Nutrition for Healthy Skin: Vitamin A, Zinc, Vitamin C

One of the biggest motivations to adopt a more nutritious diet is the desire to improve skin health. Many people of all ages struggle with skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, dry skin, wrinkles, and sun damage, among others. This can be very upsetting for those who have yet to find a solution to their problematic skin. While conventional medical professionals often discount the connection between skin health and nutrition, there is strong evidence to support the influence of our food choices on the health and vibrancy of our skin.

The consumption of certain vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds in the diet is one of the most effective ways to treat skin conditions and improve the look and feel of one’s skin. There are several nutrients that are known to play a role in the proper growth and immunity of the skin, and many people have found that their skin health has dramatically improved after making purposeful changes to their daily diet. For example, Liz from the blog CaveGirlEats has a great post about how eating a traditional diet has improved her skin health. As her story suggests, making simple changes to your diet can have a significant impact on skin appearance in a short amount of time.

In this series, I will discuss how vitamins and minerals from a nutritious whole foods diet can treat acne, wrinkles, and other problem skin conditions.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A, or retinol, is one of the most widely acknowledged nutrients for healthy skin. Synthetic retinoids have been used as effective treatments for severe acne and psoriasis since the 1980s, demonstrating how useful vitamin A can be in treating problem skin. Vitamin A influences the physiology of the skin by promoting epidermal differentiation, modulating dermal growth factors, inhibiting sebaceous gland activity, and suppressing androgen formation. (1) As it promotes cell turnover in the skin, vitamin A is effective in preventing the formation of comedones that cause the most common forms of acne.

Lack of vitamin A causes the skin to become keratinized and scaly, and mucus secretion is suppressed. (2) Rough, dry skin is a common sign of vitamin A deficiency, which often first appears as rough, raised bumps on the back of the arms. (3) This condition is called hyperkeratosis pillaris, and is found in approximately 40% of adults. (4) Though dermatologists believe this is an inherited condition with no cure, I have successfully treated this condition in several patients by significantly increasing their consumption of vitamin A rich foods. While physicians prescribe synthetic retinoids to treat skin conditions including acne, eczema, psoriasis, cold sores, wounds, burns, sunburn, and ichthyosis, it is possible to obtain similar effects from consuming natural sources of pre-formed vitamin A. (5)

Preformed vitamin A, which is well absorbed by the body, can be found in a variety of traditional foods. The most vitamin A-rich foods are liver and cod liver oil, but other sources include kidney, cream and butter from pastured cows, and egg yolks from pastured chickens. I recommend using cod liver oil if you wish to supplement, as this provides a balance of vitamin A and vitamin D that will reduce the risk of overdosing on vitamin A. Eating liver once or twice per week is a great dietary strategy for those looking to reduce and even eliminate stubborn acne.


Zinc is an essential mineral that is an imperative part of many physiological functions, including structure in certain proteins and enzymes, and regulation of gene expression. It plays a role in immune function, protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis, and cell division. (6) In skin, zinc assists in the proper structure of proteins and cell membranes, improves wound healing,  has anti-inflammatory effects, and protects against UV radiation. (7)

Several studies indicate that dietary zinc may reduce acne, even as effectively as antibiotics such as tetracyclines. (8) This may be because it interacts with vitamin A as a component of retinol-binding protein, which is necessary for transporting vitamin A in the blood. (9) Zinc supplementation has been shown to significantly increase the level of vitamin A in the blood, indicating an interaction between the two nutrients that may explain its positive effect on acne. (10) In fact, men and women with serious acne are found to have lower levels of serum zinc than healthy controls. (11)

Dietary sources of zinc are best absorbed from animal sources, where it is not bound to phytates as in plant sources. Organs such as kidney and liver, red meat such as beef and lamb, and seafood such as oysters, scallops, and other shellfish are the highest animal sources of zinc. Plant foods such as pumpkin seeds and other nuts can also be high in zinc as well, but are less bioavailable, as the zinc is bound to phytates if not properly prepared by soaking. To get the most zinc from your diet, include shellfish, organ meats, and red meat on a regular basis.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C has been known for decades to play a crucial role in the regulation of the structural protein collagen, which is necessary for the extracellular stability of the skin. A vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy, which is first manifested as rough dry skin and corkscrew hair growth. Inadequate vitamin C is also known to contribute to the development of the common problem of hyperkeratosis pillaris, as the follicles become damaged when collagen formation is impaired.

Increasing the amount of vitamin C in the diet can contribute to improved skin health and faster healing. Observational studies have shown that diets high in vitamin C are associated with better skin appearance and less skin wrinkling. (1213) Vitamin C may also help prevent and treat ultraviolet (UV)-induced photodamage by acting as an antioxidant. (14) Higher intakes of dietary vitamin C have been correlated with a decreased level of dry skin, and ascorbic acid may have effects on trans-epidermal water loss. (15) Vitamin C has an important role in wound healing and can improve the proper formation of strong scar tissue. (16)

While true deficiency in the United States is uncommon, it is possible to be consuming sub-optimal levels, particularly in a diet with limited fruits and vegetables. The highest sources of vitamin C include bell peppers, guava, dark leafy greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kiwi, citrus fruits, and strawberries. Certain fresh herbs such as cilantro, chives, thyme, basil and parsley are also high in vitamin C. Consuming a wide variety of colorful plant foods on a regular basis is the best way to get adequate vitamin C in your diet. It’s important to remember that vitamin C is sensitive to heat, so lightly cooking these plant foods or eating them raw (if possible) is ideal to maximize your intake of this vitamin.

Keep your eye on the blog next week for three more nutrients that can greatly improve your skin health.

