Intermittent Fasting and Acne: Should You Try Intermittent Fasting For Clear Skin?
Tempted to try intermittent fasting to help you clear your acne? If you have read any of the recent research on how intermittent fasting improves our health, you are probably ready to jump in with both feet.
Intermittent fasting can be an excellent tool for weight loss, and it can also put the brakes on the aging process, cancer rates, insulin resistance, it can improve cognitive function, immunity, heal the microbiome, and rejuvenate your skin.
In other words, what can intermittent fasting NOT do? More of that in a moment – because as a woman, you may have to make some important adjustments to make intermittent fasting work for you and your skin.
But First, What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Simply put, intermittent fasting or IF is an eating pattern that alternates fasting periods (not eating) with periods of normal eating.
The fasting periods occur on a schedule, with daily fasting periods varying depending on the person’s goals.
The intermittent fasts can last between one and 16 hours, though some practitioners may fast for up to 48 hours or even days.
Intermittent fasting can be done in a variety of ways, but many people tend to fast for 16 hours and eat for 8 hours. This means they would abstain from eating during the fasting phase and eat normally for the remaining hours. For example, they would stop eating at 7 pm and not eat again until 11 am.
However, intermittent fasting is not a fad diet in any way — it focuses on when you eat instead of what you eat.
In a nutshell, IF acts as a roadmap for selecting your eating window and when you should restrict your eating hours.
How Does It Work?
If you’ve decided to jump into the world of IF, then know it is not all that complicated.
It is a natural state for human beings. And when you think about it, as human beings, we didn’t evolve eating three meals a day plus snacks.
We were hunters and gatherers and lived in a kind of a feast or famine mentality, where sometimes we wouldn’t eat for a few days, and sometimes we would eat often, meaning our genes are selected to thrive in this environment.
So, when fasting for a few hours in a day or a couple of days or longer, the digestive system takes a break from digesting and assimilating food to perform other functions in the body, such as activating autophagy.
Autophagy helps your body stimulate and make room for new, energetic cells and mitochondria by damaging the destroyed cells. In other words, autophagy acts as a natural blueprint for a more muscular and more efficient body.
Intermittent fasting also works by exceeding the hours when the body has burned the calories ingested during the eating phase and begins burning the fat stores.
Different Methods of Intermittent Fasting
Here are the most common methods of intermittent fasting.
1. Overnight Fasting
In overnight fasting, you restrict yourself from eating at least 12 to 13 hours every day. This means if you stop eating at 7 pm, your next meal will happen at the 12-hour mark, which is 7 am.
A benefit of this method is that your body is able to reset hormone imbalances in the body, insulin sensitivity, oxidative stress, and improve your digestion overnight.
In response to these resetting processes, the body restores its functions overnight, including maximizing the autophagy process — where the body recycles damaged cells to new and healthy cells. Overnight fasting can also be a better way to reduce skin inflammation — meaning fewer acne breakouts.
2. 5:2 Fasting
The 5:2 fasting or The Fast Diet is the most popular intermittent fasting method.
Here, the idea involves eating normally for five days without counting calories and restricting yourself to about 500-600 calories in the other two days.
While you can fast on any day of your choice, the most common way of planning your fasting is at least one day in between your scheduled fasting days. It can be on Mondays and Fridays, with about a restriction of 500 calories for women and 600 for men.
The idea of 5:2 fasting is to reduce insulin resistance and decrease the level of inflammation.
3. 16/8 Rule
This method is the most popular and the most uncomplicated method. It involves abstaining from eating for 16 hours per day, and you can eat for the remaining 8 hours.
You can repeat the cycle on any day of the week, depending on your personal goals.
The advantage of 16/8 intermittent fasting is that it supports the weight loss journey and is also beneficial to reduce your insulin resistance. Reduced resistance in the body means reduced inflammation and potentially less blemished skin for some people.
4. Eat Stop Eat
With Eat-Stop-Eat intermittent fasting, you fast for 24 hours twice per week with no calorie intake and eating “responsibly” on the other remaining five days.
Brad Pilon founded this approach, wherein on his Eat Stop Eat website, he stresses that “When your fast is over, I want you to pretend that it never happened and eat responsibly. That’s it. Nothing else.”
By doing Eat-Stop-Eat fasting, you allow your body to jumpstart your digestion.
