Radiant Skin 101

As a young person living in America, the superficial society that it is, I have an aversion for any blemish, pimple, or mark that threatens to make its presence known on my face. Glowing, blemish free skin is the ideal and a sign of good health.    Every girl is entitled to radiant, clear skin and avoidance of the bad mood that occurs as a consequence of the appearance of a gargantuan pimple. Granted, I do realize that there are infinitely worse scenarios that can be inflicted upon a person, but at the same time one should not have to face the awfulness of pimples or a dull complexion amidst all the other chaos in one’s life.

Thankfully, as the daughter of Dr. Fuhrman, I know that diet plays a huge role in maintaining healthful, as well as youthful, looking skin. The same nutrient dense diet that keeps us healthy and prevents chronic diseases naturally helps prevent pimples, acne, and the like. Welcome to Radiant Skin 101, my one article class on the ins and outs of how to attain and maintain healthy, radiant skin:


Radiant Skin 101:

1)     The hormones inside our bodies are important contributors to what cause pimples to appear on the outside. In particular, the hormone insulin an important modulator of breakouts. Insulin is most commonly known as the hormone for regulating blood sugar and is associated with diabetes, yet interestingly it also increases   oils that appear on our skin. Who would have thought? Insulin levels fluctuate based on what we eat, and these fluctuations can affect other hormones such as testosterone that also promote acne.

2)     Processed foods made with white flour and sugar lead to blood sugar spikes, causing insulin levels to go into the hateful “pimple-producing zone”. Sugar and processed foods are nada good for our skin. 

3)     Of course this is more complicated than just sugar and insulin. The peeps at Harvard say milk is not skin-friendly food. The Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study in which the diets of 6,084 teenage girls were analyzed. Girls who drank two or more servings of milk per day were 20 percent more likely to have acne. Milk contains bioactive molecules that act on the glands where blackheads are formed. William Danby MD, a dermatologist at Dartmouth, noted in an editorial accompanying the study that 70 to 90 percent of all milk comes from pregnant cows and that the milk contains hormones such as progesterone, testosterone precursors and insulin-like growth factor releasing hormones, all linked to acne.

4)     The foods you should eat for radiant skin? Green vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, seeds, avocadoes, starchy vegetables, and whole grains, of course. These foods are loaded with antioxidants, substances that help our skin repair damage. Plant foods also contain an array of phytochemicals. The foods rich in carotenoids are super foods for your body, not just your face. They supercharge the immune system’s defensive capabilities and help prevent many diseases, including heart disease and cancer. Many thousands of these chemicals are found in brightly colored plant foods. So in regards to the health of our skin, the more carotenoids and phytochemicals that are present, the faster our skin can repair damage, and remove and detoxify waste products and toxic compounds. 

So, in summary, consumption of micronutrient-rich natural plant foods leads to radiant, pimple free skin and processed foods and dairy are blackhead friendly.   How many more teenagers would eat a cancer-protective diet, if they knew it would repair their skin and keep them looking good? Avoiding dairy and junk food is easy when there are so many healthier, just as tasty, food options available. I’m a huge fan of soymilk and almond milk, for example. To me, faux milks taste better than actual cow’s milk. Resisting processed foods becomes pie in the sky when I know I can have a delicious fruit smoothie instead. Instead of poppin’ M and M’s, pop blueberries and cherries. Great skin and tasty food? Check!  

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Comments (18) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday - August 19, 2010 11:31 AM

I can vouch for the dairy. When I cut dairy out of my diet I stopped getting acne.

Jordan - August 19, 2010 1:02 PM

Hi Talia! Great article. One criticism:

"Every girl is entitled to radiant, clear skin and avoidance of the bad mood that occurs as a consequence of the appearance of a gargantuan pimple."

I don't feel that 'entitled' is the correct word to use when discussing health claims. Even the use of "Every girl" bothers me because it is so absolutist. Every girl does not have the same opportunities. They certainly aren't entitled to the same opportunities. Changing the wording to leave room for error, discrepancy or even statistical anomaly is important. Instead, saying something about increasing your potential for (x) or decreasing your potential for (y) seems more reasonable when making health claims.

I've always felt that Dr. Fuhrman has been super careful not to make any claims of entitlement to health or that if you do x, y and z it will always result in the expected way. The best we can do with nutritional science is to observe statistics of outcomes if certain behaviors are followed. For example, he would never say, "Follow my diet and you'll never develop cancer." Conversely, there are a lot of alt-med practitioners that will make ludicrous claims about using homeopathic remedies, poorly tested or dangerous therapies, and vitamin D to make you immune to HIV or other diseases, bacteria and even viruses for which there is no evidence. They create this illusion that perfect health is attainable for all people if you eat the right foods, take the right supplements, use the right products, etc.

