Garlic’s history of medicinal power throughout the ages is almost as strong as its pungent, vampire scaring aroma. Humans have been using garlic in food since 4000BC. It was revered for its health properties in Ancient Egypt and Babylon 4500 years ago.
In Medieval times raw garlic was eaten as a treatment for drunkenness and greed. Later the English would eat a whole clove of garlic to ward off the Black Death. By 1858 the famous Louis Pasteur was preaching about garlic’s antifungal and antibacterial powers.
Today garlic has hundreds of documented health properties. One is its power to ward off disease-ridden mosquitoes; merely consuming garlic will kill them. Sub-Saharan Africans everywhere are eating garlic in hope that the mere scent will scare them away. There’s even a chewable dog food for sale in the USA called Bug Off Garlic, which gives dogs the garlic aroma to repel mosquitoes. It’s potency against these blood sucking insects is presumably how people know that vampires hate it…
…and there’s one other pest that garlic can vanquish – our old friend acne.
Garlic slashes inflammation!
By far the most famous medicinal compound in garlic is the sulphur based allicin. Allicin is what provides much of garlic’s pungent aroma. Garlic is a highly sulphurous food in general thanks to its many thiosulphanates, dithiins, and sulfoxides. Allicin is the most powerful as it forms roughly 70-80% of garlic’s total thiosulphanates.
Why is allicin so fantastic for acne? As your stomach digests allicin, it rapidly breaks it down into sulfenic acid. That’s an antioxidant, and a particularly potent one; this study found that sulfenic acid reacts with free radicals faster than any other substance known to mankind.
That’s great news for your acne because there will be more antioxidants available to defend against it. As a sulphurous molecule, garlic and allicin also have the power to aid formation of glutathione. That’s your body’s “master antioxidant” which you manufacture yourself and acne patients commonly lack. Any dietary sulphur compounds can boost glutathione production and garlic is packed with them.
Allicin isn’t the only one with unique benefits for acne either. Thiacremonone is a sulphurous compound in garlic and it has strong anti-inflammatory powers. This study found that thiacremonone inhibited the activity of two acne chemicals called molecules called NFKappaB and cyclogenase-2 (COX-2). Both of those are inflammatory master molecules which control the release of a vast swathe of pro-inflammatory pro acne immune system chemicals.
The scientists even commented that thiacremonone “thus could be a useful agent for the treatment of inflammatory and arthritic diseases”. That’s great news for us because arthritis is classic disease of chronic inflammation, and so is acne. There are actually arthritis sufferers on the internet now taking highly concentrated garlic pills. If you know anybody with arthritis or acne then feed them garlic!
Another sulphurous compound in garlic that lowers inflammation and thus acne nicely is 1,2-vinyldithiin (1,2-DT). Compared to thiacremonone the exact mechanism with 1,2-DT is less clear. Nevertheless, this study found 1,2-DT inhibited a wide variety of pro-inflammatory chemicals. One of them called interleukin-6, which acne prone skin has been demonstrated to contain in far higher than average amounts, was reduced by 26%. The scientists commented: “In conclusion, we demonstrated that 1,2-DT, a garlic-derived organosulfur, has antiadipogenic and anti-inflammatory actions”.
How does this translate into the real world and onto your face? Garlic is a potent way to reduce inflammation across the whole body, and that means your acne will be far less red, swollen and painful, and much of your acne won’t be born at all.
It’s not surprising that garlic can treat many common inflammatory diseases, whether it be the acne-like skin disorder psoriasis, arthritis, and even premature brain aging. Garlic has been shown to treat airway inflammation nicely in those with breathing problems. This study found that aged garlic extract could protect the brain from inflammation by blunting the increase in COX-2 (by 73.6%) and the inflammatory chemical TNF-a (76.6%). Interestingly, garlic slashed brain “infarction”, when the brain cells get starved of oxygen and die, by a staggering 54.8%.
The study on 1,2-DT also revealed that garlic can halt adipogenisis, the sort of inflammation that can contribute to obesity. Many new fat cells become fully fledged when they switch from normal mode called preadipocytes to a pro-inflammatory mode called adipocytes. Garlic stops that and can effectively slow down the birth of new fat cells on your waistline.
Basically, garlic is among the top ten anti-inflammatory foods you could eat and hence among the top ten acne foods you can eat.
Garlic contains tons of antioxidants!
What’s an even bigger power still is garlic’s astonishing antioxidant profile. Dried garlic cloves are the richest food source of acne clearing antioxidants in the world. There are over 300 varieties of garlic grown worldwide but all of them are packed full.
