Clear Skin Baking Tips

Hey there!

Love baking but hate acne?

This post is for you.

I got a great question from CSF reader Julia yesterday about sugar, baked goods, and acne:

Hi Devin,

I was wondering if you have any advice for me: I really struggle with the “no sugar” part of your previous advice.

I love eating sugar, and I haven’t found something that is healthier to eat instead. I like to eat chocolate and more processed foods like cake, cookies, and brownies. I know that a lot of people struggle with these food items, and I especially can see a difference in my own skin after I eat them.

Any suggestions or advice? I’m open to trying pretty much anything you can think of.

Thanks again for your help!

Phew. Great question!

I hear Julia on these delicious baked goods and treats. I love them too!

But they do tend to cause acne, at least the way most people bake them.

That’s why I pretty much avoided them 100% when I was Paleo, for about 5 years. But Paleo, while it helped my skin a tremendous amount, ultimately gave me some serious health problems due to iron overload, which you can read about in this post). So I’ve since come off Paleo, and in the last couple years I’ve figured out how to cook baked goods and chocolate treats on my own using non-acne-triggering ingredients.

Turns out that a lot of the problem isn’t the sugar, but the other ingredients in these things. Let’s break down the problematic ingredients and give some good skin-friendly alternatives!

Fortified wheat

Fortified wheat flour is refined white flour that’s fortified with reduced iron, a potential acne trigger (read blog post here). (Refining is standard in the US, UK, and a number of other countries.)

Fortified flour also has imbalanced amounts of synthetic B vitamins, which boost your appetite to unhealthy levels, and don’t provide a few key B vitamins that you find in whole-grain flour.

In addition, most modern wheat used for baking is high-gluten dwarf wheat, a hybrid developed in the 1950s which is very high in Glia-a9 inflammatory proteins. These specific gluten fractions irritate the gut, lead to systemic inflammation, and may worsen acne through a host of negative health effects in the body.

I’m starting to think that the other gluten fractions are actually not so much of a problem.

Finally, most modern wheat (at least in the US) is sprayed with Roundup (glyphosate) and pesticides, and is often treated with small amounts of toxic flour conditioners.

The alternative? Einkorn! This ancient variety of wheat has much simpler genes than modern dwarf wheat, and produces way less of the inflammatory Glia-a9 gluten epitope.

As Eli Rogosa writes in Restoring Heritage Grains, he and many other “gluten-sensitive” people are able to eat einkorn with zero problems. Same here! My body doesn’t like modern wheat – nor does my skin – but einkorn wheat works great for me.

Many CSF book readers have reported the same thing.

At home, Sonia and I make whole-grain sourdough einkorn bread, einkorn scones, banana bread, pancakes, and more with no issues.

YMMV, of course – you have to test everything on yourself, since everyone’s body is different!

For any recipe that calls for wheat flour (white or whole), try substituting with organic einkorn flour instead. You can find Jovial brand einkorn flour in many grocery stores now. There’s an “all-purpose” flour that’s a good substitute for white flour, and a whole-grain flour that you can use instead of whole wheat flour.

I’d recommend googling around for recipes that feature einkorn, because the hydration capacity and behavior of einkorn flour are a bit different than modern wheat!

White sugar (i.e. refined sugar)

White sugar can indeed be a problem for acne, because it’s been stripped of all beneficial minerals, and the amounts of sugar in most baking recipes are usually way too high.

Not only do you get a blood sugar spike from white sugar, but you miss out on important minerals like magnesium and chromium, which help regulate blood sugar and reduce inflammation.

But there’s a good alternative!

If you use a whole sugar instead, like unrefined coconut sugar or raw honey, you’re going to get some of those beneficial minerals in there, which will help your body process the sugar properly!

Also, we generally use 1/3 – 1/2 the amount of sweetener that most recipes call for. Your palate will adjust to the lower sweetness and come to relish it – I’m now a big fan of desserts that taste like real food. Substantial desserts. Yumm.

Soy lecithin

Soy lecithin, often used to make chocolate, can be an acne trigger.

One reader on the CSF forum just reported that she finally discovered it was the soy lecithin in dark chocolate, not the sugar or the cocoa, that was giving her breakouts!

Try finding organic, soy-free dark chocolate instead. Alter Eco 85% is a favorite here.

If you’re baking with chocolate, use whole cocoa powder or find some good organic chocolate that doesn’t have soy lecithin.

