Apples at least have the reputation of a nutritious superfood. The famous “apple a day” phrase was originally an old proverb from Pembrokeshire in Wales. The original saying was “eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.” By the early 20th century it had evolved into “an apple a day, no doctor to pay”.
Finally, it became “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” by 1922, when that phrase was first recorded.
If the proverb is true then that’s great news; apples are the second most popular fruit in the USA. The average American eats 19 pounds of apples per year, ranking behind only the banana at 33 pounds per year.
Luckily, upon doing the research for this article, I discovered that apples are far more acne friendly than I once believed.
Apples are surprisingly nutritious
At first glance, apples are rather basic with little acne nutrition to offer. In terms of the acne vitamins and acne minerals, a single apple weighing 150 grams contains…
- 12% of the RDA for vitamin C.
- 5% of the RDA for potassium.
- 0% of the RDA for vitamin B12.
- 5% of the RDA for vitamin K1.
- 3% of the RDA for manganese.
- 2% of the RDA for vitamin A.
- 3% of the RDA for vitamin B6.
- 1% of the RDA for vitamin E.
- 2% of the RDA for calcium and magnesium.
You see, apples score nearly as highly on the ORAC scale for measuring antioxidants as the much-praised blueberry. 100 grams of raw blueberries scores 4669 while a raw red delicious apple with skin scores 4275, and a raw Granny Smith apple scores 3898.
This power against acne has been confirmed by science too:
STUDY ONE – this study fed apple juice to 25 healthy patients for two weeks, with their blood antioxidants levels being measured before and after.
The scientists concluded that “intake of apple juice was efficient in enhancing the body’s antioxidant status”. That’s just apple juice as well; a whole apple retains far more enzymes and compounds because it has all the undamaged fiber.
STUDY TWO – in a similar study scientists fed 4 women and 1 man apple juice and blackcurrant juice for 1 week. There was a big increase in a bodily antioxidant called glutathione peroxide, in close correlation with the juice dosage. Key markers of oxidative stress like malondialdehyde and lipid peroxides fell substantially.
STUDY THREE – this study was designed to compare the antioxidant content of apples, peaches and pears. Rats which were being fed a high cholesterol diet were gathered and each was fed one of the three fruits.
The scientists concluded that apples, pears and peaches all boosted plasma antioxidant capacity, but that apples were the best. Specific antioxidants were also analysed; caffeic, p-coumaric and ferulic acids and the total radical-trapping antioxidative potential (TRAP) were significantly higher in apples compared to peaches and pears.
Apples are clearly great at boosting your antioxidant status and thus they’re great at preventing blocked pores and acne too.
Apparently, apples generate especially high amounts of antioxidants compared to most fruits because the white flesh inside is highly vulnerable to oxidation when exposed to sunlight. Polyphenols, one of most abundant antioxidants in apples, can actually absorb ultraviolet-B light. They can prevent damage to the photosynthesising cells necessary for the fruit’s survival.
Hence, apples have evolved a dense armour of polyphenols to protect themselves. An apple uses antioxidants as its natural sunscreen. When it’s picked from the apple tree and transferred to your plate, they’re still there, all ready for you to eat.
In fact, it’s estimated that the total antioxidant activity of 100 grams of raw apple is equivalent to the antioxidant activity of 1500 mg (2500% of the RDA) of vitamin C. Apples are also especially high in free phenolic compounds, meaning that the antioxidants are not bound to other compounds in the fruit and are thus absorbed very efficiently into your bloodstream where they travel to your acne.
Rich in hidden, acne-clearing phytonutrients
What’s even better is that the specific types of antioxidants found in apples have their own special acne powers:
Quercetin – in this article about acne and sweet potatoes we discussed how a phytonutrient called quercetin decreases the activity of immune system mast cells in your gut. This increases the efficiency of your digestive system by preventing food allergies, maximising nutrient absorption and protecting your acne friendly families of gut bacteria. All these are indirect factors that wind up clearing your acne.
Well, apples are another excellent source of quercetin, particularly the skins. Quercetin can also slash inflammation; studies show that quercetin supplementation lowers levels of the inflammatory biomarker c-reactive protein.
Chlorogenic acid – this antioxidant compound is responsible for many touted health benefits of coffee, like weight loss and improved heart health. The good news for us acne patients is that chlorogenic acid has substantial anti-inflammatory powers.
A 2014 study found that chlorogenic acid supplementation inhibited acne-causing immune chemicals like interleukin-6, IL-1beta, and COX-2. In the human body, chlorogenic acid is metabolised into caffeic acid, which itself is strongly anti-inflammatory according to this study.
Lowering inflammation is partly how chlorogenic acid in coffee helps to protect the heart. Chlorogenic acid is a lot less common than the aforementioned quercetin, but apples are an excellent source.
Ferulic acid – a compound found in only two fruits: oranges and apples. Also found in coffee and certain beans, but generally uncommon. Ferulic acid has anti-inflammatory benefits similarly to chlorogenic acid, but according to this study, can also improve the efficiency of insulin molecules.
