This week we’re taking on another requested myth sent on by one of our lovely readers, namely ‘does wheat cause, or effect, your acne?’
During my research into this particular skin myth, it became quite clear that I was by no means the only person looking into this subject, and came across hundreds of articles giving their own opinions about whether or not wheat and gluten can affect your skin. Unsurprisingly, I came across a somewhat mixed set of conclusions. That’s why I thought it more important than ever to get to the bottom of this mystery and find out the truth – after all, I’ve already advised you to stay away from dairy, milk chocolate, and excessive sugar! Add bread and gluten to that list unnecessarily, and I’d never be able to forgive myself.
Why all the confusion?
From what I’ve been able to unearth, the link between gluten and acne isn’t quite as straightforward as it has been with other foodie-myths we’ve looked at previously (like our Dairy Article for example), instead the reaction to gluten that appears on your skin is more likely to be a reflection of a reaction happening in your gut.
Gluten intolerance, or Coeliac Disease, is a common affliction, affecting around 1 out of 100 people, with many more people being diagnosed with what’s known as gluten sensitivity; similar to Coeliac Disease, but with symptoms that are less immediate that can develop over time. In either case, gluten causes inflammatory responses within the gut – that’s probably the politest way to put it – as well as other symptoms as well, such as headaches, joint and muscle pain and, in some rare cases, neurological issues. As you’ll no doubt be aware, it is these internal inflammatory reactions that make themselves known on your skin, exacerbating acne symptoms and causing so-called ‘break-outs’. It’s well known that inflammatory reactions that take place in the gut are often reflected by inflammation in the skin, meaning that if you have a sensitivity to a particular food, cutting it out of your diet will not only improve your stomach but most likely your skin as well.
When you consider that 1 in 5 adults suffer from acne, and 90% of people will have experienced acne at some point in their lives, you’ll realise that it’s no wonder that so many people are experiencing a correlation between consuming wheat and gluten products and seeing a negative impact on their skin.
(FYI, these inflammatory responses can also exacerbate the symptoms of other skin conditions, such as rosacea, which also tends to flare up when the sufferers are exposed to triggers that cause these types of inflammatory responses within the body. These include certain foods, alcohol, UV light and many more. With gluten sensitivity being so common, rosacea sufferers may also benefit from being aware of how much gluten they are consuming, as well as monitoring their skin to see if there is an apparent cause and effect reaction.)
How can I tell if gluten will affect me?
First of all, I want to emphasise that the link between gluten and acne should only affect you A. if you already have acne, and B. if you are already sensitive to gluten. Gluten sensitivity can occur at any time in your life, as can acne, but consuming wheat and gluten will not cause you to contract acne. Acne is a medical condition which occurs as a result of your skin reacting to hormonal activity within your body and is not caused by any of the food you eat.
If you have Coeliac Disease or think that you might have it – i.e. you suffer from immediate and severe reactions whenever you ingest foods that include gluten – you most likely won’t be consuming anything with gluten in it anyway. However, because gluten sensitivity can manifest itself in so many ways, and often not immediately or severely enough to cause people to seek medical advice, there are those who will fall into both camps, of having acne while already being sensitive to gluten, with this sensitivity only becoming apparent through their skin.
The problem lies in the fact that gluten-rich foods are so often staples in our diets – it is often literally our daily bread – coming in the form of the more obvious foods like bread, pasta, baked goods like cake or pastry, cereals and beer, but also in places you wouldn’t expect, like your toothpaste, shampoo and makeup. It’s therefore often difficult to figure out if gluten is having an effect on your skin, or if your exacerbated symptoms are the result of another trigger entirely because there isn’t time to gauge the reaction between the consumption of gluten and the break-out of acne because gluten is such a constant in your diet and lifestyle.
Should you give up Gluten completely?
As I said before, I would hate to be the reason for anyone to give up on good, tasty food for no reason. Cutting out wheat and gluten could work wonders for your skin, or it could cause a lot of unnecessary hassle for you trying to change your whole diet, without it making any real difference.
One way to find out if you are gluten sensitive would be to go and speak to your doctor to be tested for gluten antibodies. That would give you a good idea of whether gluten could be a cause for your exacerbated acne troubles, however, as I’ve discovered, gluten sensitivity can present its symptoms in various ways, and skin trouble may not be one of them.
Which brings us to method number two; temporarily cutting out gluten from your diet to see what effect it has on your skin. It’s essentially the same method we recommended with dairy, usually known as the elimination technique, where you cut out your chosen food type from your diet and observe any effect over 3 to 4 weeks. If after that time you notice a positive difference to your skin, you can then start to think about removing gluten from your diet on a more permanent basis – thankfully nowadays most supermarkets offer gluten-free alternatives to things like bread, pasta and cereals, making this kind of transition much easier than it would have been in the past, meaning you don’t have to give up on the foods you love, and still get to keep your skin clear. After your time spent gluten-free, to make doubly sure of your results, you could experiment by indulging in a gluten-rich meal and seeing the effect it has on your skin – you often only need one relapse to give you the resolve to stick to your new diet.
If, however, after your gluten-free month you don’t notice any discernible difference, you can be fairly certain that gluten is not the culprit for your skin troubles, and go back to your usual diet. The elimination technique doesn’t only have to apply to gluten though, and if your skin is still suffering, you can always try experimenting by eliminating different food groups and keeping track of the effect on your skin.
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