If true, that would be great news for consumers seeing as in 2012, the average American ate 16.7 pounds of tomato per year. Tomatoes are the most commonly consumed vegetable in the USA after white potatoes.
But there’s no doubt that as fruits and vegetables go (tomatoes are botanically a fruit, but officially a vegetable), the tomato is one of the poorer ones for any acne patient, whether you’re lowering inflammation, beating insulin resistance, hoping to unblock pores or whatever else.
Tomatoes are a decent source of acne nutrients and antioxidants but they pale compared to the best fruits of the best. Furthermore, tomatoes are a classic food for triggering acne via allergic reactions.
Why tomatoes trigger acne outbreaks
You only have to search on acne forums to find stories of bad bursts of acne from tomatoes. “Tomatoes gave me cystic lesions on my chin”, “tomatoes gave me bad acne and digestive bloating”, “my face becomes flushed and I get acne within 24 hours of consumption”.
The answer: tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family.
Nightshades are an extremely wide family of plants across the world. Almost all are poisonous to humans; you might have been travelling in foreign countries one time only to have your guide instruct you to never start chewing on that deadly nightshade in the forest. Nightshade plants growing in local woods can kill or cause rapid vomiting.
However we can stomach a few nightshades and some species are common vegetables – bell peppers, hot peppers, white potatoes (but not sweet potatoes), eggplants, tobacco, goji berries, and tomatoes.
The problem is that almost all nightshades contain glycoalkaloids, natural alkaloids in plants which act as defensive toxins. Glycoalkaloids essentially act as the nightshade’s natural pesticide – with humans among the pests to be deterred.
The history of nightshades is littered with controversy. Glycoalkaloids are famous for causing joint pain; it started in the 1940s when the horticulturalist Norma Childers noticed that livestock who ate nightshades from the woods had a tendency to develop arthritis. He removed these nightshades from the animal’s diets and is if by magic, their arthritis disappeared. Furthermore, he then removed nightshades from his own diet and his own arthritis disappeared.
Nowadays, many family doctors advise reducing nightshades for treating joint pain and arthritis. Why does joint pain matter for acne patients, you might ask? Joint pain is a sign of chronic inflammation, and chronic inflammation is the single biggest disease behind acne.
The famous glycoalkaloid in potatoes is solanine, and solanine allergies are well established to happen. The FDA limits the amount of glycoalkaloids in potatoes to 200mg/kg because of their known toxicity in some. In this article I discussed how the only real downside of potatoes for acne patients is the high amounts of glycoalkaloids in the skin.
Luckily, potato skins can be peeled off but there’s no such luck with tomatoes. The main glycoalkaloid in tomato is alpha-tomatine. Tomatine is 20 times less toxic than solanine for a normal human, but tomatine is also believed to cause allergic-like reactions in many, which can include acne and inflammation. Like potatoes, tomatoes routinely give healthy people joint stiffness and painful red rashes for no apparent reason.
Tomatine was shown in one study to damage stomach cells severely in some people. Pharmaceutical companies are reportedly experimenting with new vaccines which include tomatine. Why? Apparently tomatine triggers a massive immune system response when consumed, a classic hallmark of inflammation.
Some stories indicative of inflammation from tomato consumption include…
- “I completely eliminated tomatoes from my diet for a week and my arthritis went away completely. Then I tried eating lots of them and it flared up again”.
- “One morning, I awoke to find that I had developed severe arthritic pains in my left fore-arm and hand. I then left tomatoes off the menu, and within 2 days the pain had all but disappeared. One day later, I was pain-free.”
- “Tried some sliced tomato across with a small amount of skin and still I had problems the next day, including bloating, gas, and stomach pain”.
- One woman eats raw tomatoes and will “within a day have eczema on my fingers and the skin on my face will become red and inflamed, and will break out much worse than it usually does”.
On the other hand, actual studies on tomatoes and inflammation show a different picture:
STUDY ONE – scientists in this study fed tomato juice to 53 obese or overweight women and water to another 53 women. The tomato juice substantially reduced levels of inflammation; key inflammatory chemicals behind acne were lowered including TNF-a, IL-6, and IL-8.
STUDY TWO – this study found that placing 103 people on a Mediterranean style tomato rich diet did not affect their inflammation levels at all. Compared to a tomato free diet, there was no change in pro-inflammatory chemicals like hs-CRP, E-selectin and ICAM-1. The scientists concluded that “The mechanisms of benefit of the tomato-rich diet are not directly related to inhibition of markers of vascular inflammation”. No improvement but no deterioration either.