That increases your overall insulin sensitivity, allows your blood levels to fall, and prevents acne via lower sebum production. The scientists commented that ferulic acid is a promising treatment for type 2 diabetes, so it’ll help to make your skin less oily.
What’s better is that there’s probably even more acne curing compounds which scientists haven’t identified yet. While apples don’t hit the acne clearing heights of pomegranates or strawberries, they’ve got plenty of raw nutritional strength, strength which can’t be deduced from the vitamin C count on a google nutrition table.
Why apple allergies are so common
With all that praise out the way, apples are nowhere near perfect for acne. One of their biggest problems is their high levels of FODMAPs.
FODMAPs are the reason why many seemingly healthy and “clean” foods like apples or apricots can still give people acne with no obvious explanation. FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols. FODMAPs are a wide family of carbohydrates which are poorly absorbed by the small intestine. They include sugars like fructose and lactose, but also less famous carbs like fructans and galactans.
The problem with FODMAPs is that over the last few years, it’s been discovered that many modern human beings can hardly digest them at all. FODMAPs get rapidly fermented by unhealthy intestinal bacteria and they have a tendency to suck in extra water. They thus cause symptoms like bloating, gas, stomach pain, indigestion – and our friend acne.
We’re not going to get into the whole gut-acne connection here. You could write an entire book about the problem. Basically though, any food that causes the digestive symptoms above is also a candidate for giving you acne, through methods like feeding harmful bacteria behind acne to causing leaky gut syndrome. FODMAPS are one reason why blackberries might give you acne when the rest of the nutritional world is bowing down before them.
The causes of FODMAP sensitivity are not yet known since it’s a newly emerging area of scientific research. One theory is that humans of certain ethnicities aren’t equipped to digest certain carbohydrate types.
Another is that the modern human’s healthy gut flora is severely crippled, thanks to our modern lifestyle. My gut instinct is that the second theory is largely correct, with secondary genetic factors determining who really falls victim.
What’s certain though, is that apples are a classic FODMAP food. They’re a classic food for unexplained allergies like acne. You can search the internet and finds tons of acne patients complaining of cystic acne, a whole family of new pimples, and indigestion after eating just one. Supposedly up to 5% of the population is affected by an apple allergy. When prescribing FODMAP avoidance diets, apples (alongside mangoes, peaches, watermelon, blackberries, figs, and apricots) are generally considered a no-go by doctors.
The entire issue of FODMAP sensitivity can actually be healed with a protocol lasting for months. That’s a topic we’ll discuss in a future article. No food high in FODMAPs is inherently bad for acne, you just need to strengthen your healthy gut bacteria to digest them correctly…
…but nevertheless, you should be aware that because of FODMAPs, acne patients can and do have bad reactions to apples.
The truth about sugar in apples
The second crack in the apple’s acne-clearing armour is its relatively high sugar content. Depending on the agricultural strain, a medium sized apple (weighing 150 grams) contains between 10 and 15 grams of sugar. Meanwhile the same quantity of raspberries or strawberries contains just 7-8 grams.
Sugar of course is an inflammatory menace that’s secretly causing many health epidemics of today, including acne. However its unhealthy consequences for acne don’t kick in at intakes below 50 grams. You have to eat some sugar or you’ll drive yourself mad with an all meat and oil diet.
Therefore, a moderately sugary apple won’t derail all your acne clearing efforts at all. You just need to avoid gorging on sugary chocolate and candy elsewhere. It’s also smart for curing acne to restrain your overall fruit consumption to 3 servings per day with only one portion being high in sugar, which is where you could slot your apple in.
Benefits of apples revealed in the real world
Moreover, it’s pretty obvious from all the anecdotal evidence the two problems above don’t really dent the apple’s acne powers. Apples have been referenced in folktales handed down throughout history. The old proverb didn’t appear out of thin air.
There’s endless studies showing benefits from apples for your entire health, not just acne:
Stroke prevention – this study on 75,000 people found that apples were linked to a lower risk of stroke. Many fruits and vegetables were studied, but apples and pears, alongside leafy green vegetables, had the biggest preventative effect.
Cancer prevention – several studies have found that apples are particularly potent at preventing colon and lung cancer. The flavonoid antioxidants in apples have anti-proliferative effects on cancer cells. One apple a day is enough to slash your cancer risk.
Type 2 diabetes – the compounds above were shown to reduce the risk of insulin resistance, and that prevents type 2 diabetes as well. Eating apples every day was linked to a 7% lower risk of diabetes in one study. The compounds in apples can 1) stimulate the absorption of glucose in your digestive tract, and 2) increase the sensitivity of insulin receptors.
Weight loss – research has found that eating a whole apple before a meal may lead you to eat 15 percent less calories. Eating a whole apple was also connected to greater feelings of satiety after a meal. Note that these effects were observed only for a whole apple – not apple juice or apple sauce.
All this is great news for your acne. Why? Because acne is just a symptom of a wider problem in the body.
The appearance of your skin is intricately linked to health conditions of all types, whether it be brain health, gut health, nutrient intake, or blood sugar levels. That an apple can improve so many aspects of non-acne related health is thus excellent news for any acne patient.
