Which Skin Conditions Might Be a Sign of Poor Gut Health?

Your acne, eczema, or rosacea might start in your gut, says an expert.

We often associate blemishes with hormone imbalances or rosacea flare-ups with a specific trigger, like a too-hot room—but what if we told you that your biggest complexion concerns might start in your gut? According to Dr. Raj Kumar, a clinical professor of biochemistry at the University of Houston College of Medicine who specializes in the gastrointestinal system, a variety of skin conditions can, in fact, indicate poor gut health. Ahead, everything you need to know about your gut's connection to your skin.

woman inspecting skin in mirror
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These skin conditions can start in the gut.

According to Dr. Kumar, microorganisms in the gut can ultimately trigger acne flares. "Gut microbiomes influence the pathophysiology of acne, a skin condition that occurs when your hair follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells," he explains. Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, could be another sign of poor gut health; if you have red and itchy skin and can't find relief with over-the-counter or prescription products, a disrupted gut could be at play. "A link between intestinal dysbiosis (a persistent imbalance of gut microbiomes) and atopic dermatitis has been shown," Dr. Kumar confirms.

If your skin is more than just red and itchy, but scaly, too, you likely suffer from psoriasis—and, yes, Dr. Kumar says your gut could be the cause. "Psoriasis has been associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)," he explains. And if you suffer from rosacea? "Alterations in the gut microbiome have also been implicated in rosacea pathogenesis; this is a common skin condition that causes redness and visible blood vessels in the face," he explains.

Understand the relationship between skin and gut health.

Both your skin and gut play primary functions in your body. "They are essential to the maintenance of physiologic homeostasis. Studies suggest an intimate, bidirectional connection between these two organs," Dr. Kumar explains. "Human intestine hosts microbiomes, which provide important metabolic and immune benefits to the host. These gut microbiomes communicate with the skin as one of the main regulators in the 'gut-skin axis.'" In layman's terms, what happens in the gut directly impacts the skin—and, in many cases, a disrupted gut can lead to a number of inflammatory skin disorders.

There are ways to determine whether or not your gut is the issue.

Since the skin conditions mentioned above can be caused by a slew of factors, it's important to know when your gut is to blame. Start, says Dr. Kumar, by optimizing your gut health, which is a key factor for maintaining your overall wellness (and should be a priority, anyway!). Identifying any underlying pathological gut conditions is a good first step, since "gut inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut, or related digestion problems can certainly affect skin health," he explains. And while you could very well cut out gluten, dairy, sugar, and a number of other foods said to incite inflammation in the gut and wreak havoc on the dermis, the best way to know for certain that your gut is impacting your skin health is to make an appointment with a dermatologist. That way, you will be able to rule out all other possibilities before making a drastic lifestyle change.

Improving your gut health might help your skin.

One of the easiest ways to improve your gut health and, subsequently, the appearance of your skin, is to add probiotics into your diet. "They influence the skin by supporting the immune system and skin metabolism; they also regulate inflammation, thereby promoting balanced skin microbiomes to influence the 'gut-skin axis,'" Dr. Kumar explains, noting that probiotic supplements are a promising alternative (or adjuvant) treatment for acne. Additionally, he points out that probiotics can have a positive effect on cases of atopic dermatitis, significantly lowering incidence and severity.

All in all, Dr. Kumar reminds us that the 'gut-skin axis' is predicated on their connection, and that radiant complexions might be possible by getting your gut health up to speed. "This can be achieved by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, with exercise, healthy food habits, supplements (such as probiotics), stress reduction, and sound sleep," he says. "The bottom line? Keep the gut healthy and it will in turn keep your skin healthy."

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