5. Alternate-Day Fasting
The ADF intermittent fasting approach involves one fasting day (you can drink as many calorie-free beverages such as water, unsweetened coffee, and tea as you want) and then non-fast the next day.
The ADF approach requires eating 25% calories on fasting days (about 500 calories), and you can consume anything you want on non-fasting days.
The Alternate-Day fasting method was popularized by Dr. Krista Varady, who insists this approach effectively reduces spiked insulin levels and stimulates autophagy.
What are the 4 Benefits of Intermittent Fasting For a Clear Skin?
Insulin resistance is one of the main triggers for acne, and many studies have shown that intermittent fasting can improve insulin resistance. But – it is not for everyone.
For instance, when I first started my clear skin journey, there was no way I could ever consider fasting. I needed to eat at frequent intervals.
In fact, if I didn’t eat enough, I wouldn’t sleep at night. And for many years, I needed to eat a snack before bed, or I would wake up at 3 am because my cortisol levels were still not balanced enough to regulate my blood sugar.
My insulin levels were very dysregulated.
When I awoke, I needed to eat within 30 minutes,or I’d get extremely hungry. If I missed a meal, I would get dizzy, headachy, and become irritable.
So, in my journey for clear skin and balancing my body, I knew that eating regularly was absolutely critical for my healing. I saw the same thing in my patients, and I would pass on that wisdom in order to heal my patients.
But what does this have to do with your intermittent fasting? If my story sounds familiar to you, IF may not be the best option for you – or you may have to approach IF slowly. The research tends to be very positive, but much of it is done with men.
Intermittent fasting can have some incredible benefits.
When we have periods of fasting, basically, what we’re doing is giving our digestive system a break from digesting.
And that frees up our body to do all sorts of other things which can help reduce cancer, improve heart health, improve the immune system, improve insulin resistance, increase weight loss, and increase our longevity by replenishing and nourishing our mitochondria and making them work more efficiently.
Also,during the fasting state, there’s a lot of cell regeneration that goes on such as cell rejuvenation, where cells that are kind of dead or dying or not working optimally tend to die off, making room for new fresh cells.
IF also allows us to heal the microbiome.When we deprive our digestive system of food for a period of time, a lot of pathogenic microbes tend to die off and increases the health of the microbiome.
Additionally, research is coming out every day showing us how beneficial it is to give our digestive system a break from eating all the time.
So what are the major benefits of intermittent fasting in addressing the root cause of your acne breakout?
1. Lowers Insulin Resistance
High levels of insulin in the body are the most notorious triggers of acne.
Some research does show that intermittent fasting can regulate insulin levels, which are always at the root of acne.
When your blood sugar spikes up in the body, it leads to high production of insulin. To respond to these insulin spikes, the body releases androgen hormones that block the pores’ worsening inflammation and make it harder to fight against acne.
2. Decreases Inflammation
You might wonder, “how does inflammation cause acne?”
First off, inflammation is the main culprit behind your acne, and intermittent fasting could help reduce inflammation in your body.
Inflammation in the skin can result from pro-inflammatory foods, high insulin levels in the body, stress or infection. Intermittent fasting has shown to help reduce many of the culprits that can lead to inflammation in the body.
3. Improves Stress Tolerance
Did you know that your body releases cortisol stress hormones when you’re stressed — one of the most notable triggers of acne?
Stress not only directly causes acne, but it usually makes the existing acne breakouts worse. When under pressure, acne takes much longer to heal, and more flare-ups surface.
It’s simple — the more you get stressed, the more it gets harder to fight acne.
Some research suggests that you can bring down stress hormones through intermittent fasting. In some people, however, fasting inappropriately can increase stress and cortisol. More about that in a moment.
But before you dive headfirst into fasting for acne, work on your stress triggers through meditation, acupuncture, meditation, or yoga.
4. Improves Gut Health
One of the most important benefits of IF is that it helps restore your gut health by giving your stomach and digestive system ample time to digest food.
This allows re-inoculating of your gut with good gut bacteria.
As a result, this elevates vitamin and nutrients absorption by the body that boosts healthy-looking skin.
What About Women With Acne?
Women do not respond the same way to fasting as men do. And the simple reason is because our bodies are programmed to reproduce. This is not news — it is our biology.
