The relation between food and acne has always been under debate. While some studies state there is no link between food and acne, other studies claim otherwise. However, it is established that the intake of the right nutrients (or their deficiency) can impact your skin health (1).
Though multiple factors can trigger acne, food can play a major role. In this article, we have explored a list of 10 food categories that may cause acne or aggravate the condition.
List Of Top Foods That Cause Acne
1. Refined Grains And Sugar
A study involving 64 participants with moderate to severe acne found that those with acne consumed a greater amount of carbohydrates. Moreover, these participants with acne also had high amounts of insulin-like growth factor-1 (a hormone that causes high sebum production, which usually peaks during puberty) (2).
Another study found that frequent intake of sugar could lead to acne development in adolescents (3).
Food containing refined grains and sugar include:
- White rice
- Rice noodles, pasta, and noodles made of white flour
- Bread, cereals, cakes, pastries, and cookies made of white flour
- Sugary beverages
- Sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, cane sugar
2. Dairy Products
A study reviewing the high school diet of 47,355 women found a positive connection between acne and intake of whole and skimmed milk. Other dairy products, such as cream cheese and cottage cheese, were also found to cause acne (4).
Another case-control study evaluated 44 individuals with acne vulgaris and 44 controls for three months. They found that individuals with acne more often ate food with a high glycemic index load compared to the controls. They drank milk and had ice cream more frequently than the controls (5).
3. Fast Food Or Junk Food
A study evaluating the prevalence of acne in adolescents found that those with acne lacked healthy dietary habits. The researchers concluded that frequent intake of junk foods like fatty foods, burgers, sausages, cakes, pastries, and sugar might increase the risk of acne or aggravate it (3).
4. Foods With High Levels of Omega-6 Fats
A typical western diet contains high levels of omega-6 fatty acids and lower levels of omega-3s. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in most of the vegetable and cooking oils, and most processed foods are cooked in these oils (6).
You don’t have to eliminate the intake of omega-6 fats. You can control your consumption of processed foods and foods made in vegetable oils. Choose oils that are low in omega-6 fatty acids. These include olive oil, coconut oil, and palm oil. Avoid intake of oils high in omega-6 fatty acids, including sunflower, soybean, and cottonseed oils.
5. Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein is the liquid left behind after the milk is curdled and separated during the cheese-making process. Although whey is rich in amino acids, whey protein has been linked to increased acne in gym-going adolescents who take it. Though the acne (especially on the trunk) could be caused only by perspiration, more research is warranted to establish the causes (7).
Milk and milk products can increase IGF-1 receptors and the production of hormones like progesterone and estrogen (8). It is believed that they may contribute to acne, though more research is warranted to understand the mechanism behind it.
6. Non-Organic Meat
Natural or synthetic steroid hormone drugs (including progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone) are often used to increase the growth rate of animals. This is done to get them ready faster for human consumption and has been approved by the FDA (9).
Consuming such meats may also trigger acne by increasing the action of androgens and Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) (10).
7. Caffeine And Alcohol
A study states that coffee reduces insulin sensitivity (11). This means your blood sugar levels stay high for a longer period than usual after you drink coffee. This may increase inflammation and worsen your acne.
Another study evaluated the diet of Kitavan people who did not have acne. Their diet involved the minimal intake of coffee, alcohol, sugar, oils, and dairy products (10).
8. Canned Food
Frozen, canned, and pre-cooked meals can be considered processed foods. These often contain added ingredients, such as sweeteners, oils, spices, and preservatives, which are used as flavorings. Ready-to-eat foods are usually heavily processed and can contribute to acne (10).
9. Fried Food
Potato chips, fries, burgers, and other fried and processed foods can also cause acne. These also include other high-glycemic foods that raise your blood sugar levels quickly, causing inflammatory conditions like acne (10).
10. Energy Drinks
Energy drinks contain high levels of sugar and can increase blood glucose levels (12). In one study, intake of sugar from soft drinks was found to increase acne risk Any sugary drink can increase your risk of acne (13). Hence, So avoid drinking excessive amounts of sugary energy drinks and soft drinks.
While none of the studies are conclusive, and there is a need for more research, avoiding certain foods is more likely to help reduce the risk of acne. At the same time, adding certain other foods to your diet can help make your skin clear and healthy.
What To Eat To Keep Your Skin Clear
Here are a few foods that you can add to your diet to keep your skin clear and potentially prevent acne:
1. Foods Rich In Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Unlike omega-6 fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties. Those on a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids were found to have lower levels of acne (14). Hence, eat more foods like salmon, sardines, herring, canola oil, and other fish, like tuna, catfish, shrimps, and clams. These help increase your intake of the omega-3 fats.
Probiotics produce antibacterial proteins and inhibit the growth of P. acnes and S.aureus bacteria (15). Both these bacteria are known to cause acne.
3. Green Tea
Green tea contains polyphenols that act as anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agents. Some evidence shows that these polyphenols help reduce excess sebum production and inhibit the growth of P. acnes (16).
Turmeric contains curcumin, a compound responsible for its therapeutic benefits. Whether you take it orally or apply it topically, turmeric can help in the treatment of skin conditions like acne (17).
5. Foods Rich In Vitamins A, D, E, And Zinc
These vitamins help maintain skin health. A deficiency of these essential vitamins could often lead to acne (18, 19, 20). You can consume eggs, broccoli, fatty fish like mackerel and tuna, nuts and seeds, and legumes.
6. The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet involves a high intake of proteins, fresh vegetables, whole grains, herbs, spices, seafood, seeds, legumes, and extra virgin olive oil. Foods like cheese, poultry, and eggs are eaten in moderation, while processed foods, refined grains, and sugary beverages are to be excluded completely. Following the Mediterranean diet was found to reduce the risk of acne (21).
Diet plays a crucial role in maintaining overall skin health. A holistic approach is necessary to reduce acne and boost skin health. Yes, it can be difficult to make dietary changes, but you can always start slow. Try cutting down on junk food and follow a balanced lifestyle to achieve clearer skin.