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If you’re looking for advice on what to do about acne, the internet is virtually overflowing with opinions. You can read about acne superfoods, about face masks, about miracle supplements, and about prescription drugs (though this is not an exhaustive list by any means). Unfortunately, most of these methods aren’t founded on good science. Instead, they come from personal experience most of the time. They are also sometimes plain old guesses, and stuff that people kind of have a hunch about.

One of those acne things people kind of have a hunch about is detox. It is very common to find people on the internet saying that acne is a result of toxicity. Acne, they say, is the body’s way of trying to get rid of toxins. They say that acne cysts are toxins leaving the body via the skin.

So right off the bat I need to tell you: this idea is wrong, for the most part. 

Acne is NOT the body trying to push toxins out of the skin.

When you pop a zit, there are no pesticides coming out of it, I promise. 🙂

However – there IS a real detox pathway in the body. It’s not through acne. It’s not even through the skin. It is, instead, via the liver.

So here is a quick description of what acne really is, and also how the liver’s powerful detox abilities can help you overcome it.

Acne and detox

Acne is caused by four main factors in the body coming together at once: the genetic make up of your skin, how well your hormones are balanced, your nutrient status, and your level of inflammation.

A very simple break-down of the acne formation process is this:

your genes and your hormones cause acne to get started, and inflammation acts like gasoline on the flame. This is the best way I know how to describe what happens in acne with just one sentence. Genes pile up the kindling, hormones light the match, and inflammation adds fuel to the fire.

I talk about the skin, hormones, and nutrients often on the blog.  If you follow that link, you’ll be able to find many awesome and thorough articles I have written on the causes and cures for acne.

For detox in particular, the most important component of acne to focus on is inflammation.

When the body is inflamed, one of the most important classes of molecules it needs are antioxidants.  Why? For one, antioxidants fight off the damaging free oxygen radicals. For another, antioxidants prevent blood sugar dysregulation, which is inflammatory. For a third, antioxidants directly affect signaling of inflammatory mediators. Antioxidants shield cells by attaching themselves to membranes and acting as protectors.

In sum: Anti-oxidants are anti-inflammatory. This makes them absolutely crucial for healthy skin. 

In fact, the antioxidants zinc, selenium, milk thistle, and N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) have been shown to dramatically reduce acne when supplemented with in studies, sometimes as much as by 50% over the course of six weeks.

Now – however, anti-oxidants are also big players in the body’s detox mechanisms.

If you have a heavy load on your detox systems (which you can read all about here), you will deplete your store of antioxidants. Then, you won’t be able to use the anti-oxidants to support your skin.

Likewise, if you have inflammation anywhere else in your body, from your skin to your gut to your brain to your ovaries, you will have fewer antioxidants you need to support healthy detox in the liver.

Basically, you have a limited supply of antioxidants. You can only direct them to so many places. The better your body detoxes, the more efficiently it can help you not just become much healthier but also help clear your skin.

Here’s how to support your body in detox:

Step 1: Reduce toxic exposure

Perhaps it goes with out staying, but the first thing and most important thing for detox is eliminating the toxins that cause the problem in the first place. Some of the worst of these are:

-Cigarette smoke (first and second hand)

-Paint fumes

-Inorganic or unnatural cleaning solvents

-Volatile Organic Compounds (found in paints)

-Pesticides (found on food — choose organic!)

-Trans fats

-Many of the preservatives found in processed foods… steer as clear as possible.

-BPA and other hormonal compounds from plastic (choose glass containers whenever possible!)


Step 2: Mobilize toxins 

Next, get the toxins out of your cells. There are three awesome ways to do this:

-1) Exercise. Do at least three high intensity exercises every week (such as HIIT or weight lifting), and walk as much as possible. The more you exercise, the more you burn the fat and the toxins stored inside the fat cells. (You can replace it with clean, healthy fat later if you like.) And, if it’s particularly tough exercise, sweat can be a great way to get the water-soluble toxins out of your body.

-2) Eat in meals. If you wait until you are hungry to eat again, you give your body the opportunity to “clean up” as much as possible before having to direct its metabolic energies toward another meal. Three meals a day is great. You could even have two meals a day or eat in a shortened window every once in a while (though do so with caution, especially as a woman).

-3) Sleep well. Sleep is awesome for everything, including detox. Give yourself as much sleep as you can possibly get, in a cool, dark, quiet room.

Step 3: Support real detox

Once mobilized, toxins need to be rendered harmless by the liver. If not, then you will experience symtpoms of toxicity. This is very important. You never want to detox too fast or with a liver that is not up to the task. Support your liver as best as possible. I talk in great detail about how detox works and what to do for the liver in this post. In general, you will want to:

-Eat at least three servings of leafy greens (broccoli, kale, chard, arugula, cabbage, salad greens) every day

-Focus on sulfur containing foods like leafy greens, garlic, onions, leeks, and egg yolks (at least two a day)

-Take a high quality fish oil supplement, like this one my absolute favorite

-Support your body with the following supplements if desired (I link to my personal faves):



Milk Thistle

N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)


-Eat a diet rich in vitamins Bs, C, and E, which can be easily done with a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables

Step 4: Increase excretion of toxins

After the toxins have been neutralized, it’s still important to get them out of the body. The best ways to speed along this process are:

-Sweating. You can sweat during exercise, or perhaps a warm bath, shower, or sauna. Be sure to replenish with sea salt after. My favorite way to replenish is a glass of water with a teaspoon of seasalt, squir of lemon, and half a teaspoon of honey.

-Healthy digestion. Most toxins are excreted through urine or stool. You absolutely must not be constipated in order for detox to work. If stool spends too much time in your colon, then toxins will simply be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream. Support a healthy gut with plenty of fruits and vegetables and healthy fats (coconut oil, olive oil, ghee, and animal fat), as well as with probiotic foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, coconut yogurt, and kombucha, or with a good probiotic supplement.

Step 5: Relax!

Stress is of course a huge barrier to health, and in almost all of the ways. It can impede detox, and it can directly cause acne, too! So sit back and relax, and support your body with nourishing foods.

And, as always once we conclude with stress, that’s a wrap!

Detox is important for acne, just not in the way everyone talks about. The better and more efficiently you detox, the better and more efficiently you will be able to get your skin the important antioxidants it needs. And that is one huge part of the battle of overcoming acne, for good.


Do you have experience with antioxidants? With detoxes? What has worked for you? What’s your SKIN SUPERFOOD?! I’d absolutely love your feedback on this — it’s so important to hear what works and doesn’t! Plus it always gives me ideas for new topics to research!

Thank you! And don’t forget about the BIG GIVEAWAY happening this week… it ends this weekend so check it out and get your name in that drawing! (Here’s the link:

How to Detox Your Skin to Improve Acne - Paleo for Women

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