Sh**, I Ate the Whole Pie: 7 Acne Damage-Control Tips for the Holidays

Festive woman frowns at a cupcake.

Have fun and enjoy clear skin this holiday season.

It’s that time of year again.

Cookies.

Egg nog.

Booze.

Holiday parties. (How can you not drink when forced to socialize with your partner’s coworkers? Yes please, fill ‘er up…)

Pie. Caramels. Fudge. Did I say cookies?

It can be hard to keep your clear skin goals on track when faced with a plate full of decorated desserts your grandma made. And the extra busy-ness that comes with planning, shopping, wrapping, cooking, and traveling has our to-do lists overflowing with… uh… joy. Or no, wait, I think that feeling is stress – yep, definitely stress. And that’s not helping your skin, either.

What’s a girl (or guy) to do? Because the last thing you want right before you see your hot cousin this one time this year is a faceful of breakouts. (No, really, I usually look way better than this, Svetla…)

If you’ve read around our website, you already know that we’re all about curing acne naturally, by making changes to your diet and lifestyle, rather than with drugs and dermatology. And you probably also know that sugar, dairy, and other inflammatory foods are big acne triggers for most acne-sufferers. And these are extra hard to avoid this time of year!

To help you navigate the holiday scene without triggering acne (and while still having fun), we bring you these seven tips.

#1: Don’t skimp on sleep.

With the December 25 (or whatever the date of your holiday(s) of choice) deadline looming, it’s easy to stay up all night wrapping presents in Santa’s workshop so you can sneak them into children’s houses at night. (What, you don’t do that??) Regardless of what’s keeping you busy, don’t compromise your sleep schedule. Sleep is even more important during times of stress, so get your 8-10 hours a night. You’ll function more efficiently the next day, and your skin and hormones will be calmer and happier.

#2: Don’t go out on an empty stomach.

Unless they’re serving dinner, you can be sure that the food options at that holiday party will be of the sugary, gluteny variety, or maybe the creamy, cheesy, vegetable-oil-laden variety. Instead of facing the choice between 1) hungrily munching on a vegetable garnish while making googly eyes at whipped-cream-laden pies and 2) tossing all your skin-friendly intentions out the window, eat a healthy, satisfying meal just before you go.

#3: Give yourself permission to taste “off-the-diet” foods.

You don’t have to be a clear-skin martyr when gramma offers you a piece of her famous pecan pie – you know, the one that gives you the warm fuzzies; the one that means “love” deep down. Instead,  give yourself permission to taste foods, even if they include potentially acne-triggering ingredients. When doing this, do it mindfully – really taste the food, feel the textures in your mouth, smell the smells, so that you get the most enjoyment out of the experience.

Unless you have a food allergy, very small amounts of these foods – a bite or two – aren’t going to have much impact on your skin in the short term. And in fact, if you feel happier and less deprived as a result of enjoying those nostalgic flavors, your skin will benefit!

#4: Enjoy 1-2 drinks (or less) at parties.

Man in Santa hat passed out with empty bottles.

Don’t be this guy.

A little good ol’ fashioned social lubrication – especially if tastes like egg nog! – is to be expected at festive gatherings, but don’t go overboard. Nothing sends all your good intentions (not to mention sleep quality) out the window like getting too tipsy. So if you tolerate alcohol well, you might imbibe enough to laugh at your boss’s jokes, but not so much that you lose track of your healthy skin goals.

(Also, whenever possible, go for non-sugary, non-dairy drinks. Straight liquor or liquor mixed with unsweetened fruit juices are good choices.)

#5: Drink 2-3 cups of green tea a day for 3 days after a holiday binge.

The EGCG in green tea (and white in black tea, in smaller concentrations) can really help douse any inflammation that last night’s indulgences may have provoked. So skip the coffee, and reach for the green stuff.

#6: Take a double dose of vitamin A for 3 days after a holiday binge.

Retinol-form vitamin A is great at preventing breakouts before they start, so add this to your damage-control repertoire. Take an extra dose of vitamin A, retinol-form, daily for 3 days. (If you haven’t taken vitamin A yet, check out our blog post for more information.)

#7: Stay on top of your other supplements.

Even if your diet has been a little wonky lately, you can still help your skin by sticking to a skin-supporting supplement routine. Making sure you’re getting plenty of vitamin D, zinc, and a high-quality probiotic doesn’t take time out of your busy schedule, and can help tide you over til New Year’s resolution time! 🙂

BONUS TIP: If you don’t have a copy of our book yet, check it out! Like our blog, it’s called Clear Skin Forever, and it spells out our complete diet-and-lifestyle-based approach to curing acne. Start reading it today so you’ll be ready to make some powerful changes for your skin once the holiday din dies down! Learn more here.

And most of all…

…remember to have some fun and take care of you as the year comes to a close.

Wishing everyone warm, happy holidays from Bend, Oregon, USA,

Sonia & Devin

Sonia & Devin

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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