The Relationship Between Bulimia, Acne, Rashes, and Skin Issues

Bulimia and acne are closely related. Bingeing and purging can harm your skin in visible and persistent ways, and it’s hard to clear up acne while your eating disorder persists.

Bulimia can cause other unsightly changes to your skin too. And sometimes, those problems are so noticeable that your friends and family ask questions.

Person looking into the distance

Addressing your bulimia is the best way to improve your skin. And getting treatment might be easier than you thought possible. 

4 Reasons Why Bulimia Could Cause Acne

Your skin is the largest organ in your body. It protects you from infection, keeps you warm, dissipates heat, and more. 

Skin is also visible, and it’s one of the first things people notice about one another. Bulimia can mar your skin with acne due to four key triggers. 

1. Sugary, Sweet Foods 

Most people with bulimia binge on foods they consider “forbidden.” [1] Researchers discovered this in 1990, and while the snacks filling our cupboards have changed since then, they share familiar traits. 

During a binge, you might eat things like these:

  • Cookies
  • Packaged snack cakes 
  • Chips 
  • Milk products (like ice cream)

A high-fat, milk-laden diet could clog your pores and lead to acne. If you diet after a binge, the problem worsens. Your cells don’t get the nutrients they need to repair the damage. 

2. Stomach Acid Contact

If you purge by vomiting, stomach acids touch your skin. During that brief contact, they weaken your natural oil barrier. 

Tiny pockets form and they allow bacteria to enter. When bacterial colonies form deep inside your pores, acne appears. 

3. Hormonal Changes

People with bulimia don’t face the straightforward hormone changes seen in people with anorexia. But up to half of women develop erratic menstrual cycles. [2] When your hormones rage, acne can appear. 

4. Stress

People with bulimia feel out of control and upset during their binges, and shame sets in after the purge. You may be incredibly worried that your friends and family will discover your habits, and you may try to change your life to keep things hidden. All of that stress releases hormones and toxins that can clog pores. 

Can Bulimia Change Your Skin in Other Ways?

Acne isn’t bulimia’s only skin consequence. As your eating disorder worsens, many symptoms begin. 

Common skin changes seen in bulimia include the following:

  • Dry skin
  • Excessive body hair 
  • Color changes, including darkening skin or an orange tinge 
  • Dermatitis
  • Swelling 
  • Rashes 

Researchers say skin problems are “almost always detectable” in people with severe bulimia. [3] You won’t be able to hide this issue. 

Healing Bulimia & Acne 

The best way to address your acne is to combat your bulimia. Stopping the binge/purge cycle can mean letting your skin heal without enduring further trauma. 

For some people with bulimia, acne makes the eating disorder worse. [4] Stress triggered by your appearance makes you binge and purge more often. 

Treatment is the best way to break this cycle and help you heal. It takes time for toxins to leave your pores, especially if you’ve had bulimia for a long time. But you can get better with patience, a good diet, and plenty of care. 

How to Find Help 

If you’re struggling with bulimia, talk to your family. Tell them what you’re thinking and feeling, and ask them to help you find a treatment provider that’s right for you.

If you don’t feel comfortable discussing bulimia with your family, ask your doctor for help. Most treatment providers require a doctor’s diagnosis, so your conversation could help you start the process. 

If you’re unsure if you have bulimia, connect with the National Eating Disorders Association helpline. Find out what eating disorders look like, and connect with providers that can help you get better. [5]

Resources


  1. Kales EF. (1990). Macronutrient analysis of binge eating in bulimia. Physiology and Behavior; 48(6):837-40. 
  2. Warren MP. (2011). Endocrine Manifestations of Eating Disorders. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism; 96(2): 333–343.
  3. Strumia R. (2005). Dermatologic signs in patients with eating disorders. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology; 6(3):165-73. 
  4. Gupta MA, Gupta AK, Ellis CN, Voorhees JJ. (1992). Bulimia nervosa and acne may be related: a case report. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry; 37(1):58-61. 
  5. Contact the Helpline. (n.d.). National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved August 11, 2022.

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