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How Does Your Diet Relate to Acne?

Zoe Schilling, PharmD. Candidate 2022

Acne prevalence is estimated to be 9.4% worldwide and more common in adolescents and young adults.

Several studies have demonstrated that individuals with acne who consume low-sugar diets have reduced acne lesions compared with individuals who consume high-sugar diets. When your blood sugar rises quickly, it causes the body to release a hormone called insulin. Having excess insulin in your blood can cause your oil glands to produce more oil, which increases your risks of developing acne. Some examples of high- sugar foods include white rice, white bread, pasta, cakes, or any simple sugar ingredients. High glycemic foods also lead to hormonal fluctuations and trigger inflammation, which can result in acne. A general rule of thumb, avoid the product if “sugar” is listed as the main ingredient. Individuals who are prone to acne should try to consume low glycemic-index foods, such as sweet potatoes, fruits, and veggies.

There also appears to be a link between dairy-containing foods and acne. Studies have demonstrated that dairy spikes blood sugars and pimple-producing hormones in the body. Dairy increases insulin levels and increases the formation of sebum, which can worsen acne. Limiting the consumption of dairy food items, such as cheese, milk, yogurt, and ice cream, could make an impactful difference to help reduce acne. Several studies have shown that whey proteins are responsible for the insulin-stimulating effects of milk that may contribute to more acne development than the actual fat or dairy content. This is why your dermatologist may suggest to switch from whey protein to pea protein.

Studies have also shown chocolate and spicy foods to be a culprit of acne flares. Many spicy foods contain acidic lycopene, which can cause irritation to some people and disturb the pH level of their skin. Many studies have demonstrated evidence that acne sufferers witness a visible increase in their breakouts with an increased intake of spicy food. To date, it has not been established which component of chocolate holds the adverse effects of acne development. However, there is evidence that supports an increased consumption of chocolate also may lead to an increase in acne lesions.

Because acne is an inflammatory and multifactorial skin disease, other factors such as stress may also have a major impact on acne. For example, when you are stressed, you may become more prone to making poor dietary decisions such as eating more chocolate and high-sugar foods. Stress can cause hormone imbalance, resulting in an acne flare. Some tips to avoid stressful situations: take a deep breathe, plan ahead, journal, develop an attitude of gratitude, increase your sleep habits, develop a bedtime routine. By reducing your stress levels, you will also be helping yourself prevent an acne flare.

What foods can help REDUCE acne? Zinc, vitamin A and E, and well as foods containing antioxidants are thought to be beneficial for the skin because they reduce inflammation. A diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat is never a bad decision. Some skin-friendly food choices include spinach and other dark green and leafy vegetables, tomatoes, blueberries, whole-wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, turkey, salmon, and other kinds of fatty fish.

Recent studies suggest that following a low-glycemic diet, or low-sugar diet, can prevent and improve acne. A study of Korean patients found that following a low-glycemic load for 10 weeks significantly led to improvements in acne. In another study published in the, researchers found that following a low-glycemic, high-protein diet for 12 weeks improved acne in men, and also led to weight loss. In one study published in the BioMed Research International Journal, researchers looked at the relationship between the levels of zinc in the blood and acne severity. Zinc is a dietary mineral important in skin development as well as regulating metabolism and hormone levels. The researchers found that low levels of zinc were linked to more severe cases of acne. They suggest increasing the amount of zinc in the diet to 40 mg of zinc per day to treat people with severe cases of acne. Studies suggest that same amount of zinc even for people without acne.

Researchers have also found that low levels of vitamins A and E also seem to be linked to severe cases of acne. They suggest that people with acne may be able to lessen the severity of their acne by increasing their intake of foods containing these vitamins. Talk to your doctor before taking vitamin A supplements. Vitamin A toxicity can cause permanent damage to your major organs. Omega-3s are a type of fat found in certain plants and animal-protein sources, such as fish and eggs. Antioxidants are chemicals that neutralize damaging toxins in the body. Together, omega-3s and antioxidants are thought to reduce inflammation. Studies largely support the connection between an increase in consumption of omega-3s and antioxidants led to a decrease in acne. A study published in the Lipids in Health and Disease found that people who took a daily omega-3 and antioxidant supplement were able to both reduce their acne and improve their mental health.

Since acne often causes emotional distress, omega-3 and antioxidant consumption may be very beneficial for people with the condition. The best diet advice in dealing with acne appears to be eating wholesome, balanced diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy protein sources, and whole grains.


· Sugar, spicy foods, dairy, and chocolate may WORSEN acne flares

· Pea protein may be preferred over whey protein to lessen acne flares

· Stress can impact your diet and therefore trigger your acne

· To REDUCE acne flares, eat more foods high in antioxidants, such as blueberries

· To REDUCE acne flares zinc, vitamin A and E, omega-3s and antioxidants may help by reducing inflammation in the body

· Each person is unique and may respond differently to different foods

· Keeping a food journal can help you identify acne triggers and reduce acne flares

· Consult a dermatologist for more information on this subject or if you need help controlling severe acne flares


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