soy and acne: why we avoid this food for clear skin

here at skinSALVATION, we encourage our clients to adopt several healthy dietary changes, one of the most important being the avoidance of soy products. i know, i know – isn’t soy supposed to be a healthy wonder food, a complete protein dream? as all skinSALVATION clients learn, soy may not be as healthy for clear skin as we’ve always thought. this seemingly harmless legume may be reeking havoc on your endocrine, digestive and detox systems, contributing to painful acne in the process.

from an sS perspective, here are the top three reasons to avoid soy, especially if you are acne-prone:

1. soy can alter hormonal balance

soy contains phytoestrogens, or plant constituents that are structurally similar to the estrogen that we produce in our bodies.1 phytoestrogenic plants can affect our own hormones by altering the levels of estrogen in our bodies relative to other sex hormones.2 these phytoestrogens replace our biologically-produced estrogen in our cell receptors, disrupting the body’s hormonal balance and often resulting in a decrease in estrogen production and an increase in androgens.3 elevated androgens, specifically dht, can greatly impact the formation of acne by causing our glands to produce more oil. but let’s step back for one moment and talk about the liver. we all know that the liver’s primary function in the body is detoxification. our livers constantly work to remove not only toxins from our bloodstreams, but also excess hormones. estrogen happens to be the primary hormone that needs to be detoxed from our bodies, partially due to the nearly ubiquitous presence of xenoestrogens (also known as endocrine disrupters) in plastics, beauty products and in harsh household cleaners.4 if we bombard our bodies with this extra estrogen from plants and from our environments, our livers become taxed and are unable to perform their daily detox duties. and if the liver cannot perform its detoxing duties, it relies on other organs, like the skin, to pick up the slack. this can result in hormonal acne breakouts. additionally, these phytoestrogen-induced hormonal fluctuations can be especially detrimental for women dealing with pcos, infertility and other endocrine issues.5,6

2. soy inhibits the absorption of vitamins, minerals and protein

another major contributor to acne is inadequate nutrient absorption, either due to a poor diet or due to an impaired ability to absorb nutrients from foods as they move through the digestive tract. soy is a member of the legume family, along with other beans, chickpeas and peanuts. legumes, like nuts and seeds, are designed to survive the digestive systems of whichever creatures consume them so that they can reproduce successfully.7 in order to ensure their survival, legumes emit protective substances called lectins, which are associated with increased intestinal permeability and with inflammation of the gut.8,9 soybeans also contain phytic acid, which binds to vitamins and minerals like calcium and zinc, actively preventing their absorption.10 zinc, in particular, is crucial for keeping acne at bay because it helps reduce systemic inflammation and it can help lower dht levels.11 and even though soy is technically a complete protein, it is rife with protease inhibitors, which interfere with the digestion of protein.12 so put down that soy cappuccino – we all know about the anti-nutrient powers of coffee, after all – and start sipping a coconut milk matcha latte instead!

3. soy can be inflammatory

while it may be tempting to argue that cultures all over the world have been consuming soy for centuries to no detriment, we must keep in mind the ways in which soy crops have changed over time and in alignment with a western agricultural model. in traditional japanese cultures, soy was used only in small amounts at meals and was often fermented before consumption, allowing for easier digestion and for fewer hormonal impacts.13 soy is now rarely fermented and constitutes a relatively large percentage of western diets in the form of fillers in processed foods (soy lecithin, soybean oil, soy protein, etc). jumping from 8% gmo in 1997 to 94% gmo in 2014, soy is the most frequently genetically-modified crop in the united states today and it usually comes packed with a host of endocrine-disrupting pesticides.14 additionally, soybean oil is one of the most inflammatory omega-6 oils – the oil is extracted from the soybean using hexane, a solvent that has been characterized by the CDC as a neurotoxin.15 these chemicals, along with the indigestibility of legumes, elevate our internal inflammation levels, exacerbating acne breakouts.

