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Innovations in Dermatology 2024

Navigating nutrition and acne through mental health and tailored treatment

Dr Anjali Mahto BSc MBBCh FRCP

Consultant Dermatologist

For acne awareness month, consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto highlights how diet, lifestyle and mental health can affect acne — and why there’s more to it than what you eat.

The factors contributing to acne are complex. Nutrition, or diet, is just one of them. Genetics, hormones, skincare and mental health are just as important.

Nutrition moderation over restriction

“Dairy gets a bad rap,” says Dr Anjali Mahto, a consultant dermatologist in London’s Harley Street. Yet, sugar and whey protein supplements are more troublesome. “Whey protein supplements have quite a different dairy content compared to a splash of milk in your coffee or cereal,” she adds.

Oat milk is a popular dairy alternative because it tastes better. “The problem is oat milk has a high glycaemic index. It spikes your blood sugar levels more than other plant-based milks,” she explains. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have sugar, stresses Dr Mahto. “There are no real foods that I would say are off limits. It’s about balance and moderation,” she says.

Look after your skin the way you would
look after any other organ in your body.

Holistic, patient-centred acne assessment

Before even looking at a patient’s skin, Dr Mahto talks to them first. The duration and location of the acne, past treatments, triggers, underlying conditions, medications, supplements, dietary restrictions and, in women, menstrual cycles, menopause and pregnancy plans are all important. For instance, vitamin A reduces oil production, but it can also be teratogenic. “It will damage an unborn baby,” she warns.

“Crucially, I want to know about mental health,” she insists. “Acne is one of those conditions where we know there are significant mental health issues associated with it. Low self-esteem, poor body image — all of that comes part and parcel.”

Stress and mental health affect multiple skin conditions; acne is no exception. “Half the job is getting the skin to look good. The other half is getting people to feel good about their skin,” she adds.

Finding the right acne treatment

Nutritional interventions, while promising, require caution due to the individual, personal factors affecting acne. “There are no superfoods for skin. It’s not about that. It’s about balance,” says Dr Mahto. “Look after your skin the way you would look after any other organ in your body.”

Personalised guidance from qualified dermatology and nutrition experts is essential. Many waste thousands of pounds trying the wrong treatments. “Rather than figure it out yourself, see your GP first. If you can, then go straight to a dermatologist or nutritionist. There’s a lot of conflicting information on the internet,” she concludes.

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