Can Low Stomach Acid Cause Acne?

by Corie McInnis | Jan 17, 2024 | Acne, Nutrition Information

My friend, there’s a link between low stomach acid and acne.
Before I explain the connection, let’s talk about what stomach acid is and it’s role in our digestive system.
Stomach acid is CRITICAL for:
~breaking down the protein you eat so that you can absorb the amino acids
~absorbing minerals from your food (such as B vitamins, calcium, zinc, magnesium and iron)
~keeping pathogens such as bacteria and parasites from invading the body. Stomach acid is your GI defense!

Can you believe that most people have too little stomach acid, not too much?

Having low stomach acid is called hypochlorhydria. Hypochlorhydria can cause many problems for our health if not addressed.
I know what you’re thinking.
Isn’t having having an acidic stomach a bad thing?
If someone goes to the doctor nowadays and complains about heartburn or acid reflux, they will likely walk away with a prescription for an acid-reducing medication.
Unfortunately, our current medical system has been demonizing stomach acid for decades.
While acid-reducing medications may help with the symptom of heartburn, they’re a band-aid approach that doesn’t address the underlying root cause of the discomfort.
For most people, acid-reducing medications are making the root cause issue even WORSE.
Dr. Jonathan Wright, author of “Why Stomach Acid is Good for You” estimates that over 90% of people with acid reflux don’t have too much acid production. They have TOO LITTLE.
How is this possible?
Let me explain!
When you swallow food, it’s first landing spot is your stomach.
When food arrives in the stomach, it churns and churns to help break it down.
What’s supposed to happen is that the stomach starts to secrete stomach acid to help with the break down process.
In a healthy gut, stomach acid is secreted and helps to lower the pH of the food in the stomach.
The pH lowering is a trigger for the food to leave the stomach and head to it’s next destination (the small intestine).
The pH lowering is important because while the stomach lining can handle acidity due to its many mucous layers, the small intestine cannot. The pH needs to drop to between 1.5 and 3 in order for the food in the stomach to be released into the small intestine.
However, if not enough acid is secreted, the pH never drops and that trigger for the food to move on to the small intestine does not happen in a timely manner.
So your food stays in the stomach and it churns and churns and churns some more. It stays in the stomach FAR too long. Some call this churning and BURNING.
This creates fermentation of the food and it starts to putrefy and off-gas. 
This off-gassing moves up to the lower esophageal sphincter and creates a backflow into the esophagus. This is what causes a heartburn/acid reflux sensation as the esophageal tissue is very sensitive to acid exposure.
I explain to my clients that it’s kind of like taking your meal and blending it up in a blender. Then leaving the blender (with the lid on) in the hot sun for a few days. What’s going to eventually happen?
The blender contents will start to ferment and pressure will build up in the blender. 
Then POOF! The lid will pop off due to the building pressure inside.
Don’t try this at home, kids.
Now, eventually, the food in your stomach does move on to the small intestine when it absolutely has to. Such as when your next meal is coming in! 
But, if your food isn’t broken down by acid prior to moving into the intestines, you now have maldigested food making it’s way through your gut.
Unfortunately, when food is not properly broken down in the stomach, this can set you up for issues further south in the digestive tract.
-inflammation of the small intestine
-food sensitivities
-leaky gut syndrome
-impaired brain function
-impaired immune function
-slower gut motility

What causes hypochlorhydria?

Hypochlorhydria is perpetuated by:
😩 chronic stress
🫘 low protein diet (think vegan or vegetarian)
🍷 alcohol consumption
🍩 a diet rich in processed foods + sugar
💊 acid blocking medications (such as protein pump inhibitors)
👵🏼 aging

How do I know if I have hypochlorhydria?

There are various signs and symptoms you may be experiencing that can indicate hypochlorhydria.
For example:
~undigested food in your stool
~bloating + gas
~acid reflux or heartburn
~having several food sensitivities
~diarrhea or constipation
~feeling overly full after meals
~trouble digesting meat
~abdominal pain

How are inflammatory skin conditions related to low stomach acid?


Here are 3 ways that low stomach acid can perpetuate acne and other inflammatory skin conditions:


Due to the gut-skin connection, gut inflammation directly impacts inflammation of the skin.
Your gut microbiome is a diverse ecosystem of bacteria in your gut. 
These bacteria help us to digest food, regulate our mood, keep our immune systems healthy and help keep our hormones in check.
They also have an influence on our skin.
If our gut bacteria is out of wack (meaning too many harmful bacteria and not enough beneficial bacteria), this is when we run into unwanted symptoms.
If we have an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, yeast or pathogens in our gut, our skin can pay the price.
This is due to how these harmful bacteria cause inflammation to our gut and therefore, our skin.
For many of my clients struggling with acne or another inflammatory skin condition, I have them perform a GI-MAP test.
This is a functional stool test that gives us information about what’s going on in the gut microbiome.
The GI-MAP can tell us whether or not you have an infection in your gut that needs to be addressed.
It can also tell you about your levels of good bacteria vs bad bacteria.
By addressing the imbalances we see on the test, we can get your gut microbiome in better shape so that you can start seeing clearer skin.



There are many nutrients that we must get from our food as the body doesn’t make them on it’s own.

Stomach acid helps us to absorb those nutrients. If our acid production is too low, it’s possible that we aren’t absorbing all of the nutrients from our food.
Nutrient deficiencies can definitely show up on our skin in the form of acne, dullness, and dryness.
For example, zinc is a mineral that is known for it’s skin-healing properties as well as immune support.
Being low in zinc can cause adult acne.
This is likely due to zinc’s role in regulating inflammation.
Acne is an inflammatory skin condition so it makes sense that low zinc levels would perpetuate inflammation and potentially make acne worse.


