Can Diet Make Acne Worse?

Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting up to 50 million Americans annually, and up to 15% of adult women. Many of us have wondered if our diet could be making our acne flare, and if we should avoid our favorite foods. Here's what the research shows:

1) A low gylcemic diet may improve acne

Foods that cause your blood sugar to rise quickly, such as white bread, pastries and sugary drinks are high-glycemic. On the other hand, low-glycemic foods are high in fiber and low in sugar, and result is a steady, more even blood sugar level when consumed.  These include fresh vegetables, some fresh fruits, steel-cut oats and beans. 

Small studies done in USA, Australia and Korea show that people who switched from their normal diet to a low-glycemic diet for about 3 months, had noticably less acne pimples. A study from Turkey also suggests that the individuals with the most severe acne consumed a high-glycemic diet.

Some scientists believe that any sudden in increase or spike in the blood sugar level, may lead to inflammation thoroughout the body.  This spike can also cause an increase in sebum, or oil production in the skin. These two factors can then lead to clogging of the pores and visible acne on the skin. 

These studies are small and preliminary, so more data is definitely needed to know for sure. 


2) Drinking milk may make acne worse

Although milk (not milkshakes) is a low-glycemic beverage, there appears to be a link between all types of milk (skim, low-fat and whole milk) and increased acne flares. One theory is that hormones present in milk may cause inflammation inside the body, leading to clogged pores.

Interestingly, the association of milk with acne was not noted in people with mild acne, but only in those with moderate to severe acne. Also, this association has not been seen with other products made from milk, such as yogurt or cheese. There also appeared to be a link with the amount of milk consumed- Individuals who drank more than one glass of milk per day had more pimples. 

While more research is needed to confirm the effect that milk may have on acne and the skin, if you are considering changing your diet, then decreasing milk consumption (to less than one glass a day) would be a good place to start.


If you think that your diet is affecting or wosening 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, and try to figure out if your acne flares or worsened after eating any particular food. What happen if you avoid this food for a few weeks or a couple months? Does your acne settle down, and does your skin improve?

While diet can play an important role in flaring of your acne, keeping clear, blemish free skin requires much more. This includes a skin care regimen suited to your skin type, and acne medications to prevent new breakouts and fade old acne scars and discoloration.



Dr. Ife Rodney

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