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Acne Symptoms Causes + Treatments

acne dairy free healthy skin diet symptoms treatment

Acne pimples spots and their treatments

Acne symptoms

Acne is also called acne vulgaris (or pimples, to name a few) and it can appear as tender red bumps, small white nodules, blackheads and deep, painful pus-filled cysts that can lead to scarring.

Acne image

The face, back, chest and shoulders are the major problem spots and sufferers can experience embarrassment, poor self-esteem, anxiety and depression as a result of their appearance. (ref. 1,2)

  • According to studies, acne has been clinically diagnosed in children as young as four years old (OMG!).
  • As many as 93% of students aged between sixteen and eighteen years can experience acne, with one in four of these students also having acne scars.

However, acne is not just reserved for the young:

Acne statistics

  • approximately 13% of Australian adults experience some form of acne vulgaris (3,4)
  • in the United States, approximately 85% of twelve- to 24-year-olds have acne (9)

  • Sebum is your skin’s best friend. It keeps the skin soft, prevents excessive waterloss and helps inhibit bacteria growth on the skin.
  • Sebum coats the surface of your hair to prevent it from becoming dry and brittle.

Standard acne topical creams and cleansers treat the surface symptoms such as bacterial infection and excess sebum, but remember that these symptoms are never the cause of your acne; they have been triggered by something...

Acne treatments, types, causes and symptoms


Acne-diet myth

Myth: Acne is not caused by diet. 

Reality: Scientists have long suspected that diet plays a role in the appearance of acne. Research published in the Archives of Dermatology, detailed how acne can be affected by diet and scientists made the following points on diet and acne in several research papers:

  • In modern societies where processed white flour, dairy and sugar-containing products are abundant more than 79% of teenagers suffer from acne. (4)
  • And what’s surprising is that more than 40% of men and women over the age of 25 in Western cultures have acne. (5)
  • Inuits who eat a traditional diet are acne-free, whereas Inuits who make the transition to modern diets develop acne similar to that in Western societies. (6)
  • The native inhabitants of Okinawa, an isolated Japanese island in the South China Sea, eat traditional diets and don’t have any signs of acne. (4)

Acne + depression

Suffering from a serious skin condition can be depressing. It can cause social phobias, missed employment opportunities and, if not treated, in very severe cases it can lead to suicidal tendencies.

In the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, a study was conducted on 10,000 high school students in New Zealand and the results showed a strong link between severe skin problems and depression and thoughts of suicide.(7)

It is clear that people with acne need diet support and giving them healthy treatment options may literally save lives. If you have acne, DON'T WORRY there is plenty you can do about it (see our Acne treatment plan below).

Causes + triggers

See if you relate to any of the following factors that can cause acne:

  • poor diet
  • vitamin deficiencies (including zinc and vitamin A)
  • dairy product consumption
  • almond milk and coconut milk (see next)
  • hormonal changes (increased levels of testosterone, growth hormone and IGF-1)
  • oral contraceptives
  • steroid medications
  • stress, trauma and emotional stress
  • overuse of cosmetics
  • irritation from tight clothing
  • high levels of iodine in the body (pustule breakouts only)
  • harsh cleansers and soaps (change your skin products and see if this helps)

What can aggravate acne?

  • harsh cleansing of skin and using the wrong skin products
  • scrubbing or exfoliating your skin
  • touching your face with unclean hands (bacteria on hands).
  • drinking almond milk (high omega-6 which makes the skin oilier)
  • drinking coconut milk or using coconut oil (saturated fats can make the skin's oil glands produce excess oils)
  • Vegetable oils such as rice bran oil (extra virgin olive oil is your best choice)


Q: ‘I always have a red, bumpy chin; the bumps look like blind pimples and they seem to get worse when I’m trying to be healthy. What can I do to get rid of them?’
I received this email a while ago, and so I inquired about person's diet as she said she was trying to be healthy ... She replied that she was making fruit and protein smoothies and having close to a litre of light milk a day, plus eating diet yoghurt and cottage cheese. The skin problems are likely to be linked with her dairy consumption as milkshake or smoothie consumption and red chins often go hand in hand. It is also suggested to look for other signs of dairy sensitivity such as a runny nose (post nasal drip), fatigue, fluid retention and skin rashes. So I prescribed Skin Friend AM and a dairy free diet and within week her acne had halved and by week 3 her skin was completely clear. 


How to control acne oil production with zinc and other nutrients

Zinc is vital for acne-free skin as it helps to convert the fats found in nuts and seeds (omega-6) into good prostaglandins, which mimic hormones and control the oil levels in your skin. Zinc is also needed to manufacture (and release) many hormones, including the sex hormones, insulin and growth hormones. Oil gland activity is also regulated by zinc, so it's an important mineral!