Our biology wants us to be fertile, stay fertile, and if we’re pregnant to protect our fetuses.
And again, women are believed to be more sensitive creatures than men to the signals of hunger.
This means that when we do not eat for a period of time, hunger signals are triggered, which results in an increased production of the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin.
These hormones basically make our body respond to hunger signals immediately when it says we need to find some food and eat right now because we need to keep the body healthy and fit to nourish and grow a baby.
Of course, this is our body talking to us, and ultimately, we will end up eating anything in sight. And what follows is a cascade of hormonal reactions in our body.
Beyond the notion that our body is to prepare and grow a baby, women with acne have some degree of insulin dysregulation, making us even MORE sensitive to hunger signals.
Therefore, intermittent fasting may not be suitable for women, especially women on the leaner side.
In response to the hormonal reactions, a recent animal study found that after two weeks of intermittent fasting, women suffered from:
- Loss of menstrual cycle,
- Shrunk ovaries
- Increased adrenal glands size
- Incidences of insomnia
- Complete hormonal dysregulation
- Increased adrenal size
Another human study concluded that intermittent fasting worsens glucose intolerance in women. So trying intermittently fast like a man will not work for every woman. It can make your acne worse.
Another thing intermittent fasting does is that it increases growth hormones, which are great for people trying to build muscles, but not great for people that tend to have acne because growth hormone is one of the stimulators for acne.
Therefore, long periods of intermittent fasting are definitely not advisable for women with acne.
So What Should I Do?
The benefits of intermittent fasting cannot be denied. But the hormonal dysregulation that many women experience with intermittent fasting cannot be ignored either.
That’s why all these things may not work for women that are struggling with acne because what we’re trying to do is balance all the hormones by reducing inflammation.
One study done on women with high androgens, where half of these women ate their calories in the morning while the other half ate most of their calories in the evening, showed that the half of the women that consumed most of their calories in the morning had reduced androgen levels.
So eating in the morning, when you are on that initial healing journey is critical — that’s been my clinical experience.
And even though we’re wired to grow babies, even if we’re not planning to, we can’t ignore all the research that says how great intermittent fasting is, as well.
So my suggestion as a naturopathic doctor and as a woman that’s been treating other women for many years, when you’re first starting out on your clear skin journey, do not fast. Allow your body to eat three meals a day and pay attention to how it feels.
Listening to your body to find out what works best for you is the best thing you can do.
Once you feel as though you’re starting to get a grasp on your insulin levels, you can start to introduce a little bit of fasting to see if your body can tolerate it and if you experience the benefit.
As I began to feel better, I found I could extend my periods of fasting slightly.
So, take it slow, and once you feel as though you can tolerate it, be sure to follow these few tweaks that fit into the rhythm of your life. Remember, the most important factor is to listen to how your body is feeling and the signs it shows.
- Fast for 12 hours at least once or twice per week: If you’re a beginner, try to see if you can hit 12 hours fast by restricting yourself from eating from 7 pm to 7 am. If this feels good, you can gradually push your fasts by adding 1 hour per day until you fast from 7 pm to 11 am twice per week.
- While intermittent fasting, besides water, you can take beverages like unsweetened tea and coffee (no milk or sugar!)
- If at any point you feel intense hunger cravings, stop. You need to eat.
After following this fasting schedule, I am now at a point in my journey where I can tolerate and benefit from some fasting.
I usually finish my evening meal at 5:30 pm (I have young kids), and I don’t eat again until 8:30 am. I eat three solid meals each day.
This schedule has evolved naturally as it tends to fit in the rhythm of my life.
My Final Thoughts
Intermittent fasting has developed to be a powerhouse for clear skin — free from acne. Incorporating it into your lifestyle will help you eliminate skin inflammation, lower your insulin levels, and dramatically improve your skin, leaving you feeling fresh with the skin you desired. However, even though intermittent fasting can be helpful for clear skin, it is not for everyone. That’s why you need to take it slow and start small!
Don’t stress about adding yet another thing into your routine. Listen to your body, and try not to eat after dinner. That’s basically it!
With that being said, if you’re looking to achieve clear skin, be sure to check my 7-Week Clear Skin Program guide to have a step-by-step peek at how to get the skin you’re looking for.