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  • Writer's pictureMeg Hagar, MS, RD, CDN, CHHP

What do our immune system and oxidative stress have to do with acne?

Updated: May 27, 2021

What causes acne, acne immune system, oxidative stress acne
Why our body produces acne

Wondering about the acne immune system connection? You may have heard of the term “Detox”. Most of us may think this has to do with a cleanse like drinking celery juice, tea, or lemon water. While some of these may help to flush things out of the body, it is unclear if detox diets remove toxins from the body. Our body is capable of cleaning/detoxing itself.

Our immune system is the body’s defense mechanism to anything foreign that enters the body. On the surface of the skin lies normal healthy bacteria and it can also have bad bacteria, this is referred to as the skin’s microbiome (the bacteria and its environment). Having too much acne bacteria (bad bacteria) on the skin causes the immune system to react and fight off foreign invaders (bad bacteria that don’t belong). Hence why pimples become red and inflamed. According to research that is the immune system fighting off acne (1). This is the body's way of detoxifying itself. Therefore, killing acne bacteria resolves acne because the immune system stops fighting them off. Anything that can reduce stress on the skin or body can give acne a chance to heal.

Our gut has a lot to do with our skin health as well. The gut has good and bad bacteria similar to the surface of our skin. Research shows that if there are too many bad bacteria in our gut this causes an imbalance, which can initiate our immune system to fight the bad bacteria. (1,2) Resulting in more inflammation in the gut, which leads to more inflammation to the skin, and then the production of acne occurs.

Oxidative stress is a term used to indicate the imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants (these help the immune system fight off foreign invaders) in the body. Oxidative stress can be caused by several things being: obesity, a diet high in fat, protein, and processed foods, radiation, alcohol, smoking tobacco, pollution, and exposure to pesticides. According to research, this imbalance plays a role in the production of acne (3,4). Therefore, reducing oxidative stress can help give the immune system a break from fighting off the free radicals. In turn, reduce inflammation and give the body a chance to rest and heal, minimizing acne production.

Bottom line: Our immune system, gut health, and dietary factors all relate to our skin health!

The body is a fascinating topic, isn't it?!

Here are a few steps you can take to reduce oxidative stress on your body….and keep that acne away!!

  1. Boosting your intake of antioxidant-containing foods such as green tea, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and dark chocolate. (Adequate serving size of green tea is 16-24oz containing 100-400 ECGC)

  2. Taking a daily pre/probiotic, third-party tested. Check out the right strains for acne.

  3. Switch to non-toxic products for home, body, and beauty.

  4. Apply sunblock while outside.

  5. Reduce your intake of processed foods with refined sugar and fat. To learn more about the BEST diet for acne and EXACTLY how to eat to cure your acne start by taking the acne quiz for free!

  6. Rinse all fruits and vegetables thoroughly, and aim for organic products when available.

  7. Exercise often!

  8. Make the time for self-care activities that help you to unwind and de-stress such as yoga, a long bath, a walk, etc.


  1. Dréno B, Dagnelie MA, Khammari A, Corvec S. The Skin Microbiome: A New Actor in Inflammatory Acne. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2020;21(Suppl 1):18-24.doi:10.1007/s40257-020-00531-1

  2. De Pessemier B, Grine L, Debaere M, Maes A, Paetzold B, Callewaert C. Gut-Skin Axis: Current Knowledge of the Interrelationship between Microbial Dysbiosis and Skin Conditions. Microorganisms. 2021;9(2):353. Published 2021 Feb 11. doi:10.3390/microorganisms9020353

  3. O'Neill AM, Gallo RL. Host-microbiome interactions and recent progress into understanding the biology of acne vulgaris. Microbiome.2018;6(1):177. Published 2018 Oct 2. doi:10.1186/s40168-018-0558-5

  4. Sarici G,Cinar S, Armutcu F, Altinyazar C, Koca R, Tekin NS. Oxidative stress in acne vulgaris. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2010;24(7):763-767. doi:10.1111/j.1468-3083.2009.03505.

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