What does this mean for us acne patients? Tomatoes are not an inherently bad food for your acne, but sensitivity is common.
There’s a small chance that you’ll notice random outbreaks of acne from regularly eating tomatoes. Maybe you’ve already noticed a sensitivity and that’s why you’re here; in that case it’s highly likely that the tomatine is to blame for your symptoms.
If you do notice joint pain, red rashes, or digestive discomfort after eating tomatoes, then they are contributing to your acne and it’s a good idea to eliminate them.
Tomatoes – the complete acne analysis
Even if you aren’t sensitive to tomatoes then I still don’t recommend that you place them on a pedestal above other fruits and vegetables. While surfing the internet you may have seen claims like “there’s no vegetable in the world that matches a tomato” or “tomato is a powerhouse of nutrition”. Tomatoes often get hyped up on health websites because many manufacturers want to sell the lycopene antioxidants inside it as a health supplement…
…but the truth is that tomatoes aren’t a superfood for micronutrients and anyone can deduce that with a glance at its basic nutrition table:
- 100 grams of tomatoes contains 22% of RDA for vitamin C (13mg).
- 16% for vitamin A.
- 2% for magnesium.
- 7% potassium.
- 1% for calcium (10mg).
- 6% for manganese.
- 1% for zinc (0.2mg).
- 3% for vitamin E (0.5mg).
- 4% for vitamin B6.
- 3% for niacin.
- 1% for vitamin B5.
Furthermore, the RDA of 60mg for vitamin C is far too low. You can cure acne with that amount, but to provide maximum resources for improving collagen production and strengthening your skin it’s better to aim for 200mg plus.
The vitamin A count is decent, but sweet potatoes contain 200% of the RDA per 100 grams. Tomatoes don’t have stellar levels of any nutrient.
What about antioxidants then, which are often the real standout quality of many acne friendly fruits? On the ORAC scale (oxygen radical absorbance capacity), raw tomatoes receive a score of 350-550, depending on how they’re cooked. Tomatoes have some antioxidant power, so they clearly have some power to reduce oxidative stress and prevent blocked pores…
…but that score pales in comparison to tons of other foods. Pomegranate scores 10,500, apples score 4669, strawberries score 4302, and so on. Furthermore, none of them are nightshades and none are controversial when it comes to inflammation and digestive problems.
Does lycopene in tomatoes cure acne?
Speaking of lycopene, you’ve probably heard about how this antioxidant which provides the tomato’s red colour is great at preventing cancer and lowering inflammation. Well, it is, and that’s one redeeming factor for tomatoes:
STUDY ONE – 40 patients with heart failure were randomly assigned to either two groups: a lycopene supplemented diet or a standard diet. Each patient had their levels of C – reactive protein measured – which is the most commonly used biomarker for assessing bodily inflammation levels. In women, though not men, lycopene decreased CRP levels substantially (study).
STUDY TWO – scientists in this study created a tomato based dink featuring lycopene as well as other tomato antioxidants. After 26 days of treatment, blood levels of the pro inflammatory chemical TNF-a fell by a large 34.4%.
STUDY THREE – this review stated that lowered inflammation may be responsible for the protective effect of lycopene on the heart. Lycopene can apparently inhibit both inflammatory chemicals and inflammatory signalling, possibly by inhibiting the inflammatory master molecule NF-KappaB.
Lycopene is excellent at lowering inflammation and that’s why internet retailors are now flogging off lycopene pills left right and centre.
But what’s important to understand is that lycopene is hardly rare. It is distributed widely across nature and tomatoes are only the third best food source.
Per 100 grams, watermelon flesh contains 4532ug which is roughly 1.5 times as much lycopene as cooked tomatoes with 3041ug. Raw tomatoes contain even less because lycopene concentrations increase when exposed to heat.
Watermelon is also a food that rarely causes allergies and is linked to lower inflammation. It contains plenty of natural citrulline, which converts to arginine in the body and subsequently increases nitric oxide, which accelerates the healing of your old acne.
If you want to get this potent antioxidant then I’d recommend eating watermelon instead. Several other foods contain good amounts of lycopene and they include guavas (5204ug), papaya (1828ug), and grapefruit (1135ug).
Also remember this: as we hinted at earlier, many natural health websites promote lycopene not to enrich your health, but rather to enrich their own bank accounts. Articles you read on lycopene in tomatoes might be accurate when discussing its health benefits, but in reality they’re nothing but extended advertisements.