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Healthy Skin

Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Daniel says
    My wife uses coconut oil all summer long after being in the sun all day and it is so amazing!!!!!! She puts it on every night and never burns or feels. Smells so good and fells wonderful to the touch. I love when she uses coconut oil and cant wait till the next time. Please check it out and you and your other half will not be disappointed…….*

  2. Madison says

    I just finished reading clear skin forever and it provided me with some pretty great information on how to clear up acne with food. I ordered Zinc, cod liver oil, and vitamin d3, I also take a probiotic supplement. Does anyone know if these are all safe to take together? What should I avoid? I am vegetarian thats why I don’t get a lot of these vitamins I’m assuming.
    Thanks for your help!

  3. Madison says

    I just finished reading clear skin forever and it provided me with some pretty great information on how to clear up acne with food. I ordered Zinc, cod liver oil, and vitamin d3, I also take a probiotic supplement. Does anyone know if these are all safe to take together? What should I avoid? I am vegetarian thats why I don’t get a lot of these vitamins I’m assuming.

  4. Aaron Matteson says

    i’m not a vegetarian, but it’s not a good idea to recommend eating RED meat, specifically red meat, just to supplement a certain mineral. Eat eggs and pop a zinc or take immune booster that comes with zinc, which for me is better than just plain zinc pill,

    • Christopher says

      You are obviously not Paleo or a frequent reader of Chris’s blog. Search for “red meat” here on his site. He has an ebook on it.

    • ami says

      I am a vegetarian, and you are incorrect. Red meat, at least grass fed, is not bad for you. Grass fed beef has high levels of vitamin A as well. And pills, while a convenient alternative and better then nothing (I take vitamin pills), are not better then natural sources.

  5. says

    Hey Chris! I really loved this entry on skincare! My obsession on skin care is overly understated :) I’m gonna include your list to my healthy diet along with my squalene supplements to prevent skin cell damage and keep my skin nourished inside out. Thanks a lot!

  6. robertslinda says

    I can not get rid of my skin problems although i take a good care of my skin and vitaminize it as much as possible. May be that’s because i have a poor diet and vitamin deficiency.

    • L says

      Try homeopathic products from Boiron. You can buy at a vitamin shoppe. Silicea and calcium sulfate worked amazingly well, better than anything from the dermatologist

  7. Anthony says


    It seems that the Fermented Cod Liver Oil only has around 2000 IU of Vitamin A per serve. With that in mind, isnt it okay to also eat liver 2-3x/week? I just want to make sure I dont overdose. If I was to take FCLO, Liver & green veges on a daily basis, I feel like I could easily overdose.

  8. Ralna says

    Probiotics absolutely. Kefir in the bath is a revelation.

    We are constantly washing off our beneficials with chlorine, soap, shampoos (detergent). I have had very dry flaky skin and scalp, and bumpy arms and legs since I was a young girl. I avoid fragrances and chemicals where possible since I am sensitive and generally use lots of moisturizers and don’t shower every day to try not to dry out (I’m in windy dry country).

    A few weeks ago I started making homemade kefir from kefir grains and it was awesome for my family (thanks!). There was a suggestion to use kefir whey on the skin. I tried spritzing it on, it kind of gave my skin a sheen but made me feel rather itchy and dry. Thought I’d try a different approach.

    I added a cup or so of kefir to my bath along with a cup or so of Epsom salt (mag sulfate, good for what ails you), and soaked till I was good and pruney. Normally I wouldn’t soak long or hot, but I did this time.

    My skin felt amazing! I slathered on the Vanicream and I think I didn’t even apply any more moisturizer for a few days except face and hands. My skin is no longer flaky or tight feeling. The bumpiness of my follicles (skin cell buildup ) is also improved.

    The crazy thing is the effect lasts and lasts. I think I successfully colonized my skin with beneficial lactic acid microbes.

    I have been doing this about once a week for about 5 weeks. I can’t wait to show off my new improved skin to the dermatologist next time I go in for a mole check. An age spot on my hand even rubbed off and flaky scalp has cleared up too. (I’m 48).

    Search pubmed for kefir, it is truly great stuff. I added vitamin K2 drops and fermented skate liver oil recently to my regimen, but the kefir bath had already improved my skin texture tremendously. Maybe the microbes are generating K2 and B vitamins at the level of the epidermis, who knows. Kefir is known to inhibit pathogens and modulate immune response at the gut level, perhaps it does on the skin as well.

    My teenage daughter has miserable eczema on her arms (since a baby) and it responded temporarily to a Epsom / kefir bath by almost healing up, but it’s flaring again. I am starting to suspect salicylates.

  9. says

    Great post. I never had acne until I went off birth control and my skin went crazy. After about a year and a half of clean eating, fermented foods, cleansing, healing my adrenals, and adopting a more traditional diet with lots of healthy animal fats, fclo, lypospheric vit c, etc. etc the acne on my chin/jaw line was improving but still there. It wasn’t until my hormones started getting back into balance that my acne started clearing up.

  10. David Boon says

    In have just read an very intersting article named Pre- and Probiotics for Human Skin by Jean Krutmannbout (I am sure you can google it somewhere). It has a massive reference base of quality peer reviewed publications and seems to make good sense as well.

    The key items are that the microflora balance and general health of the skin are affected not just by internal aspects but also by what we do topically. The inference is that skin health is very much affected by what we ingest as well as what we apply to the skin, in particular, with regards to pre and probiotics. There are a many internal use probitoics ranging from yogurts, yokults, kefir, tablet lactobacilus and bifidus, etc,that are discussed and reccomended here.

    But it seems the best use of those and other paleo diet and nutrional supplements can be wasted it we use harsh cleansers and are to phyisicaly robust with our skin. I think Chris has made clear that the skin is a very complex and reactive organ.

    The layers should seen as including the layer of bacteria on the skin (the skin microflora) then the layer of dead skin that we are constantly sloughing off. The cutaneous layers start below that and should include the sebum or oil we are also releasing all the time.