Here’s a list of the top five ranked foods on the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) scale for measuring antioxidants:
Ground garlic cloves – 314446
Sumac bran – 312400
Cinnamon – 267536
Raw sorghum bran – 240000
Dried oregano – 200129
As you can see, garlic just edges out sumac bran. It thrashes many fruits and vegetables which are still excellent for curing acne in their own right; pomegranate scores 10,500, raspberries score 5065, and kale scores 1770.
Part of these powers are attributed to the sulfenic acid formation from allicin digestion which we discussed above. Researchers say that sulfenic acid kills acne-causing free radicals as soon as it comes into contact with them.
However, garlic’s massive score doesn’t just come from allicin. Virtually all the sulphur molecules can function as antioxidants and clear acne. Some especially notable ones include…
Ajoene – allicin is formed as a by-product of alliin and allinase and ajoene is in turn formed as a by-product of allicin. A Japanese team of scientists featuring Naznin et al examined the effect of ajoene on numerous types of free radicals. Two types of ajoenes were used (e-ajoene and z-ajoene) and both inhibited free radicals behind acne excellently. Ajoene is most studied sulphurous compound in the dithiin group and it’s also the main compound behind garlic’s strong blood clot dissolving powers. Ajoene can prevent the cells in your blood from becoming too sticky and thus prevent a clot from forming in the first place.
Allixin – not to be confused with allicin. This is a member of the wide phenolic family of antioxidants. It was found in one study to inhibit the oxidisation of LDL cholesterol quite potently along with many other garlic-derived antioxidants.
What’s the significance of LDL cholesterol? Cholesterol is a form of lipid, a fat molecule, and that means that it requires fat soluble antioxidants to protect it. The most powerful fat soluble antioxidant for your acne is vitamin E, so if allixin and other garlic compounds are able to step in and protect LDL, vitamin E can focus on preventing acne instead.
Garlic is an antioxidant powerhouse. Furthermore, they’re well absorbed in the body. Garlic has two other sulphurous antioxidants which are called S-allyl mercaptocysteine (SAMC) and S-allyl cysteine (SAC), and these have a high bioavailability with 98 percent absorption into the blood.
As for studies on garlic itself, this one found that supplementing patients with garlic pearls substantially lowered their blood levels of lipid peroxides. That’s excellent news for acne patients because lipid peroxides can also deplete your vitamin E stores.
How does that affect you and your acne? By reducing oxidative stress, AKA the amount of free radicals roaming around your blood stream, your antioxidants whether they be vitamin E, the best acne vitamin ever, vitamin C or carotenoids, are more able to protect your skin against acne.
Furthermore, garlic seems particularly great at providing fat soluble antioxidants compared to other plant foods. Therefore garlic might also relieve the potent acne nutrient vitamin A, which lowers sebum production, and other carotenoids, which protect your acne from sun damage.
Garlic improves your digestion!
Gut flora optimisation is critical for all acne patients. Your body contains 100 trillion cells of bacteria, compared to only 10 billion human cells. Your gut is like your second brain. Hence, improving friendly bacterial strains like members of the lactobacillus family can lower stress hormones, improve acne nutrient absorption, relieve inflammation, and much more.
Both garlic and onions, which are part of the same lily family, are high in a form of insoluble fiber called inulin (not to be confused with the acne hormone insulin). Because you can’t digest inulin normally, it is instead fermented by your gut bacteria and used for their fuel, and broken down into more easily digestible metabolites in the process.
The good news is that this enables your healthy gut bacteria to expand. This review commented that inulin was excellent at boosting the Bifidobacterium family, which is known among many other health benefits to generate b-vitamins. There’s also evidence that Bifidobacterium strains manufacture the happiness hormone serotonin. Just 5-8 grams a day boosts bifidobacterium excellently and garlic is 9-16% inulin by weight; three cloves can thus provide 3 grams of inulin.
However, this leads us onto garlic’s only real downside. On acne forums there are uncommon but not rare stories of big acne breakouts from garlic. Why? All forms of insoluble fiber are digested through bacterial fermentation, but some of us don’t have the diversity of gut flora for this fermentation.
While the inulin in garlic is a useful weapon for most, a small minority may experience bloating, intestinal distress, and abdominal pain. The prevalence of garlic allergies among children is reportedly 1%. A classic side effect of food allergies is acne so if that’s what you’re noticing from garlic, insulin is the reason why.
