7 Crazy Diets That DON’T Fix Acne

A typical lunch while I was raw vegan. Balanced meal for your skin? Not so much.

Here are 7 bizarre diets I’ve tried on my path from acne to clear skin.

Not one of them truly cleared up my skin, except one, but it would have killed me if I’d kept going with it.

Yes, I know the following sounds crazy, but it is all 100% true:

I went raw vegan for 8 months.

80/10/10 raw vegan, actually. (That’s 80% calories from carbs, 10% from protein, and 10% from fat.)

A typical day looked like this: Wake up, eat a whole honeydew melon and a big plate of raw spinach for breakfast. Stomach hurting from volume of food already. Sneak out of the dining hall with 5 bananas stuffed in my coat to eat for a snack an hour later when I’m starving again. An hour later, eat said bananas.

At lunchtime, eat 3 apples and 3 oranges. Stomach hurting again due to extreme stretching. 1 hour later, eat 20 dates to try to get some more calories. Can soon feel the sugar rush pounding in my skull. 1 hour later, I’m starving again – eat a handful of chia seeds or almonds.

At dinner, eat a big plate of mixed pineapple and melon, along with 3-4 kiwis and a big plate of raw salad greens. Yum.

Pros: 100% clear skin. I mean absolutely ZERO zits over the entire 8 months. The best my skin had EVER been since I was 12 years old. This is probably why I stuck with it for so long. Lots of energy. No body odor whatsoever. Voluminous and glossy hair. Strong fingernails. Easy poops daily–this was huge for me, since I had been constipated most of my early life. I would have kept doing this forever except for the cons…

Cons: Extreme and dangerous weight loss: I got down to 110 pounds, from normal weight of 125 pounds. I’m 5’9″, so I was a total skeleton by the end of these crazy 8 months. BAD. Could not share food with anybody at social gatherings, because I was 100% strict. I had a major fear of cooked food as being poison, because that’s what the raw vegan experts wrote in their books and blog posts and juicing videos. Egads. Also, having to make not one, but TWO trips via bicycle to the farmer’s market every week, because I could only carry about 30 pounds of fruit on my back each trip, and I noshed through about 50 pounds of fruit per week. Extreme social isolation: my college roommates hated hearing my raw vegan proselytizing and told me to bugger off, basically. Ouch. I don’t blame them, honestly! Obviously not a sustainable diet, though I can’t argue with the 100% clear skin – how, then, could I incorporate the skin-clearing benefits of the 80/10/10 raw vegan diet, while avoiding the calorie deficiency, mineral deficiency, and social isolation problems?

Hindsight: Excellent potassium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin C, and prebiotic fiber content. Zero fluoride exposure because I was eating all organic fruit, and wasn’t drinking any tap water. Low iron and low PUFA are huge wins for acne. However, I couldn’t eat enough calories to maintain weight, and my lips started hurting from all the fruit acids. Extreme social isolation took its toll.

I went low-carb Paleo for 3 months.

This sounded like a good idea after being raw vegan for 8 months. I broke my raw vegan stint one day around Christmas, when I was down to 110 pounds, by frying up and eating 1 pound of bacon, followed by an 8-egg omelet with 1/2 pound of shrimp. That felt amazing, surprisingly, so I figured I’d continue, and give very-low-carb Paleo a shot!

Typical breakfast: 8-egg omelet. Lunch: 1 pound of ground beef. Snack: 1/3 stick raw butter (straight in the mouth, thanks – I’m feeling so hardcore I don’t even need to put it in my “certified mold-free” coffee!). Dinner: 1/2 pound shrimp or octopus or some other weird thing, with 1 can of coconut milk.

Again, this was right after being raw vegan. Raw fruits and veggies, then straight to meat, eggs and butter. Can you imagine a more insane pendulum swing? Like I said, I’ve never been very good at easing into things.

Pros: I gained back 20 pounds in 2 months, to a healthy weight of 130 lbs. And I could eat cooked food again! Hooray!

Cons: Literally the WORST constipation EVER. Like I said, I’ve been struggling with constipation my whole life, but this was INSANE. I was learning how to do circular abdominal self-massage to get those poo rocks to try to budge a little, and taking megadoses of Miralax. I also felt like a slug. I also had literally zero energy – it was hard to get up off the couch and do much of anything. Finally, I got into some major beef with a vegetarian housemate who hated the stink of cooked octopus pervading the house. Come on, seriously? What’s not to like about the smell of the sea? So I ended up having to cook outside on a hot plate. In the dead of winter. Good thing I was living in California!