    My feeling is that we have been trained to see oil and dead skin as bad and causing many problems like acne, etc. So you think the more you strip away the better. However, from my reading, the bacteria, the dead skin and the sebum are essential protectors of the skin. The good bacteria eat the dead skin in a slow natural way that is balanced with the sloughing process and which promotes healthly cellular turnover while preventing the growth of pathogenic microorganisms. The dead skin provides a physically protective layer against pathogens, UV and minor physical damage. The oil is also a protective mechanism. The use of harsh cleaners, and harsh cleaning processings can initially have a very positive effect making the dermis look fresher and healthier BUT it is a reactive organ. After a time the skin senses it is under attack and begins to overproduce oils, the natural process of dead skin breakdown is disrupted and the skin becomes vulnerable to pathogenic microgranisms so excess dead skin can be trapped in follicules with excess oil and P-acne bacteria. It also becomes susceptible to triggers that can cause ezcema, acne, etc. There is also some evidence that the skin microflora can activate the adaptive immune system.

    So gently does it for skin cleansing – be kind to your skin. Give your gut what it needs to boost skin immunolgy and health but you may also need to suplement the skin microflora. There are currently very few topical probiotics as only a few of the hundreds of bacteria in the skin boime can be cultured.

    Chrisal use a bacilus subtilius and is one site for a cosmetic version. They also have a version called Allergen & Odour Control at the cleaning product site for spraying on beds so you load up on topical bacteria while you sleep. At the same time, it also reduces dustmite allergens.

    A quick search of the internet has shown a few of the big cosmetic companies are already starting to move to include nutricosmetics and probiotic enhanced cosmetics in the lines. It is an emerging market direction. The Healthy Skin Blog has a number of articles on this matter which seem to compliment Chris’s approach to Skin Health.

  11. Minkster says

    Hi I love your information have read a few of your blogs.

    I have hypothyroid, adrenal insufficiency, I have to follow a gluten free diet and candida type diet.

    I’m really struggling with snake shiny looking dry dehydrated skin, when I pinch the skin is goes very wrinkly I do have quite a lot of salt or I get headaches etc but I ve been reading a bout vitamin a.

    My diet is not high enough in vit a so I’m trying to correct that but I’ve also read that hypothyroid are lower in it any way, is this true?

    I’ve been getting conjunctivitis, very dry eye, skin very dry and wrinkly looking at 36 years old on my arms etc how much would I need to supplement do you think?

    I Aldo read that low vitamin a can cause low tsh level and my tsh is always low with low t4 and my gp said I should have pituitary MRI scan but maybe it’s due to low vitamin a, would love to know what you think.


  12. Rhiannon says

    I thank you for your knowledge on where the vitamins are used within the body… though you encourage meats far too much for my liking. I eat a plant based diet and most of your reccamendations for sourcing out these vitamins are in meats and dairy, red meat especially?? Have you explored the CHINA STUDY? Pretty much meat and dairy = Cancer.

    • Steven says

      I emplore you to do some research on grass fed raw dairy and pastured meats. These foods heal the body whereas conventional meats and pasteurized dairy DO cause many, many health issues over time.
      Cheers to your great health;)

  13. Elizabeth Ennis says

    Where you write about cod liver oil, could that also be replaced by “normal” fish oil? If they are very different, would you recommend to substitute the one for the other? It sounds to me as if it might be a bit too much to use both at the same time, but I could be wrong there.

    • Chris Kresser says

      Cod liver oil is primarily a fat-soluble vitamin supplement (A & D, with lesser amounts of K2, E and various quinones) with some EPA & DHA. Fish oil is primarily and EPA & DHA supplement, though some less purified forms like wild salmon oil have vitamin D. So it depends what your goal is.

      • Grant says

        Chris, with this is mind, would it be overdoing it to take both fish oil and cod liver oil, given that both fulfill a different goal? I mean, I might start growing gills or something…

  14. nft says

    I am very glad to read this stuff and especially i want to give thanks to for this valuable and impressive quality content.Studies have shown that eating plenty of fruit and vegetables like carrots and plums enhances skin color. A survey was done and people preferred the natural colour which was the result of eating fruit and vegetables than spray tanning or tanning in the sun. Also, drink lots of water.

  15. Sam says

    Great site with great health tips!
    I also have keratosis pilaris and even asked my dermatologist if this could be a deficiency and he simply said no. I’m not going back to this guy.

    Doc, do you have any advice for people who have seborrhoic eczema?
    And I also notice that my skin is pretty saggy/stretchy and lacks tone. I’m 31 now and I have a scar on my cheek. This scar is now approximatively 1 inch deeper than it was originally when I got it! Anything I can do against this? My skin is generally stretchy and I asked my doc if this is abnormal and he said it’s still normal but I’m not sure. My brother has the same stretchy skin. I thought about EDS but I’m not hypermobile.

  16. says

    Thanks for the information about “hyperkeratosis pillaris”. I’ve always had the bumps on the back of my arms, nice to know there’s a fix!

    I’m reluctant to use cod liver oil because of oxidation concerns. What do you think is the safest source? I’ll have to learn to cook liver in the meantime.

  17. Christine says

    So what if your skin doesn’t improve? I was diagnosed 15 weeks ago with candida albicans in my lower intestine. I was on a stricter diet than paleo. No sugar of any kind, including sugars from fruits, starches, sweet potatoes, etc. No dairy. No carbs really (no breads, corn, etc….I was gluten free to begin with any way). No molds (no coffee, no mushrooms, etc). Basically all I have been eating is a ton of veggies and meats and drinking a ton of water. All, or let me rephrase, 99% of my symptoms have vanished during treatment. I have dealt with the following symptoms for over 4 years: extreme anxiety/worry, headaches, extreme fatigue, acne, mental fogginess, shakiness, extreme moodiness (anger/weepiness), horrible stomach issues, the list goes on and on and on. All of those symptoms are gone and I feel like a new woman……all but my acne! I was always the classic 2-3 pimples before getting my period and then my face would clear immediately. Over the last 4 years, my once nearly clear face is constantly erupting, so I chalked it up to it being a part of the candida. I thought for sure when going on such a strict diet and seeing such an amazing change in all my other symptoms, that clearer skin would be one of them. Especially after 15 weeks. I just don’t get it?

