What's the Connection Between Your Diet and Acne?


In the U.S., 80% of the population from 11 years old to 30 have some degree of acne. It is the most common skin problem in the country, also affecting some older adults. While it is crucial to see a skin specialist for your acne, you must also find out how your food can worsen or help reduce your acne. This article will explore what experts have to say about this.

Forms of Acne

Acne develops when dead skin cells, oily sebum, bacteria, and hair block pores. There are many forms of acne.

  • Blackheads are open pores that are clogged with dead skin and sebum. Exposure to air discolors the sebum.
  • Whiteheads are clogged hair follicles that remain closed.
  • Papules are small inflamed bumps in the skin that may be pink or red. They feel tender.
  • Pustules are pus-filled pimples. The base is red, while the pus shows through as white or yellow. Picking at these can result in scars.
  • Nodules are pimples that develop deep under the skin. They are large, solid, and cause pain.
  • Cysts are larger pus-filled nodules that cause scars.
  • Fungal acne is an itchy inflammation caused by excessive yeast in hair follicles.

Causes of Acne

Hormones are a significant factor for acne. In pre-teens, teens, and young adults, increased androgen hormones enlarge sebaceous glands and increase sebum production. Androgen hormones also trigger a sensitivity that causes acne when dead skin, bacteria, and the sebum produced by sebaceous glands combine.

Stress causes an increase in the cortisol hormone. It can trigger acne in both men and women across ages. In women, hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual period, pregnancy, and even pre-menopause can cause the same sensitivity that triggers acne.

Other factors that can trigger or worsen acne include genetics, certain medicines, high humidity, polluted air, exposure to a greasy environment, oily products used on the skin or hair, and clothing or other gear that touch the face. If acne is already present, picking at it, squeezing, and rubbing will worsen the condition.

Food and Acne

Let's see what studies say about the connection between food and acne.

High-Glycemic and Low-Glycemic Food

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) Association posted some studies on the relationship between acne and food with high or low glycemic content.

A study in Turkey had respondents log their food intake for a week. Afterward, results showed that those whose diet consisted of high-glycemic food had the most severe cases of acne.

Studies in the U.S., Australia, and Korea found that respondents with acne who went on a low-glycemic diet had significantly reduced acne.

High-glycemic food and drinks cause spikes in blood sugar that, in turn, cause inflammation in the body. Inflammation can include acne. Also, blood sugar spikes increase the body's production of oily sebum, which is a significant factor in acne.

Some high-glycemic food and drinks are:

  • white bread
  • white rice
  • white potatoes and fries
  • pastries such as doughnuts
  • potato chips
  • puffed rice
  • corn flakes
  • sugary drinks such as colas and milkshakes

Steel-cut oats, most fresh vegetables, and beans are low-glycemic food. Not all fresh fruits are a low-glycemic food, so it is essential to check. There are many resources online.

The AAD notes that other studies did not find a correlation between acne and a diet of high-glycemic food. Still, there is no harm in consuming low-glycemic food as long as you ensure that you have complete nutrition. You never know if it will reduce acne in your case.

Cow's Milk

Another set of studies posted by the AAD showed the connection between acne and cow's milk. Whether skim, low-fat, or whole, plain cow's milk has low glycemic content.

Three studies in the U.S., one in Italy, and one in Malaysia showed that respondents who had acne drank significantly more cow's milk than respondents with no acne. The studies in the U.S. spanned boys and girls aged nine to 15 and adult women. The study in Italy had respondents from 10 years old to 24. The study in Malaysia had respondents from 18 years old to 30.

Apparently, among low-glycemic drinks, cow's milk triggers acne breakouts. The reason is still unknown, but some scientists theorize that the hormones in cow's milk trigger inflammation. Perhaps you can try avoiding cow's milk for a certain period to see if it will improve your acne.

Food High in Fat and Sugar

Harvard Medical School posted about a 2020 study that assessed the association between adult acne and high fat and sugar in food. Results showed that respondents with more acne had a 76% higher likelihood of consuming food and drinks with high fat and high sugar content the previous day.

Harvard highlights that the study only showed an association but did not prove that food and drinks high in fat and sugar cause acne. It advises people with acne to eat the food they like in moderation. However, if they find that something worsens their acne, they can decide whether to continue consuming it.

You can add this to your trial, as well. Stay away from food and drink high in fat and sugar for a certain period and see how it affects your acne.


How about some drinks that claim to detoxify the body, like Yogi Detox tea? Perhaps you wonder if it can help flush out toxins from your body and help clear your skin.

That is not the case. An article on Wholistic Fit Living clarifies that products and diets that claim to detoxify the body do not do anything. The body has its own detoxification system, with the lungs, liver, kidneys, and colon working together to expel toxins.

The article also noted that while the tea's ingredients are from herbs, plants, and spices, it is both a diuretic and laxative. It must, therefore, be taken in moderation to avoid detrimental effects.

Watch Your Diet

Studies show a possible connection between diet and acne. Some high-glycemic foods trigger inflammation, leading to acne breakouts in some people. Additionally, cow's milk has been linked with acne breakouts. Finally, consuming food and drinks high in fat and sugar increases the likelihood of having adult acne in some. While these studies only show an association, it might be worth avoiding cow's milk. You can also try a low-glycemic or low-fat and low-sugar diet to see if it improves your skin condition.

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