The Gut-Skin Connection (and 8 ways to improve yours)


The gut and skin may seem like two completely separate organs, but research shows they are intricately connected. In fact research on the gut skin connection has shown that poor gut health has been associated with a wide range of inflammatory skin conditions, including acne, rosacea, and psoriasis.

Here we take a closer look at the gut-acne connection and ways to improve digestion for clear skin.

What is the Gut Skin Axis?

The gut-skin axis refers to the bidirectional relationship between the gut microbiome and the skin. This is regulated through several mechanisms such as inflammatory mediators and the immune system. (1)

In other words, the health of your gut microbiome – the trillions of bacteria, fungi, yeast, and microorganisms living in your intestinal tract – impacts the health and clarity of your skin. Research has shown that imbalances or disruptions of the microbes in your gut can lead to various inflammatory skin conditions, including psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, rosacea, and acne. (1, 2)

The Science of The Gut-Skin Connection

Nearly 100 years ago, two dermatologists, John H. Stokes and Donald M. Pillsbury, observed an overlap between negative emotions like depression and anxiety, with skin conditions like acne. They proposed a gastrointestinal mechanism for the transformation of stressful emotions to breakouts. (3) In other words, they believed that stress could disrupt the gut which in turn disrupted the skin and led to acne. In the decades since, many of their hypotheses have been elucidated and proven correct and their work set the foundation for what we now call the gut-brain-skin axis.

Studies have shown that:

  • Negative emotional states (such as sadness, depression, worry, anxiety) can negatively impact the gut and gut microbiome (3, 4, 5)
  • Alterations in the gut microbiome caused by stress or diet can cause local and systemic (body-wide) inflammation, which can show up as skin breakouts (2, 6, 7, 8)
  • Probiotics which help to improve and restore the gut microbiome, could be used to cut off this stress-gut dysbiosis-acne cycle (1, 3, 9)

How To Improve Digestion For Clearer Skin

There are many steps you can take to improve your digestion, which may then result in clearer, healthier skin.

Eat More Gut-Nourishing Foods:

Everything you eat goes through your digestive tract, so it only makes sense that the foods we eat have a significant impact on the health of our gut. Collagen-rich foods, like grass-fed bone-broth and fish skin support a healthy gut lining. (Try my 5-Spice salmon for delicious crispy fish skin.)

Traditionally fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchee, natto, or miso, contain natural probiotics that reseed the gut with good bacteria. While they do support digestion, the average person typically won’t eat enough of them consistently to see a significant difference quickly. This is why you may still need a probiotic supplement to reset your digestive tract initially.

Fiber-rich foods, like vegetables, fruit, and whole grains, also support a healthy gut microbiome, by providing prebiotic fiber which “feeds” the probiotics and helps them flourish.

Remove Gut-Damaging Foods

Certain foods create inflammation, inhibit a healthy gut microbiome, and weaken the gut barrier. Some common ones include refined sugar, refined carbohydrates, vegetable oils, and gluten, although any food you have a sensitivity too could be problematic.

This is not to say you can never eat these foods again – but while working on healing your gut, restoring your microbiome and improving your gut barrier function, it’s beneficial to minimize or avoid them for a period of time, at least 90 days.

Check out this article for an in-depth look at the top foods to avoid for acne-prone skin.

Take A Probiotic

Taking a high-quality probiotic supplement daily can help rebalance gut flora and improve gut barrier function. They also counter the effects of overuse of antibiotics and other lifestyle factors that deplete the microbiome. Choose a probiotic that has multiple strains of bacteria, consuming an equivalent of at least 10 billion CFUs daily.

I highly recommend Glow Biome as it was formulated with 15 billion CFU of 6 clinically-validated probiotic strains that specifically target the gut-skin axis, to support better digestion and clearer, healthier skin.

As far back as 1961, research has shown that taking probiotic supplements can reduce the severity of acne. At that time, Dr. Robert Siver published an article in The Journal of the Medical Society of New Jerseyreporting on a study of 300 patients with acne who were given probiotics.

Results indicated that 80% of the participants saw a noticeable improvement in their acne, and a majority experienced better skin during the first week of taking the supplements. For a small portion of that 80%, it took up to 3 months to see improvements. (3)

Add In Bitters

Digestive bitters prime your body for proper digestion in many ways. They help your body produce more digestive enzymes, which are responsible for breaking down food so we can absorb its nutrients.

Efficient food breakdown prevents gas and bloating, and helps prevents large food particles from slipping through our digestive tract into the bloodstream. They also prompt the liver to produce more bile, which helps with nutrient absorption and breaking down fats. And lastly, bitters aid in moderating hunger and blood sugar.

Bitters will be particularly helpful if don’t typically eat a lot of vegetables or fruit, or if you experience frequent bloating. Bitters come in liquid form and must be taken about 10 to 15 minutes before each meal. These are my go-to bitters.

Add In L-Glutamine

L-glutamine is an amino acid that repairs and promotes a healthy intestinal lining. As an added benefit, it may help reduce sugar cravings. L-glutamine is most helpful for anyone who experiences frequent digestive issues. This includes excessive bloating, gas, diarrhea, or constipation.

Balancing the bacteria in the digestive tract, through a mix of dietary changes and supplements, can significantly lower inflammation and decrease oxidative stress throughout the body. Additionally, nourishing the digestive tract with healthy food and probiotics will enable you to digest food more efficiently, resulting in fewer skin issues.

Regulating digestive health and improving your gut skin connection doesn’t happen overnight and while you will generally see small improvements within the first few weeks, for optimal results, give your gut at least 90 days to repair and restore.

Other Ways To Improve Digestion For Clear Skin

How To Improve Digestion For Clear Skin

Chew Well

Active digestion starts in the mouth when your teeth and saliva begin breaking down food. Sometimes, digestive issues arise simply because we don’t chew well. Get into the habit of chewing your food longer by putting the fork down between bites.

Don’t Do Anything Else When You’re Eating

Stop working, checking email, reading, and watching TV at the same time. Just eat. When you are racing around or distracted, your digestive system does not work optimally.

Eat Bitter Foods Before Meals

Bitter foods, such as arugula or dandelion greens, work similarly to digestive bitters to improve digestion for clear skin. They stimulate digestive enzyme production, as well as bile production in the liver, both important parts of optimal digestion. Bile emulsifies fats and renders nutrients — especially fat-soluble ones such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Finding the most effective way possible to treat acne requires you to look beyond the obvious symptoms and focus on the root causes.

If you need help eliminating acne once and for all, check out my Clear Skin Plan, a science-backed, doctor-approved program to help you clear acne naturally through dietary and lifestyle changes.

Clearer Skin in Just 3 Days

Sign up for my weekly newsletter to get the latest recipes, articles, & podcasts delivered to your inbox.

Plus, you’ll receive The Glow Up Guide right away, a delicious 3-day meal plan to reduce redness and bumps, fast.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Hi, I’m Maria and I’m an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach.

I help busy women lose weight or clear up their acne by developing healthier eating habits, based on a plant-based paleo diet.

Healthy by Marlowe Meal Plan
Wellness Shop

Glow Up Guide

Discover how to clear your skin naturally with this tasty 3-day meal plan designed to reduce redness and bumps, fast.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Follow Along @Mariamarlowe