Since the gut is more prone to inflammation if stomach acid production is impaired, the likelihood of developing skin sensitivities is increased.
Some people with acne find that certain foods trigger their breakouts.
Dairy and gluten are both typical culprits.
Food sensitivities can occur from having a leaky gut.
A leaky gut is what we call an intestinal lining that has not-so-tight junctions.
What does this even mean?
When you picture your gut (which is the tube that runs from your mouth to the other end), do you picture something similar to panty hose?
(You probably don’t- but just bear with me).
The lining of our gut is kinda like panty hose in that it’s made up of tiny junctions.
A healthy intestinal lining has tight junctions and is what we call in the functional nutrition world “impermeable.”
This is important because when we eat a meal we don’t want food particles and bacteria to escape our gut lining and escape into our bloodstream!
But that’s exactly what can happen if your junctions are not nice and tight!
This isn’t good because food particles aren’t supposed to be outside of your digestive tract.
Having these “foreigners” in the bloodstream causes the immune system to go into major defense mode.
Having a leaky gut contributes to systemic inflammation of the body, including the skin.
Not everyone with acne can pinpoint which foods seem to be triggering their breakouts.
Especially since typically food sensitivity-related breakouts show up a few days after eating the offending food.
I offer clients a food sensitivity test so that they no longer have to do guesswork with elimination diets.
The test I use tests for 176 different foods. This test includes the common food triggers (such as dairy, gluten, soy, eggs, grains, corn, and peanuts). It also tests for foods we don’t commonly think of as potential food sensitivities. This is good because truly ANY food can become a sensitivity.

Is there a test for stomach acid levels?

There’s a simple at-home “test” that can be a good indicator of whether or not you have low stomach acid.
Please know this test is not a medical diagnosis.
If you want a medical diagnosis, talk to your doctor about getting your stomach acid level tested medically.
If you want to try the simple at-home test, follow these instructions:

The baking soda test

Prior to eating or drinking anything in the morning, drink 4 oz of cold water combined with a quarter teaspoon of baking soda, on an empty stomach. Then time how long it takes you to burp. If it takes longer than three to five minutes, the theory goes, you don’t have enough stomach acid.
The theory behind this “test” is that baking soda combined with stomach acid produces carbon dioxide (C02), which will cause you to burp.

3 tips for boosting your stomach acid production


1. Get yourself in a parasympathetic state prior to meals.

man smiling and holding chopsticks and sushi roll

When your nervous system is in a sympathetic state, you’re in “fight or flight” mode.
However, if we eat a meal while our nervous system is focused on survival, we can’t digest and absorb that meal well.
That’s how our bodies are! They’re excellent at triaging. Digestion is on the back burner of priorities when your nervous system is in “fight or flight.”
If you can get your nervous system into a parasympathetic state prior to meals, this is a state of “rest and digest.” This is a calm state that makes your body feel safe. It’s in this state that your body can more easily digest food and absorb it’s nutrients.
Remember what I said earlier about how stress can perpetuate low stomach acid? This is why eating in a parasympathetic state is important. Make the body feel safe and at ease and stomach acid production can function better.
I recommend sitting down with your meal and taking 10 grounding breaths prior to taking your first bite. If you’d like, think of one thing you’re grateful for with each inhale and send that thing or person love with the exhale.
Be sure to eat meals in an undistracted state. This means no scrolling on your phone or watching TV. You’d be surprised how these types of distractions can affect your nervous system.
While enjoying your meal, take your time and be present. Chew each bite 15-30 times. This will ensure that the food is properly broken down prior to entering the stomach.

2. Try taking digestive bitters prior to meals.

person holding dropper and dropping tincture in open mouth

Digestive bitters can help to stimulate stomach acid. Digestive bitters is a tincture of bitter herbs.
Take just prior to meals per instructions on the bottle. I love the Wise Woman Herbals Bittersweet Elixir as it’s not as bitter as some others.
Place the bitters in your mouth and hold for a few seconds until you start to salivate.
The goal is for your tongue to pick up the bitter taste and that your stomach will get the message and start to secrete stomach acid.

3. Try taking apple cider vinegar in water prior to meals.

sunglasses on top of an open book; Bragg's apple cider vinegar

If digestive bitters don’t sound appealing, try raw ACV (with the mother) instead.
Combine 1 or 2 tablespoons of ACV with 4 ounces of water. Drink at the beginning of each meal.
ACV adds acid to your stomach for proper meal digestion.
I hope you’ll give some thought into your own stomach acid production!
Have questions about this topic? Send me a message here and let me know. I’m happy to clarify something.
Take good care!
Corie at Revel + Thrive
Disclaimer: The information presented in this blog post is intended for educational purposes only, and it hasn’t been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information isn’t intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any condition or disease, nor is it medical advice. One should always consult a qualified medical professional before engaging in any dietary and/or lifestyle change.
Corie McInnis Revel and thrive
Corie McInnis

Corie is a nutritional therapy practitioner. She specializes in helping her 1:1 clients clear up adult acne and ditch digestive discomfort. She believes that a nourishing diet can support the body's innate ability to heal. She's a big fan of grass-fed butter and will not shut up about the gut microbiome.


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Asheville, NC

nutritional therapy association 2022 member in good standing
restorative wellness practitioner level one

Disclaimer: The information presented on this website is intended for educational purposes only, and it hasn’t been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information isn’t intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any condition or disease, nor is it medical advice. One should always consult a qualified medical professional before engaging in any dietary and/or lifestyle change.