Ice Cream, Donuts & Acne: How To Bulletproof Your Skin With Epigenetics

Ice cream gives you and me acne, but not other people – here’s why.

Back when I suffered with acne, I would look around and notice everyone else’s clear skin.

It’s like when you buy a new car and all of a sudden you start noticing that same car everywhere on the road.

Can you relate?

Well… because I had a warzone on my face I was hyper aware of everyone else’s skin.

I would ask myself questions like, “How do my friends eat like shit, not have skin routines, barely clean their face, and yet have baby smooth skin?”

It was unbelievably frustrating.

Here I was a slave to a time-consuming (and expensive) morning and evening skin routine while my college friends would go out and party until 3am… only to wake up with JLO flawless skin.

Or they’d sit around and eat donuts and ice cream all day without getting a single breakout.

I swear… they could take a nap in a puddle of mud and wake up 100% clear in the morning!

They put zero attention towards caring for their skin yet they had the clear, perfect skin I dreamed about.

It wasn’t until many years later that I finally realized what was going on.

No, it wasn’t luck. It was something else… something that hasn’t yet made its way into mainstream media… something that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves…

And that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about in this post.

Was I just dealt a bad genetic hand?

After I tried everything under the sun to get rid of my acne without success (while burning through wads of cash), I came to the conclusion that I had just been dealt a bad genetic hand.

I was ready to accept my fate as a lifelong acne-sufferer.

In my mind, blaming it on genetics made logical sense. My uncle and a few other family members had horrible acne, so I likely inherited the dreaded “acne gene.”

But wait a second… if I was cursed with the “acne gene” how on earth was I eventually able to get clear? Did I just “grow out of it?”

Perhaps… but I never had acne as a teenager so that didn’t make sense.

It wasn’t until years and years after I was clear did I understand exactly WHY some people simply don’t get acne while others do, and also why some people develop acne earlier in life and some later.

It isn’t genetics… it’s epigenetics

I first heard the term “epigenetics” from Dr. Bruce Lipton. I was listening to a podcast while driving in my car and literally had to pull over because I was so bewildered by what I had just heard.

Dr. Lipton has been studying the field of epigenetics for a while now, but unfortunately this emerging field of science hasn’t yet made its way into mainstream media.

As a result, not many people know about it.

To understand epigenetics and how it works, let’s first look at the prefix “epi.”
“Epi” means above, over, or on[1] .

Put together (epi + genetics) and it means “above” or “over” genetics.

Blending everything together, the field of epigenetics is defined as the study of the way in which the expression of heritable traits is modified by environmental influences or other mechanisms without a change to the DNA sequence[2] .

What the f*** does that mean?

It means that the behavior of your genes (known as gene expression) is NOT set in stone and can instead be influenced by how you interact with your environment.

That’s right… you can literally influence how your genes behave!

Take a second to wrap your head around that. Most of us grow up in the mindset that we are stuck with whatever genetic hand we were dealt at birth.

We use it as an easy out: “Oh, my parents had horrible acne so I do too and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

This is a disempowering mindset. But before epigenetics, what other option did we have?

While you may have a certain genetic hand you were dealt at birth, you can influence the expression of that genetic hand by how you interact with your environment

Then epigenetics comes along and says not so fast… while you may have a certain genetic hand you were dealt at birth, you can influence the expression of that genetic hand by how you interact with your environment.

For example, you may have been dealt the gene for obesity at birth. But just because you have the obesity gene doesn’t mean you’ll develop obesity. After all, you aren’t born obese.

Whether or not this obesity gene gets “expressed” or “turned on” depends largely in part by how you interact with your environment[3] :

  • What you eat
  • Where you live
  • Your relationships
  • What you breathe
  • What you drink
  • Your stress levels
  • Your exercise habits (or lack thereof)
  • How you sleep
  • Your age
  • Etc.

The same line of thinking applies to acne.