Hindsight: Way too much iron from red meat = constipation and fatigue. Way too much protein led to low-grade protein poisoning and body shutdown. Not enough carbs = not enough energy to do stuff, like, you know, move around. At least for my body (despite what the keto folks say). Not enough manganese, magnesium, potassium, or vitamin C led to chronic fatigue.

For the life of me, I cannot remember if I had acne during this time. I think I was too tired to even notice! I would expect that I did, due to iron overload and terrible digestion, and the fact that I was still drinking fluoridated water at the time.

I tried “Dining Hall Paleo” for 2 years, back in college.

This was an interesting experiment to try. How to eat Paleo when all that really leaves me is grilled chicken breasts and the salad bar? Here’s how: try to convince yourself you’re doing your best to eat strict Paleo, and ignore the times when you just crack under the pressure and make yourself a white-flour Belgian waffle slathered with peanut butter and jam for Sunday brunch. Oh, but I’ve eating bacon on the side, so that part’s Paleo, right?

There were not a lot of true Paleo options here. Most food options had bread, pasta, gluten, dairy, vegetable oil, beans, or grains in them, so I didn’t have much to eat. As you might expect, I definitely had acne during this time. Not super bad, but definitely not clear.

I tried the Warrior Diet for 2 weeks, while living in Japan.

This was epic. I would basically eat nothing all day, except maybe drink a little boxed mango juice. By dinnertime, I would be starving off my ass and would go to the local 回転寿し (sushi boat place) and eat 16 plates of sushi. For only $22! And it was freaking delicious!

Now I’m a small guy, 125 pounds ish, so that was a huge amount of food to pack in at once.

Pros: lots of energy throughout the day, mental clarity, since I’m not working on digesting large volumes of food. Got to pig out on the most amazing food on this good green Earth. Cons: intense stomach pain from eating so much white rice.

I tried the Master Cleanse for 1 week.

This is where you eat zero food, but drink only water spiked with lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup.

Why did I think this was a good idea?

Oh yeah, because I had ACNE and I would try literally ANYTHING to get rid of it, as should be readily apparent by now.

Well, it was supposed to last a week, but I only made it 4 days. That’s because my sweat started to smell like maple syrup. And I was constipated as heck. The other part of the Master Cleanse is that you do a daily “saltwater flush” – i.e., you drink a quart of saltwater and lie on the couch, hoping to trigger a bowel movement. This did not happen for me. I chugged the salt water, laid on the couch, and nothing happened. No poo. So I ended up just drinking a quart of saltwater, three different times. Okay, after 4 days even I knew it was crazy to keep going!

I tried the Peanut Butter, Applesauce, Honey, and Chips Diet for 2 weeks.

I made this one up.

I was living in a vegetarian group house, and we’d get these big 5-gallon buckets of honey and peanut butter, and giant industrial-size boxes full of bags of Garden of Eatin’ Organic blue corn chips.

This is what my diet looked like: Breakfast – fill a bowl with applesauce, mix in a couple heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter and honey, then cram it down as fast as possible. Snack: more of same.

Lunch: 2 whole bags of Garden of Eatin’ blue corn chips. Yes, 2 WHOLE BAGS – that’s 2,520 calories, and 126 grams of vegetable oil. OHMYGOD.

Dinner: more of applesauce/peanut butter/honey cocktail.

Bedtime snack: more of same.

If it’s not already obvious, I had gone a bit bonkers by this point in my diet experiments. I wasn’t even listening to the experts anymore! To heck with dieting! I had built up so much angst and pressure from doing strict diets for so many years that I was just diving into a glorious 100% binge-fest now. Binge after binge, day after day.

The funny part?

I had middling acne, but not the worst ever. Probably only because the chips used high-oleic safflower oil, which has a lot less PUFA than other vegetable oils. Or maybe because I was actually just allowing myself to eat whatever the heck I wanted, without caring anymore. Less stress about acne means less acne, a key takeaway from this diet experiment!

Pros: allowing myself to eat whatever the heck I wanted, all day long. Wow did that blow off some steam built up from years of strict dieting.

Cons: moderate acne. Also, pretty constipated during this time. Didn’t feel that great, overall, probably due to eating only peanut butter, applesauce, honey, and chips.

I went strict Paleo for about 5 years, after leaving college.

