Unlike most, my main objective when starting a ketogenic diet was to reduce acne, not lose weight. Inspiration struck as I mindlessly scrolled through Pinterest and landed on a pin that linked healthy skin with the diet trend, so naturally, I was intrigued. And after even more hours of research, I decided to start immediately. Now here I am, four months later, and almost completely acne-free—something I’ve never experienced in my 24 years of life.
Initially, I thought clearer skin was simply a coincidence, but something urged me to dig deeper (probably because I’m ready to eat pancakes covered in sugary goodness again but don’t want to re-trigger my breakouts). Here’s what the experts have to say.
What Is the Keto Diet?
In the simplest terms, a keto diet is high in fat and protein and low in carbs. According to certified raw food chef and plant-based nutritionist Summer Sanders, it’s “a way of eating that totally reverses how your body produces energy.” When done correctly and consistently, your body should begin to run on fats instead of carbs and sugar in a process that’s called ketosis. When this happens, your body is breaking down fat as energy, rather than converting fat into sugar for energy (which takes longer).
“The benefits of a ketogenic-inspired diet are improved brain function—our brains love good healthy fats—weight loss, and increased energy,” says Sanders. “Many people coming from a SAD, or standard American diet, will experience an incredible increase in energy, significant weight loss, and feel like they got their minds back.”
The Skin Connection
We are what we eat. And since the skin is your body’s largest organ, it makes sense that diet influences the look and feel of our complexions, too. “The food we eat can spur hormone and oil production and create an environment for bacterial overgrowth that creates poor skin health,” says celebrity nutritionist Dr. Charles Passler. “Eating the proper foods creates a more optimal skin health.”
Refined carbs—or foods that have been altered by a food manufacturer—will do the opposite. They can spike blood sugar, and that in turn causes hormonal changes and bacterial overgrowth that contribute to poor skin health, says Passler.
However, a diet that includes more phytonutrients—protective substances found in plants—and healthy fats can improve overall skin health. “Think colorful vegetables, nuts, seeds, avocado, fish and grass-fed, hormone-free animal products,” says Passler (all of which are staples in a ketogenic diet).
Dr. Rebecca Baxt, contributing medical expert to Zwivel.com, agrees with Passler’s assessment. “What we eat gets broken down and used to keep our body and cells happy with glucose, proteins and fats, as well as vitamins and minerals,” says Baxt. “So nutrition is important for the whole body as well as the skin.”
How to Start
Considering that a keto diet consists of tons of dark leafy greens, omega-3-rich fish and grass-fed meats, it’s the perfect environment for your skin to thrive, since said foods contain phytonutrients and antioxidants and can protect the fatty membrane around the skin cells.
Courtney Ferreira, MS, RDN, told us that “there are no overt proven negative effects of a higher fat, lower carb diet on the skin.” With that being said, she also notes that “just like your skin may need time to adjust to a new beauty product, diet will be the same.”
From a nutritionist’s point of view, the diet can be great as well, but Sanders acknowledges that “it’s important to not overdo animal fats (cheese, butter, cream), and if you do them, they should be from grass-fed, organic sources.”
If you’re not ready to completely give up bread, potatoes, sugars, and desserts, Ferreira suggests “to make small diet changes like cutting back on inflammatory foods like added sugar, refined grains, conventionally raised meat and dairy and focus on increasing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish.” She also suggests Health Warrior’s chia seed bars as a snack. They are very low in sugar and rich in inflammatory-healthy fats.
Even if you’re not going full-on keto, these small changes can absolutely make a positive change with your acne and other inflammatory-related skin issues. “Increasing anti-inflammatory foods should be the goal as decreasing inflammation in the body should help with acne,” says Ferreira.
In case you missed it, here are some keto-friendly recipes to help ease your transition.