looking for some alternatives to soy? here are some essential sS tips:

  • choose other legumes or green peas over soybeans or edamame
  • switch out that soy sauce (yes, including bragg’s) for coconut aminos by coconut secretbig tree farms or trader joe’s.
  • ditch the soy milk and start experimenting with rice, oat or nut milks. they’re delicious and creamy and you can even save money by making your own! califia farms and new barn are great options.
  • opt for products that use sunflower lecithin over soy lecithin – become a master label-reader!
  • if you’re vegetarian and need the protein, try pea protein, cheeses made from nuts, and black bean burgers with quinoa for the protein boost. check out kite hill nut cheese in the refrigerator section of your local natural foods store.

footnotes

1. ieh. (2000) phytoestrogens in the human diet (web report w3), leicester, uk, institute for environment and health. posted october 2000.
2. davis, s.r., et al. (1999) phytoestrogens in health and disease. recent progress in hormone research. 54:185-211.
3. nagata, c., et al. (1998) effect of soymilk consumption on serum estrogen concentrations in premenopausal japanese women. journal of the national cancer institute. 1998; 90:1830–1835.
4. mccormick, k. (2017) the liver’s role in hormone balance. connections: an educational resource of women’s international pharmacy.
5. patisaul, h.b., et al. (2014) soy but not bisphenol a (bpa) induces hallmarks of polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos) and related metabolic co-morbidities in rats. reproductive toxicology. 2014 nov; 49:209-18.
6. chandrareddy, a., et al. (2008) adverse effects of phytoestrogens on reproductive health: a report of three cases. complementary therapies in clinical practice. 2008; 14:132–135.
7. franco, l. & genovese, m.i. (2002) nutritional significance of lectins and enzyme inhibitors from legumes. journal of agricultural and food chemistry. 50 (22): 6592–6598.
8. puszatai, a. (1988) biological effects of dietary lectins. recent advances of research of antinutritional factors of legume seeds. 17-29.
9. chen, a. & donovan, s. (2004) genistein at a concentration present in soy infant formula inhibits caco-2bbe cell proliferation by causing g2/m cell cycle arrest. the journal of nutrition. 134 (6): 1303-1308.
10. 
sandberg, a.s. (2002) bioavailability of minerals in legumes. british journal of nutrition. 2002 cec; 88 suppl 3:s281-5.
11. stamatiadis, d., et al. (1988) inhibition of 5 alpha-reductase activity in human skin by zinc and azelaic acid. british journal of dermatology. 1988 nov; 119(5):627-32.
12. american nutrition association. (2015) review: the whole soy story. 38(2).
13. kresser, c. (2011) 9 steps to perfect health – #1: don’t eat toxins. posted 28 january 2011.
14. usda. (2016) recent trends in ge adoption. economic research service. 
15. centers for disease control and prevention. (2017) organic solvents. national institute for occupational safety and health.

before + after micro-needling for acne scars

many of you are curious to know the results of my micro-needling experience to help reduce the appearance of textural scarring from acne. for a reminder about what textural scarring is and how micro-needling may help it, check out this blog post.

i received 6 full micro-needling treatments from natalie at the center for holistic skin rejuvenation in san francisco. during my initial consultation with her, i expressed that my main goal was to help reduce the appearance of the deep pitted scars on my cheeks where i used to have inflamed acne.

what were the treatments like? each treatment was one hour long. she began by cleansing my face with skinSALVATION charcoal cleanser, which i asked her to use to avoid future breakouts. she used a disposable needle roller on each area of my face for a total of about 10 minutes, which felt comparable to the pain of receiving extractions. after needling, she did full body acupuncture to help with internal issues like stress management, digestion, and hormone balance. i would lay on the table for 30 minutes with the acupuncture needles in, a heater on and relaxing music playing. this was my favorite part and felt like a total treat after the pain of the face treatment. at the end, she used safeguard sunscreen to help protect and moisturize my skin.