A1 dairy

Most dairy used in processed foods in the US – and the dairy you can buy at the grocery store – is from modern Holstein cows, which produce the A1 beta-casein protein variant.

This A1 beta-casein acts like an opioid in your body, slowing down your digestion (causing lactose intolerance, constipation, leaky gut, etc.). It also depresses your immune system. It’s complex, but essentially, A1 beta-casein breaks down in your gut to a 7-amino-acid chain called beta-casomorphin-7. Morphin, like morphine. Not good! I’m starting to believe that many of the “acne” effects from dairy are at least partially due to this A1 protein variant.

In contrast, cows of African descent, and some heritage-breed cows of European lineage, produce the A2 beta-casein variant, which does not act like an opioid in your gut, and has zero of the negative effects of A1 beta-casein like digestive problems and immune system issues. It’s totally safe for most people!

This genetic mutation in cows happened around 8,000 years ago, experts think. Bummer! Apparently, lots of dairy farms are catching on, and are breeding exclusively for A2 genetics.

So when a recipe calls for milk, what to use instead?

Simple! Try using non-dairy milks, like coconut milk, or use A2 dairy. That includes all goat and sheep dairy (which only ever produce A2), or genetically verified A2 cows. Some dairy farmers are starting to offer A2-only cow milk, and the A2 Milk Company is starting to sell milk in some grocery stores.

I have a local dairy farm that has me on the list of “A2 milk customers” – they test all their cows and only send me verified A2 milk. Ask your local dairy if they have A2 milk!

Vegetable oil

This includes canola oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, corn oil, and peanut oil. These oils are all super-high in polyunsaturated fat, which is one of the main dietary acne triggers (due to lipid peroxidation).

Best to avoid most foods with vegetable oil in them!

If a recipe calls for vegetable oil, use one of the following instead:

  • Coconut oil (virgin or naturally refined)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Red palm oil (orangutan-safe)
  • Lard from pasture-raised pigs
  • Grass-fed butter
  • Grass-fed ghee

There are lots of options here, and they all taste way better than vegetable oil!

Most food manufacturers use vegetable oil because it’s cheap, but it might give you acne, so believe me, it ain’t worth it.

Use one of the above skin-healthy fats instead!

What about store-bought processed foods?

Unfortunately, most store-bought processed foods use refined fortified white flour, white sugar, vegetable oil, and A1 dairy.

While I don’t advise being 100% strict about anything, it’s probably best for your skin to limit eating such treats to once in a while!

Instead, bake your own breads and treats following these tips, and you’ll start to realize home-baked tastes WAY better than store-bought. You won’t feel like you’re missing out anymore!

Devin and Sonia’s favorite baked goods and treats!

Here’s a list of some favorites that Sonia and I like to make:

  • Whole-grain sourdough einkorn and rye bread
  • Whole-grain einkorn snickerdoodle scones with homemade unsweetened plum jam
  • Einkorn banana bread
  • Blueberry-lemon whole-grain einkorn pancakes
  • Honey Mama’s style chocolate (with cocoa powder, coconut oil, coconut butter, raw honey, and peppermint oil)
  • Blackberry crisp with whole-grain einkorn flour and whole coconut sugar
  • Rhubarb and raspberry pie with whole coconut sugar and einkorn crust

In short, we’ve started to make a lot of baked goods using whole einkorn flour, A2 dairy, coconut sugar or raw honey, pasture-raised eggs, etc. and it works great for us.

I think most of the acne problems from baked goods are not about the specific ingredient types per se, but rather with the quality of ingredients used!

Have you had any success with these ingredient changes? Share in the comments below! 🙂

About Devin Mooers

Devin MooersHey! Over the past 10 years, I've developed a powerful system for clearing acne with a little-known diet- and lifestyle-based method, and I want to spread the love. That's why I started Clear Skin Forever back in 2011. I studied engineering and product design at Stanford University, and graduated in the top 5% of my class, but afterward, I decided to focus on writing about health, since I found it so fulfilling to help people clear their acne for good. Thanks for reading, and sign up for email updates to stay in the loop with clear skin tips! Also, be sure to check out our book if you haven't yet, all about how to fix acne permanently with diet and lifestyle changes. We've helped thousands of people get clear skin this way!