In almost all cases however, improving your gut health is one of garlic’s standout acne-clearing powers. One of allicin’s main medicinal powers is killing infectious fungi, bacteria, and viruses; that’s why Louis Pasteur was recommending it back in the 1850s.
This translates well into your gut too and kills some of the harmful gut bacteria that can 1) churn out stress hormones (bad news for acne), 2) weaken your gut lining and impair absorption of all acne nutrients, and 3) churn out inflammatory molecules. Allicin has been shown to kill…
- E coli.
- Staphylococcus aureus.
- Clostridium perfringens.
- Salmonella spp.
The best part is that allicin preferentially kills bacteria harmful for acne. It has no effect on the friendly strains like those in the lactic and enterococci families.
Killing s.aureas also means you can use crushed garlic as a topical treatment. This gram-positive bacteria is a component of 20% of adult human skin flora and behind p.acnes it’s one of the worst for acne patients. Staphlococcus aureas overgrowth has been linked to boils, scalded skin syndrome, cellulitis, pimples and acne, not to mention skin conditions related to acne like psoriasis.
Should an acne patient be eating garlic?
There haven’t been any direct studies on garlic and acne. But I strongly believe that it’s easily a top ten food for treating the conditions behind acne. Garlic’s two main powers, lowering inflammation and increasing antioxidant levels, are found across many fruits and vegetables but here they are massively amplified.
That’s not all either; we haven’t discussed how garlic has a long anecdotal history of directly treating skin problems. Mandarin oil painter Choo Keng Kwang enjoyed a complete reversal of his psoriasis (an inflammatory skin condition related to acne) after just four days of eating half a bulb of black garlic per day. He did this after trying countless medically prescribed skin creams that all failed totally and miserably.
As for the quantity to eat? Just one clove will provide acne-clearing antioxidants, and two, three or four cloves will be even better. I’d advise you to eat at least one daily if you’re going to do eat garlic for acne, to give your gut bacteria a consistent stream of fuel flowing in.
Fresh garlic is optimal for acne
You see, a whole fresh garlic bulb contains relatively little allicin. What actually happens is that when you slice into garlic with a knife, two other sulphuric compounds called alliin and allinase come into contact with each other and react. It’s in this enzymatic reaction that all the allicin is formed. The same can happen when garlic cloves are bruised or broken in any method.
The problem is that allicin has a very short half-life, as low as 24 hours by some estimates. Furthermore, it’s a very delicate compound and is obliterated when you microwave it or cook it at high temperatures. You may have noticed that when cooking garlic products, the flavour completely transforms. Well, that’s because allicin provides a large proportion of garlic’s unique flavour palette and that allicin is destroyed in the oven.
Your garlic absolutely should be raw then, to make your garlic as powerful for acne as possible. Note that all the medieval guys hoping to cure drunkenness, greed, stupidity or Black Death with garlic ate it raw. That was actually specified in the history books. Likewise, the Egyptian slaves who built the pyramids survived on a diet of water, bread and garlic. All their garlic cloves were consumed raw as well.
By raw I mean unheated; sliced or cut is fine. Note that while cutting or bruising forms the allicin, biting into it with your teeth will also trigger the necessary enzymatic reaction.
You might have heard tales that allicin is useless because it gets destroyed in your stomach acid. It does vanish from the body quickly but that’s because 1) your gut bacteria ferments it, and 2) it is quickly converted into the free radical hunting sulfenic acid. Allicin doesn’t increase in the bloodstream when you eat garlic, but it generates copious amounts of other compounds that do.
The ultimate strategy for an acne patient is to use whole garlic cloves and you should cut them on the day you use them. As we discussed, allicin’s half-life is very low. If you cut a whole bunch of garlic cloves, use some of the thick powder in a homemade soup that night, but then leave a large proportion of it in the cupboard for making the soup the next week, the latter will be totally depleted of allicin.
The sooner you eat the garlic after cutting it, the healthier it will be for your skin. Cutting in the morning and eating in the evening is fine, but leaving it overnight will deplete it the allicin too far. Long abandoned garlic will still have many other acne benefits because the other sulphurous compounds don’t deplete anywhere near as fast…
…but if you’re like me and want to push any acne-clearing food you eat to the limits of science, follow those steps. For the exact same reason you also have to avoid minced garlic, pre-packed garlic powders, or dried flakes. They will have been cut for days or even weeks if they’ve been sent from China or South Korea.
