You’re panicking. You have a big day coming up. Perhaps it’s a prom, a wedding, a photo shoot, a date, or even a vacation.
And you’ve got a face full of acne… whiteheads, blackheads, and inflammation galore.
Listen… I hear you. Back when I suffered with acne in college and had a big event, I would say things like, “If only for this one day I didn’t have acne!”
Well I’m here to tell you that it is possible to get rid of your acne fast. But it’s not how you might think.
Google “how to get rid of acne fast” and you’ll be left with no shortage of gimmicks to try:
I ain’t about that here. You know me… I tell the truth, even when it’s not what you want to hear.
Now… there may be some value in those treatments, especially if they are a healthy and natural solution. But they all have the same problem: they try to treat an internal issue externally.
Folks, no matter how you slice and dice it you simply can’t treat acne, a problem that’s internal to your body, with topical remedies. It just doesn’t work.
And if it does, you can bet your life savings that it won’t work long term.
So I’m going to take a different approach in this post. I’m not going to tell you to buy all these products that promise you clear skin overnight.
Your body already has the intelligence to get rid of acne. You just have to create the right environment within for it to do so.
We’re going to do the exact opposite of what everyone else says to do. We’re going to eliminate what we are putting in and on our bodies.
What am I talking about here? I’m talking about intermittent fasting.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
You may have heard about intermittent fasting (IF) from the Internet or your health nut friend. It’s popular in the fitness space and in different religions, but there’s no reason you can’t use this powerful tool too.
There are many different forms of IF. A popular method is known as “time-restricted feeding.” This is when you completely abstain from eating food within a certain “fasting” window, then eat all of your calories for the day within your “feeding” window.
To give you an example, in a 16/8 intermittent fast (a popular IF protocol) someone might fast from 8PM the night before to 12PM the next day, basically skipping breakfast. They would then eat all of their calories from 12PM – 8PM.
I will dig into some of the other forms of IF at the end of this post.
Now… let me be perfectly clear: IF is NOT about starving yourself. In fact, there’s no reason you can’t eat the same number of calories as you were eating before.
You are simply changing when you eat these calories. IF is not a diet, it’s a pattern of eating.
The History of Intermittent Fasting
Fasting has been used for thousands of years by people all over the globe. It’s popular amongst different religions and cultures.
For example, people of Islamic faith fast from morning to night during Ramadan.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors most certainly fasted. These men and women, tough as nails, would have to endure long periods of time when no food was available.
They didn’t have the luxury (if you even want to call it that) of hitting the drive-through line like we do today. Nor did they have an overabundance of food.
As a result, they weren’t porkers, and they most certainly didn’t have acne.
In fact, Dr. Loren Cordain and a few colleagues went and studied a couple indigenous hunter-gatherer cultures that still exist today:
- The Kitavan Islanders of Papua New Guinea
- The Ache hunter-gatherers of Paraguary
What did they find? Of the 1,315 people they studied they found exactly zero cases of acne (1).
Because our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived and evolved in times of feast and famine, your genes (called “thrifty genes”) quite literally expect you to go without food for certain periods of time (2).
You’re not going to die. Your metabolism won’t shut down (if it did you’d be dead).
Short term IF is an extremely safe approach for most people.
How Intermittent Fasting Gets Rid Of Acne Fast
So why does IF work so well to get rid of acne fast?
Well… if you’re on the “change your diet” bandwagon to get rid of acne (which you should be – diet plays a HUGE role) it can take time to see results.
Not only do you have to change what you shove down your pie-hole, but you then have to wait for those changes to take place.
This usually involves a period of testing and/or eliminating certain foods to discover your triggers. Then when you finally eliminate those foods, you have to make sure you are covering any nutrient deficiencies by adding in other foods.
Plain and simple, there are a lot of variables at play when it comes to changing your diet to get rid of acne. Someone who is trying to get clear for an upcoming event might not have that kind of time.
You want results and you want them NOW.
Intermittent fasting cuts right to the heart of the matter. It attacks the very thing that is every acne-sufferer’s worst nightmare: inflammation.
Intermittent fasting reduces systemic inflammation
If you look at the actual mechanisms by which acne forms (acne pathogenesis), it boils down to four things (3):
- Excess and/or modified sebum is produced by the sebaceous gland
- Excess keratin causes dead skin cells that would normally detach or “slough off” to stick together, a term known has hyperkeratinization.
- Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes)
The conventional belief is that P. acnes are to blame for inflammation on the skin, but that isn’t necessarily true.
Yes, P. acnes do create highly inflammatory waste products once they set up shop in your clogged pores. But they basically throw gasoline on an already existing fire to make things worse.
