The ketogenic diet, often shortened to the “keto diet,” has recently attracted a lot of buzz. Supporters point out that the diet, which emphasizes fat and protein and severely limits carbs, can help you lose weight; on the other hand, critics argue that the restrictive eating approach isn’t necessary for most people and can even promote unhealthy eating. Now, there’s another factor to add to the debate: Like many diets, the keto diet could affect your skin, possibly leading to acne or even a rash. Q56Paris asked the experts what you should know about this trendy diet and your complexion.
What is the keto diet?
While there are different versions of the keto diet, “they all have one main thing in common,” Perri Halperin, a registered dietitian at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, tells Q56Paris. “They are high in fat, adequate in protein, and low in carbohydrates.” Meat, dairy, eggs, low-carb veggies, and good fats such as avocado and coconut oil are all allowed. Carbs, including most fruits and whole grains, are not.
Eating this way is meant to kick your body into a state of ketosis, which is “a metabolic state of affairs that occurs when our bodies are denied enough carbohydrates to burn in order supply the body with enough energy (in the form of glucose) to meet its basic needs,” Tamara Duker Freuman, a registered dietician in New York City. “When this occurs, our bodies resort to plan B: burning fat to supply energy instead.” Rather than producing glucose, this process produces “ketone bodies,” which act as fuel. This backup system is what has allowed humans to survive famine and starvation. In the world of trendy diets, it’s praised as a serious fat burner.
What positive effects could the keto diet have on your skin?
The answer to this question depends on your skin type and exactly what you’re eating. “Foods such as nuts, eggs, seafood and leafy greens may be included in a keto diet and are beneficial for skin health,” Halperin points out. “These foods contain Vitamins A and E, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to decrease the effects of aging on skin and are skin-protective.”
How could the keto diet lead to skin problems?
If your version of the keto diet involves eating a lot of dairy, it may contribute to acne flare-ups. A 2015 review published in the journal Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology showed a link between diets high in dairy and an increase in acne-causing sebum. The exact cause-and-effect relationship that might be at play here hasn’t been pinpointed by scientists; as Zeichner notes, “It is unclear whether it is sugars in the milk or growth factors from the lactating cows that are the culprit.”
Then there’s the actual process of ketosis, which has been associated with “a distinct type of inflammatory rash called prurigo pigmentosa,” says Freuman. Known by some as the “keto rash,” it’s characterized by red, itchy, pimply bumps that often break out on the back, chest, or neck. Although this is rare, one 2015 case report published in the journal Pediatric Dermatology suggests the rash is much more common in women than in men.
So, what’s the bottom line? “Nutrition and skin health are highly individualized and multifactorial,” says Halperin. In other words, it’s hard to say for sure if the keto diet will cause acne for you specifically.
To keep track of how the keto diet (or any diet change) affects your skin, consider keeping a food diary. “Write down what you eat and note any changes you notice in your body, including how you feel overall, any GI symptoms, your mood, and, of course, changes in your skin,” Halperin advises. “That way, you can identify how certain foods and dietary patterns affect you positively or negatively.”
If you do decide to go on the keto diet, how can you take care your skin?
“If you tend to break out and find you are oilier from the ketogenic diet, look for gentle exfoliating cleansers to keep the pores clear,” Zeichner suggests. Pick one that won’t dry out skin, like La Roche-Posay Ultra-Fine Scrub. He adds that if you’re experiencing frequent breakouts, you might want to up the ante with a salicylic acid cleanser, like Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Foaming Scrub.
Finally, remember that everyone’s body and skin are different. If you’re doing your best to address skin woes but having trouble pinpointing their cause, a dermatologist can help you sort out potential culprits and make the right changes to your routine.