    • Diana says

      Christine, After my first two months of going paleo, I experienced for 6 months, constant blemishes on my face, where previously i had a clear complexion. This was new and distressing. I have since determined that almonds are the culprit. Going paleo I was eating a lot of almond meal. Once I eliminated those, the blemishes (rashes) disappeared. Other nuts don’t bother me, just the almonds. Funny thing that I LOVE almonds, grew up with several almond trees on our property and ate them raw off the trees. Hope you find your culprits. I’m still trying to figure out a few of mine. :)

  18. Dana says

    FYI, I learned through the Weston A. Price Foundation that another reason for getting zinc from animal foods is that if you try to get it from plants, the copper-zinc ratio is way off and you wind up with too much copper in your system.

    I wonder if zinc might be my missing puzzle piece. I have reason to believe I’ve got too much copper in *my* diet most of the time. I get a decent amount of vitamin A but am still plagued by keratosis pilaris.

  19. Zannie says

    My skin began breaking out at puberty, and still has not stopped now that I am 56 and one year of having no periods. When I was a kid the fam took me to a derm who put me on tetracycline for a few years (horrors when I think about that now), as well as ultraviolet light on my face. Of course it didn’t work. I became a healthy food “organo” person in high school, so it’s been most of my life sans crap (no junk, fast food, processed foods). I’ve basically tried it ALL (except Accutane) and nothing has ever changed. Diet, supplements (all the ones Chris suggests), natural hormone-replacement, no hormone replacement, candida diet. Low on nuts. 2.0 salicylic acid kind of helps to dry out breakouts but doesn’t prevent them. Three years ago the skin on my shoulders began breaking out as well, something that had never happened before. :( A couple years ago I became almost totally Paleo (hard as I have never like red meat since I was kid) and totally gluten-free and very low dairy (half and half in morning coffee) because I hoped it would help with allergies and the recurring sinus infections I’ve also had in the past few years, one so bad last winter that I did take an antibiotic and prednisone so I could freaking breathe! Soy free, nightshade free. Eggs yes or no doesn’t mater. I lost the 20 lbs. I had tried to lose since age 40 (yay!) but no change in skin or allergies. I’ve tried Chris’ suggestions for sinus infections, no dice. I am stuffed up a lot of the time. Have air filtration in the house. I eat so incredibly well with high quality food and supplements, and yet see people who eat crap, wheat, dairy, smoke, etc. and have no acne or allergies or sinus infections and it is beyond frustrating. I meditate (and actually teach meditation) and my stress levels are not high. I really don’t know what else I can do except accept it – yet I wish I had a “cure.”

    • says

      It doesn’t matter how good you eat if you don’t digest and assimilate the nutrients. Adequate stomach acid is essential to the proper digestion of proteins. Proteins are broken down into amino acids, the building blocks of antibodies, hormones, enzymes, and hemoglobin. Have you had your stomach acid levels tested? It is a common problem and may be related to your dislike of red meat.

      Proper digestion of fats can also be an issue. Fats are essential for cell membrane construction and function and the delivery of fat soluble vitamins. Stools that float are a sign that fats are not being assimilated. Supplemental bile salts can help in this area.

      Just some ideas of other things to look at. Don’t give up.

      • Zannie says

        Thanks Peter, I do take HCL/pepsin and digestive enzymes with each meal, plus strong probiotics. Just never liked meat. I eat eggs, chicken, turkey, fish, seafood and eat protein at every meal. No floaters!

        • Christine says

          Zannie you might look into the GAPS diet, it’s a very specific full detoxification and then healing regimen. The GAPS Guide is particularly helpful in navigating the Intro part of the diet, which might help you cleanse out any lurking baddies in your gut. Anyway it’s worth a look, for a lot of people who have tried everything, GAPS ends up their skin & health savior, us included.

          • Zannie says

            Thanks Christine. :) My diet is close to GAPS as it is but I’ll look into it more. The meat stock is the biggest challenge for me.

            • Christine says

              Have you gone through Intro? Intro is tough but following it to the letter and slowly moving into the full GAPS diet was the way to go for us. I suggested the GAPS Guide by Baden Lashkov because it’s the most straightforward explanation of Intro that I’ve found. Dr. McBride doesn’t outline Intro in her book.

        • says

          I’m glad to hear you’re on to the HCL/pepsin and fat digestion is working.

          Another idea you might try is the Coca Pulse Test to determine the source of the allergens. This can be done on a mini-scale as opposed to the procedure described in Dr. Coca’s book. Take a seated pulse for a full minute, chew but don’t swallow a suspected food for 30 seconds, retake a full minute pulse. If it rises by more than 6 beats per minute the food is likely a problem. You can also test personal care products with this method (although I’m assuming you’ve already cleaned those up along with your diet, still they should be tested). Environmental toxins can also be tested (cleaning products, off-gassing from upholstery, carpets, etc)

          Don’t discount foods you really enjoy. The body can release endorphins in response to foods we are very allergic to. Essentially giving us an injection of feel-good chemicals whenever we ingest something toxic to our system.

    • Diana says

      Zannie, everybody is different, so this may or may not help. I had mostly eliminated my sinusitis when I gave up dairy, but I still continued with grassfed butter and heavy cream. Even that was enough to keep my sinuses sub-optimal, and it wasn’t until I stopped with even butter and ghee that I stopped having that stuffy feeling, especially waking up in the morning, and my ears stopped ringing. It is possible that the highly allergenic casein is a culprit for me. I really miss butter and cream, but I do NOT miss blocked ears and stuffy nose.