The truth when it comes to clearing acne and improving health is that it’s pointless to isolate a single antioxidant. There are endless different antioxidants like phenols, flavonoids, anthocyanins, and catechins across nature, many of which have unique powers to improve your acne.
Other famous antioxidants include resveratrol in red wine, epicatechin-3-gallate in green tea, and astaxanthin in salmon, but they’re the tip of the iceberg. To cure acne you need to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to pull in thousands of varied compounds.
The only antioxidants you need to specifically target are as follows: micronutrients with additional antioxidant functioning like vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin E, and the major antioxidants which you make yourself such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase. Lycopene is good at reducing inflammation but it’s just another antioxidant and it isn’t “a nutrient which every human being has to get more of”.
Any less documented acne powers?
There’s actually one power of tomatoes which is pretty promising: their ability to lower your blood levels of lipid peroxides.
That’s a type of free radical derived from fat molecules, which are especially bad for acne since vitamin E is the main fat soluble antioxidant in your body and gets depleted when lipid peroxides are too high. That’s important because as we discussed in this article, vitamin E is the single most important acne vitamin.
STUDY ONE – this 2008 study fed tomato power to several Japanese quail birds and collected their blood samples some time later. Serum, muscle, and liver levels of malondialdehyde decreased substantially. Malondialdehyde is a lipid peroxide and it’s the most widely used measure of overall lipid peroxidation in the body. Blood levels of vitamin E increased too, despite the fact that tomatoes contain just 1% of the RDA. Clearly less vitamin E was being depleted.
STUDY TWO – jamaican scientists tested the effect of cooked tomato supplementation on antioxidant and lipid peroxide levels in humans with type 2 diabetes. Again, malondialdehyde was found to fall substantially on a long term basis. They concluded that “these findings suggest that tomato lycopene may have considerable therapeutic potential as an antioxidant”, but it was actually the entire tomato they were using, so hidden compounds could have been responsible.
STUDY THREE – in this study the Jamaican scientists returned to the fray to test the effect of cooked tomatoes but this time they examined lipid peroxide levels in the short term. The same biomarkers were examined and cooked tomatoes were found to lower lipid peroxide levels significantly.
It’s clear the tomatoes can reduce lipid peroxides well and lycopene has been shown to do the same.
It’s likely that the antioxidants which tomatoes do have fall under the category of fat-soluble antioxidants rather than water-soluble ones; hence they can relieve vitamin E and let it concentrate on strengthening your skin where it’s needed.
On the negative side, tomatoes are also one of the few vegetables that contain decent quantities of lectins. Nightshades in general are high in lectins.
A lectin is another defensive plant weapon – it’s a sticky protein that binds to epithelial cells in your small intestine, thus triggering an inflammatory response to remove it. The problem is that these inflammatory chemicals wreak digestive havoc at the same time.
Alongside gluten, lectins (specifically wheat germ agglutinin) is one reason why wheat causes such bloating, abdominal pain, and poor digestion. This can lead to acne by further increasing food allergies, impairing digestion of acne nutrients like magnesium, and causing leaky gut syndrome.
Lectins may be another reason why many get inflammatory reactions and acne from tomatoes. The quantity of lectins is not enormous, but if you’re following any type of gut healing protocol, the type of protocol we discuss in Annihilate Your Acne, then it’s smart to keep your tomato intake low.
To clear acne, you cannot ignore vitamin C
The fact that tomatoes lack vitamin C is a major hit against them compared to say, broccoli or strawberries. Vitamin C is easily one of the most important nutrients for acne. You simply have to get enough, in one way or another. You have to eat plenty of fruits rich in it like pineapple or strawberries, or take a supplement to cover your bases.
For example: this study found that compared to clear-skinned patients, acne patients had an average of 40% less vitamin C in their bloodstream. That’s a pretty outstanding result.
I’ve personally noticed excellent improvements in my skin tone from taking vitamin C. My old acne marks have healed far faster and my skin has a healthy and even tone. If you’re stressed out then vitamin C is a godsend. If you have old acne scars which you need to remove then it’s better, because vitamin C builds the collagen proteins which construct new skin cells.
It’s up to you how to get the vitamin C you need for acne. Tomatoes definitely won’t do the trick, that’s guaranteed. I personally take a supplement and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
My preferred supplement is easily this Navitas Naturals Organic Camu Camu Powder, which is manufactured from concentrated camu camu berries from Peru. It’s derived from a whole food and hence it’s very well-absorbed in the human body, not to mention chemical free.
Another natural and effective option is this Garden of Life Vitamin Code Vitamin C. Again, this supplement is food derived and free from fillers and stabilisers.