Dr. Fuhrman has always been a shining light for me in this respect because he never makes grandiose claims of this sort. He would say something more like, "Your chances of protecting yourself from various types of cancer by consuming large quantities of cruciferous greens are such and such. Here is the most recent evidence for this claim." The idea presented is that you are eating for protection, not for immunity, which is a message that I can trust.

Plenty of people follow plenty of diets, including nutritarian, and still have skin problems that may be the result of genetic pre-disposition or environmental causes beyond the foods that they eat.

Please don't assume I'm criticizing the sentiment or the research presented so please don't take it in a negative way. Criticism of ideas and peer review are required for properly acquiring knowledge. I agree with everything else that you've said and I admit I'm not sure of your age or profession but citing some studies to provide evidence of your claims is always excellent. That is something which I look forward to from your father's posts.

Expanding your mindset and writing style to include the sensitivities that develop from the realization of your own place of privilege in our modern society would improve your articles.

How many of us had the opportunity to be one of Dr. Fuhrman's children? Consider that! :)

Reg Wilkins - August 19, 2010 1:24 PM

It's so refreshing to hear young people championing true principles. I for one can support what Talia writes having personally rid myself from acne by following Dr Fuhrman's

Michelle - August 19, 2010 2:38 PM

And... dairy is just gross! I mean think about.. mucus-y white liquid from an animal. Seems so unnatural for us to suck on a cow's teet! ;)

Ben - August 19, 2010 3:02 PM

I've been on a strict vegan diet for a year and still get moderate acne at 31.

Everything I've used does not work: doxycyline, tetracycline, benzyl peroxide, triclosan, sulfur based topicals, salicyclic acid. Bactrim did work well but gave me horrible flatulance and thus I could not sustain it. My only recourse is Accutane, which I refuse to take.

Glad diet works for most however.

Katrina - August 19, 2010 3:04 PM

Doesn't soy milk contain significant amounts of estrogen?
Then almond or rice milk should be recommended over cow and soy in order to avoid intaking copious amounts of estrogen, correct?

Bad_CRC - August 19, 2010 4:22 PM

Good post! I wish I'd known this as a teen. I drank a half-gallon of milk a day, ate like 1 vegetable and 1-2 fruits a day, had painful acne all over my face and shoulders, and felt repulsive. I think it still affects me socially to this day.

I ended up taking antibiotics and Retin-A for years. The dermatologist said diet had no effect on acne.

Interestingly, I outgrew it in college even though my diet was still crap, if not worse.

If anyone wants to read a scientific paper on this, Loren Cordain has a paper on the absence of acne among the Kitavans -- which is funny because they don't eat his "Paleo" diet; they eat a high-carb, plant-based diet.

Deana Ferreri, Ph.D. - August 19, 2010 4:32 PM


No, there is no scientific basis for those fears about soy. Here is some more info: http://drfuhrman.com/library/breast_cancer_survivors-soy_good_alcohol_harmful.aspx

That being said, yes of course it is best to get our calories from a variety of sources, so using almond and hemp milk in addition to soy makes sense.

Bad_CRC - August 19, 2010 4:39 PM

Jordan: You're misreading that sentence. It does not state that Dr. F's diet will cure every girl's acne.

For me personally, the drugs were life-changing; I just wish I'd known to try diet (the right diet) first.

Ben: You could try an elimination diet.

Talia - August 19, 2010 5:47 PM

Hi Jordan,

Thanks for the advice! I agree with everything you said and that statements such as "always, every, never, etc." should not be used when discussing health claims. There are no absolutes in science and words that pronounce such sentiments should be avoided. I was not trying to use the word "entitled" in regards to the studies and advice I present in this post or any other health claim, but instead was attempting to say that every girl should be able to have clear skin for their own peace of mind and wellbeing, not that they would in reality. I know some people might follow all diet advice in the world and still not attain perfect skin. I'm sorry if this was unclear.

As for the studies, I should have referenced them. I got the information for this article via the following studies:

1. Adebamowo CA, Spielgelman D, Berke CS, et al. Milk consumption and acne in adolescents girls. Dermatol Online J. 2006;12(4):posted 7/11/2006.

2. Donnet-Hughes A, Duc N, Serrant P, et al. Bioactive molecules in milk and their role in health and disease: the rold of transforming growth factor-beta. Immunol Cell Bio. 2000;78(1):74-79.

3. Smith RN, Mann NJ, Braue A, et al. The effects of high-protein, low glycemic-load diet versus a conventional, high glycemic-load diet on biochemical parameters associated with acne vulgaris: A randomized, investigator-masked, controlled trial. J Am Acad Dermatol 2007;57(2):247-56.