  20. majkinetor says

    While the article mentioned crucial vitamins it failed to give dosage information making it problematic for majority of people to follow your guide. I would suggest at least 25k-35k IU retynol per day, 50-100mg Zinc and 2-10g of vitamiin C per day to get good skin.

    There is no mention of probably crucial factor – shower. Cold shower protects skin oil and chlorine doesn’t evaporate. Furthermore, since many people like to think in therms of paleo style, anything but cold shower is definitely not paleo.

  21. Andrew P. says

    Hi Chris,
    I think you have some of the health writing out there and wondered if you will cover intertrigo in this series?

  22. Mjau says

    Chris, you write “It’s important to remember that vitamin C is sensitive to heat, so lightly cooking these plant foods or eating them raw (if possible) is ideal to maximize your intake of this vitamin.”

    Isn’t fermenting an even better way to maximize the nutrition you can get from vegetables and fruit as that actually raise some of the vitamin levels especially vit. C among many other things that makes fermenting a very beneficial approach?

  23. Allison says

    For those with psoriasis, you may need to look into supplementation in addition to dietary changes. My Dad’s psoriasis is much much better with zinc supplementation and evening primrose oil. Not advocating that this applies to everyone, but it certainly would to many considering acceptance of the need for zinc and fatty acids for skin health.

    It’s important when looking at food sources of zinc, to take into account the copper levels those foods have as zinc and copper must be in balance. This is a very very common nutritional imbalance, so for anyone with an excessive copper:zinc ratio, certain foods such as organ meats may not be ideal to promote zinc levels as there is a lot of copper in those foods too which will just block the action of the zinc where it’s needed.

    • Juha says

      I am also suffering psoriasis and i agree it is both dietary changes and supplements. In some cases you should also consider changes in your lifestyle to reduce stress. I have been totally grain-free few months and it makes me feel so much better. I consider my diet as an autoimmune paleo (i am still eating some quality sausages). I hope I can see the good feeling soon on my skin..

      I see that zinc is essential along vitamin D and vitamin C. I am not so sure about evening primose oil because of high omega-6 content. I think cod liver oil is better. Next thing I am going to try is curcumin capsules.

      I hope Chris would write an article about psoriasis soon. I believe he has a lot to say for this annoying disease.

    • says

      It is interesting to note that cortisone and hydrocortisone deplete zinc levels. I used hydrocortisone for years on my psoriasis and I’ve been struggling with low zinc levels. Howevert, the diet changes cured the 30 year bout with psoriasis even with low zinc levels(see earlier comment). Maybe my zinc levels were dramatically improved by the diet even though they are still below optimum.

      It’s easy to test your zinc levels by taking a tablespoon of aqueous zinc and holding it in your mouth for 20 seconds. If you experience no bad or metallic taste, your zinc levels are very low.

  24. Dan says

    Hi Chris,

    I occasionally take Cod Liver Oil in “softgel” form, but I always feel lousy after taking it, and have bad gas and stomach problems. Do you think this is related to the Cod Liver Oil, and if so, is there an alternative form that is as effective?


    • Diana says

      I wonder if the “softgels” themselves are causing you problems? I have been taking lemon CLO (Carlson brand) and never notice gas or digestive problems with it, and I do have some issues. But everybody is different. Just a suggestion.

  25. says

    I have had rosacea (more acne than redness) for years which was only managed by doxycycline. Sulfur washes and topicals did nothing and the breakouts would get progressively worse if I stopped the antibiotics. Also seemed to get worse with age. No change when I went gluten free, but then I had the Cyrex Array 4 done and was shown to be sensitive to eggs and dairy. Within a couple of weeks of eliminating eggs (which I was eating daily for breakfast) and the 1 oz. slice of cheese I had with them, my face has completely cleared. I have been off the antibiotics for months and my skin looks great.

  26. says

    Hi, Chris.
    I hope you will address the ladies’ hormonal acne issue. I have chin acne that has been completely recalcitrant to any interventions. It is finally clearing, one week post my first post-partum period (baby is 18 mos). Did I really just have 6 mos of PMS acne?

  27. Monica says

    I would love love love if you could include some information about eczema in this skin series. Thanks, appreciate all the knowledge you put out there on this blog!

    • ReneeAnn says

      My eczema cleared up after I quit eating tomatoes. I understand that most eczema is caused by food sensitivities. Dairy and wheat are probably the top causes. Sometimes it takes a little experimentation with the elimination diet to see which food is the culprit.

      • Monica says

        Can you explain how you went about figuring out that it was tomatoes? I have done 2 elimination diets at separate times (gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, citrus, refined sugar, alcohol, caffeine) but did not find that my skin noticeably cleared up, although the general itchiness did seem to get better. The only consistency I notice in pattern is that my skin tends to flare up right before my period, other than that I just can’t seem to figure out what helps and what makes it worse. I had an IgG/IgE test done a couple months ago by genova diagnostics which showed low amounts of sensitivity to lots of different foods, high IgE to oats/corn, and ridiculously high to specific molds (pityrosporum orbiculare, mucor racemosus). I know these tests aren’t greatly accurate but I think it just shows at least that my immune system is just out of whack and hypersensitive to everything it comes into contact with plus likely gut permeability since basically everything I ate during the elimination diet prior to getting my blood drawn showed up as “very low” sensitivity. So I’ve been attempting a fairly paleo/wap approach to my diet with the inclusion of occasional dairy and white rice, but am so envious of people who have figured it out!

