Since puberty, us females have been given the same advice time and time again: avoid that chocolate/burger/plate of fries if you don’t want acne! As kids, we weren’t sure what this really even meant. Under the impression throughout my teenage years that people got a pimple for every French fry they ate, I avoided them at all costs, and credited this practice to my clear skin. Just as many people avoid vaccinating their children because they simply heard somewhere that it could potentially cause autism, many people like myself avoided foods rich in fat and oil just because they read in a tabloid that this would help maintain clear skin. The difference between these two, however, is while the benefits outweigh the risks when vaccinating your children, the risk of getting acne from eating unhealthily is high.
Background: Acne vulgaris (simply known as acne) is a skin condition in which oil and dead skin cells plug up hair follicles, resulting in various kinds of pimples, blackheads, and bumps. It is a universal skin disease, however it is extremely prevalent in westernized societies, affecting 79% to 95% of the population’s adolescents, while acne is less prevalent in non-westernized nations. Scientists began to wonder why this may be.
Study: In a 2002 observational study published in Archives of Dermatology, dermatologists traveled to 2 different non-westernized populations: Papua New Guinea (East Asia-Pacific) and eastern Paraguay (central South America). Of the 1200 Papuan New Guineans and the 115 Paraguayans observed over 843 days, not one case of acne was spotted. In another example, a doctor who spent 30 year treating the Inuit (Eskimo) people noticed that the presence of acne was absent, until acculturation with western societies. After acculturation, the presence of acne became similar to that of societies like ours. In acculturation, the Inuit people began to eat processed foods that are a part of the daily lives of many Americans.
Conclusions: Researchers looked at the biggest differences in acne prevalence between non westernized and fully modernized societies and concluded that the factors in whether or not there was a presence of acne in the society was not just genetic, but mainly due to differing environmental factors, such as the resources used to make food. These non westernized societies had all natural diets. The Papua New Guineans intake little to none of alcohol, caffeine, or dairy products, while the Paraguayans ate mostly wild, foraged foods, and locally cultivated foods. While genetic susceptibility to acne can never be totally ruled out in the interpretation of these observations, it is unlikely that the absence of acne in the Paraguayan and Papua New Guinean people resulted entirely from genetic resistance to acne, since there have been cases of acne found in other South American Indians and Pacific islanders, whose ethnic backgrounds are similar to the ones in this study. These people, however, live in more westernized settings than the ones in this study. While this study may suffer from the Texas sharpshooter fallacy because diet is the only factor that is completely explained, this may also be simply because diet is the main variable in whether or not a society has a prevalence of acne. In many westernized societies, there are people with similar genes to the Paraguayan and Papua New Guinean. These people do, however, have acne solely because of the difference of diet.
How to Improve Your Own: Proactiv, Accutane and other popular acne treatments aside, we’ve all seen those articles online or those commercials on TV with the title proclaiming “How I Lost My Acne in Just 6 Weeks”, or some other variation. It is unclear precisely how long it takes for acne to clear up after switching to a healthier diet, particularly a dairy-free diet. It seems to vary from each individual’s success story. The average is anywhere from 3-8 weeks. While it may take trial and error to decide what kind of a diet works for you personally, commitment is the biggest challenge for many. Slipping up just once can cause a breakout, like it did for Starre Vartin.
So unfortunately, it is evident that the processed foods we all know and love are a huge contribution to our skin troubles. It might be time to walk past the McDonald’s on your way home this weekend.