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A woman sitting at a table marks through a drawing of a bowl of sugar, puts a question mark beside a drawing of cheese, and a check mark beside a drawing of wheat. In a small mirror on the table, you can see that her face has many red dots around the mouth.

IBS And Acne – Is There a Correlation?

Although I’ve never had clear skin, my acne got so much worse when I started working from home and became less scared to eat a variety of foods. Since my IBS symptoms got better around the same time, I never even thought about the fact that my gut might have an impact on my skin.

That changed when I really started trying to clear my skin. No matter what products I would use or skincare routine I would follow, my acne would get better and then flare up again quite randomly. It didn’t seem to be related to my periods or anything else I could think of.

As I was trying to analyze what lifestyle changes happened between the time I had a corporate job and my work-from-home routine, I noticed something. Now, I was eating lots of things that I would never have touched two years ago. For the past couple of months, I have been cutting out potential triggers to find out what was causing my acne. And let’s just say, my quest was sort of successful!

The science of gut health and acne

As soon as I started my research, I found tons of articles about the link between digestion and skin.

One study reported: “Over 70 years have passed since dermatologists John H. Stokes and Donald M. Pillsbury first proposed a gastrointestinal mechanism for the overlap between depression, anxiety and skin conditions such as acne.”1

I am in no position to explain the scientific effects between gut and skin, so I won’t dive into it. However, I wanted to include the above quote as well as an article that seems to explain the whole situation quite well.

Triggers of acne and IBS

With this out of the way, let’s talk about possible acne triggers – the ones I always knew about and the ones that seem to be related to my IBS:

Sugar

I’ve always known that sugar impacts how my skin looks. When I eat too much, I get breakouts. For some time, I blamed the oatmeal I eat every morning for my bad skin. I add raisins and bits of chocolate, and for some time I was actually pretty sure that they caused major parts of my acne. The only thing that didn’t make sense is that I’ve been eating less sugar than ever and my skin has been the worst it’s ever been. Maybe it wasn’t sugar after all?

The confirmation came when I cut out sugar for a whole week before a work trip. I hadn’t seen my clients in months and I didn’t want to walk in there covered in acne! Well, it didn’t work out. My skin did not get better whatsoever, and I ended up doing meetings with a bunch of painful pimples around my mouth (so annoying!).

Dairy

Another common food that is believed to cause acne is dairy. Since I don’t tolerate lactose too well, my dairy intake was kind of limited anyway. Or so I thought. Somehow, I never noticed that I was having quite a lot of lactose-free milk with my oatmeal. And cheese (I love cheese!) Milk in my coffee. Sometimes even ice cream. In my mind, dairy couldn’t possibly be a cause because I just didn’t consume it.

Then, I randomly decided to try vegan cheese. Not for my skin, but simply because cheese does leave me bloated, and I wanted to try an alternative. And there, my skin suddenly got a little bit better! Only then did I actually start realizing how much dairy I was consuming. And that it definitely did cause some of my acne (and bloating!). But even though cutting out dairy helped my skin and IBS a bit, it wasn’t the major trigger.

Gluten

Have you ever heard that gluten causes I acne? I honestly didn’t. However, I noticed that I was eating a lot of pasta. And by a lot, I mean for basically every meal, which is definitely more than a healthy human being should have in a day. I used to pay so much attention to gluten before I started working from home because it causes bloating for me. My pasta intake was definitely a by-product of my work-from-home routine.

Thus, I tried eating gluten-free for a couple of weeks. It didn’t help my IBS too much (apart from the bloating, I digest it quite well), but it definitely made a difference in my skin. First, I stopped having painful and active breakouts on my chin and around my mouth all the time. Then, my redness and all the marks slowly started fading. On the weeks where I didn’t eat gluten or dairy, my acne went away almost completely.

Testing my theories about acne and IBS

And because I do like to test my theories, I decided to try going back to gluten (but not dairy) for two days, just to see what happens. After two pasta meals, there they were again: giant, painful zits on my chin and around my mouth. To me, this confirms that my skin somehow doesn’t tolerate gluten anymore ever since I cut it out in the first years of my IBS journey. Thankfully, our supermarket just started carrying gluten-free pasta that’s really good!

So, is there a correlation between acne and IBS? I still don’t know. But there definitely is a correlation between your gut and acne, and for me, this correlation changed with my IBS. I’m glad to have found the trigger food that causes my acne, but I just wish that I didn’t have to cut out yet another food group.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The IrritableBowelSyndrome.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Bowe WP, Logan AC. Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis - back to the future?. Gut Pathog. 2011;3(1):1. Published Jan 31, 2011. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3038963/. Accessed: November 5, 2019.

Comments

  • Elizabeth Alvarez moderator
    1 month ago

    I definitely notice when I have too much sugar, my skin starts to break out. It is so interesting the correlation between our gut and skin. I was also diagnosed with Crohn’s, and whenever I am in a severe flare I break out in hives. Who would have thought?

    Finding what foods trigger outbreaks can be tedious, but it is so relieving once you know what to avoid in order to keep your skin clear.

    Thanks for sharing!

    -Elizabeth (irritablebowelsyndrome.net team)

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