Now… whether or not there is actually one specific gene (aka the “acne gene”) related to the development of acne is up for debate. But current research leaves us with some clues:

  1. An article published in the Journal of Dermatology states, “Hereditary factors play an important role in acne. Neonatal, nodulocystic acne and conglobate acne has proven genetic influences[4] .”
  2. Another study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology looked at over 1,000 pairs of twins to determine if genetics play a role in acne. The results suggest “81% of the variance of the disease was attributable to additive genetic effects.” The study goes on to mention, “Family history of acne was also significantly associated with an increased risk[5] .”

So what exactly does all of this mean? It means that although the link between acne and genetics may not be crystal clear, there is some link.

In other words, genetics and acne are related, we just aren’t sure to what extent.

For simplicity, let’s refer to these genes as “acne genes” moving forward.

Imagine your acne genes like light switches on the wall in your home. Epigenetics tells us that how you interact with your environment determines if those switches are either on (acne) or off (no acne).

It’s important to understand that the default healthy state of your acne genes is OFF.

Think about it… you weren’t born with acne, were you?

That means at some point in your life due to how you interacted with your environment, your acne genes got “turned on” or “expressed” and you developed acne.

This insight should feel liberating because it shows that YOU are in control of your acne, not your genetics.

Yes, genetics play a role. But since you are largely in control of which genes get expressed and which genes get silenced (by how you interact with your environment), you are largely in control of whether or not you get acne.

Remember when we said epigenetics means “above” or “over” genetics? This means that you are “above” or “largely in control” of your genetics.

The best part? As an acne sufferer you can reverse your acne genes back to their normal, healthy state by changing how you interact with your environment.

In other words, you can turn off your acne genes and get the clear, glowing skin you want!

How some people have clear skin while eating ice cream and donuts

To fully understand how some people have clear skin while eating ice cream and donuts all day long, we need to dig deeper.

In epigenetics, everyone is born in a different epigenetic state (see Figure 1 below). As you age and as you interact with your environment, your epigenetic state changes[6] .

At some point along this epigenetic spectrum, disease manifests. This is what’s known as the “disease threshold.”

If your epigenetic state crosses over the “disease threshold,” you develop that particular disease.

In this graph the threshold is labeled as the acne threshold, but you could easily apply this concept to Type 2 diabetes, obesity, etc.

Figure 1 – The acne threshold and how some people develop acne while others don’t.

Let’s use Bill (red line) as a reference point. As Bill ages and interacts with his environment, he eventually hits the acne threshold and develops acne around age 25.

Now look at Sue. Sue was dealt the same genetic hand as Bill. But because she lives unhealthy compared to Bill, she hits the threshold and develops acne sooner in life around age 12 (Figure 2).

Figure 2 – Sue’s epigenetic state.

How about Rick? Rick was dealt the same genetic hand as Bill and Sue. But because Rick lives a healthy lifestyle, he remains below the acne threshold and thus never develops acne (Figure 3).

Rick had the same genetic starting point as Bill and Sue, but a much different result because of his environment.

Figure 3 – Rick’s epigenetic state.

Mary isn’t as lucky as Bill, Sue, and Rick. She was dealt a poor genetic hand.

Notice her starting point on the graph. It lays much closer to the acne threshold (Figure 4).

So even if Mary lives the same lifestyle as Bill, she’s going to develop acne at age 15 (10 years sooner than Bill) because of the genetic hand she was dealt.

Figure 4 – Mary’s epigenetic state.

Now here’s where things get really interesting…

Evan was dealt a similar genetic hand as Mary and thus ends up developing acne in his late teen years. BUT… after he develops acne he makes changes to his lifestyle.

His epigenetic state changes direction and crosses back down below the acne threshold (Figure 5).

The result? He gets rid of his acne and develops clear skin!

Figure 5 – Evan’s epigenetic state.

Because Evan continues to live a healthy lifestyle, he maintains his clear skin later in life.

Notice the time gap between when Evan begins making changes to his lifestyle and when he actually develops clear skin.

Many people tend to get frustrated when they do not get clear skin right away after making changes to their lifestyle. This is normal, and will differ for everyone.