Speaking of which, say no to any garlic derived products grown by the Chinese! Firstly, their garlic powders are often contaminated with acne-causing heavy metals, especially the keratin-increasing, pore blocking arsenic. Secondly, I’ve heard many rumours that garlic products grown in China are actually fertilised with human waste.
The top five garlic growing countries worldwide are China, the United States, Spain, India and South Korea. 60% of world supplies come from China but you should be able to avoid them easily in the shops; there are lotsof different products to buy and because non-organic garlic is completely safe, you’re not suffocated by crippling strictness. You’ll be especially safe if you live in California since 90% of the USA’s production occurs there.
Finally, the good news is that whole, uncut garlic cloves will last for about one month in the cupboard. Simply keep them away from sunlight, and in an uncovered container to maximise their lifespan and acne powers.
There’s little to say other than garlic is a powerhouse of nutrition and you should include it in an acne-clearing diet wherever you can. Who can clear their acne by eating garlic? Any acne patient who needs some antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrition… oh wait, that’s every acne patient!
There’s only one problematic circumstance and that’s if your digestive system is weak. The good news is that once your gut flora diversifies after weeks of eating many plant prebiotics from the fruits and vegetables you need to eat, you’ll be equipped to digest inulin more easily, and thus without acne showing up.
Remember the guidelines. Your garlic must not be microwaved, minced or dried in flakes, you should chop a whole clove the day you intend to use it. Use garlic in any acne friendly food that needs spicing up with flavour, whether it be homemade soup, homemade meat sauce, homemade stew or homemade chilli powder.
Organic garlic is not necessary!
The final benefit of garlic is that number one, it’s so cheap that even a hobo can buy a dozen fresh cloves. Number two, garlic becomes even cheaper considering that buying the organic version is a waste of money, for acne or health. The truth is that pests and insects, the likes of which can devastate a strawberry field, have no interest in garlic.
Why? We already discussed how mosquitoes die when they eat garlic, and apparently a great deal of other insects are intolerant. For example, garlic is widely used as a natural pesticide against aphids; you can douse your plants in a mixture of garlic powder and water and they’ll stay well away. Looper caterpillars and whiteflies also fear garlic.
Hence, conventional farmers rarely spray garlic with the worst inflammatory and acne causing pesticides. There’s just no need. Garlic comes up low in tests on pesticide contamination compared to fruits like apples, strawberries, or blueberries. The strong sulphurous smell of garlic (and its close relative onions) deters most. The insects that do eat garlic focus on other parts of the plant, rather than the bulbous root which we eat.
So avoid Chinese products, and buy the whole, fresh clove, and your garlic won’t be hiding any contaminants.
Bonus – how to kill garlic breath
If you are going to blast your acne away with garlic every day from this day forth, then good news; there are some useful foods which deactivate the unpleasant garlic flavoured breath. It’s one thing to get beautifully acne-free skin but you don’t want to scare all your friends away with a socially offensive odour. With that in mind, these tips may help to freshen your breath up…
Eat parsley – parsley is an herb which has a very grassy, earthy taste. This taste comes from its high amounts of chlorophyll, and this has been shown to be potent at freshening up the breath. According to a recent study, chewing parsley can neutralise garlic breath through a process known as “enzymatic deodorisation”. Another study however, found that parsley had no effect on bad breath. What’s the truth? You’ll only discover it by trying parsley for yourself. Parsley also has some strong acne-clearing powers since it increases production of acne antioxidants like glutathione.
Drink milk – this study found that milk was far more effective at deactivating allyl methyl sulphide, a garlic compound that’s a key villain behind garlic breath, compared to water or 10% sodium casseinate. The scientists concluded that milk “may help reduce the malodorous odour in breath after garlic ingestion and mask the garlic flavour during eating”. Presumably, yoghurt will be equally as effective.
Raw apples and spinach – they were both found in the study above to reduce garlic breath. Raw apples were especially effective. They also tested whey protein and that had NO effect. Clearly it’s another compound in milk that does the trick.
Green tea – the same study found that the polyphenols in green tea helped to break down the sulphurous compounds. Green tea is especially high in polyphenols.
The scientists commented that polyphenol antioxidants are particularly great at deactivating the sulphurous compounds responsible. Theoretically then, any fruit or vegetable or even dark chocolate bar that’s packed with them could do so.
There’s probably an unknown food lurking out there with an antioxidant profile optimal for freshening your breath, which scientists don’t know about. If you experiment, it’s possible that you’ll stumble upon it.
Follow those tips and you can eat all the acne-clearing garlic you want and possibly not become an outcast of civilised society.
Thanks for reading!