Affecting as many as 50 million people in the United States each year, acne is the most commonskin condition in the country. It often begins during puberty, and it is especially prevalent between the ages of 12 and 24.
Acne can cause oily skin and several types of lesions, including pimples. Symptoms vary from mild to severe, and they can impact a person’s quality of life.
While there is currently no cure for acne, the range of effective treatments includes prescription medications and over-the-counter gels and creams. Lifestyle changes can also help to reduce symptoms and prevent breakouts.
Some people believe that the diet plays an important role. Results of a 2016 survey showed that 71 percent of participants thought that fried or greasy foods caused acne. Others thought that chocolate, dairy, and soda drinks were responsible.
In the medical community, there is extensive debate about the impact of the diet. While many experts once thought that the diet had no role in the development of acne, results of some recent studies suggest otherwise.
In this article, we examine the effects of the diet on the skin and explore which foods might provoke or reduce acne breakouts. We also describe general tips for treating acne.
How does the diet affect the skin?
Acne develops when pores in the skin become clogged with dead skin cells, bacteria, or both. This clogging also occurs when the body produces too much sebum, an oil that keeps the skin from drying out.
Clogged pores can lead to inflammation and cause pimples and other types of lesion to form.
During puberty, the body produces more of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Some studies suggest that IGF-1 may increase the production of sebum and worsen symptoms of acne.
Certain foods can also raise IGF-1 levels. Avoiding these foods may help improve symptoms of acne and help prevent breakouts.
Foods to avoid
According to the results of a 2016 study, the following foods are most likely to increase a person’s IGF-1 levels:
- dairy products
- foods with a high glycemic index (GI) and a high glycemic load (GL)
Measuring GI determines how fast and how high a type of food can raise levels of blood sugar.
Measuring GL allows a person to compare types of food with different GIs and portion sizes.
A person can calculate GL using this formula:
GL = GI x the amount of carbohydrates per portion (in grams) / 100
Several online lists provide the GIs of various foods. As a very general rule, more processed foods tend to have higher GIs and GLs.
According to the American Diabetes Association, the following are examples of foods with high GIs:
- breads, especially white bread and bagels
- sweetened breakfast cereals, such as those with corn flakes, puffed rice, and bran flakes
- instant cereals, such as oatmeal and grits
- some fruits and vegetables, including melons, pineapples, pumpkins, and potatoes
- enriched pastas, such as rice-based pasta
- short grain white rice
- snack foods, such as pretzels, rice cakes, and popcorn
Examples of dairy products include milk, cheese, ice cream, and yogurt. Some people with acne may benefit from avoiding these foods.
However, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests that avoiding foods with high GIs may be more helpful than avoiding dairy products.
Eating chocolate may also worsen symptoms of acne. This effect is likely the result of chocolate’s high sugar contents. However, results of a small study suggested that unsweetened chocolate containing 100 percent cocoa may also worsen symptoms in young men with a history of acne.
Currently, there appears to be little evidence that greasy foods cause acne. Overactive sebaceous glands cause oily skin, not the fat and oil in food.