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Foods That Might Cause Acne: The Ultimate List

In total, over 50 million people have acne in the United States. For some, tackling the problem might be not so difficult: avoiding foods that cause acne might be all they need for clearer skin. Check Flo’s ultimate list of foods to avoid in order to create an effective anti-acne diet. 

Overview of acne

Acne is a skin condition categorized by skin pores clogged with oil, bacteria, or dead skin cells. These clogged pores often occur as a result of hormonal changes in the body. That’s why acne most commonly affects teenagers. 

Another group that struggles with acne are women, who go through many hormonal changes during their lives. Acne can be caused by pregnancy, the menstrual cycle, and menopause.

Acne isn’t caused by makeup or poor hygiene, but sometimes using pore-clogging products or products that aren’t right for your skin type can cause breakouts. 

Some medications such as corticosteroids and anabolic steroids may also cause acne. Occasionally, an underlying medical condition may cause acne. For example, the most common symptom of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in women is acne. 

Acne usually affects the face, neck, shoulders, chest, and upper back. Sometimes, acne can cause scars or emotional distress. 

Medical experts recognize several types of acne. These different pimples vary by appearance, severity, and location. These are the most common forms of acne:

  • Blackheads (open comedone)  — clogged pores, open at the surface of the skin.
  • Whiteheads (closed comedone) — pores clogged with oil and skin cells, with a closed surface.
  • Papules — inflamed pimples on the skin.
  • Pustules — inflamed pimples with a red ring, filled with pus.
  • Nodules — painful bumps under the skin.
  • Cystic lesions — painful bumps under the skin filled with pus.

Food that might cause acne

The relationship between diet and acne is not entirely clear and still being researched. Emerging evidence suggests that high glycemic index diets (such foods and beverages raise your blood sugar quickly) may lead to increased breakouts.

The typical Western diet contains a lot of trans fats, saturated fats, carbs, and sugar. Compared to other diets, the standard American diet is low on highly nutritious omega-3 fatty acids and is high in sugar. Because of this, this diet may create inflammation in the body. These processes increase oxidative stress and minimize the antioxidative capacity of cells. 

Medical experts have found a deep connection between inflammation markers and fatty acids. These inflammatory markers increase when a diet is rich in omega-6 fatty acids. 

The link between inflammation processes, oxidative stress, and acne may help you understand how to recognize foods that cause acne. Scientists believe that a low-glycemic diet may reduce acne by greatly reducing the frequency of spikes in blood sugar. When blood sugar spikes, it causes inflammation throughout a person’s body and can cause excess production of sebum — an oily substance meant to protect our skin — which can lead to acne.

To prevent acne, you may want to consider excluding the following from your diet:

  • Refined grains and low-fiber food

Diets with a lot of refined carbohydrates increase blood sugar levels. These simple carbs lack fiber and other quality nutrients, so your body digests them quickly, which raises your insulin level. High levels of insulin may activate hormones that trigger acne.  

  • Milk and other dairy products

If you are wondering if dairy causes acne, the answer is it depends. Some studies suggest that some dairy, particularly skim milk, may cause acne. According to some theories, hormones contained in milk cause inflammation inside the body. Inflammation, in turn, can lead to clogged pores and acne. It’s a good idea to decrease your dairy consumption and see how it affects your acne. However, this issue requires more research. 

On the other hand, while milk may increase the risk of developing acne, no studies have found the correlation between fermented dairy products and acne. Actually, fermented dairy products like yogurt and kefir contain beneficial bacteria that may benefit your gut flora, improve your digestion, and reduce inflammation in your body. 

  • Fast Food

Fast food contains high levels of unhealthy fats, simple carbs, and sugar and may contribute to inflammation. You may find that this food tastes good, but it usually isn’t very nutritious. Eating fast food on a regular basis may raise your chances of getting acne. 

  • Chocolate and sugar

Acne is not caused by chocolate. You might have heard that chocolate may worsen acne, but more studies are needed to confirm that. 

If your question is does sugar cause acne, studies have shown that a low-glycemic diet prevents acne. On the contrary, foods with a high glycemic index (including sugar) may trigger an acne outbreak. It would be wise to avoid eating candies, cakes, and cookies if you want to minimize this skin condition. 

Sweetened beverages can also cause your blood sugar to spike.

  • Other possible food triggers 

Foods to avoid for acne have a high content of omega-6 fatty acids, especially hydrogenated fats. 

Some medical experts believe that obesity may cause acne. They usually advise their patients to lose weight and offer certain tips for weight management.

Although there is some evidence that following a low-glycemic diet can lead to fewer acne breakouts, other studies have not found a connection between a high-glycemic diet and acne. 

Acne diet that can help your skin

Now that you know what foods can cause acne, here are some foods that are beneficial for your skin. Your best choice might be the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, fermented dairy products, legumes, and protein. 

Although some studies have examined the role of antioxidants, probiotics, and fish oil on acne, the existing evidence is not strong enough to support any recommendations regarding these dietary factors. To plan an anti-acne diet, try eating the following foods:

  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Tomatoes
  • Berries
  • Fatty fish
  • Nuts

The bottom line on an anti-acne diet

Even though hormonal imbalance usually causes acne, it may help to avoid foods that can exacerbate the condition. 

Although it might be impossible to prevent acne by dietary means alone, there are scientifically plausible reasons to believe that nutrition can affect acne. Today’s research proves that food influences acne to some degree, which is still difficult to quantify.

A diet rich in fish, seafood, olive oil, and other omega-3 fats might be the right choice for you. By including fermented foods in your diet, you may improve your gut flora, stop inflammation, and prevent acne outbreaks. A good skincare routine (and maybe a pimple patch in an emergency) might help. If neither changes in diet nor skincare lead to any improvement after a few months, a dermatologist can advise you on treatment. 

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