New science is showing that what starts this fire to begin with is inflammation, specifically systemic inflammation (4). System inflammation can be seen as “whole body” inflammation (as opposed to inflammation in one single area).
Luckily for you, science has shown that IF reduces markers of systemic inflammation.
For example, several studies looked at inflammatory markers in people who fast during the month of Ramadan (an Islamic tradition).
During Ramadan people fast from sunrise to sunset, typically consuming one smaller meal before dawn and a larger meal after sunset. This practice results in about a 12-14 hour fasting window.
Intermittent fasting improves insulin sensitivity
Insulin is a hormone in your body that gets secreted by the pancreas in response to you eating any form of carbohydrate. This includes everything from fruits & vegetables to crackers & chips.
Whenever carbohydrates enter your body, they are broken down into their simpler form: glucose (also known as sugar). Because high levels of glucose in the bloodstream is toxic to the body, insulin goes to work shuttling the glucose that isn’t immediately burned for energy into your muscle and liver tissues.
You can almost think of insulin as a key. It unlocks the door that allows glucose to enter your cells. Without it, glucose can’t get in.
Your muscle and liver tissues are the first to receive glucose, but they can only store so much. Once the tanks are full, the glucose has to go somewhere (remember, high blood glucose levels are toxic).
This is when your body goes through a process called lipogenesis, which is the creation of fat. That’s right… too much glucose in your body means you end up with more body fat!
Now… that’s how a healthy body functions in response to carbohydrate intake. What about acne sufferers?
What is insulin resistance? Insulin resistance is when the muscle and liver cells in your body literally become resistant to the effect of insulin.
Going back to our key analogy, it’s like your cell changed the locks and insulin can no longer unlock the door.
If severe enough, insulin resistance can lead to Type II diabetes, a dangerous condition that can become life-threatening because of high blood glucose levels.
Insulin sensitivity is the opposite of insulin resistance. It is when your cells are extremely receptive to insulin. The glucose can get to where it needs to go and everyone is happy as a pig in shit.
- Insulin resistance = bad
- Insulin sensitive = good
How insulin resistance leads to acne
So how do you become insulin resistant? By eating lots of high glycemic processed carbohydrates over and over. This includes foods like:
- Modern white bread
- Pasta (made from processed wheat)
- Fruit juices (even so-called “healthy” ones)
These foods hit your system hard. The quick glucose spike and resulting flood of insulin send your body into a whirlwind.
Now… I’m not suggesting that you go “low carb.” In fact, the Kitavan Islanders mentioned in the study above got 70% of their daily energy from carbs.
The key is that these carbs came from low-glycemic non-processed tubers, fruits, and veggies (not cereal, bread, pasta, cookies, cakes, and other modern processed carbs that run rampant in the western world).
If it comes in a box, package, or wrapper, think twice.
Studies have shown that high glycemic diets contribute to acne.
For example, one study on 12 males found that “increases in dietary glycemic load may augment the biological activity of sex hormones and IGF-I, suggesting that these diets may aggravate potential factors involved in acne development” (12).
Another study took two groups of people and put one on a high glycemic diet and another on a low glycemic diet. At 12 weeks, acne had decreased more in the low glycemic group compared with the high glycemic group.
The low glycemic group also lost more weight, reduced free androgens, and increased insulin-like growth factor binding protein-1 (P = .001) when compared with a high glycemic-load diet (13).
The question is why. Why do high glycemic diets lead to acne while lower glycemic diets tend to get rid of acne?
Warning: We’re going to get a little nerdy and technical with the research…
Diets loaded with high glycemic processed carbohydrates increase insulinlike growth factor (IGF-1 – which is triggered by insulin) while simultaneously decreasing insulinlike growth factor binding protein 3 (IGFBP-3) and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). Together this produces a hormonal cascade of events inside your body that lead to acne (1).
What’s more, retinoids (natural or synthetic forms of Vitamin A) play a role in inhibiting the overgrowth of cells and promoting apoptosis (programmed cell death). If you’ve ever taken accutane (one of the most powerful conventional acne treatments out there) then you’ve taken a synthetic retinoid.
For the purposes of acne you want apoptosis to function normally so that you don’t end up with an excess of living cells on your skin (which can lead to clogging). However, low levels of IGFBP-3 reduce the effectiveness of your body’s natural retinoids.
This means you end up with an overgrowth of cells and dysfunctional apoptosis… all leading to more acne. In simpler terms, your cells have gone rogue.
Lastly, insulin and IGF-1 stimulate the production of androgens in the ovaries (women) and testicles (men). These androgens cause the oil glands in your skin to pump out excess sebum (skin oil), which is yet another way that acne can form.
Normally SHBG mops up excess androgens in your body. However, high insulin and IGF-1 suppress SHBG so that it can’t do its job.
