The Acne-Iodine Connection
The old myths about chocolate and greasy foods being acne triggers were debunked long ago, but that doesn’t mean diet isn’t a factor when it comes to your skin health. One of the biggest triggers is something you might never expect. It’s in many of the foods you eat, and you are likely adding it to your food frequently in the form of salt.
Iodine is a trace mineral commonly found in seaweed, seafood, iodized salt, fortified bread, in vegetables and fruits grown in iodine-rich soil, and in many vitamin supplements.
When iodine is consumed, the body reduces it to its iodide component, which is then absorbed into the bloodstream to be used by the thyroid gland. Iodides are essential for the manufacture of hormones by the thyroid gland. These hormones control the body’s metabolism and many other important functions. The body also needs thyroid hormones for proper bone and brain development of your baby during pregnancy. When there’s more iodide than the body can use, the excess is excreted through the sweat glands. That’s where it can become a problem for your skin.
As it’s excreted, iodide irritates the pores and causes acne flare-ups. It’s especially troublesome to the susceptible pores in acne-prone skin. Large enough amounts can induce acne in even skin that’s normally clear. In fact, iodide is such a potent trigger for acne that it is often used in skin research to create acne. A few drops of potassium iodide on the skin spurs a quick acneic response for researchers to study.
Once there was concern that Americans weren’t getting adequate levels of iodine to keep them healthy. The solution was to add iodine to table salt, something pretty much everyone used daily. Today, it’s less of a problem, and most people get plenty through food when eating a balanced diet. To be sure you’re not getting too much, you should take note of what you’re consuming and where iodine might be hiding.
Where you’ll find some of the highest concentrations of iodine:
- Iodized salt
- Any vitamins or supplements that contain iodine (especially kelp and dulse)
- Milk or other dairy products including ice cream, cheese, yogurt and butter
- Seafood including fish, sushi, shellfish, kelp or seaweed
- Herbal and vitamin supplements (one of the biggest culprits, check labels)
- Foods that contain the additive carrageen, agar-agar, alginate, or nori
- Commercially prepared bakery products made with iodate dough conditioners
- FD&C red dye #3 – this appears in maraschino cherries and occasionally as a pink/red artificial color in beverages
- Egg yolks, whole eggs and foods containing whole eggs
Interesting fact: Milk and dairy are high in iodine because farmers provide salt licks to dairy cows to supplement their diet and keep them healthy. The iodine is absorbed and makes its way into milk products. It can also be found in beef, especially liver.
Read the labels for iodine content in processed foods and supplements and limit consumption of items with higher concentrations of iodine. Remember that sodium is not the same as iodine and not all salt is iodized. One teaspoon of iodized table salt contains 400 micrograms of iodine, which is more than double the recommended daily allowance, so reducing your intake of iodized salt is the easiest way to avoid getting too much. Your goal is not to eliminate iodine, but rather to regulate it.
The National Institute for Health recommends the following daily allowances of iodine:
Teens 14-18 years 150 mcg
Adults 150 mcg
Pregnant women 220 mcg
Breastfeeding women 290 mcg