Do you see the power here? YOU are in control of your skin (not the other way around). You can be just like Evan.

I did it, and so have several thousands of other people who have cleared their acne through diet or other lifestyle means.

Think about it… how are some people able to reverse chronic health conditions like cancer, diabetes, ADHD, asthma, etc.? Is it some sort of dark magic?

No. It’s epigenetics.

No, you don’t get to choose the genetic hand you are dealt. But this is merely a starting point.

Where you go from there is up to you.

Finally, let’s look at Sarah. Sarah is your friend who eats donuts and ice cream all day without getting acne.

She was lucky enough to be born so far away from the acne threshold that despite living an unhealthy lifestyle, she never develops acne (Figure 6).

Sarah was simply dealt a great genetic hand and no amount of unhealthy behaviors will lead to her developing acne.

Figure 6 – Sarah’s “lucky” epigenetic state.

BUT… just because Sarah can’t possibly develop acne doesn’t mean that she isn’t at risk for other diseases. In fact, if Sarah continues eating donuts and ice cream every day she will most likely develop some other disease such as cancer, diabetes, etc.

As an acne sufferer, yes, you were probably dealt a bad genetic hand when it comes to developing acne. You are like Mary and Evan.

BUT at least it is acne and not cancer or diabetes.

However, if you fail to listen to your acne (hint: it is a warning sign) you could very well develop these other serious diseases down the road.

Conclusion

While you may not be able to control the genetic hand you are dealt at birth (your starting epigenetic state), you are 100% in control of where you go from there.

You can start living a healthier lifestyle today and begin to reverse your condition. It’s 100% possible. As I mentioned above, I did it and so have thousands of other people.

If you found value in this post, please leave a comment and let me know your biggest takeaway. I’ll read and respond to every comment.

About Tim Ponticello

Tim suffered with soul crushing acne for several years in his early 20’s. After trying what seemed like every product on the market, he was able to permanently clear his acne with diet and lifestyle changes. Through his blog at journeytoclearskin.com he works to help other acne sufferers get clear. He lives in Pittsburgh, PA with his fiancé, two daughters, two cats, and a dog.

Sources (click to expand)

  1. “Epi-.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/epi- ^
  2. “Epigenetics.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/epigenetics?s=t ^
  3. “A Super Brief and Basic Explanation of Epigenetics for Total Beginners.” What Is Epigenetics?, WhatIsEpigenetics.com, 30 July 2018, www.whatisepigenetics.com/what-is-epigenetics/ ^
  4. Herane, M I, and I Ando. “Acne in Infancy and Acne Genetics.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2003, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12566802 ^
  5. Bataille, V, et al. “The Influence of Genetics and Environmental Factors in the Pathogenesis of Acne: a Twin Study of Acne in Women.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2002, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12485434 ^
  6. Latham, K E, et al. “The Epigenetic Lorax: Gene-Environment Interactions in Human Health.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22920179 ^

{ 31 Comments }

  1. Srey says

    I love this post! I recommend this book “inheritance” by Sharon D Moalem. It talks a lot about genetics, and could be helpful to understand more about epi genetics, and our human genome.

  2. Mike says

    Why do you say that coffee negatively affects muscle since there is like a bunch of evidence that shows the caffeine from the coffee actually helps build muscle and burn fat. Of course this is when you take black coffee without any sweeteners. I have read so many articles that talk about consuming coffee in a fasted state leading to positive muscle gains you can find them easily too

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Mike! Interesting point here. I found this study:

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2257922/

      …Which says that you habituate to the caffeine in a few days’ time, meaning your morning coffee no longer stimulates over-production of cortisol once you adapt to drinking coffee daily. However, the study still found that a 1:00 PM cup of coffee boosted cortisol levels higher than normal (though the study only ran for 5 days of caffeine habituation). My personal experience is that coffee just makes me more stressed out in response to stressful events, which includes cortisol release. But I haven’t read the articles you have about fasted-state coffee drinking leading to muscle gains – I wonder if this is just due to metabolic rate increase from the caffeine? In any case, if coffee floats your boat and treats you well, go for it!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Julie! I’m not totally sure on this. That still sounds like a good range. I was going based on a Dr. Mercola article, which I can no longer find (the link is broken). I am far from an expert on what ideal ferritin levels should be!

