Of course, some of our ancestors experienced the suckiness that is acne, but nothing like the number of people that experience it today. Acne and prescriptions for acne have soared in recent years. From WebMD,

“Use of the powerful prescription acne drug Accutane has skyrocketed in recent years, despite the controversy surrounding its side effects. In fact, a new study shows the drug is increasingly being used to treat milder forms of acne — even though it has only been approved to treat severe cases. According to research conducted by the FDA, the number of prescriptions filled at pharmacies rose by 250% between 1992 and 2000, and by 275% among users of major health plans.”

Two hundred and seventy-five percent! That is a huge jump! As a previous acne sufferer as well as a user of Accutane, a dangerous drug prescribed for acne, I have to wonder why exactly acne is on the rise, and why our ancestors largely had clear unblemished skin.

The first reason: sugar.

While most dermatologists will tell you that diet is largely unrelated to acne, the opposite is true. Diet is the determining factor in whether or not a person will develop acne. Diet can affect acne for several reasons, inflammation, toxins, nutrient deficiencies and high blood sugar. Sugar consumption has steeply increased, just take a look at this chart from Stephan Guyenet of Whole Health Source:

Why Your Ancestors Didn't Have Acne But You Do - find out how diet and lifestyle factors can help clear acne and other skin issues!

Nuts, huh?

When you eat sugar or high sugar foods, blood glucose levels to rise. This leads to the production of insulin. Excess insulin not only leads to inflammation but can trigger overproduction of oil, which leads to clogged pores and bacteria.

Sugar also feeds candida or an overgrowth of yeast in the GI tract. Whatever is happening internally will reflect externally, which is why acne is an indication of a damaged GI tract. Candida and leaky gut are two causes of acne and were the reason my acne as a teen was so severe. Sugar consumption not only worsens these conditions but feeds them. Sugar encourages yeast cells to proliferate and further damages the lining of the gut, allowing toxins and undigested food particles into the bloodstream. This can lead to anxiety, depression, allergies, autoimmune disorders and you guessed it: acne.

The second reason: toxins.

The colon, the liver, the blood, the lymphatic system, the kidneys and the skin are all eliminatory pathways. When these pathways become overwhelmed due to poor food choices and toxin overload, then the toxins are often eliminated through the skin, resulting in acne prone, sallow, discolored skin.

We are bombarded with toxins daily, from the air we breathe to the water we drink to the food we eat. We experience a bigger toxic load than any other generation in history. When the body becomes overloaded with toxins, it will often force them out them through the skin.

The third reason: nutrient deficiencies and a damaged microbiome.

It’s no secret that the modern diet is lacking in beneficial and necessary nutrients. Vitamins A & D and E, as well as zinc and selenium, are all necessary for healthy, clear skin. Vitamins A and E help fight free radicals. Vitamin A has been shown to reduce excess sebum production. Vitamin D improves insulin response and the immune system. Zinc is often lower in people with acne and studies have shown that zinc supplementation greatly improves acne. Selenium also acts as an antioxidant and reduces inflammation.

Our ancestors ate fermented foods and bone broth, both of which are superfoods. Fermented food provides us with necessary probiotics to balance the gut and therefore the skin. Bone broth seals the lining of the stomach and is rich in vitamins, minerals, and collagen.

Ancestral diets were rich in unprocessed food, wild meat, seafood, vegetables, fruits, nuts, ferments, and broths. This is the basis of a healthy diet that will prevent acne (and serious diseases!).

The fourth and fifth reasons: stress and sleep.

It’s largely believed that our generation experience more stress and less sleep. We spend too much time working, not enough times relaxing and catching some Zs. Acne is largely dependent upon proper hormone production, and stress and lack of sleep both increase levels of inflammation as well as interfere with hormones,

“According to a study in Sleep, the risk of psychological stress increases by 14% for every hour of sleep you lose a night. So what does this have to do with acne?

“Stress increases glucocorticoid production, which can lead to abnormalities in skin structure and function, exacerbating conditions like acne,” Says Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, a dermatologist in Danville, Calif.

Stress and sleep are closely linked; both can lead to insulin resistance and an overproduction of cortisol. Insulin resistance and an overproduction of cortisol not only increase inflammation but also increase sebum (oil) production.

Our Ancestors

Dr. Weston A. Price traveled the world and studied cultures that were untouched by modern civilization and therefore lived largely as our ancestors have always lived. They worked the land, ate in season, got sleep, played, and weren’t exposed to the myriad of toxins that we are exposed to today. In his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Dr. Price found that of all the ancestral cultures he studied, none of them were plagued with the diseases we are plagued with today: heart disease, cancer, tooth decay, depression or acne.

According to Dr. Loren Cordain, acne affects 79% to 90% of the adolescent population. Cordain set out to study the Kitavan Islanders of Papua New Guinea and the Aché hunter-gatherers of Paraguay. These are two cultures, living on as their ancestors did and untouched by Western civilization. Cordain’s findings are significant because,

“Of 1200 Kitavan subjects examined (including 300 aged 15-25 years), no case of acne (grade 1 with multiple comedones or grades 2-4) was observed. Of 115 Aché subjects examined (including 15 aged 15-25 years) over 843 days, no case of active acne (grades 1-4) was observed.”

