Can Diet Make Acne Worse?

diet acne skincare

Acne is the most common skin condition across the globe.  A study found that almost 10% of the worldwide population is affected by acne. Researchers found that post-puberty boys were more likely to develop acne, including severe forms of acne. Further research published in the National Library of Medicine found various factors that cause skin conditions like acne. These factors include keratin and sebum production, hormones, blocked pores, acne-causing bacteria, and inflammation. Another exciting find revealed that certain foods in your diet make acne worse.  Although further studies are ongoing, here are some foods that may correlate with acne.


Refined Carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates are carbs stripped of all their nutritional value or fiber. Foods rich in refined carbohydrates are:

  • Bread, crackers, cereal, or desserts made with white flour
  • Pasta made with white flour
  • White rice and rice noodles
  • Sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Sweeteners such as cane sugar, maple syrup, honey, and agave.


A study found that people with a high intake of added sugars are 30% more at risk of developing acne. Also, people who eat pastries and cake regularly are more at risk by 20%. The effects of refined carbohydrates on blood sugar and insulin levels are the reason for these increased risks.

Why may refined carbs trigger acne?

When the bloodstream absorbs refined carbohydrates, your blood sugar level tends to rise. Along with it is the rise of insulin levels that help flush out the blood sugars from your bloodstream and into your cells.


High insulin levels affect your acne. Why? Because insulin triggers the androgen hormones, making them more active and increasing the insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). As such, skin cells grow faster, and sebum production increases, causing acne development. However, further studies are pending to establish a direct correlation of refined carbohydrates and acne development.


Dairy Products

Different studies have also found a relationship between the intake of milk products and acne severity, especially among teenagers. In two separate studies, they found that those who have regular milk or ice cream intake are more prone to acne development.


Although the studies are still quite inconclusive, there are some theories on how dairy products affect the occurrence of acne. One particular theory suggests that milk (and other dairy products) also increases one’s insulin levels, contributing to worsening acne condition. Another study suggests that cow’s milk has amino acids that trigger the production of more IGF-1 that has already been linked to acne development.


Fast Food Anyone?

Fast food products such as burgers, french fries, hotdogs, nuggets, and milkshakes can make you more at risk to acne because of their high-calorie, high-fat, and carb content. In one particular study conducted among Chinese teenagers, it was found that regular intake of fast food products may increase your risk of acne development by 17%. In another study of Turkish men, those who regularly eat burgers and sausages have a 24% increased risk. However, it is still inconclusive if all fast food products directly cause the development of acne.

Foods with Omega-6 Fats

A typical western diet rich in omega-6 fatty acids creates increased levels of inflammation and acne. The imbalance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids worsens acne. On the other hand, omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the inflammation and also lessen the severity of acne.


Chocolate has been suspected of triggering acne since the 1920s. However, there’s still no conclusive study on this matter. Yet, from informal surveys, researchers found a link between eating chocolate and an increased risk of acne. A recent study found that acne-prone males who ate chocolates daily had more acne lesions after two weeks. In another study, males with 100% cocoa powder intake daily also had more acne lesions after one week. It may still be inconclusive why chocolates increase acne. Yet, in one study, researchers found that chocolate intake increases the immune system’s reactivity to acne-causing bacteria.


Whey Protein Powder

Whey protein is a dietary supplement, especially famous athletes and gym-goers. However, whey protein also contains lots of amino acids leucine and glutamine, stimulating cell growth and division, which contributes to acne formation. These amino acids also trigger the production of insulin, linked with acne development.


(Too Much) Meat

According to a holistic nutritionist Susan Tucker, plant-eaters have a certain glow. This may be attributable to the fact that fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, fiber, and minerals that help detoxify your body and contribute to healthier skin. Some initial studies are linking excess consumption of meat to acne.


Who does not like a glass of wine now and then? However, similar to foods with omega-6 fats, alcohol is also an inflammation trigger. Moreso, too much alcohol consumption causes low zinc absorption, making you at risk of developing a zinc deficiency. Zinc, on the other hand, may help fight acne due to its anti-inflammatory properties. 

Energy Drinks

Aside from sodas that are rich with refined carbohydrates, energy drinks may also create acne. Energy drinks have inflammatory and glycemic index-loading sugar, along with skin-irritating B vitamins. As such, those with a history of acne are more prone to have an acne flare-up after energy drinks. 

Beware food allergies and sensitivities.

Since acne is an inflammatory disease, it is best that you also avoid foods that you are particularly sensitive to. Food sensitivities, or delayed hypersensitivity reactions, may contribute to inflammation. Food sensitivities happen when your immune system sees a particular food as a threat and triggers an immune attack. Such an attack causes pro-inflammatory molecules to circulate in your body, which then aggravates acne. As each person may have their own unique triggers, it is best to have elimination diets to determine sensitive foods.


Then what should you eat?

Try foods with the right nutrients to prevent acne and keep your skin smooth and glowing:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: they are anti-inflammatory so that regular consumption could reduce your risk.
  • Probiotics: These promote a healthy gut and balanced microbiome, which has been linked to reducing inflammation and lowering the risk of acne.
  • Green tea: this type of tea has polyphenols found also to reduce inflammation and lower sebum production. By applying green tea extract directly to the skin, persons can reduce the severity of acne.
  • Turmeric: Turmeric has an anti-inflammatory polyphenol called curcumin. Curcumin aids in blood sugar regulation, improves insulin sensitivity, and prevents acne-causing bacteria growth. 
  • Vitamins A, D, E, and zinc: These nutrients contribute to the skin and immune health. They also prevent acne from developing.
  • Paleolithic-style diets: This kind of diet is primarily composed of lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. On the other hand, they are low in grains, dairy, and legumes. Paleo diets can lower blood sugar and insulin levels.
  • Mediterranean-style diets: This one is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grain, legumes, fish, and olive oil. They are low in dairy and saturated fats. This type of diet can reduce the severity of acne.

What can I do to improve my acne?

If you think that your diet is affecting or worsening your acne, here are some simple steps to clearer skin:

– Avoid picking at your skin. This can leave red or brown scars, which can take a long time to improve.

– Pay close attention to your breakouts.

– Make a food log of everything that you eat and drink. Try to figure out if your acne flares or worsened after eating any particular food. What happens if you avoid this food for a few weeks or a couple of months? Does your acne settle down, and does your skin improve?

While diet can play an essential role in flaring of your acne, keeping clear, blemish-free skin requires much more. Firstly, you should use a skincare regimen suited to your skin type. Besides, prescription acne medications will prevent new breakouts and fade old scars and skin discoloration.


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