The result? More androgens, more sebum, and more acne.
How to become more insulin sensitive and less insulin resistant
There are several strategies to become more insulin sensitive and less insulin resistant, and it boils down to lifestyle folks:
- Reduce or eliminate high glycemic processed carbs from your diet
- Get high quality sleep (poor sleep is directly linked to increased insulin resistance)
- Move (getting more exercise or general movement in your day)
- Intermittent fast
For the purposes of this post we are going to focus on intermittent fasting because it is probably the quickest way to make your body more insulin sensitive.
In one study with mice whole body insulin sensitivity was compared between a control group of mice and mice that were fasted for 16 hours (a popular IF timeframe). The study found that the fasted mice were 3x more insulin sensitive (from a whole body perspective) than the control mice (14).
Another study took 8 healthy men and subjected them to 20 hour fasts every other day. The results found that whole body insulin sensitivity was increased during the fasting periods. Although this study contained a relatively small sample size, it still provides interesting food for thought (15).
Fasting also reduces IGF-1. One study in mice who were on an alternate-day fasting regime showed a 40% decrease in IGF-1 relative to the control group (16).
If you remember from above high levels of IGF-1 stimulate hyperkeratinization of the skin and the production of androgens, both of which lead to acne (by the way, some IGF-1 is okay and even necessary for basic functions – it’s just when it gets too high does it become an issue).
How To Get Started With Intermittent Fasting
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably interested in knowing how you can incorporate intermittent fasting into your life to get rid of your acne fast.
I feel the need to pause here and make one thing perfectly clear: intermittent fasting is not a magic bullet. It is simply a tool you can use from time to time.
Yes, IF is super powerful. But if you are solely relying on it to get rid of your acne without focusing on other aspects of your lifestyle, you are not going to get the results you want.
IF can definitely help get rid of acne fast, especially inflammation. But if you want perfectly clear, radiant-looking skin long-term then you better put some effort into other aspects of your lifestyle.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get down to it.
The three intermittent fasting regimens
There are three primary regimens when it comes to IF (17):
- Alternate-day fasting: involves fasting every other day, plain and simple. On Day A you you eat whenever you want. On Day B you eat nothing.
- Modified fasting regimens: this is where you consume less food than normal on “fasting” days (typically 20-25% of your normal intake). This forms the basis of the popular 5:2 diet where you “fast” two days per week (which is really eating less) and eat normally the other five days.
- Time-restricted feeding: this is probably the most popular method of fasting. It’s when you eat within a certain “eating window” (typically 4-8 hours) then fast for the remainder of the day.
I guess technically there’s a fourth regimen that we might call religious fasting, but I’m not going to get into that in this post (if your religion calls for fasting, they’ll tell you how to do it).
If you are interested in an extended fast longer than 24-36 hours, I recommend doing so under the supervision of a physician. In this post we are only talking about short term intermittent fasts.
As you can see, there are several variations of fasting. I encourage you to pick one that jives with your lifestyle.
If you want my personal opinion, I’m a fan of time-restricted feeding. Why?
Alternate-day fasting is tough when you’re first getting started. And modified fasting regimens aren’t really “fasting” to me (you’re still consuming 25% of your normal calories). However, there’s good research to support it – so if you want to do it you won’t hear any complaints from me.
To me, time-restricted feeding is the easiest to start incorporating into your lifestyle. All you have to do is build your fast around the time you are sleeping.
If you sleep for let’s say 7 hours, you already have 7 hours of fasting. Stop eating 3 hours before bed and there’s 10 hours. Wait 6 hours after waking up to eat and you’re already at a 16 hour fast.
You don’t even have to start at 16 hours. You can start at 12 hours and work your way up to 16, 18, maybe even 20 hours. The grizzled veterans in this space usually recommend a daily 18-20 hour fast.
I personally fast most days until about lunchtime. At this point it’s simply become a part of my day. I feel I have more energy and focus in the morning, and not having to worry about making breakfast is a major plus.
Fasting has been around for thousands of years. Our ancestors survived in times of feast and famine. Going without food for certain periods of time is literally built into your DNA.
The only caution I give you is to start slow. You may find that IF isn’t for you. That’s fine.
Also, if you are a woman you may want to be a little more cautious of trying IF (especially if you are pregnant or nursing). In fact, I recommend reading this post before giving IF the green light.
Forget creams, potions, pills, and other gimmicks on the market. They do nothing but mask symptoms (and they aren’t even really good at that).
Getting rid of acne fast is about tapping into the ancient wisdom that already exists in your body.
If you enjoyed this post, leave a comment below and let me know your biggest take-away. I’ll read and respond to each one.