my skin felt hot and flushed for the remainder of the day and stayed pink for about 3 days post treatment. during these 3 healing days, i used hydrating cleanser morning and night, safeguard spf and hydrating cream. i didn’t use any other active products and did not apply makeup.

i waited at least 10 days before and after micro-needling treatments to receive extractions or chemical peels from skinSALVATION.

other than reduction of textural scarring, what did i notice? the micro-needling helped break up old scar tissue in my chin that looked like small seeds that we could never extract. i believe that these seeds were trapped so deep beneath scar tissue that they hadn’t been able to come to the surface before. micro-needling helped to bring these seeds to the surface, so i had a little bit of a, “purge” where i broke out. ultimately, this helped me be more clear and have a smooth chin.

am i happy with my results? yes. the reduction of my pitted textural scarring on my cheeks is not as dramatic as i anticipated. i hoped that after 6 treatments on micro-needling, the skin on my face would be flawless and as smooth as porcelain, but that wasn’t my experience. however, i love that:

  1. the scarring on my cheeks is much less noticeable
  2. i was able to bring the deep seeds in my chin up to the surface and get rid of them for good
  3. the acupuncture portion of the treatments helped me reduce overall stress and balance my hormones. my usual painful cramping associated with menstruation was MUCH better when i was receiving regular acupuncture from natalie.

who would i recommend this to? i would recommend micro-needling to people who have raised textural scarring on their skin. this might feel like little bumps on the skin that aren’t acne. if you aren’t sure if you have scarring or acne seeds, ask your esthetician at skinSALVATION.

if you have minimal pitted textural scarring, micro-needling may help you get closer to having completely smooth skin. like many treatments, there is no guarantee that you will have 100% success with this treatment. success depends on your skin type, genetics, natural collagen production, and severity of scarring.

the photos on the left-hand side are from before my treatments and the photos on the right are after 6 treatments, approximately 4.5 months later.

 

 

as you can see from the above photos (especially if you zoom in on them), there is some noticeable reduction in scarring on my cheeks and a reduction in hyper-pigmentation. the pigmentation is most likely lighter as a combined result of the micro-needling and chemical peels that i received during this time at skinSALVATION.

note from kim: keep in mind that this series of micro-needling was performed by an acupuncturist, and not a dermatologist.  acupuncturists are (legally) only able to work on the skin’s uppermost, superficial layers of the skin, rendering much milder results than a dermatologist would (who is legally able to access the deeper, subcutaneous dermal layers of the skin).  dermatologists, being board certified and having access to more aggressive tools and treatments, would likely be able to render more aggressive results.  for example, a dermatologist may employ anesthesia to numb you from the pain of going much deeper, into the dermal layers of the skin to stimulate more collagen remodeling, whereas acupuncturists are really only treating the epidermis, or upper-most superficial layers of the skin.

liesse has yet to explore the same therapy with a different, more aggressive approach, and we will be sure to document and share with you the results of further experimentation as we can!

 

 

the opinions expressed in this post are based on my personal experience. this does not reflect the opinions of practitioners who perform micro-needling.

 

holiday travel essentials for clear skin

 

airplane travel and acne

snacks

airport and road trip food is often filled with dairy, soy and lots of salt. this article from BBC says that airplane food is heavily salted because lack of humidity and low pressure in the cabin decreases our ability to taste salt + sweet by 30%. not only can this heightened salt intake increase water retention making your body feel puffy, it can also irritate acne. forego the airport food and bring these snacks with you instead:

  • justin’s single serving almond butter with apple chips (i’ve found these at most metropolitan airports lately)
  • fresh fruit
  • a sandwich

keep leftover snacks from the trip with you in case you’re in a situation where you didn’t get much to eat at a meal that was dairy or soy heavy.