        • ReneeAnn says

          I was fortunate that I finally figured out the pattern. I only like local vine ripe tomatoes, so I used to eat very little tomatoes through the winter and then gorge on them as soon as they became ripe in the early summer. So, when that finally dawned on me, I did the elimination diet and confirmed it.

          I would say that the monthly cycle connection that you have found could be significant in one of two ways. Either you are craving and eating a certain food more at that time of month or that time of month allows your body to be easily overcome by inflammation and the food you are eating regularly plus the stress of your monthly time overwhelms your body.

          I find that some people are not doing the elimination diet strictly enough. This is the way that I recommend:

          First, and this is the crucial part, you must completely eliminate the food from your diet for at least five days. Then, you add it back in on day six. If you have eliminated several foods you add them back in, one food every two days. So, if on day six you experience any symptoms from depression, insomnia, headache, sinus problems, aches in joints to gut problems, then you know you have a problem. If you are not sure, continue to eat that food for another day. It may take 48 hours for the symptoms to show up. This is why many people fail to connect their illnesses and aches and pains to a particular food.

          Since mold may be a problem for you, that is a difficult one to isolate. Check out the BulletProof version of paleo because it goes the extra step of eliminating micotoxins. Mold hides easily in cheap coffee and many spices and dried herbs. Irradiation is actually a good thing for spices and dried herbs to try to eliminate molds. I prefer to use fresh herbs whenever possible.

          In addition to wheat, grains and dairy, consider soy, yeast and nightshades (tomatoes, white potatoes, peppers and eggplant), eggs, nuts (often tainted with micotoxins). Also, I found that I can’t eat any fermented foods. The yeasts they contain were just too much for me. And, I tried several brands of probiotics before I found one that works for me without any bad side effects. Klaire Labs is the probiotic that I ended up with. Also, when I say eliminate dairy, I mean even cream, butter and ghee. Good luck! :) I am happy to answer any more questions.

          Also, the skin clearing up takes weeks. What you are looking for when you do the elimination diet are other symptoms that I list above that are obvious quickly. Then if you suspect a food, eliminate it from your diet for several months to give your eczema time to heal. Mine took months to heal, and never came back because I haven’t eaten tomatoes since I figured it out.

          • Monica says


            Thanks for taking the time to respond with such a thorough reply! I think you are right about not doing the diet strictly enough. My difficulty was, however, that both times I very strictly eliminated the common offenders for 6 weeks, but still did not notice enough of an improvement to feel like I could reintroduce and hope to gain any information. So I did not follow through with careful reintroduction, and have just avoided items that I feel more commonly contribute to leaky gut type problems.

            Im wondering what you mean by finding a probiotic that doesn’t have any bad side effects? The reason I ask is, I have taken Jarrow and Bio-kult (separately) and both have caused me to have quite a flareup after which I know can be die-off, so I guess what I wonder is what you differentiate as something that is an expected bad reaction to something that just does not fit with you?

            Thanks for the BulletProof recommendation. Seems to have a wealth of information. I am just so impressed with everyone who is so in touch with themselves. Part of my difficulty in attributing lethargy, or insomnia, or headache, or whatever symptom is that I just can never be sure if something really is caused by a food group I have introduced. Ya know? I just dont feel sure. Wish I had a mood ring or something haha that would tell me conclusively.

            Thanks again

            • ReneeAnn says

              Now that I am at the point that I feel great most of the time, I can usually tell if something disagrees with me within 48 hours. I am so well now, that I don’t consider die off anymore because I believe I have already gone through that stage and have a balanced system. So, when I took probiotics that didn’t agree with me, I noticed insomnia very quickly. That was enough for me to move on to another brand. I think you have to be pretty well to distinguish some things.

              I don’t have to be *sure* to eliminate something. If I suspect something, I eliminate it. Then, in six to 12 months I may try to reintroduce it again. It never hurts to eliminate a food or a food group for a time. I does cause problems to eat any food that disagrees with you. I err on the side of caution in the beginning and then become more daring when I am feeling great and have gone months without the food. With some foods, I find that I can reintroduce if I keep them rotational, say once per week max. I don’t think it is wise to do this until you are well and the problem you are trying to solve is completely gone.

            • Ralna says

              Monica, my teenage daughter has eczema and we are hot on the trail. We are looking at this elimination diet “failsafe” which targets the following food compounds: salicylates (aspirin like compounds such as found in tomatoes), amines, sulfates, gluten? , plus food additives and preservatives which mimic these substances. It looks very well researched although the hospital version (a hospital in Australia) is fat-phobic they seem good at finding the offenders which is of course related to dose and genetics.

              Did you ever discover the source of your issues?

  28. Ellen says

    I’ve tried many different types of oils for my very dry eczema prone skin. The only one that it responds well to is red palm oil. I found out that RPO is rich in beta carotene so I started taking retinol and it has helped a lot. I also see great improvement on large amounts of vit D3 and zinc. I had been eating paleo, with a lot of eggs and FCLO, for over a year and haven’t seen the type of improvement I saw after 1 week on the supplements. This is a great article.

  29. Caryn says

    I would heartily recommend the products that Daniel Kern sells on for all those still struggling with acne. His protocol (gentle cleanser, 2.5% benzoyl peroxide gel, and gentle moisturizer plus jojoba oil and alpha hydroxy acid) has completely cleared my acne, better than any prescription from 10+ years of dermatologist visits. I also take a supplement of chelated zinc daily per Daniel Kern’s recommendation, and so Chris’s article today really resonated for me. For me, finding Daniel Kern’s products has been as revolutionary for my acne as finding Chris Kresser’s site has been for my general health (and I’m sure the paleo eating and daily CLO have also been beneficial to my skin).