Gawd this was hard, in retrospect. No dairy, no gluten, no grains, no beans. Just meat, veggies, fruit, and nuts and seeds. I would have weird blips in behavior like eating half a jar of almond butter in one sitting. (Sounds like a binge, despite being technically Paleo!) Pros: pretty good skin. The occasional zit, but nothing major. Cons: started having major chronic fatigue, anxiety issues, and full-blown panic attacks by the end. Like it felt like I was dying. Not good. Obviously something wrong with the diet! Hindsight: way too much iron, especially from red meat. Way too much PUFA from eating metric craptons of almond butter. Not enough potassium, magnesium, manganese, or molybdenum (you know, the nutrients you get from whole grains, beans, and fruit/veg). Kind of similar to my low-carb Paleo experiment above, but even worse eventually because it dragged on so long. Also, I developed MAJOR anxiety about eating anything not strictly Paleo. OH GAWD, I just ate some GLUTENS! How will I make it?!?!?!!1 Will my gut become so leaky that I just DIE INSTANTLY?!? This kind of thinking was made worse by reading Paleo books and blogs for 5 years, without any counterbalancing perspectives on diet.

There were many more experiments – too many to repeat here – but these are the craziest ones. Hopefully you can see now that I am a crazy, insane diet experimenter hell-bent on finding the magical dietary cure for acne. After all these experiments, I still hadn’t found it! Kind of felt like searching through the jungles of the New World for the mystical Fountain of Youth. Still searching…

I RRARFed for 2 weeks.

This is Matt Stone’s invention… also known as the “High Everything Diet.” It’s the anti-diet for chronic dieters. Eat tons of everything to get your body temps up. (Mine was pretty low at the time – 96.8º or so.) I was starting to develop adrenal fatigue and chronic anxiety problems – major panic attacks that felt like I was dying – so this seemed like a good idea to try.

Breakfast: oatmeal drenched with blackstrap molasses and heavy cream.

Lunch: Waffles? Pancakes? Honestly don’t remember. Oh yeah, I ate a whole bag of those frozen potstickers once.

Snack: CROISSANTS!!! I have missed you so much!!

Dinner: Some other weird thing involving lots of gluten and dairy and vegetable oil.

Pros: Being able to eat literally anything. Blowing off more steam from strict Paleo dieting for 5 years.

Cons: Acne. This definitely did not fix it. I felt better in some ways – reduced anxiety, somewhat – maybe due to having more manganese and potassium in my diet, but overall didn’t feel that great, and my temps didn’t go up much.

A New Hope…

Then, one unprepossessing Tuesday, I struck gold in the strangest of places…

I picked up a strange book called “The Blue Zone Diet” at a dinner party at a friend’s place (she lived right behind a Dairy Queen – kind of ironic, since I was trying to eat only Paleo-approved foods at that dinner party!), and I read it all in one sitting. I just totally checked out of the conversation and blazed through that book – the pages were practically catching fire I was turning them so fast.

My GOD did that book throw me for a loop.

It shook my long-held dietary assumptions to their core.

In one fell swoop, it dethroned King Paleo from the High Seat of the Kingdom of Ultimate Health.

Rather than trying to pick and choose studies to paint some magical, but false, picture about how our Stone Age ancestors ate (ahem, Cordain, I’m looking at you!), the book took the extremely humble (and obvious) approach of studying the longest-lived people on the planet RIGHT NOW, and how they eat.

Guess what?

They weren’t eating much meat at all!

And they were eating beans, grains, and dairy – all the things I thought were big no-nos after being steepd in Paleo for so long. Yet these people’s guts weren’t exploding in a firestorm of lectins and enzyme inhibitors… if anything, they seemed to be living longer and healthier precisely *because* they were eating such foods! (And lots of vegetables, of course.)

Anyway, this book flipped a major switch for me. I embarked on a new odyssey of diet research, digging into hundreds of studies on PubMed, reading many more books and blog posts, and again going down many rabbit holes. I started to analyze all the crazy diets I’d done in the past, and cross-referencing them to figure out which parts I could cherry-pick to make my ideal diet that’s 1) sustainable, and 2) clears up my skin enough that I don’t even notice a zit if I get one.

And I’ll be gol-darned if I didn’t find what I think is The Answer to Acne. (At least, it’s An Answer to Acne. Devin’s Best Current Attempt At an Answer to Acne.)