    • Rhonda says

      I will interject with a personal anecdote about Ferritin levels. I have a genetic disorder called Hemachromatosis. It causes iron from the food I eat to get into my organs and my body can only release it through phlebotomy (donating blood). My Dr noticed a high ferritin level and high liver enzymes on a blood panel and on a hunch she ordered a DNA test for this. If you are suspicious that your ferritin levels are out of whack, ask for this test. This condition is very common especially if you are of Irish or Scottish descent. It’s a lifelong condition but the remedy is easy because you just have to have your levels checked regularly and donate a pint of blood to balance your levels. I am so grateful my doc was smart enough to call for this test. Having this disorder and not taking care of it can lead to liver damage and heart attack. It’s hereditary and if you do have it, all of your nearest relatives should test for it too. Hoping it’s not the case for you, and wishing you all the best!

      • Devin Mooers says

        Kudos to your doc for finding this!! I’m so glad you know now. I had a genetic test done a few years ago, and ruled out hemachromatosis (at least current knowledge of it). So I guess it was just from my diet. And I do have a fair amount of Irish + Scottish in me. Go figure! Great thing to check for, though, as you just found out!

  3. Katy says

    I’m 25 and I have very irregular periods (which have never been regular) and acne since puberty. I got literally all my hormones checked and everything came out normal. Does anyone have an explanation for this?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Katy! I don’t put much stock in hormonal tests, blood tests, saliva tests, or related “snapshot” health tests. I don’t think they’re a very accurate reflection of long-term reality, and don’t often give very useful information for clearing acne (in my experience). The fact that you have irregular periods right away shows that something’s up with your hormone levels, and/or some basic nutrient levels like vitamin A, utilizable iron (don’t go taking iron pills though!), and/or maybe some toxin overload issues. There are lots of things that feed into having a normal cycle, and a hormone test isn’t going to tell you what needs to be fixed.

      Are you drinking fluoridated water, do you know?

      Also, do you want to give an overview of what your current diet is – the more detail the better! – and any pills/supplements you’re taking? I can see if anything jumps out!

  4. Johnny Cox says

    Hi. Im going to say that Im afraid to eat coconut because of acne. Chocolate of any kind gives me acne too. Even fish oil. All these oils do it to me. I used to suspect leaky gut causing me breakouts. All these oils ruin my skin. Whey concentrate and isolate too! Someone said “keep eating the Extra Virgin Coconut oil, It’s just die-off!! It will stop soon” But it does not stop. I get brutal acne from it. Tempted to try again after reading this, but it scares me. My acne is so painful..

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Johnny! Really sorry to hear about your experience with so many oils/fats giving you acne. Huge bummer! Frustrating not to know whether it’s from die-off or detox, or just an adverse reaction. (I will say that whey isolate/concentrate both give me acne as well!)

      Couple questions… are you using organic coconut oil, or non-organic?

      Also, do you want to post a mini diet overview right here? I can see if any major red flags come up.

      Finally, are you drinking fluoridated tap water? (And/or using fluoride toothpaste?) Wondering if these fats/oils might be causing a detoxification of fluoride, causing transient acne.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Ashley! I think it’s okay in really small amounts as a garnish or flavoring, but it’s very high in PUFA so I wouldn’t make it a main cooking or salad oil. Toasted sesame seed oil is even a bit more risky because of the toasting process damaging more of the PUFA (and the protective vitamin E found in raw sesame oil).

      What are you wanting to use sesame oil for? Maybe I can suggest a skin-friendly alternative!

  5. 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?

  6. 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).

  7. 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.

  8. 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.)

  9. 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.

  10. 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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