While it's never fun to deal with itchy or painful skin conditions, they can provide a glimpse into
what's going on with your gut. Because when things aren't healthy on the inside, there's a good chance it'll eventually show up on the outside. And, in some small way, that can serve as a reminder to take a closer look at your health.
"With gut health, that can be skin issues such as acne, rosacea, and psoriasis, all of which can be made worse when something's off with your gut,"
Nour Zibdeh, integrative and functional dietician, tells Bustle. And that's because there's a big connection between your gut and your skin.
"The skin is our body’s largest organ and the first defense of our immune system," Dr. Saman Faramarzi, ND, founder of
SAFA Wellness, tells Bustle. "Our gut also acts as a defense mechanism in our immune system, which links our overall gut health to our skin."
When something's not right, you might notice new or worsening skin conditions, at which point you may want to take a few extra steps to
improve gut health. "Fiber feeds [the] good healthy bacteria [in your gut]," Zibdeh says, so make sure you get plenty of that.
Also, consider adding in a probiotic, eating less sugar — as it can flare up certain conditions, Zibdeh says — and possibly even getting
tested for food sensitivities, which can take a big toll on health. Here, the skin conditions that can crop up if your gut health is off, according to experts
"Rosacea is triggered by inflammation and immune system activity," Zibdeh says, and certain bacteria in the gut can turn on these pathways. Symptoms of rosacea include things like redness on the face, and
bumps that look a lot like acne.
"People with rosacea have more inflammatory chemicals (known as mediators) produced by immune cells in their blood," she says. "Since
80 percent of the immune system is in the gut, an imbalance between good and bad bacteria can trigger rosacea."
This connection has been seen in studies that showed people with rosacea were more likely to
have digestive disorders, like celiac disease or Crohn's disease. As Zibdeh says, treating gut health issues can even completely resolve rosacea. Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
"Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition where the immune system is over-actively attacking skin tissue," Zibdeh says. Symptoms of
psoriasis include flaking, red and itchy patches on the skin, and inflammation.
And again, this has a connection to the immune system in the gut. "Problems with the gut, such as inflammation, dysbiosis (low healthy bacteria, high opportunistic bacteria), presence of pathogens like bacteria, yeast, or parasites, or leaky gut can disrupt the immune system and trigger the attack," she says.
If you notice
fungal infections in or around your fingernails or toenails, it could be a sign something's off with your gut health.
"This is especially true if you don’t have enough ‘good bacteria’ in your gut, and a yeast named
Candida albicans has started to overgrow," nutritionist Lisa Richards, tells Bustle. "Yeasts like Candida are particularly hardy, virulent, and able to spread easily." And as a result, you might notice symptoms like thickened nails, foul nail odors, or debris under your nails. Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock
"Disruptions of the normal gastrointestinal microflora also contribute to
seborrheic dermatitis," Dr. Lindsey Elmore, tells Bustle, which is a condition that can cause red acne-like patches on the face, as well as dandruff on the scalp.
One study of 13,000 adolescents even found a connection between
seborrheic dermatitis and digestive issues, noting that abdominal bloating was 37 percent more likely to be associated with acne and other seborrheic diseases, Dr. Elmore says. Geinz Angelina/Shutterstock
Cystic acne — the kind that's really painful, and found
deep beneath the skin — can be a sign of something's going on in your gut, too. And there's an interesting reason why.
"We often see cystic acne as a sign that estrogen balance is too high,"
licensed nutritionist Callie Exas MPH, MS, RDN, tells Bustle. "The gut contains microbes that are responsible for metabolizing and processing estrogen. If you have altered microbiome balance or constipation issues, this can result in estrogen imbalances. Too much or too little estrogen is associated with cystic acne and/or acne breakouts."
If you have cystic acne that isn't responding to topical treatments, you may want to ask your dermatologist about improving your gut health, to see if going that route could make a difference.
An unhealthy gut is also a risk factor contributing to atopic dermatitis, or
eczema, Dr. Elmore says. "This is because certain foods trigger the release of T-cells, which can cause a faulty immune response." And that can show up on the skin in the form of itchy red patches.
"Poor gut health tends to affect our immune system, and for those prone to atopic dermatitis and eczema, it can lead to flareups that cause more skin itching and even decrease [the] skin’s immune response to secondary infections," Dr. Faramarzi says.
Your gut health can also lead to dry skin, which can cause itchiness, too. As Dr. Faramarzi says, "Poor gut health has been shown to affect our skin’s ability to retain hydration due to transepidermal water loss (TEWL), resulting in dry, dehydrated skin."
"For some people, after taking antibiotics, they notice that their skin turns hypersensitive to contact," Dr. Faramarzi says. "Some people see the skin red and raised after scratching a certain spot. That’s because poor gut health can cause our skin to be hypersensitive."
The best way to get yourself back on track after a course of antibiotics, is to take prebiotics. "Prebiotics are healthy fiber that probiotics 'feed' on to keep them happy," Dr. Faramarzi says. And they
make your gut happy, too.
gut's microbiome is imbalanced, "we tend to see excessive oil production [and] abnormal skin production leading to clogged pores, and increased inflammation caused by P. acnes, the acne-causing bacteria on our skin," Dr. Faramarzi says.
Whether it's oiliness, itchiness, or acne, your skin can tell you a lot about what's going on in your gut. If you have these symptoms, a trip to the doctor may be a good idea, as well as taking good care of your gut by adding in more fiber, probiotics, and other
gut health-boosting foods.