Agreeably, acne is one of the most frustrating skin conditions – especially when you don’t know what’s causing it.
After a night full of chocolate and wine, it’s easy to pinpoint the cause of a small breakout. But what about common everyday foods? Do they cause acne?
No food has been scientifically proven to cause acne. When you begin to define causal relationships, the cause and effect have to be operationalized (i.e., able to be measured). This has not yet been done.
Unfortunately, acne is highly individualized – what gives you an acne flare up could be completely different from that of your best friend.
Peanut butter is one of those common everyday foods that some people suspect causes acne. There is no evidence to support a causal relationship, but peanut butter does have properties that will contribute to or exacerbate acneic skin.
If you sit down and research on the relationship between the two, you will find that each article or study has a unique opinion on how peanut butter contributes to acne and what the main culprit is.
Because I once dealt with (extremely) stubborn hormonal acne for a couple of months, I know how frustrating it can be. Learning about hormones peanut butter contains could, quite literally, keep us in the clear.
Peanuts are full of androgen. Androgen is a type of hormone, such as testosterone and DEA, which triggers your skin to produce oil. Note: women also produce androgen, just less than men.
At the 70th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, Dr. Bethanee Jean Scholsser, associate professor of dermatology and director of Women’s Skin Health at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, explains the primary causes of acne. She begins with the topic “how hormones influence acne” (emphasis added).
- Primary Causes of Acne: excess sebum (or oil gland) production -> influenced by hormones
- Skin cells that shed can accumulate and clog the hair follicles -> influenced by hormones
- Skin inflammation -> influenced by hormones (Scholsser 2012)
So why does knowing this matter? Androgens (found in high amounts in peanut butter) can contribute to acne flare-ups by over-stimulating the oil glands and changing the development of skin cells in hair follicles. Put simply, it’s a type of hormone that triggers your skin to produce oil. When follicles are blocked and there is excess oil…acne is around the corner.
There are androgen receptors in our oil glands and in the cells that line our pores. If you are consuming high levels of androgen (hello, peanut butter), they will bind to these oil gland receptors and trigger them to produce oil and bacteria. Once again…acne is around the corner.
Most women with acne will have normal androgen levels, but if a woman has acne plus excess facial/body hair, a deepening voice, or irregular/infrequent periods, hormonal testing could be beneficial.
Another hormonal response? Peanut butter is full of sugar. An estimated 15 grams of refined white sugar is in one jar.
Sugar -> Insulin spike -> body recognizes this as stress -> fight or flight response -> release of stress hormones (cortisol) -> triggering of inflammation and excess oil.
Oils and Omegas
In general, the food we consume can contribute to fluctuating hormone levels. Limiting peanut butter intake is not the only way to keep your androgen level in check. Omega-3 fatty acids (i.e. salmon) control inflammation, balance androgen levels, and help eliminate acne breakouts.
There are even prescription medications that flush excess androgens from the body, such as spironolactone, for people with extremely high androgen levels.
There are two explanations of the peanut butter and acne relationship. Some people might be affected by the natural oils and fats that can clog pores. For others, the natural allergens could promote inflammation, gout, and acne.
50 percent of the fat in peanut butter is monounsaturated, 19 percent saturated, and 31 percent unsaturated (i.e. omega-6 fatty acids). Why can omega-6’s trigger acne? Aren’t they good for you?
It’s a balance. Omega-6’s begin the body’s inflammation process, while omega-3’s stop it. If your body’s ratio of omega-6’s to omega-3’s is not balanced, your body could very likely be in a never-ending state of inflammation. An excess of omega-6’s from foods like peanut butter means your body cannot stop inflammation.
In an ideal world, a balanced ratio of 3’s to 6’s would mean whenever omega-6’s launched an inflammation attack against a wound (i.e. a pimple), omega-3’s would come in and stop it. Thus, a bad ratio means acne spots and scars will stick around for a long time. A good ratio leads to much (much) quicker healing.
If you’re wondering how much omega-6’s are in two tablespoons of peanut butter? A whopping 4.5 grams.
While peanut butter is a great source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and protein, it does not break down well within the body. Because peanut oils are difficult to break down, a strain is put on your liver.
The liver is one of the main ways our bodies release toxins. If it is in a state of distress, it will slow down – meaning the elimination and flushing of by-products stops. If they are not released through the liver, they are released through your skin. This doesn’t bode well for those with the goal of clear skin.
Unlike other oils frequently used in skincare like jojoba, the molecules of peanut oil are quite large. While jojoba’s molecules match most closely to our skin’s natural sebum, a peanut’s will simply clog pores.
Try to incorporate liver-cleansing foods, such as leafy greens and apples, which will keep your body’s detox center balanced and functioning as normal. This will have a direct impact on your skin, and is one of the many illustrations of how digestion affects your skin.
There’s Other Bad Stuff?
Agglutinin, a lectin, is a kind of protein. It is typically found in grains and legumes, and contributes to a diverse array of digestive problems. Some research says it’s likely that peanut lectin promotes intestinal permeability… i.e. leaky gut. That leads to all-around systemic inflammation and autoimmunity.
Of course, there are also well-known culprits: sugar and gluten (especially in lower quality brands). We’ve already discussed a spike in insulin caused by the overwhelming amount of sugar. Sugars can also promote inflammation, glycation (when a sugar combines to a protein with enzyme regulation), clogged pores, an increase in sebum production, and a compromised immune system.
I’m beginning to be thankful that I’m not one that craves eating peanut butter by the spoonful…
It is not scientifically proven that peanut butter causes acne. However, can it contribute to or exacerbate existing acne? Most definitely.
If you are prone to breakouts and have oily skin or cystic acne, it could be a good idea to give yourself a trial month sans-peanut butter. Almond or cashew butter are good alternatives.
A peanut-free month could be beneficial for all: lower androgen levels, happier livers, and less inflammation. Your skin will most likely feel better, too.