hydration

moskvitch also writes in her article, why does food taste different on planes? that, “at about 30,000 feet, humidity is less than 12% – drier than most deserts.” this can wreck havoc on your body and skin causing intense dehydration. add a cocktail in the mix and you’re guaranteed to wake up from your in-plane snooze with a headache. this article from the atlantic recommends that you drink one liter of water for every 5 hours of air travel.

topically, i like to add an extra layer of hydrating gel under my regular daytime moisturizer and bring a small bottle of rose water with me to regularly spritz my face during the trip.

hydration and acne

if you’re traveling to a warm climate

  • your regimen! you may want to opt for a lighter moisturizer like hydrating gel instead of hydrating cream if you’re traveling to a hot + humid climate. also, lay off of harsh exfoliants like vitamin a on days that you’re spending in the sun to reduce your chance of hyper-pigmentation.

if you’re traveling to a cold climate

linens

it’s essential to bring your own washcloths and pillowcases with you so that you don’t have to use host’s or hotel’s that are washed in cloggy laundry detergent and fabric softener. in addition, it can be embarrassing to bleach a host’s linens with benzoyl peroxide!

bring one washcloth per day of travel. you can use the same one morning and night, but not into the next day. bring 1 pillow case for every 3-5 days of travel. use one side of the pillowcase only to avoid the transfer of cloggy detergent or fabric softener from the sheets to your face or benzoyl peroxide residue from your face to their sheets.

acne-safe pillowcase

to prevent travel induced inflammation

  • ice! bring your ice pop maker if you’ll be at a host’s house or in a hotel with a freezer. if you don’t have access to a freezer, you can ask the hotel bar or concierge to bring you a glass of ice or get a few cubes from the ice machine.
  • take zyflamend each night to help reduce and prevent inflammation.
  • stick to the acne-safe diet by avoiding dairy, soy and coffee completely and limiting your sugar and alcohol intake.
  • keep your sleep consistent. try to go to bed at the same time as you would if you were at home and be sure to get 8-9 hours of quality sleep each night.
  • if you take a birth control pill, take it every 24 hours. that may a different time of day than at home because of a time change.
  • have fun, breathe deeply, relax your mind an body, enjoy time spent with loved ones or for yourself.

treats without the tricks!

halloween is just around the corner and with it comes a plethora of tempting candy! to help you navigate the aisles of hauntingly delicious treats, we have compiled a list of mouth watering acne-safe candies for you to indulge in, while still staying on track. note that the treats listed below are free of dairy and soy but still contain a lot of sugar which can cause new acne to form and inflame existing acne. proceed with caution and be sure to all read labels!

airheads (V)
atomic fireball (V)
bottlecaps
brach’s candy corn classic, brach’s candy corn mini
blow pops (V)
dots (V)
dum dum lollipops (V)
jujy fruits
jelly belly (except jelly bean chocolate dips, cold stone chocolate devotion®, cold stone mint mint chocolate chocolate chip®, chocolate pudding, and dark chocolate)
jolly ranchers (V)
nerds
now and later (original flavor is vegan)
pez (V)
pixy Stix (V)
runts
skittles (V)
smarties (V)
sour patch kids (V)
sour patch watermelon (V)
starburst, starburst fruity slushies, favereds
starburst fruit flavored candy corn
swedish fish (V)
sweeTARTS (V)
tootsie charms blow pops, charms pops, charms mini-pops, charms candy corn pops
trolli gummy bears
trolli sour brite frite crawlers
trolli sour brite eggs
trolli extreme sour bites
twizzlers (V)

***(V) signals all vegan treats

acne-safe halloween candy inforgraphic

although prepackaged candy can be enticing, the best way to stay on the road to clarity while going about halloween festivities is to make your own! a classic treat that we suggest is rice krispies! you can even make your own marshmallows!

rice krispies
6 cups rice krispies cereal
3 tablespoons ghee or clarified butter
1 package (10 oz., about 40) marshmallows
OR
4 cups miniature marshmallows (you can use store bought ones that are dairy and soy free or make your own!)

