Have you been struggling with acne? Perhaps you’ve tried skincare products and had little success…
The reason for that probably lies in what and also when you’re eating.
Prolonged water fasting has been shown to drastically reduce inflammation, IGF-1 production, sebum production, and insulin resistance: four of the major causes of acne. There is also a growing number of anecdotal accounts of water fasting leading to massive improvements in the appearance of acne.
My research has shown that water fasting may well be the perfect storm when it comes to healing acne. Its effects on the body are so diametrically opposed to the processes that produce acne that there’s almost no way for it to survive in a water fasted environment.
This article is going to take a look at why extended water fasting is so effective against acne, how you can start a prolonged water fast to improve your acne, and then how to maintain those skin improvements after you’ve done the fast.
So How Does Water Fasting Combat Acne So Well?
Firstly we need to understand what is causing your acne so we can be aware of the mistakes you’re likely making when it comes to diet.
What Causes Acne?
Your skin produces oil. When there’s too much oil, this can cause a blockage in the pores of your skin, creating an environment for bacteria to cause an inflammatory response (pimples).
There are other causes of acne as well, but these are the major ones, and the ones we can easily improve.
Briefly put, too much inflammation and sebum causes acne. Too much IGF-1 causes more inflammation and more sebum. Too much insulin leads to more IGF-1. As you can see, there’s a vicious cycle at play here. Let’s see how fasting can help us break out from this cycle.
Water Fasting Reduces Sebum Production
Sebum is the oil produced by your skin to help keep it lubricated. Too much sebum is the primary cause of acne.
Below I’ve highlighted part of a table from a study which tracked sebum production during fasting.1https://www.jidonline.org/article/S0022-202X(15)47911-4/pdf
This data shows that sebum production gradually decreased over the course of 6 weeks. In fact after 6 weeks, total sebum production had reduced by 40%!
If you’re suffering from acne, chances are you have above average sebum production. Fasting for an extended period of time is a great way to bring this right down and you probably won’t have to fast for 6 weeks to get some positive results!
A recent clinical study showed that a low glycemic diet can decrease both the size of the sebaceous gland and the number of inflammatory lesions.
So even just selecting the right foods and eating frequency, you’ll see a noticeable reduction in sebum.2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5318522/
Water Fasting Reduces Inflammation
The single easiest way to reduce inflammation is to stop eating inflammatory foods and replace them with anti-inflammatory foods. The below graphic from Feed Them Wisely perfectly illustrates this.3https://feedthemwisely.com/anti-inflammatory-foods-anti-inflammatory-diets
One of the reasons water fasting is effective is because it completely cuts out all inflammatory foods from your diet. Because you have no diet when you’re fasting.
You may have heard of ‘autophagy’ which is a regenerative state your body enters when you’re 36+ hours into a fast. When you’re deep into a fast, you can expect to have exceptionally low levels of inflammation.
Water Fasting Reduces IGF-1
Insulin-like growth factor is a protein tasked with the management of growth hormone. Recent research shows a strong correlation between increased IGF-1 and the development of acne.4https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5318522/
It is suggestive that IGF-1 might be involved in the pathogenesis of acne by increasing both expression of inflammatory biomarkers and also sebum production in sebocytes.
A correlation between the severity of acne and the level of serum IGF-1 has also been reported.
Studies have also shown, at least in rats, that prolonged fasting greatly reduces IGF-1 production whereas human studies on intermittent fasting concluded the same thing.5https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2325671/
The 1 kilobase IGF-I mRNA species exhibited a 43% decrease after 24 h of fasting, a 76% decrease after 48 h of fasting, and an 82% decrease after 72 h of fasting.
Crucially, by keeping IGF-1 levels low, we’ll be able to prevent disastrous effects of the chain reaction of increased inflammation and sebum production.
Water Fasting Reduces Insulin Resistance
We want to keep insulin levels as low as possible as this will cause us to burn fat for energy. By eating several times a day, we’re constantly spiking that insulin which promotes the usage of carbs instead of fat for energy. This leads to the storage of fat.
It’s no secret that the common western diet leads to insulin resistance. A high carbohydrate diet combined with high eating frequency and infrequent exercise causes an overproduction of insulin which directly leads to an increase in IGF-1, causing a cascade of metabolic events leading to acne.
How To Perform A Water Fast To Help My Acne?
So we’ve established how water fasting can be a powerful weapon for fighting the four major causes of acne, but how do we do it? There’s a few different approaches you can take.
Note that intermittent fasting will achieve positive effects on acne, but the effects of prolonged water fasting will be more noticable. For complete beginners, it’s always best to start with an IF protocol before moving into extended water fasts.
Pick A Safe Duration
While advanced fasters who know what they’re doing can safely fast for north of a week, if this is your first water fast, I’d recommend sticking within the 3-5 day range. This will allow you to get the full effects of autophagy which will have the biggest impact on your skin.
Fasting for 48 hours or less will help, but it’s not until slightly after that point that the deepest cleaning will take place.
Don’t consume any calories for the duration of your fast.
Mix 1 teaspoon of salt (regular table salt or pink Himalayan salt is fine) and 1 teaspoon of potassium chloride (‘No Salt’ or ‘Lo Salt’) into a liter of water and shake well. Add some cayenne pepper for flavor if you like.
This will taste not so great, but this brew will replenish the electrolytes you’re expelling in your urine while fasting. This will help you maintain energy and avoid feeling overly weak.
That’s all there is to it.
After 3 days of fasting you’ll almost certainly notice a big improvement in the quality of your skin. The longer you fast for, the more dramatic the improvements will be.
Understand it will be challenging but listen to your body and call it off promptly if something doesn’t feel right.
Here’s an awesome video detailing the improvements made from performing a 7 day water fast to treat acne.
I Did The Water Fast, Now What? Will My Acne Come Back?
So you’ve completed your water fast and have no doubt seen some great improvements to your acne. Where to now?
The most important thing to do at this stage is not revert to previous habits which were causing inflammation or insulin resistance!
The simplest way to maintain those great results you got from the fast, and to build on them, is to start following an intermittent fasting protocol after breaking your extended fast. The reason for this is because time restricted eating (eating in a small eating window) is going to keep your insulin levels low throughout the day.
This will in turn keep inflammation low. Then all you need to do is ensure when you are eating, that you’re eating anti-inflammatory foods and avoiding the inflammatory ones. That’s it!
By doing those two things, time restricting your eating and eating only the right foods, you’ll stand the best chance at healing your acne long-term. This protocol can be your default and you can experiment with further extended fasts if you have a bit of extra body fat to spare.
If you go back to a ‘normal’ diet after the initial extended fast, you can sadly expect to lose some of those improvements you made to your acne.
Embarking on an extended water fast is a highly effective way to see almost immediate improvements in the presentation of acne through greatly reducing inflammation, sebum, IGF-1, and insulin.
It’s important to remember that other factors such as sleep and stress do play a big role in the development of acne. Be aware that fasting for days on end will cause a spike in cortisol which may cause interrupted sleep but this is mostly unavoidable as your body simply isn’t used to being in this fasted state.
After completing your fast, remember to keep inflammation to a minimum by selecting the right foods and staying active. Practice intermittent fasting to keep your insulin levels low and you’ll be well on your way to being acne-free!