Verdict – should an acne patient be feasting on apples?
My conclusion after sifting through all the evidence is as follows: apples are not an extraordinary superfood. They’re very run of the mill for a fruit for acne.
Watermelons for example, have the power to accelerate wound healing, and pomegranates can slash your stress hormones. However, apples are a great source of antioxidants and they do inhibit acne causing inflammation nicely.
Therefore they’re a good food to eat as part of a wider acne-friendly diet. If you love the taste of apples or have been eating them already for your health, then keep going! The apple’s standout acne power is its high amount of antioxidants, so they’re a good weapon if you’re looking to eat more to prevent blocked pores and p.acnes overgrowth.
There’s also life circumstances in which your need for antioxidants is higher; if you’re exposed to lots of free radicals from air pollution, if you’re a smoker, if you eat lots of foods cooked in vegetables oils, if you work in factories or fields where you breathe in pesticides and herbicides.
Overall, I’d say apples sit somewhere in the middle of the acne pack when it comes to fruits.
One last important note: eating the skin of an apple is absolutely critical.
The skin is where all the antioxidant defences are concentrated; that’s why the green has a vibrant green or red colour, whereas the flesh inside is just yellowy white. Antioxidants provide colour in fruits. Seeing as antioxidants are the apple’s main benefit against acne, it’s vital to make the most of them. For example…
- A raw apple with the skin has 4.42mg of quercetin whereas a raw apple without the skin has 1.50mg.
- A raw red delicious apple with the skin has an ORAC score of 4225, whereas a raw skinless red delicious has a score of 2936.
- Almost all of an apple’s phenolic compounds are found in the skin (which provides the apple skin’s red colour).
Don’t peel the skin off, and it’s also a smart idea to pick the more colourful apples you can find.
Say no to apple juice!
Don’t get the idea that you can just drink a carton of apple juice for your breakfast. The whole fruit and its juice are very different beasts, especially for acne patients.
Firstly, like any fruit juice apple juice is dramatically higher in sugar. One cup of apple juice contains roughly 25 grams of pure free-floating sugar. Unlike in the whole apple where there’s plenty of soluble fiber and apple pectin to bind the sugar together, the sugar in apple juice is digested in a millisecond, where it floods straight to your liver, turns to fat and messes with your insulin levels.
Generally, the inflammatory and thus acne-causing effects of sugar are enhanced because of its rapid digestion. With any sweet liquid, whether it be orange juice or a fizzy drink, there’s nothing to slow the absorption into your small intestine. In fact, it’s actually fruit juice marketed to children as “healthy” and “one of your five a day” that’s helping to cause the epidemic of rotting teeth in youngsters, not chocolate, cookies, or cake.
The second big reason to avoid apple juice for acne is its high levels of arsenic contamination.
Arsenic is a heavy metal which was once used a pesticide, but was banned due to its carcinogenic, diabetes-causing, intestine-wrecking, and skin-discolouring effects. Arsenic has been forbidden for usage as an agrochemical since the early 2000s now, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had limited the level of trace arsenic allowable in drinking water to 10 parts per billion (ppb). However, what they haven’t done is limit the amount in food and any other popular drinks…
…and hence, a test by Consumer Reports on 88 juice samples found that 10% had arsenic levels higher than the U.S. federal drinking-water limit. A quarter of samples also had lead levels higher than the 5 ppb limit set for bottled water.
Apple and grape juices are known to be the most contaminated of them all. 8 samples of apple juice in the study, for instance, had arsenic levels of 23ppb or more. Also, Consumer Reports did a study on 3000 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. From results collected between 2003 and 2008, they found that people reporting regular apple-juice consumption had an average of 19 percent higher levels of total urinary arsenic than the participants who didn’t.
Why’s that a problem for acne? Well, in addition to the unhealthy consequences outlined above, arsenic is also well known to accelerate your keratin production.
Keratin is the protein that binds your skin cells together. It is utterly critical for all acne patients to keep their levels under control because when there’s too much being produced, your dead skin cells bind together too. They then mix with sebum and create a pore-blocking glue.
Another common symptom of arsenic poisoning is skin discolouration. Also, one of the notorious effects of arsenic poisoning is vitamin A deficiency. Night blindness is a common symptom, for example.
Seeing as apple juice is the fruit juice that is most contaminated with arsenic, beating orange juice by a mile, I can’t recommend that you drink it except as a special treat. The good news is that in 2013, the FDA responded to a wave of publicity and proposed limits on the amount of arsenic allowed in apple juice.
There was also a big public outcry, led by television guru Dr Oz after he did an exposé on his popular show. Apple juice companies are bound to respond to both government and consumer pressure and clean their products up in the very near future.
Until that day comes though, steer clear of apple juice and eat the whole fruit instead. Besides, arsenic or not, all fruit juice is too high in acne-causing sugar by its very nature.
Personally, I love apple juice and I used to have a glass every day with breakfast. However, it clearly caused a burst of painful acne to sprout up on my cheek nearly every time I drank it. It was always one of my worst breakout foods. Hence, I now only drink it as a special treat when eating out at a restaurant.
Thanks for reading!