Food and Acne: What the Evidence Says
Food and acne: what’s the deal? While many guesses have been made about how diet impacts blemishes, a recent study may finally have some answers.
You would think that when we get our braces off, the universe would allow our skin to clear up too. But unfortunately, pimples aren’t just reserved for our most awkward teen years.
Acne is a very common skin condition and it seems that just about anything can cause it, all the way into adulthood.
And headlines about how diet may influence your skin are not new.
Whether it’s been blamed on changes in hormones, stress, or sugar, acne can appear and disappear at seemingly unpredictable – and always inconvenient – times. And many of us have been left wondering if we really have any control over it.
Previous research has identified likely contributors, such as genetics, skin type, hormones, age, and cannabis use.
But when it comes to diet, are there things we should eat and avoid to help promote clearer skin? It turns out… the answer is yes!
The food and acne connection
A recent systematic review on the topic – which included 11 clinical trials and 42 observational studies – was published in the International Journal of Dermatology.
The authors examined studies published between 2009 and 2020, using keywords commonly related to acne and nutrition to find relevant research. This included frequently questioned foods like chocolate, dairy, whey protein, and fatty acids.
Here’s what over ten years of research says about diet and acne, including which foods to avoid and which to eat more of, for happier skin.
Foods to avoid for acne
There appear to be several foods to consider reducing, or eliminating, from your diet if you’re experiencing stubborn breakouts.
The authors found four main acne-promoting dietary characteristics, including:
- High glycemic index (GI)/glycemic load (GL). This refers to how much something spikes your blood sugar and insulin after you consume it. Foods with the highest GI/GL that are the most widely eaten in the Western diet are refined carbohydrates (e.g., white breads and pastas, snack foods, desserts and sweets).
- Dairy products. Foods like cow’s milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, ice cream, sour cream, and mayonnaise make up a large portion of the Western diet. According to previous research, yogurt and cheese may be the least offensive of the dairy products for skin.
- Fast food. This one is pretty self-explanatory, but the greasy foods we already know don’t do much for our health – like cheeseburgers, milkshakes, and French fries – also appear to be disliked by our skin.
- Chocolate. Per the review, people who ate the most chocolate had the most acne. Keep in mind that there’s a wide range of chocolate, including milk versus dark, that likely deserves more targeted research here.
While data was not as strong, the researchers also found that people who regularly have sugary soft drinks and salty foods, or eat eggs more than three times per week may also experience more acne.
Foods to prevent acne
On the other hand, some foods may also help prevent breakouts.
The authors found strong evidence for making these a regular part of your diet:
- Fatty acids. Fish is the best source of the unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, and the review found that eating fish was correlated with less acne. However, if you don’t eat fish, algae-derived omega-3 supplements are an excellent alternative.
- Fruits and vegetables. The review found that those who consumed the least amount of raw vegetables experienced the most acne. Alternatively, those who ate fruits and veggies at least 3 days per week had less acne.
There you have it! The preliminary list from the most comprehensive review of studies on this topic to date.
The authors do note that more research is needed on specific dietary components of the foods on their “do” and “don’t” lists for acne. For instance, acne-related differences between fat percentages of dairy products or the cacao content in chocolate remains unknown.
It makes sense that as such a big part of everyday life, diet could have a substantial impact on skin. But remember, while eating well is always a positive choice, it’s only one piece of the acne puzzle.
For more nutrition advice for living your healthiest life, check out these posts:
- How to Choose the Best Cooking Oil
- The Truth About Sugar in Fruit
- 4 Foods for a Plant-Based Pregnancy
- I Did a 3 Day Water Fast
Weigh in: Do you suffer from acne? Which of these acne-promoting or preventing foods do you eat regularly?