4. Liepa GU, Sengupta A, Karsies D. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and other androgen excess-related conditions: can changes in dietary intake make a difference? Nutr Clin Pract. 2008; 23(1):63-71.

5. Hu FB, Manson JE, Willett WC. Types of dietary fat and risk of coronary heart disease: a critical review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2001;20(1):5-19.

I am currently an undergrad at Cornell University majoring in nutrition, concentrating in dietetics (bet you couldn't have figured that one out right? :p). My goal is to one day get my PhD. Miraculously, and to the delight of my parents, I have not turned into an obese, cigarette smoking, alcoholic. I really am fascinated by how food affects the body and am truly inspired by the extent to which my dad has been able to help people. I know how lucky I am to be Dr. Fuhrman's daughter!!!


Alexandra - August 19, 2010 8:21 PM

Love the article! Well written, as well as fun to read.

Omar - August 19, 2010 9:56 PM

I think a nutrition healthy diet goes for more than just improvement on the parts of our skin that are lacking. Yes! eat healthy but also...take care of your hygene and assist yourself into your surrounding. Let me conduct a quick poll...

How many people touch their own face once a day?

not touching your face is a proven way to preventing acne & pimples because dirt and bacteria gets trapped under your fingernails which rub off on your face, causing acne. It is advised that you cut your nails short. Same goes for pillow covers. You MUST wash your pillow covers twice a week, unless you are facing the ceiling while you sleep. these are just small things that we don't pay attention to which cause acne and pimples. Diet isn't the only thing that is going to save your life...It is you making the right decessions and thinking about what kind of situation your putting yourself in.

colleen turnbull - August 20, 2010 1:16 AM

Just a thought Ben have you checked to see if you have rosacea instead of pimples/acne? Might be worth your while as that is what my "pimples" turned out to be.

Jordan - August 20, 2010 10:34 AM


You're welcome!

Your dad's advice has been invaluable to me over the years and the nutritarian eating style has completely changed my health for the better including my digestion (which was dreadful), understanding true hunger(I performed a 5 day fast with his guidance), and the impulses behind over-eating. I lived for a few years as a junk food vegan and his DVD on how to shop for and prepare whole foods revolutionized every meal. You're certainly lucky!

Thank you for the citations.

I'm 29 now and I just left a career in IT to go to University for Biology. I start next year as an undergrad. I'll be the 'old man' in class! My main interests are microbiology, biochemistry and genetics. I look forward to following your career! SCIENCE!

StephenMarkTurner - August 23, 2010 9:41 PM

Jordan - you think you're the old man in school at 29?

I am now 54 and have also left a career in computers (programming) behind to be a fitness trainer. I look forward to using nutritarianism rather than hours and hours of cardio to help people with their weight loss goals.

Regards, Steve

Eileen - September 8, 2010 10:39 PM

Just have to say there is nothing but TRUTH, TRUTH, TRUTH, to this. I have been living a vegan lifestyle for about 7 weeks now and have been told by a few random people that my skin is gorgeous. I have been asked what type of make up I use (I don't use any foundation, concealer, or powder), been carded for alcohol (I'm 34!), and if I get facials on a regular basis. It's a very rewarding feeling.

I also immediatly saw the impact of meat on my skin because I did have a small steak with my husband a few nights ago and the very next morning woke up broken out all over my chin area. It was like my body was punishing me for poisoning it! Trust me, I learned my lesson. That one little splurge wasn't worth the consequence.

I have really enjoyed and been inspired by reading the posts in this blog. Choosing my health and treating my body properly has been the best gift I have ever given myself.

Thanks for all the great posts!

Sarah - December 31, 2010 6:36 PM

Great article! I agree that every girl deserves to have clear skin - it certainly makes for less stress in this life. :)

Before I started following Dr. Fuhrman's advice and started eating lots of vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts and seeds, I incorporated green smoothies in my diet. As Dr. Fuhrman has said, we get about 4 times the nutrients from blended foods, being that they are so thoroughly broken down. Within 6 weeks, my persistent acne went away. It makes sense, as greens are our most nutrient-dense foods. I have been acne free for several years now, and I definitely recommend them to anyone suffering with acne. They are also amazing added to soups, and can even be disguised in recipes, such as being added to a tomato sauce! It really is very easy to incorporate blended greens into one's daily routine. :)

Manda - February 20, 2011 1:55 PM

Thank you, Dr. Furhman, Talia, and all commenters! This blog is now one of my favorites; truth can be so exciting. I started reading Eat to Live in November (2010). I now own the 2011 edition of it, plus Disease Proof Your Child. We have two children under the age of 5 who love soy milk and fresh produce!

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