This is largely due to their unprocessed, local and organic diets.

“Both the Aché and Kitavan diets are composed of minimally processed plant and animal foods and are virtually devoid of typical Western carbohydrates that yield high glycemic loads that may acutely35 or chronically36,37 elevate insulin levels (Table 1). Recently acculturated hunter-gatherer populations who have adopted Western diets frequently are hyperinsulinemic and insulin resistant and have high rates of type 2 diabetes,81,82 whereas hunter-gatherer and less westernized populations living in their native environments rarely exhibit these symptoms,83– 85 including other unacculturated South American Indian tribes.”

Diet is one of the most significant factors when it comes to modern diseases. That applies whether it be heart disease, cancer, obesity or acne. The reason these diseases largely did not affect our ancestors yet plague modern day civilization is due to the fact that we have strayed so far from our ancestral roots. We don’t need to look for quick fixes, we don’t need to develop new pills or find cures, the answer is in our history. The cure is in prevention. We don’t need modern science, we need ancestral wisdom!

Why Your Ancestors Didn't Have Acne But You Do - find out how diet and lifestyle factors can help clear acne and other skin issues!








  1. I had terrible acne as a teenager and young adult. I went to a dermatologist and the first thing he said was acne was not caused by diet. He whipped out his prescription pad. The creams worked great for about a month,I was so happy. Then my acne came roaring back, worse then before prescription. I was heavy into carbs, processed food and frozen “lean” dinners while working. Trying to do the low fat advice and failing.

    Since going to a diet like the one above, my acne that I have had for 20 years has cleared. I have been on this wonderful diet eating plenty of delicious food for about 2 years now. No expensive prescription, just clean eating. So grateful for information like this to keep me motivated and discover new tips.

    I’m a bit frustrated that my doctor has no idea and way to involved in conventional wisdom. Bring on the butter!

    Another pleasant side effect is that I lost weight. Happy about that too.

    • A possible reason why doctors say it’s not diet is to sell their treatments.

    • I rarely had a pimple as a teenager,just 2 or 3 on my chin just a few days before each of my monthly ‘periods’.I graduated may 1979. We never went to fastfood places, maybe that helped.I always wondered if teens from 1880s-early 1900s had pimples.I never saw Civil War photos of soldiers having any.

  2. Hey there Dani, I’m 17 years old and started primal/paleo roughly 3 months ago and since then I’ve been breaking out like crazy (mostly chin and jawline). Before going primal I ate what the usual Western diet consists of (low fat, high carb) and have never had acne until now. Right now it’s getting out of hand. Any other tips? My lifestyle consists of low to a good amount of sleep, enough sun, and I usually eat a lot of meat, occasional fish, a good amount of Greek yoghurt (barely any milk), etc. Thanks.

    • dani stout Reply

      It could be a million reasons, but it’s hard to pinpoint without a thorough health intake. Feel free to email me.

    • I would try cutting out the Yogurt completely. I don’t know why, but whenever I eat any type of yogurt my skin breaks out like crazy!

    • Chris Green Reply

      What’s happening, is that your body is trying to rid itself of all the toxins. Stay away from sugar dairy, particularly meat(it’s acid and ferments in your intestines) bread, cakes and anything made with wheat. Drink plenty of water, with a squeeze of lemon. Your problem will clear up within a few weeks. Don’t go back to eating crap.

    • Chris Green Reply

      What’s happening, is that your body is trying to rid itself of all the toxins. Stay away from sugar dairy, particularly meat(it’s acid and ferments in your intestines) bread, cakes and anything made with wheat. Drink plenty of water, with a squeeze of lemon. Your problem will clear up within a few weeks. Don’t go back to eating crap.

  3. Thank you for the wisdom. You are certainly correct. Clean eating is the way to go.

  4. “We don’t need modern science…” You know, without science, you probably wouldn’t be able to know how certain types of food work on triggering acne, what they cause on an internal level, and simply you wouldn’t have all these research papers from where you take all that information. Science is something very important and needs to be celebrated whether crazy anti-science hippies like it or not. I believe in eating healthy, I know that a proper diet can help having a healthier body and mind; but I also believe in science. I just found your blog, but I’m never coming back.

  5. I battled moderate and severe acne for over 20 years and all that time i was going to dermatologists. Nobody thought to test my hormones! Last year at 32 years old I got my hormones tested and discovered that I have PCOS which has been the cause of my acne all these years. So now that I’m getting the right treatment my acne and severely oily skin has been almost entirely gone. Hormones are key and our lifestyles and genetics affect hormones.

  6. A 250% increase from 1992 – 2000? Hmmm… we ate processed food and sugar prior to 1992, why the huge jump?

    Could GMO’s have anything to do with it? Flair Savr entered the market in 1994. GMO’s are altered to withstand higher amounts of pesticides which means we consume more toxins.

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