It’s clear that tomatoes are a classic acne food where your individual bodily circumstances are critical. Many get raging allergies and acne from tomatoes, possibly due to its natural nightshade alkaloids like tomatine, but studies find that some people enjoy lower inflammation.
I would not give tomatoes a strong endorsement for acne patients in any circumstances. Their ability to lower lipid peroxides is promising, but elsewhere they’re low on acne nutrients and antioxidants and their standout compound, lycopene, can be found in watermelons.
Tomatoes don’t have any standout acne powers like other foods we’ve discussed on this website. Watermelons are excellent for promoting wound healing, pomegranates lower stress levels, garlic boosts glutathione production, and cinnamon is excellent for lowering blood sugar.
If you love the taste and versatility in cooking, and your experiences tell you that you can digest them without any inflammation and discomfort, then you can keep eating tomatoes as one small component of a wider acne-friendly diet.
If, on the other hand, you notice joint pain, fatigue and weak muscles after eating tomatoes regularly, then they are contributing to your acne and it’s a smart idea to get your acne nutrition from elsewhere.
Organic tomatoes are superior
If you do eat tomatoes however, then to push your acne clearing nutrition to the absolute maximum possible it’s a great idea to buy the organic version. Why? There’s a never-ending debate in the nutritional world right now about whether organic foods are more nutritious. In 2014, a massive review came out from the British Journal of Nutrition showing that organic foods are far higher in vitamin C and antioxidants but in 2012 another review from Stanford stated that buying organic foods is a waste of money.
What’s very clear though, is that tomatoes are one food where growing them organically does make a big difference. Witness this impressive study from two years ago.
Scientists compared two batches of Brazilian tomatoes, one which was grown in organic fields and one grown conventionally using artificial nitrate based fertilisers and pesticides. Their quantities of key nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, lycopene and polyphenol antioxidants were examined. The tomatoes were all grown in nearby farmyard plots in Brazil, which allowed for a more accurate comparison of the tomatoes since both varieties were grown in similar soil and climatic conditions.
The results were very impressive: organic tomatoes contained 139% more phenolic compounds, 55% more vitamin C and 70% more yellow flavonoids and anthocyanins (a class of antioxidants). The British NHS laughed off these findings and claimed that the extra antioxidants are not proven to translate into improvements in human health, and it needs to be tested on human subjects etc…
…but they were being overly cautious, because dietary antioxidants are proven to be healthy for humans and their acne. The more the better, so if you are eating tomatoes for whatever reason, buy the organic versions.
It’s a similar story with ketchup, as organic brands were found in a separate study to contain 57% more lycopene than conventional brands. Another reason to buy organic tomatoes is the fact that tomatoes are one of the worst foods for pesticide contamination. According to whatsonmyfood.com, USDA agrochemical detection programs have detected the following 35 pesticides and herbicides on tomatoes:
- 5 cancerous carcinogens.
- 14 Hormone disruptors.
- 6 Neurotoxins.
- 3 Developmental or reproductive toxins.
That count includes known inflammatory pesticides like atrazine. If you want to eat a delicious pizza for a treat then you’d better buy some organic passata and make it yourself. As for acne, I would estimate from all the studies I’ve reviewed that roughly half of pesticides and herbicides cause either serious inflammation in the body or depletion of important antioxidants such as glutathione.
Speaking of toxic chemicals, it’s also critical to avoid canned tomatoes. Why? For one big reason: the lining around the inside of the can is full of BPA, a monstrosity of an acne chemical which is linked to chronic inflammation. Tomatoes are highly acidic and this encourages massive leaching of the BPA into the food, which later enters your stomach.
It’s also a little known fact that cooked tomatoes are in fact healthier than raw ones. In many foods, like honey, the delicate antioxidants get destroyed when heated, but with tomatoes that’s not the case. This study cooked tomatoes at 88C and found that after 2, 15, and 30 minutes…
- The content of trans-lycopene increased by 54 percent, 171 percent and 164 percent respectively.
- The content of cis-lycopene, the best absorbed form by the human body, rose by 6, 17 and 35 percent respectively.
- The overall antioxidant content increased by 28, 34 and 62 percent, respectively.
- The only downside was that the vitamin C levels dropped substantially. There was no change in phenolic antioxidants or flavonoids.
Cooked tomatoes also get a slightly higher ORAC score than raw ones; 406 against 367. The longer you cook tomatoes the healthier they seem to become, so if you really love tomatoes, you’d do well to include them in any homemade meat sauces, soups, stews or other acne-friendly cooked recipes.
Thanks for reading!