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  1. kaleigh phillips says

    Starting to use the “teccino” chicory root based coffee replacer and let go of the coffee drinking. What are your thoughts on this ? Different sources I found state it as good for the gut because the chichory fiber is a prebiotic. Any thoughts?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Kaleigh! Prebiotic fiber can provide great food for beneficial gut bacteria for sure. It’s essentially a root brew decoction, which have been used medicinally for ages. I’ve started making herbal tea in the mornings from bulk herbs (goldenrod, calendula, chamomile, pine needles, fir tips, etc.), many of which we’ve collected ourselves (but many of which we get from the co-op). I definitely feel way better when I wake up, and am not so stressed out later, since dropping coffee!

  2. Sam says

    Hi Devin,

    How low PUFA diets do you recommend? Do you think you can get all the PUFAs you need from eating beans, whole grains and whole milk? I have always felt terrible every time I have eaten seeds, fish oil and other EFA supplements.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sam! Yeah, definitely. Very low PUFA is good. It’s all about quality and freshness with PUFA – most fish oils, seeds, supplements, etc. are totally rancid by the time you ingest them. Yes, the Inuit traditionally eat tons of seal blubber (high in PUFA), but it’s extremely fresh and non-oxidized when ingested, and they also eat thyroid glands of seals, which provides loads of iodine and thyroid hormone to block lipid peroxidation of that PUFA.

      How do you feel with raw oysters, have you tried that? They’re a prime acne-busting food, with lots of zinc and also super-fresh DHA.

  3. Brooke Turley says

    Ok, you’re officially talking crappy science, in light of this article about marigolds and chickens. Apparently it very much does indeed improve eggs to have marigolds in the chickens’ diets.

    I certainly hope that no one has gone and altered either their own diet or that of their poultry, just because of your half-baked scare tactics. Good grief. “ Fake orange” in nature, indeed.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Brooke! Wow, color me (majorly) wrong. Thanks for pointing this out! That was really sloppy – I don’t know what I thought that marigold color would not be related to an antioxidant carotene. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. I’m sorry about this carelessness – I have removed this from the post after following up on the articles you linked! I will try to be more careful next time.

  4. Brooke Turley says

    Hi, I hate to burst your anti-marigold bubble, but the thing is, marigolds are orange themselves due to caratenoids! They’re full of nutrients, actually, and there’s no such thing as “fake orange” in nature.

    (Unless I count the time that my dad consumed massive quantities of beta-carotene in his heroic search for a natural “fake tan”. That time, “fake orange” definitely fit the bill.)

    Here’s an article that details the nutritional profile of marigolds:

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Brooke! (Just duplicating the response here to your other comment) Wow, color me (majorly) wrong. Thanks for pointing this out! That was really sloppy – I don’t know what I thought that marigold color would not be related to an antioxidant carotene. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. I’m sorry about this carelessness – I have removed this from the post after following up on the articles you linked! I will try to be more careful next time.

  5. tom hennessy says

    Researchers in a recent study took 60 women with hyperandrogenemia which has cystic acne as a major symptom, and reduced the iron in 30 by phlebotomy, and gave the ‘standard of care’ to the other 30, found, phlebotomy to reduce iron levels was as effective as the drugs used in the ‘standard of care’.

    Effect of phlebotomy versus oral contraceptives containing cyproterone acetate on the clinical and biochemical parameters in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. J Ovarian Res 12, 78 (2019).

    There seems to be more to the iron than we fully realize ..

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Tom – whoa, that’s fascinating! Great find! Amazing that phlebotomy brought on normal menstruation in 44% of subjects – I bet if they also added 3,000 IU of retinol, it would have improved results even more (vit. A boosts ceruloplasmin production to bind excess free iron).

    • Sean says

      Hey Rey, do you consume Magnesium through supplements or are you making an effort to eat Magnesium rich foods?

      (just curious)

  6. Luo says

    Stress can induce a series of negative effects on the human body. Many people are easily depressed under pressure, which has a bad influence on the treatment of acne.
    Some people overeating under pressure, too much sugar can easily induce acne.
    And stress can make people unable to sleep, and lack of sleep has too much effect on the skin.

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Master your acne in 4 weeks or less
  • Fix the root causes of your acne: fluoride, diet, sleep, stress & more
  • Exclusive forum access with 4,000+ members
  • Food Explorer App with skin safety ratings of 450+ foods
  • 96% of customers satisfied