That answer involves things like:

– Reducing fluoride exposure from pesticides, contaminated food, water, toothpaste, non-stick pans, waterproof raingear, etc.
– Increasing iodine content in the diet to fix thyroid issues, combat lipid peroxidation, and detox fluoride and bromide from body storage sites
– Avoiding A1 dairy, and instead seeking out A2 dairy sources (ideally grass-fed and raw)
– Reducing PUFA content of the diet
– Increasing vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, zinc, and magnesium intake
– Increasing overall nutrient density in the diet
– Avoiding specific types of wheat, while allowing low-Glia-α9 varieties
– Fixing gut health by reducing stress, removing the worst diet toxins and leaky gut triggers, introducing beneficial prebiotics through the diet, etc.
– Fixing iron overload problems by reducing meat consumption, adding smart use of iron chelators to the diet, increasing vitamin C and molybdenum intake, etc.
– Lots more! See my book for the complete run-down.

Hope you enjoyed this crazy list of diets that didn’t work!

Have you tried any weird diets for acne? Post a comment below and tell me about it! 🙂

Sources (click to expand)

{ 16 Comments }

  1. Kris says

    Hi Devin,
    Great research, thank you for linking the sources. I’ve suffered with back acne for years. I eat a mostly plant based diet, so I’d call myself a flexitarian (95% plants, 5% grass fed-organic animal). Before that I did mostly Paleo, therefore lots of fresh plants, but still a lot of organic meat/poultry.
    From recent testing, I have low iron stores (ferritin), normal iron (since I suppliment), and low iodine (I now supplement—-boyfriend has shellfish allergy…). I take vitamine A and Magnesium as well.
    I’m game to try anything thats humane and organic even if its not a plant based suppliment, but I would be interested in the Frankin-rice you mentioned since I try to avoid dairy due to an intolerance (causes me inflammation and IgG testing shows markers). If the colostrum is derived from cows or colostrum is from humans, wouldn’t in theory the human one be closer to what we need? Albeit odd to consider!!
    I’ve also looked for a non-bovine ferritin supplement, but it seems I may need to take the bovine one as the plant ones are just more iron (leading to excess). I just want to be humane in my choices, with no added hormones from the cows, etc. With all that said—I’m open to anything—as my skin and other health issues are the number one priority! Any product tips would be greatly appreciated. I use Pure Encapsulations too. 😊 Thank you!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Kris! Sorry for the epic delay on this, I haven’t checked blog comments in a long time. My fault!

      How low is your ferritin? Did you get liver enzymes checked? It’s quite possible to have low ferritin, but also have an overload of unusable iron stored up in your liver. Taking additional iron supplements on top of that, if that’s the case, isn’t a very good idea. Liver enzymes (and/or GGT) can help point to iron overload in the liver. (See my iron article for more info on tests.)

      What kind of iron are you supplementing with?

      Doubt you’ll find human-sourced colostrum, though it’s an interesting idea! 🙂

      Are you interested in lactoferrin for reducing your iron levels, or for boosting your ferritin? There are definitely other, more effective ways of modulating ferritin, I think (see the iron article linked above for way more info on all the iron stuff, including why I think many people may have an iron overload problem even if ferritin levels don’t show it). I’d target the iron-utilization-boosting nutrients listed in the iron article, personally.

      Also, how much iodine are you taking? What form?

      Finally, have you thought about A2 milk as a skin-safe dairy option, that would give you some lactoferrin in a whole food form?

  2. Donna says

    I actually test low for iron. My Tibc, Total Iron, Iron Saturation, and Ferritin are all low.
    It was recommended for me to take Lactoferrin with an iron supplement to properly increase my iron.
    I’m confused about your article because it makes me second guess my situation. You don’t believe ANYONE is actually low in iron?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Donna! How low are we talking on these numbers?

      I definitely think there are a small number of people who are actually low in iron, but I think it’s probably a lot fewer people than most doctors think. Often, if you have iron dysregulation, excess iron gets stored up in your liver, which doesn’t show up one these blood tests. If you’re lacking in one of the co-factors necessary to use iron properly (vitamin A, molybdenum, vitamin C, copper, ceruloplasmin, vitamin B12, etc.), you can get excess iron deposits in the liver combined with low circulating iron. When you add a plain iron supplement on top of that, without addressing the deficient co-factors, you can worsen the problem. Did you happen to get your liver enzymes and/or GGT tested? That can sometimes indicate excess iron storage in the liver. But keep in mind I have zero clinical experience in all this and just going based on the all the research I’ve read (and my own iron overload problem).

