I’m sure we all grew up listening to our mothers tell us not to eat deep-fried foods because it was going to make our skin more oily, give us more acne, and just in general ruin our complexion. I can attest to the fact that I’m just as guilty as the next person when it comes to ordering Shake Shack fries and finishing the entire serving by myself, or sneaking a couple of potato chips from the snack cupboard. Every time I indulge, I hear my mother’s voice from 5000 kilometers away screaming at me that I am ruining my skin. It makes the guilty pleasure a little less pleasure and a little more guilty. Entering medical school has finally given me a leg up on my mother, a nurse of 35 years; I use the phrase, “I’m training to be a doctor, so I get to call the shots now,” a lot. So, why not put some of that “doctor-ing” knowledge to good use, find out whether fried foods really affect my skin in some sort of negative manner, and as a “coincidental” result make myself feel a little better about indulging in junk food every once in a while?
There is no doubt that a bout of acne will improve with a healthy diet of wholesome foods such as veggies, fruit, good oils (such as fish, olive, grapeseed or coconut), whole grains, fish and water (lots and lots of water). However, as any young adult can attest too, it’s hard to keep up these “good” habits. Not only does it take time out of your precious day to find these foods and cook a meal, but also eating like this can become quite the monetary investment. In addition, going out to eat with friends often means the “normal” dietary rules followed are broken when that basket of onion rings begins to look very appealing.
Contrary to popular belief, eating fried foods is not going to increase the amount of oil produced by your skin. The oil produced by your skin results from the activity of your sebaceous glands, a genetic factor for which you can thank Mom and Dad. These glands respond to many factors, a major one being hormones. With increased levels of androgens, these glands head into overdrive producing shiny T-Zones and acne. Of course, the overconsumption of unhealthy fried foods will utterly ruin your complexion as a whole (but if you’ve reached that point, your skin will probably be the least of your worries). However, changes in skin health, due to fried food, have more to do with the nutrients available in these food sources (“empty calories” anyone?).
Your skin is an organ; in fact it’s the largest organ in your body. However, unlike many of your organs, the skin is constantly sloughing off and regenerating. To do this, your skin needs a supply of amino acids, fatty acids, and other organic material to build the components needed for healthy skin (such as collagen, keratin, cell membranes, and energy stores for cellular division). If your diet is built to saturate your body with unhealthy fats (trans-fats, saturated fats), many of your bodily functions, including the status of your skin will suffer greatly. So the acne that results from a diet high in deep-fried food is not due to the “increased” oil production by your skin; this is not a matter of oil in and oil out. The skin just cannot build itself into a nice healthy layer to prevent acne-causing bacterial infestation.
This does not mean that the next time you spot a french fry, you should run away screaming. So, with a normal healthy diet, if you fall-off-the-wagon every once in a while and indulge in a little deep-fried goodness, pimples are not going to instantly erupt (contrary to what Mother told you). In this day and age, there is no reason why you can’t have your french fry, and eat it too.
Margit Lai Wun Juhasz
Mount Sinai Medical Student