  30. Beth says

    I noticed improved skin after transitioning to a WAPF traditional foods diet, and one astonishing change was that I no longer sunburn — and I’m fair with blonde hair and blue eyes. Or it takes a very long time to turn pink, and then it turns to tan quite quickly. I attribute this to getting all those industrial fats and oils out of my system and replacing them with traditional ones. I believe the fake fats make our skin much more reactive to the sun and other things. And of course, our ancestors didn’t evolve using sunscreen!

  31. Kelly says

    I also have hyperkeratosis pillaris and I have not found that the vitamin A and zinc helped. However, what did help was BHRT (bio-identical hormone replacement therapy) – specifically progesterone. When I was using it, I noticed my keratosis (chicken skin) cleared up 100% on my arms. I also have it on my thighs and it got better but didn’t totally clear (I used the creams for 2 months). I am having issues with a lack of energy and am on thyroid meds now so I stopped the BHRT but will start again soon.

    If you google thyroid and hormones and keratosis you can see for yourself. It makes sense to me as I am having a lot of hormone problems and thyroid issues and now my keratosis has gotten even worse. I think it is all very related. I recently had a hormone test and my hormones numbers are incredibly low.

    • Sarah says

      Kelly, I too am concerned my dry skin and low energy are hormone related, but my tests came back within range. You said yours were low, were they out of range for your age?

    • Barbara says

      I got my ferritin checked even though my iron was normal. The rash on my arms legs went away so did tiredness hair stopped falling and got thicker. Be sure to insist on ferritin check as they won’t want to give it to you if your whole iron is normal. Ferritin is a part of whole iron not tested normally

  32. SD_Law says

    Like a few other posters here, I notice a direct link between wheat and dairy consumption with the clarity of my skin. The day after eating a couple ounces of cheese or a couple slices of bread, I inevitably have a few blemishes.

  33. torea rodriguez says

    Is there any advantage to topical treatments for things like psoriasis? I noticed Green Pastures has a FCLO ointment… Or is the best treatment through dietary intake?

  34. Nicole says

    I have Rosacea which I’ve come to believe is a very complex systemic issue. I’ve eaten healthy for a long time but am realizing the need to elimate sugars and starches for a while and to heal my gut. I’ve also started using sulfur soap on my face just to tame the redness for now. My question about zinc is if you recommend supplementing with it. I do eat red meat and shellfish, but wonder about adding a supplement too. Any advice?

    • greg says

      my wife developed rosacea 1989,after she had armpit lymph nodes removed,as part of breast cancer surgery;the nodes were clear,but her previous perfect facial skin became inflamed with pustules and this condition has persisted; curiously,I have suffered a lifelong mild form of rosacea which I now believe to be a consequence of lymphatic tissue removal,ie,tonsils and adenoids removed at 5 due to chronic inflammation/enlargement,probably caused by diet,eg,dairy intolerance.

      • kavince says

        Very interesting story about rosacea ! in fact in medicine , we can see that various causes can create similar symptoms …

    • says

      Sometimes rosacea is caused by a skin mite (Demodex) and many people have treated it successfully with sea buckthorn oil applied topically. It might be worth a try.

    • Mary says

      For those struggling with rosacea: Dr. Jonathan Wright’s book, “Why Stomach Acid is Good for You,” explains that rosacea is a reflection of the gut. People have poor stomach function and bacterial overgrowth. With low stomach acid, the pH does not get low enough during digestion to kill all the germs in our food. “Hydrochloric acid and pepsin pills taken with every meal control rosacea as well or better than tetracycline.” After a while, your body should start to make enough HCL on its own and that does away with heartburn, rocacea, and more.

  35. Lynn says

    Thanks Chris, good info as always. I’d like to hear any recommendations you might have for topical (i.e. face creams, body lotions) support of the internal nutrients you outlined. What ingredients to look for that might help moisturize, help reduce / prevent sun spots, lines, wrinkles, spider veins… Can you discuss the external use of squalene, herbal preparations, antioxidants such as Vits. C & E, that might be beneficial for the skin.

  36. Desh says

    I had horrible acne before going gluten free- bad enough to be prescribed awful Accutane. It went away. When I went paleo my skin improved even more. When I am dairy-free, it’s near perfect. I do take supplements, since we are celiac and I am exposed to wheat at work. CLO, natural vitamin A from fish liver oil, and zinc monomethionine are in my protocol.

  37. ReneeAnn says

    I don’t know if you will address skin cleansing, but I’m a huge fan of no soaps. This is the oil cleansing method that I use. Oil binds with trapped oils and then your warm wash cloth draws the impurities up and out. Some may have an initial breakout time from this, but that is the process pulling the impurities out. And, I use coconut oil as my only moisturizer.

    • Annette says

      +1 for oil-cleansing. I’ve been doing it for well over a year and my skin loves it. I can’t imagine putting soap on my face now. Eat clean and be gentle with your face: oil & a steamy washcloth is all you need.

      • Krista says

        I tried the oil cleansing method for a couple weeks and all was well until my face started getting little bumps and acne all over, worse then I’ve ever had before (I’m not one who had bad acne). I stop doing it because I was scared of what it might turn into but I really wish it had worked…

      • mhikl says

        Annette, my sister suggested I use a cloth on my skin but really, she does not have youthful skin. I was told not to use a cloth, soap or very hot water so I don’t. (Such really peals off the protective skin.) I am finding that Sweet Almond Oil NF works better than anything I have tried – coconut oil (virgin seems better than cheap-o), but SAlmondO-NF seems best. I also have been painting my eczema legs below knees, one elbow and two spots on lower arms with iodine Lugol’s (now I make my own) but I have to do it four times a day and if I am too late in next painting, then the itch is incredible but if I put the SAO-NF on after the iodine or even after a shower and the skin is not dry nor too wet, that seems the best. Again, I have to re-address as soon as any indiction of dry itching starts. (What a bother.)