  3. jay,s says

    hi, suffering from acne for 20 years and a rediculolus amount of money spent on “solutions”i tried a newer supplement that’s called acne block that contains lactoferrin,found it on amazon.. it actually was/is one of the only supplements I have tried that actually helped..

    • Devin Mooers says

      Great to hear you got good results from lactoferrin! The science is sound behind why it works, helping to reduce iron overload. Good stuff.

  4. Sara says

    Would eating liver or taking a dessicated liver supplement cause iron overload? I would like to get more vitamin A, but am concerned about the extra iron I would be getting.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sara! Wise to be cautious about this. Do you have reason to suspect you have existing iron overload? Curious about that, I’ve suspected that in myself for a while now, and have been avoiding liver for that reason. I’m taking Pure Encapsulations vitamin A instead.

    • Sarah says

      Suggesting vegans/Vegetarians have a greater risk of iron deficiency is incorrect. There are at least as many meat-eaters as vege people deficient in Iron. Meat is not an efficient source of iron for human beings. Cutting out animal products goes along way in clearing up acne.

      • Devin Mooers says

        Hey Sarah! I actually agree with your first point now, but differ in the second. I think many people, vegeterians and meat-eaters, have an iron overload problem. This is pretty new to me, but the research seems sound. Turns out you can have anemia AND iron overload, due to iron getting deposited in your liver, but a lack of nutrients that are required to put iron into hemoglobin, like vitamin C, vitamin A, molybdenum, and copper. I also think the research strongly points to heme iron from meat being an excellent source of iron – much more absorbable than plant iron – but I now think eating too much meat leads to iron overload, because your body can’t shut off absorption from heme iron like it can from plant iron. If you’re curious to learn more, I just posted a huge article on iron and acne two days ago:

        Iron and Acne

        I think this is really an unusual perspective, and the opposite of what most people will tell you! Curious to hear your thoughts! 🙂 (I’m actually eating mostly vegetarian these days, due to trying to reverse my iron overload problem, and, yes, the environmental impact.)

  5. Taylor says

    So if I maintain a Paleo/Whole 30 diet that includes high quality meats and seafoods and I do not eat any of the iron-fortified foods or foods that inhibit lactoferrin – my body should be creating lactoferrin on it’s own in a healthy manner and I likely do not need to supplement it, correct?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Yep, exactly! Historical iron overload can be an issue, less so for menstruating women due to the continual iron dumping outlet. Bloodletting was effective back in the day for many diseases due to iron removal! Men don’t have such a built-in iron removal system (perhaps explaining why men tend to live shorter lives than women – iron buildup!). I’m not 100% sure how effective lactoferrin supplementation is for addressing built-up iron overload. Morley Robbins (gotmag.org) is the guy to read about on all the iron issues.

  6. Christina says

    I’m confused. I was just about to purchase some FCLO for my teen daughter to help her with her acne and now I stumbled across your reply where you state you no longer recommend FCLO! Why the change?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Christina! Sorry about the confusion here – I wish we could keep the same recommendations forever, but our knowledge (and the science, and reader experience, etc.) forces us to change our recommendations now and then, and it’s hard to change everywhere all at once! We changed this recommendation because FCLO is basically pure PUFA (polyunsaturated fat), which is more susceptible to lipid peroxidation than other fats, and this is a major contributor to acne, we now believe (lipid peroxidation). The vitamin A in FCLO tends to be very beneficial, but you can get that vitamin A from eating liver, taking desiccated liver capsules, or taking a vitamin A supplement such as this one by Pure Encapsulations. We now think it’s best to reduce the total body load of PUFA as much as possible, rather than trying to boost omega-3s, for instance. Does this make sense?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sam! That’s actually a really good idea. We currently do not recommend taking FCLO or cod liver oil – we’ve updated our book but haven’t found the time yet to update our cod liver oil blog post – we’ll do that soon! We recommend taking desiccated liver capsules or eating grass-fed liver regularly, or taking a vitamin A supplement like this one:

      Pure Encapsulations Vitamin A 10,000 IU

      Taking vitamin E is a great PUFA defense strategy when you’re eating out at restaurants or for some reason consume a large amount of PUFA. We’re working on a “PUFA Shield” supplement that incorporates full-spectrum E along with some other lipid peroxidation blockers to make it easier for travelers, folks who eat out a lot, etc. to avoid the worst PUFA effects on acne.

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