Acne is a common skin condition that affects not only adolescents but also many adults. While it has not been demonstrated that your diet directly causes acne, research has shown it may influence or worsen existing acne. Genetic factors also play a large role in the development of acne.
Modifying your diet can be a helpful tool in addition to other dermatologic treatments for acne. Here are the latest updates on the interaction between diet and acne:
Glycemic Index– This refers to how quickly the food raises blood glucose. Diets with high glycemic index (GI) foods can lead to stimulation of acne pathways by producing inflammatory molecules and proliferation of skin cells, oil gland cells, and certain hormones. Studies have shown that changing to a low GI diet may lead to decreased acne lesions after 12 weeks. Foods with high GI include white bread, fruit juices, high fructose corn syrup, white rice, and potatoes. Foods with low GI include most vegetables, berries, chickpeas, lentils, avocados, and nuts. Eating foods with fiber helps slow the rise of blood glucose.
Milk and Dairy– Drinking milk has been associated with an exacerbation of acne lesions. Studies show skim and low fat milk can cause more acne than whole milk because they lead to faster absorption and higher spikes of insulin. There is no significant association with yogurt and cheese consumption and acne.
Omega 6:3 Fatty Acid Ratio – Many Americans could benefit from more omega-3 fatty acids which are believed to put patients at lower risk of inflammatory diseases. Processed foods have higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids which are considered pro-inflammatory. Ways to eat omega-3 fatty acids include consuming fish, grass-fed meat, plant oils, and certain eggs.
If you are prone to acne, keep these dietary modifications in mind next time you are making a meal.
Recipe for Mediterranean Vegetable Bowl from Food52: https://food52.com/recipes/37054-mediterranean-vegetable-bowls-with-quinoa-toasted-chickpeas-and-harissa-tahini
This recipe has foods with low glycemic index (zucchini, chickpeas, eggplant) low omega-6 and high in omega-3 (tahini).
Matsui, M. “Update on Diet and Acne.” Journal of Dermatology. July 2019.
Prussic, R. “Diet and Inflammation in Dermatology.” Practical Dermatology. May 2019.
This article was written by Stephanie Sutton, MD, who is a contributing author to the Sutton Dermatology Blog. Stephanie Sutton is a psychiatrist and she focuses on wellness.