Meg Hagar, MS, RD, CDN, CHHP
Why I DON'T recommend celery juice for healing acne
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
One of the most popular questions I get when I'm on the phone with a potential new client is "what do you think about celery juice for acne?" or even, "can celery juice cause acne breakouts?"- so what's the real story?
I TOTALLY understand how seductive it is to hear that there is a single food that has the magic-wand-waving capability to just erase acne, especially given what a frustrating and psychologically damaging condition it is. BUT facts are facts- and I thought it was time to set the record straight.
Now, let me start by saying I am a big fan of celery and the point of this post is NOT to demonize it OR those who recommend it. Whole celery has a lot of really great benefits in general and for acne. Some of those benefits include fiber and it's a natural diuretic (which may help with bloating) and some studies have even found it to have protective effects on the gastrointestinal system and liver (1, 2) . If you like celery, I think it’s a great vegetable to add into your rotation and absolutely contributes to a clear skin diet.
Buuuuuttttt…. I do have a few issues with promoting celery juicing for acne. Let’s start with the facts:
Too much of ANYTHING can become a bad thing. We all know that juicing fruits and vegetables requires a LOT of them to get a drinkable quantity of juice. Some recommend a minimum of 16oz celery juice for acne- which could end up being an entire bunch of celery (about 15 stalks) every day. Like many plants, celery contains 3 plant substances that become toxic when activated by certain conditions, like light. There are some reports of people getting some pretty bad skin burns when coming into contact with celery (although not all of the reports were after ingesting celery, rather just holding or handling it) (5) and another study that found that ingesting 450 mg of psoralen (one of the toxic components in celery) lead to toxicity in the liver in mice (3). In human studies, there’s conflicting evidence. One study found that consuming 450 g of celery (roughly 4.5 cups chopped) had toxic effects on the liver while another one concluded that eating 500 g (about 5 cups celery) had no negative effects (4). Both were human studies. Another note is that many of the studies on the protective benefits are done on either celery extract, seeds or leaves- NONE of them are done on eating whole celery itself.
Bottom line: There’s not a lot of evidence about the toxic level of psoralens and exactly how much is in a certain amount of celery. It’s likely that snacking on a few stalks of organic celery daily won’t be harmful, but consuming celery in the amount required to drink 16oz of juice for clear skin every day for a long period of time might be too much and put stress on the liver.
Another problem with drinking celery juice for acne is that it is on EWG’s dirty dozen list which means if you’re not buying organic celery you may be increasing your risk to toxic pesticides and other chemicals. Especially at such high amounts needed to comply with some juicing protocols. This is really problematic for people with acne, since one of the root causes of acne is difficulty detoxing and one of the goals in my Clear Skin Program is to reduce exposure to toxins like this, not pile them on!
Bottom line: Acne is a sign that the body is imbalanced or under stress - in either case, the answer is to reduce toxic load and give your body more antioxidants and nutrients vs toxins. In the case of celery juice in this high amount- you could end up giving your body just as many toxins as you are antioxidants and in that case- is it really doing anything for your skin?
Juicing fruits and vegetables in general isn’t a favorite recommendation of mine for one reason...OK, two reasons… One being that it’s super wasteful! When you juice, think of all the pulp that is wasted. That pulp is where all the fiber and much of the vitamins and minerals are that don’t end up in your body. The second reason is that, in my opinion, juicing lowers the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables because you’re eliminating the fiber component. Again, high fiber diets have been proven to help reduce acne- so if you’re juicing for acne you’re gonna have to work much harder to get in your fiber requirement for the day!
Bottom line: fiber is so important for helping the body detox and improve gut health (both have been linked to acne according to research). Getting rid of it doesn’t seem logical to me if your goal is to support your body’s detox processes and digestion. If the health benefits of celery interest you, you’d be much better off munching on whole celery as a snack or adding whole celery to a smoothie (and not in super high amounts).
Now, I know many of you are thinking, “but I’ve tried it and it works!” or “My friend did it and she looks amazing!” or “But what about all of those people’s success stories on Instagram”? Yes, I’ve got some theories for why people might see improvement using this method as well but I don’t believe it’s because of 16oz of celery juice every day.
Theory # 1: Placebo effect. This is a powerful, powerful thing. When your mind thinks you are doing something or taking something that will produce a desired effect, it has been proven that sometimes people actually feel these desired effects whether what they’re doing or taking is the cause or not. I usually don’t think the placebo effect is a bad thing. After all, if something isn’t harmful and you do feel better, then why not continue? However, in this case, my problem with it is that celery juice in that amount COULD be harmful to your body- so that’s the difference.
Theory # 2: The person is taking in more vitamins and minerals. Although most of the good stuff is disposed of when juicing, some of the water soluble vitamins and minerals are still in the celery juice. It’s not news that the Standard American Diet (or SAD) is REALLY SAD in terms of health benefits, and it’s absolutely possible what wonders adding a few extra vitamins and minerals can do to a person who typically eats this way. I don’t believe it’s just because it’s celery juice though. I believe a similar effect could be experienced with many different plant juices like parsley and cucumber.
So, my message here is that I know science isn’t perfect. Just because something isn’t proven in science (yet) doesn’t mean it’s not true. The problem with celery juice as a healing agent for acne is that based on the evidence we DO have, there IS risk to the body in the amounts one might consume in large amounts of celery juice daily and the research that's available now isn't convincing enough (to me, anyway) to recommend it. I think it’s sending a message that one particular food can be the ultimate healer to an ailment when that is just not true. I also think there are much more sustainable ways, and other foods/diets that HAVE been proven in research to reduce acne.
My number one way to heal acne for good is to actually get to the root cause (which downing celery juice also doesn’t do)- you can take my acne quiz here if you haven’t already to help you narrow down what your potential root causes are. Otherwise, if you are looking for ways to help heal your acne through diet, follow this pattern to start:
DON’T skip meals. Aim for 3-6 meals/day (whatever feels right to you- everyone’s different).
At BREAKFAST: Have 1 cup of non-starchy veggies (like greens!), a good quality protein (eggs, anyone?) and a complex carb (like a whole wheat slice of bread) or a piece of fruit
At LUNCH and DINNER: Have 2 cups non-starchy veggies, a palm-sized portion of protein (fish, chicken, tofu) and a palm-sized portion of complex carbohydrates (brown rice, quinoa, squash)
For SNACKS: Have a veggie if you can (I love me some baby carrots!) or a piece of fruit WITH a healthy fat (like olives or avocado) or protein (like tuna or roasted beans)
The amount of veggies in this type of eating pattern will give you all the vitamins and minerals you need AND help you get to the recommended daily amount of 30 g fiber for acne-prone people. Plus, if you ask me, this way of eating is much more sustainable than all that celery juice!
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!
(1) Newall CA, Anderson LA, Philpson JD. Herbal Medicine: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals. London, UK: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996.