Zits and Paleo (My Current 1st World Problem)

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-picking-pimple-image1624639A long time ago, before I got my head on straight about my diet and went Paleo, I had pretty bad acne. In fact, I remember very clearly this one time when someone asked me if I had small pox. Seriously, that happened.

For years it was on my chin, my neck, and my back and chest were always troubled areas, too.  It was embarrassing to wear tank tops, and I was constantly picking at and scrubbing my skin with random potions, making it even worse. If I had pictures I’d show you. Wait, no, I wouldn’t. It’s hard to look people in the face when you have red marks all over your face and neck, much less publish pictures of yourself even years later.

Anyway, as I started courageously removing foods from my diet for other reasons, it eventually got better and better. Cutting out gluten and dairy helped take some of the inflammation away, but I still had it pretty bad.

Then, I had an epiphany. A very terrifying one… that chocolate was the major culprit.

I really love chocolate. I want to be very clear about that. I would eat nothing but chocolate if I could, and that’s exactly what I used to do sometimes. If I had it in the house – chocolate bars, chocolate covered fruit, chocolate almond butter, chocolate whatever – I would not eat meals and just eat the chocolate.

I was a total addict, which in hindsight should’ve been my first clue that I shouldn’t have been eating it. Most days, I would at least eat a bar of Chocolove bar, which, by the way, is over 600 calories. Bad idea. (I was also larger back then.)

But I gave it up nonetheless because vanity, I decided, was more important to me than eating chocolate. And voila! My skin totally cleared up! It was the BEST feeling to finally not have to inspect myself every time I left the house. And it’s been like that for the past 4 years or so, and I can honestly say I don’t ever think about chocolate anymore.

I’m not saying I never get zits. I do sometimes.

And especially in the last month, which is why I was provoked to write this. It’s frustrating sometimes when you don’t know what’s going on with your body, and right now is one of those times. I’ve been getting headaches, nausea, and zits. I’ve thought about it, and the only food I can conjure up that would be giving me these unbecoming blemishes, and maybe even the other stuff, is olive oil.

I really haven’t eaten olive oil in about 4 years either, after the food sensitivities test I did told me I was highly sensitive to it. I remember taking it out of my diet and after a month I added it back in. Every time I ate it I got all itchy and sneezy and decided I didn’t want to eat it anymore. So knowing that it was a problem food for my skin before, and considering that I’ve put it back in my diet in the last month, I’m going to take it out again and experiment.

So this is the process I’m constantly going through. Trial… error… success… error… trial…

I’m assuming some of you go through this, too. You have something going on with your health – maybe it’s not your skin but your digestion or your sleep – so you just start pecking away at the possible culprits. Then you figure it out and move on… to the next mystery weeks or months later :)

Either way, if you have skin problems, I really encourage you to start thinking outside the box of possible causes for it. I’m absolutely not saying that chocolate is the cause for everyone. Or olive oil. That’s what it is (maybe) for ME. So experiment with different foods and find out for yourself what’s affecting your complexion.

Also know that my friend Liz Wolfe of RealFoodLiz.com has a whole guide about skincare and food called Skintervention if you want much more detailed information about it.

Anyone have any stories to tell about their skin and their food?



  1. Thanks for sharing, Neely. My skin issues were about removing AND adding foods. I always suffered from those little red bumps on the back of my arms. It wasn’t until I started eating Paleo that I noticed they started to reduce in number and are almost all gone. I narrowed it down to possible Vit D, A, E deficiencies, as my skin is better when I get some sun, take my fermented cod liver oil, and eat fattier meats. On the flip side, when I eat wheat my eyes get more puffy and I get darker circles under my eyes. I would have never thought my dark circles were linked to food sensitivities!

  2. Can you recommend a link for a reliable food sensitivities test? Or does it have to be ordered by a doctor?

    1. Meredith – The best one now is Cyrex and that has to be ordered by a doc or naturopath or chiropractor. You can locate more natural docs in your area on primaldocs.com

  3. I am sitll in the trial and error process. Luckily my skin is pretty okay, but I am trying to determine the best way of eating for my energy levels, weight and health. So far I have tried low-carb, vegetarian, vegan and raw, all of which were unsuccessful (let’s talk constipation, low energy levels, gas, stomach cramps, weight gain, … ). Now I am thinking about incorporating at least some Paleo principals, although I have my panties in a twist over the “historical” background. (I am a stickler for principles.)

  4. Gee, lady luck is with me as I only get the occasional zit when I lack sleep. Twice the luck because I can eat chocolates, but not as much as I want because diabetes runs both sides of my family.

  5. It’s amazing how many people are sensitive to one food or another. I’m beginning to think everybody has some food sensitivity whether they know it or not. I have thought for decades I was lactose intolerant, but have just discovered it’s actually only cow’s milk. Plus I think gluten. But I would never even have thought about testing olive oil. Either way, my skin is definitely way better when I stick to a Paleo type diet.

  6. But what about the millions of articles claiming “chocolate does not cause acne whatsoever?” Also, any person who eats a bar of chocolate daily is insane. Control yourself.

    1. MIKE – At first I marked this comment as spam because your tone is ridiculous and there aren’t “millions” of articles claiming that “chocolate does not cause acne whatsoever.” Maybe kazillions of articles, but not millions… Anyway, I took this comment out of the spam box because I realized that it does bring up a couple good points that I want to explain. First, to be blunt, I don’t care if there are research papers telling me that chocolate doesn’t cause acne. For ME (and maybe not for you, but for ME), it does. When I eat chocolate, I get acne. When I don’t, I don’t (almost ever) have acne. So that’s that.