extra help in the kitchen for eating acne-safe

with our busy lives we are all looking for ways that make it easier to stick to an acne-safe diet. here are some kitchen appliances and recipes that can help!
must haves:

vitamix: making soups, smoothies, sauces and dips is a breeze. you need a high speed blender in your life. vitamix blenders are pricey but they are worth every penny. think of all the money you’ll save once you start making fancy juice bar smoothies at home.

favorite recipes:
quick and easy smoothie – 1/2 frozen banana (i cut it into chunks before freezing), 1 scoop of this protein powder, 8-10 oz of this almond/cashew milk – run on the smoothie setting.
refreshing lovely skin smoothie – 2 scoops collagen powder, 10 oz coconut water, frozen fruit of your choice
 
delicious dessert smoothie – 3 dried black mission figs (soaked in warm water until soft), 12oz of this almond/cashew milk, 1-3 TBSP raw cacao powder (depending on how chocolatey you like it), 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, pinch of salt. run on the smoothie setting.
refreshing easy smoothie – 8-12 oz coconut water, a handful of frozen fruit – run on smoothie setting

instant pot: i use this 4-in-1 steamer/slow cooker/pressure cooker/saute pot everyday, sometimes several times a day. it gets way more action than my stove or oven. you can cook a whole chicken in 30 minutes, make amazing soups, pot roast, acne-safe indian food, spaghetti squash noodles and just about anything else you can think of.
 favorite recipes:
tikka masala – i use this acne-safe yogurt in place of the coconut milk/heavy cream
saag paneer – i use kite hill’s soft fresh original variety of acne-safe cheese alternative in place of paneer and the coyo – acne safe yogurt alternative in place of the yogurt in the recipe. for the cheese, cut it into 1 inch cubes, coat with some olive oil, dust with garam masala and bake on parchment paper at about 350 for 10 minutes, then turn the cubes once and bake again for another 10 minutes.
mexican meatloaf – serve with cilantro springs, chopped green onions and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
all these are really good over spaghetti squash, cauliflower rice or zucchini noodles, cauliflower mashed “potatoes” (use ghee instead of butter if you can)
nice to haves:
rice cooker : for making kasha or buckwheat groats, the most delicious gluten-free breakfast porridge that you never heard of. my husband and i take this little gadget with us when we travel and it’s been a life saver. you can also make buckwheat groats in the instant pot but it’s a little tougher to travel with.
 favorite recipes:
sweet breakfast groats – 2 cups coconut milk, one cup toasted buckwheat groats (sold as kasha), a little cinnamon, salt, raisins and whatever else sounds yummy. you just put all the ingredients into the rice cooker and turn it on. it stops cooking automatically when it’s done. if you make it in the instant pot then you lock the top and set it to high pressure for 10 minutes and then do the quick release when its done.
savory breakfast groatsbasically make these the same way as the sweet ones (without the raisins, cinnamon, etc) but instead of coconut milk, use chicken broth, beef broth, bone broth or veggie broth and add salt to taste. it’s also really good with a soft cooked egg on top.
spiralizer and/or food processor: i have witnessed the inflammatory effect of simple carbs like pasta first hand and i’ve seen it time and again with our clients. as you may already know, the first things acne sufferers need change about their diet is avoiding soy, dairy and coffee. a very close second is cutting way down on sugar and simple carbs. this is so much easier when you have a substitute for those comforting pasta and rice dishes. enter the spiralizer and food processor. with the spiralizer you can make oodles of zucchini and summer squash noodles or you can get really fancy and try cucumber noodles, carrot noodles, rutabaga noodles and sweet potato noodles. with the food processor making cauliflower rice is a breeze. i also love to make the carrot and fennel salad listed below with the food processor about once a month.
 favorite recipes:
carrot and fennel salad – i don’t bother with the mandolin slicer. i just shred the carrot and fennel together in the food processor.