Zinc is also vital for teenagers. During your teenage years you develop at a rapid rate and this requires lots of zinc. Growth spurts can lead to zinc deficiency, which is bad news as the skin is the first to suffer when your body doesn’t have enough of this mineral. This is because the skin is low on the body’s priority list when your zinc is depleted — what little zinc you have is used for more important jobs such as DNA replication and fertility. Zinc gluconate is the best form to use for acne. 

See if you have any signs of zinc deficiency by taking the zinc deficiency questionnaire from The Healthy Skin Diet:

Zinc deficiency signs and symptoms Joliee Skin

How to avoid acne scarring

You can avoid acne scarring if you are diligent and do the following:

  1. Avoid picking at your skin
  2. Refrain from squeezing pimples or be very careful and gentle when doing it - instead try the following:
  3. Apply topical solutions that contain salicylic acid, vitamin A and/or AHAs
  4. For adults and teenagers: Take a skin supplement with 15mg zinc gluconate, vitamin B5, magnesium and vitamin C such as Skin Friend AM (3 scoops will give you 15mg of zinc - reduce the dosage to 2 scoops once your acne clears up) 
  5. Improve your diet (see next points)

Acne treatment plan from The Healthy Skin Diet:

Step one: Have a suitable skin-care routine

  • Make sure your skin-care products are suitable for your skin.
  • Swim in the ocean or use a Saltwater Face Bath (dissolve quality sea salt into warm water in a bowl, and use it to rinse your face. Use new water each day).

Step two: Control your hormones

  • Take a liver detoxification/cleansing supplement for 8 weeks (Skin Friend AM). You will need to drink additional water when detoxing your skin (see below). 

Step three: Control your oil production

  • Avoid dairy products and decrease saturated fat intake (limit meat and butter, avoid pork and deli meats).
  • Avoid fried foods, trans fats, most vegetable oils and margarine. Use avocado and extra-virgin olive oil instead (in moderation).
  • Add lecithin granules to your diet so you digest and eliminate fats correctly.
  • Take Skin Friend AM as it contains the correct dose of zinc and vitamin B5 plus other nutrients that effectively prevent acne. 

Step four: Improve your bowel health

  • Ditch the white bread, white flour and white sugar and switch to whole grains that help to improve bowel health.
  • Think green! Eat salads every day (with either lunch or dinner) and have more fresh, fibre-rich vegetables, especially the bright red and orange ones. Ensure you have five serves of veggies and two serves of fruit every day.
  • Drink one to two bottles of filtered water per day (1.5 litre bottles). That's around 2 to 3 litres of water per day. If you are not used to drinking lots of water, start slowly and begin with 1 litre per day. 

Step five: Only if you need to...

Apply topical solutions that contain salicylic acid, vitamin A and/or AHAs. Note these topical treatments can dry out your skin and cause flaking, so try the dietary changes first. 

Remember, your skin is made from within -- from the foods and nutrients supplied in your daily diet. You will have amazing skin if you follow this simple program. Let us know how you go, in the comments section below. 

This article is an edited extract from The Healthy Skin Diet (Exisle Publishing).


At Eczema Life, we recommend nutritionist Karen Fischer's low food chemical program (The Eczema Detox) along with additive-free supplements for skin health and wellbeing. Click on the images to view more details:




Fischer, K. 2008, ‘Acne’, The Healthy Skin Diet, Chapter 11, Exisle Publishing, Australia.

    1. Purvis, D., et. al. 2006, ‘Acne, anxiety, depression and suicide in teenagers: a cross-sectional survey of New Zealand secondary school students,’ Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, vol. 42, no. 12.
    2. Kilkenny,,‘The prevalence of common skin conditions in Australian school children: acne vulgaris’, British Journal of Dermatology, vol. 139, no. 5, p 840.
    3. Plunkett, A et. al. 1999, ‘The frequency of non-malignant skin conditions in adults in central Victoria, Australia’, International Journal of Dermatology, vol. 38, no. 12, p 901.
    4. Cordain, L. et. Al. 2002, ‘Acne vulgaris, a disease of western civilisation’, Archives of Dermatology, vol. 138, no. 12, pp 1584-1590.
    5. Cordain. L. 2005, ‘Implications for the role of diet in acne’, Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, vol. 24, no. 2.
    6. Cordain, L., et al., 2005, ‘Origins and Evolution of the Western Diet: health implications for the 21st century’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 81, pp 341–54.
    7. Cotterill, J.A. and Cunliffe,W.J. 1997, ‘Suicide in dermatological patients’, British Journal of Dermatology, vol. 137, no. 2, p 246.
    8. Wooltorton, E. 2003, ‘Accutane (isotretinoin) and psychiatric adverse effects’, Canadian Medical Association Journal, vol 168, no. 1, p 66.
    9. Enshaieh, S., et. al. 2007, ‘The efficacy of 5% topical tea tree oil gel in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study’, Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology, vol. 73, no 1, pp 22-5.


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