broken down into different systems. You remember those charts showing just our skeleton, or just our musculature, or just our nervous system.

But in reality, it’s not so easy to untangle these systems, because they all rely on each other to function properly. Your skeletal system would be useless without muscles holding it all together. And your muscles couldn’t move without your nervous system transmitting electrical impulses from your brain.


Couch potato with no nervous system


The same idea applies to your digestive system. It’s not just sitting there, breaking down food in its own little space bubble. The inner workings of your gut collaborate with many other body processes, including your skin health. 

When it comes to your skin, the gut may affect it in one of several ways:

  • Skin-affecting nutrients: This is the most direct line of communication between digestion and our skin. Ever hear that eating too many carrots can turn you orange? That’s because your gut absorbs beta-carotene from carrots, which can cause yellowing of the skin. Happily, this effect also applies to skin-positive vitamins (like A, C, E, and others), which are broken down in our GI tract and used to build and support a healthy complexion!
  • Stimulating hormones: Sometimes, your gut impacts your skin indirectly by altering hormone levels. For example, foods processed by your digestive system cause the release of insulin in your bloodstream. Insulin then triggers hormone responses from your body. And if you’ve ever struggled with acne, you already know that hormones and skin have a complicated relationship.
  • Impacting your immune system: This is a hot area of research right now. Studies suggest that the friendly microorganisms living in your gut can alter your risk of conditions like kidney disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. These organisms also affect your immune system’s inflammation response — including the presence (or lack) of puffiness and irritation in your skin.

When your gut is healthy, all this communication works to help your skin. But things can go terribly wrong if your digestive system becomes imbalanced or damaged. For example, take a condition called...


Leaky Gut 

OMG guys. I thought the word gut was awful enough on its own. Leaky gut? Really? That’s what y’all want to call this condition? Come on, doctors, I expected better of you!

(Its other name, “increased intestinal permeability,” isn’t much better.)


Renaming leaky gut brainstorming list


Leaky gut pops up constantly in research exploring the gut-skin axis, and let me tell you, it is Undesirable #1. Like some mustache-twirling evil twin, it corrupts all those relationships forged by your once-healthy digestive system, causing a domino effect of chaos throughout your body. 

It happens like this. The cells of your GI tract are usually joined tight like the bars of a jail cell, keeping harmful bacteria and toxins locked up inside as they are digested.

But if you develop leaky gut syndrome, those cells start to space out, developing cracks or holes. And when the bars of your metaphorical jail cell get far enough apart, the criminals start escaping. These wily bacteria and toxins then run amok through your organs and bloodstream.

This jailbreak can have all sorts of negative consequences, and not just in increased digestive problems. Leaky gut has also been linked to conditions like arthritis, depression, lupus, diabetes, chronic fatigue, psoriasis, eczema, and our old nemesis, acne.

Researchers are still debating what causes leaky gut. Some think that it’s due to genetics. Others suggest that it may be linked to stress or the overuse of certain over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen.

Others suspect that diet plays a role, through inflammatory foods or food allergies that gradually loosen the cells in our GI tract.

Here, we find a particularly vicious cycle: a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates causes insulin spikes, which can contribute to leaky gut. And once you’ve developed leaky gut? It turns around and causes more insulin problems by releasing toxins that encourage insulin resistance.



Gut Health and Acne 

We can see pretty clearly now that our gut health impacts conditions all around our body.

A happy gut is like that wise old fairy from Ferngully: trapping pollutants and helping its surroundings grow strong and healthy. An unhappy gut is like the Hexxus: oozing toxins, poisoning the environment, and probably voiced by Tim Curry.


Ferngully Hexxus is an unhappy gut


But let’s get specific. What does your digestive system have to do with acne? 

As it turns out, quite a bit! The integrity of your GI tract is related to many infamous acne triggers, such as:

  • Inflammation: When your digestive system becomes compromised and allows bad bacteria to run rampant, it triggers a response from your immune system: inflammation. Acne is already an inflammatory condition, so increasing your inflammatory response is the opposite of helpful. Extra swelling will just make breakouts redder, puffier, and slower to purge and heal.
  • Insulin resistance: A damaged GI tract can also allow the escape of toxins that contribute to insulin resistance. This means more insulin floods your system when you eat. Those high insulin levels can increase your production of sebum and skin cells — two significant causes of acne.
  • Stress: First of all, digestive problems are inherently stressful. They’re painful, and inconvenient, and where is the closest bathroom? Then your unhealthy gut starts messing with your mood, and you’re feeling stressed without even knowing why. All these stressors increase hormones like cortisol and CRH. And what do those hormones do? That’s right. Like insulin, they stimulate your production of sebum and skin cells, setting the stage for more acne breakouts.


How to Tame Your Digestion 

Digestive issues are uncomfortable and embarrassing, even before you add in the extra grief of acne. But these issues aren’t a life sentence, and there are ways to improve your gut health!

  • Consume probiotics and fiber: Probiotics help restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut, letting your digestive system run at peak efficiency. They are also linked to reduced inflammation. Meanwhile, prebiotic fiber supports probiotics, helping them quickly multiply and restore order! The best part? They’re both easy to include in your diet!
  • Drink filtered water: I grew up drinking from the tap, and I turned out okay. But some tap water is purified with high levels of chlorine, which can kill off the good bacteria in your digestive system, throwing it into imbalance. When in doubt, filter it out!
  • Limit unbalancing and inflammatory foods: Certain foods can interact poorly with the natural environment in your gut and should be consumed in moderation.
    • Gluten: Gluten-heavy foods like bread and pasta contain a protein called zonulin, which may contribute to the development of leaky gut. 
    • Refined carbs and sugar: Can feed harmful bacteria in the GI tract, causing an imbalance.
    • Dairy: Contains difficult-to-digest proteins that can cause digestive distress and damage.
    • High-fat foods: Can damage good bacteria and worsen gut permeability (hi, leaky gut), allowing toxins to escape from your intestines.

With changes like these, you can make real progress to heal your skin from the inside-out. But don’t forget to also care for it from the outside-in!

Opt for gentle, wholesome skin products that work with your body, not against it. Look for skincare that prioritizes nutrients and antioxidant-rich botanicals, like every single product in the Averr Aglow line. Our ingredients are carefully blended to nourish your complexion without disrupting its natural balance.

By addressing troubled skin from both inside and out, your skin will improve all the faster. So go on, girl — share your glow! xx


Averr Aglow products skincare line

Anna Denson
Written by
Anna Denson
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Anna is a Copywriter at Averr Aglow. A not-so-secret nerd, she loves books with swords and never gets tired of Alien or Jurassic Park. Also a total foodie, she has an unnecessarily large cookbook collection. When not busy writing, Anna travels the world and dotes on her two spoiled cats, Waffle and Fanta.