        But so far, this is all that works. The eczema is better but I suspect there is more to do. Little steps, I guess. I do spray with Magnesium Sulphate=Epsom salts but I have found a source for Magnesium Chloride which is the best I’ve been told for rubbing into the skin. Then I would add the Almond Oil.

        The other problem I think I have is mercury problems. I have at least six root canals and one is exposed since the filling fell out. None of my fillings are mercury based. The iodine, the vitamins and alkalising the body with baking soda throughout the day is supposed to help. Now, little steps seem to be turning in to summersaults.

  38. Aurie says

    I’ve struggled with skin problems my whole life, after I switched to paleo still no major improvements… ‘m beginning to despair a little bit :(

  39. David says

    I am an individual with hyperkeratosis pillaris – “chicken skin.” I already consume 6 pastured eggs daily and FCLO.

    Perhaps I need to take a look at my zinc; since moving I haven’t found a good source of offal.

  40. says

    So many people enjoy improvements to the health of their skin when they switch to a Paleo diet, but I haven’t had the same experience. Well, that’s not totally true: I do notice that whenever I have a “gluten cheat” I get a few blemishes and a canker sore or two.

    My face is clear, but I still struggle with scalp psoriasis and very dry skin. A clean diet with plenty of fats and fat soluble vitamins hasn’t touched these issues for me.

    • Matt says

      I struggle with this as well.. I eat paleo but still suffer from dry skin on certain areas of my scalp, upper lip, and eyebrow area. I am embarking on a elimination diet soon to see if I can isolate something in my diet (paleo or not) that could be causing it.

      • freakcake says

        Try a full vegan diet, my skin is soft and has a healthy glow before I was vegetarian (back when I was still eating meat) I use to suffer from harshly dry skin in the winter and now I don’t have that problem, daily putting on sunscreen/moisturizer helps as well

        • William says

          Don’t try a “full vegan diet”. If it worked, you wouldn’t need the ‘daily’ moisturizer. Sheesh.

          And sunscreen? Yeah, that’s great for blocking vitamin D.

    • Chris Kresser says

      Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin issue, and may require a different approach. I’m not sure if I’ll cover that in this series, but I plan to at some point. Hormonal issues should always be ruled out as a potential cause of skin problems in women. Finally, I’m going to discuss an approach I’ve used with some success in my clinic later in the series.

      • says

        I had psoriasis for over 30 years. I had cortizone injections, UV ray treatments, coal tar, several different prescription creams, and used non-prescription hydrocortisone for years. I was hospitalized once for lymph infection from scratching it so bad. My doctor told me it would never be cured. He was wrong.

        My psoriasis is completely gone. I radically changed my diet over the course of two years. I’m not sure which change did it but I started with eliminating HFCS and hydrogenated oil. Progressed to eliminating diet soda, then all caffeine. Eliminated dairy but then added back raw dairy in the form of homemade kefir. Switched to pastured, free range meats and organic fruits and vegetables.

        Its been gone for over two years and has never returned in that time. Truly the body has amazing healing powers when you give it what it needs.

      • says

        I’m afraid you’re right and it is a hormonal issue. I have struggled with it throughout my life, some times more than others. When I was pregnant, it actually disappeared, but now it’s worse than ever. I’m still nursing, so I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. Plus, I’m underweight and can’t seem to put on pounds even though I have a strong appetite. Anyway, I think a series that addresses hormonal issues in women would be awesome (sorry guys!).

      • PHK says

        could you also cover vitiligo as well? (i know most would say eliminate gluten.
        but mine popped up 2 years AFTER i had changed diet. i had been > 90% gluten free even before that. also dairy free did nothing. so i ran out of ideas of what else i could do.)

      • Michelle says

        I’m very interested in this, my husband has pretty extensive psoriasis on his scalp and under his arms. No dietary change, herbal or topical treatment has touched it, vitamin D supplementation has improved it slightly and kept it from getting worse. But he has to take at least 4,000 a day to get an effect, CLO isn’t a high enough dose.

      • Lee says

        So I had a skin abscess 5 years ago and the sack is still inside my face. What is the best way to remove it?


        • VMD says

          My psoriasis on scalp, upper lip, and in ears is gone since I went 100% gluten free. Please note that there is no such thing as 90% gluten free, it is all or nothing. When I eat even 2 slices of bread with gluten, psoriasis in ears comes back within days. Btw. a celiac test at a regular doctor’s office showed I was negative (i.e. don’t have celiac disease), but a more comprehensive gluten sensitivity test 3 years later showed that I have antibodies to a few gluten proteins (i.e. mild gluten sensitivity). Note that both gluten sensitivity and psoriasis are auto immune diseases. As a side note, my doctor treated ear psoriases as ear infection with antibiotics for over 3 years until I went to ear specialist who immediately said that i have a skin condition and need to see a dermatologist. It took years for psoriases to show up on scalp and upper lip after a few years on and off in only one ear. Treatment of Vitamin D deficiency with 2000 IU daily also may have helped. Hope this helps!

    • Beth says

      Since psoriasis is one of many autoimmune disease that begin in the gut, you may want to do the GAPS Intro and full GAPS diet for a time to address the underlying gut imbalance.

    • zack says

      I recently started putting my vitamin d-3 on my skin and it seems to be helping. I just take the vitamin pill and puncture it and spread it on. This is highly anecdotal, but I say give it a try.

      • kavince says

        Hello Zack please could inform whther you still experience improvement by using topical VIt D3 ?on your skin.
        Thanks in advance

    • greg says

      dry skin can be a symptom of inflammation and inflammation can be caused by infection for eg,so diet changes won’t resolve non-dietary health issues.

  41. says

    It wasn’t my motivation but my skin did indeed improve greatly when I started moving towards paleo…

    I had had acne all my life prior to that. It cleared up before I went totally grain free…I’ve had clear skin for several years now, but am still tweaking my diet for other health benefits.

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