      Secondly, I’ve written pretty extensively on this blog about my previous inability to “control” myself. I had a problem with bingeing, and I appreciate you bringing it up so gently, MIKE. Since going Paleo and taking my trigger foods like chocolate out of my life, I don’t really have problems with bingeing anymore. So one more brownie point for Paleo (pun intended).

  7. Be proud of your acne?!? That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. I struggled with my skin for years. When you look in the mirror, trying to cover it all up, not succeeding, then wanting to cry because I still had to go out in public, it sucks. When people’s eyes keep darting to your zits while your talking to them, it’s hard to be a-okay with that. I switched to paleo over a year ago and my skin was still a mess. It wasn’t until I switched to PH balanced skin care that everything cleared up. Turns out my very expensive skin care regime was damaging my skin. Now that I’m on Arbonne I get max one zit a month (when flow comes to town) that I can be proud of and totally live with.

  8. Hi Neely, I struggle with the same problems and recently a fellow crossfitter suggested oil cleansing to me. I’ve only done it a couple of times (I’ve also been on Paleo for the past 2 weeks) and I’ve already seen a difference in the luminosity of my skin and a reduction in small white bumps in my chin crease. Check out this site…. http://www.theoilcleansingmethod.com

  9. I just wanted to comment to the Colorado peeps looking for a food sensitivity test. Deb is in Longmont & I went to see her for food sensitivity testing by way of muscle testing. She’s awesome! http://www.debkitt.com She told me all the food sensitivities I had plus was able to tell me I had candida. She checked multiple points on my body to make sure everything was functioning properly. She also told me that I needed digestive enzymes for meat meals. I bought all the herbs from her or I got them at a store. I’ve also taken my son there (he’s 11) and my friend has also went. My son & I went back after following her cleansing advice & got rid of the candida through diet change & the herbal remedy. PS, I think coffee makes me skin break out! Different foods affect different folks. :)

  10. Since eating paleo I noticed my skin clear up. I have even had quite a few people comment on how beautiful my skin looks. I do notice that when I have a weak week and eat pizza and some other greasy foods in a short period of time I get this nasty chemical like zit. I only get one, but I will tell you it hurts. So those are little reminders as to why I don’t eat garbage like that and it makes it easier to avoid the temptation.

  11. @MIKE and Neely, there is actually some data on chocolate and acne. WebMD sometime ago published an article about an unpublished study that showed a massive increase in acne after eating chocolate. Unfortunately the study remains unpublished and so we can’t really say anything about it. Other studies have shown chocolate temporarily increases insulin level (I presume it causes short-term insulin resistance), so combined with carbs it could be bad for the skin. Anyway, I presume the main reason people break out after chocolate is because they have some sort of allergic/sensitivity reaction to it.

    Anyway, I’m with you there on how complicated acne is. I think that by now I’ve read most of the relevant medical literature on acne. That gives me a good idea on what to do about it, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

  12. Be proud of acne, Steve? It’s inflammation, the body’s way of telling us something is out-of-whack. I wish it was as simple for me as cutting out stuff, but I think mine might be gut-related, which means I have to do a whole heck of a lot more than just cutting out certain foods. :(

  13. I went Paleo a week ago and it has brought some incredible changes. I’ve lost 9 pounds, my belly bloat is gone, my energy levels are through the roof and I’m not having any of my typical bingeing cravings. However, I have one side effect that I don’t know what to do about and that is chest acne. I have never and I repeat never had acne anywhere on my body save the occasional “period pimple”. I was googling causes of this and it led me here but I still don’t know what to do about it because I’m not eating any new foods. Any advice? Thanks!

    1. Melissa – It could actually just be a detox symptom. Skin flare ups are a really common symptom of detox. If it doesn’t go away in a couple weeks, then let’s talk ;)

  14. I am starting my third week of Paleo. First of all I love the recipes and I am actually enjoying preparing them. Interesting fact that all three weeks the groceries cost me about $180 give or take $5. Its actually less money then I was spending when I was “winging” our diet and there is no waste because we stick to the plan. My question is similar to probably Melissa’s. I have NEVER had acne my entire life at all, even with my chocolate binges and not even during my cycle, but yesterday one popped up on my chin. The only thing different is the Paleo diet. I will not be happy if this is a lasting side effect. I understand the detoxing state and getting used to the higher fat but how long should I wait for it to pass before I get serious on finding out why?

    1. Rebecca – I’d say if it doesn’t stop within a few weeks, then it’s time to start figuring out what’s causing it. It’s probably just detox, though, if you’ve never had problems with acne before.

  15. May be it was the sugar + other things (vegetable oils, milk solids, lecithin…etc) in the chocolates which gave breakouts but not cocoa it self. Why don’t you try with paleo chocolates or home made paleo chocolates ( made with100% cocoa powder no sugar added + coconut oil + paleo approved sweeteners like raw honey) and see if they don’t break you out? Be careful with the cocoa get some brand which doesn’t have ANYTHING beside cocoa.

    1. Anonymous – I wasn’t eating vegetable oils, milk solids, or any other additives except for sometimes the lecithin, and I was getting acne. Even when I baked with just cocoa powder I’d get them. Thanks for the advice, though.

  16. Paleo great but mine didn’t fully heal till I added probiotic in the form of natural gingerbeer ,liver yuk I make pate yum and bone broth added to my soups and stews ,oh and ofcause fish oil :)

  17. Chocolate that doesn’t affect my skin is made with coconut oil, honey, dark cocoa or cacao, and natural peanut butter or nut butter , yummo

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