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On this page

    Does diet affect acne?

    On this page
    1. Are there foods that cause acne? 
    2. Is there an ‘anti-acne diet’? 
    3. Other foods that are good for the skin 
    4. Treating acne 
    5. Help with a healthy diet 

    Reviewed by our clinical team

    Does diet affect acne

    Acne occurs when the sebaceous glands produce more oil than normal, causing the hair follicles to get blocked and in some cases inflamed and infected. This is process creates spots. 

    The causes of acne are often varied, and acne flare-ups can be triggered by a number of factors. This can include anything from hormonal changes to stress, certain medications or conditions, cosmetic products or simple things like repeatedly wearing headbands or backpacks. But can diet have an impact on skin

    There’s no doubt that eating a healthy, balanced diet is one of the easiest ways to try and keep your body, mind, skin, hair and nails healthy. 

    But can certain diets mean you’re more likely to experience acne? In this article we’ll investigate the link between what we eat and whether this can cause acne or not. 

    Are there foods that cause acne? 

    Generally speaking, there hasn’t been lots of research into the impact your diet might have on acne. But it is thought that foods that increase your blood sugar levels can lead to the process that cause an acne flareup.

    Foods that have been linked to acne breakouts include carbohydrates, dairy and those high in sugar.  Carbohydrates and high-sugar foods increase the levels of the hormone IGF-1 (insulin growth hormone 1). And it’s thought that higher levels of IGF-1 can block the oil-producing sebaceous glands, resulting in acne.

    Examples of the foods which might increase these sugar and hormone levels include white pasta, rice or bread, sugary snacks and milk. You might also wonder about cheese, but there is evidence to suggest cheese has a ‘low insulin index’ and so might not trigger the same processes as a food like ice cream, which is has a ‘high insulin index’ thanks to the added sugar. You can find out more about the link between dairy and acne here.

    Is there an ‘anti-acne diet’? 

    We’re sorry to say there’s no miracle ‘anti-acne’ diet. Mainly due to the lack of research, but also because of the unique nature of each person’s skin. Like with acne treatments or skincare regimes, what works for one person may not work for another. 

    Having said this, if we accept the theory that foods that increase the levels of IGF-1 in your body can cause acne, adapting a low-glycaemic index diet (a meal plan that doesn’t include lots of foods high in sugar, carbohydrate or dairy) might be an option.  

    What is a low-glycaemic index diet? 

    Sometimes referred to as a low GI diet, a low-glycaemic index diet involves eating foods that are less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar levels. With low GI foods the glucose is absorbed slowly by the body, with high GI foods causing those spikes. 

    Examples of low GI foods include:

    • Some fruits and vegetables 
    • Unsweetened milk 
    • Nuts and pulses 
    • Some wholegrain cereals and bread

    Low GI doesn’t always mean healthy and vice versa for high GI foods. Most chocolates, for example tend to be low GI, but parsnips and watermelon are high GI.  

    The way foods are cooked can also change their GI status - foods cooked with fat tend to be low GI. So boiled potatoes might be high GI, whereas chips could be low GI. But you don’t necessarily want to always be eating foods cooked in fat as this isn’t healthy in large quantities. 

    A low-glycaemic index diet and acne 

    There is some evidence to suggest that switching to a low GI diet can improve the symptoms of acne. During studies, acne sufferers were given a low-glycaemic-load diet for a number of weeks, and it was found that the number of acne lesions (spots) decreased, and the sebaceous glands got smaller. 

    Interestingly, in one of the studies, the participants also lost weight and their insulin sensitivity improved, although these weren’t the main objectives of the research. Good insulin sensitivity is important for staying healthy and reducing your risk of certain conditions.

    Other foods that are good for the skin 

    As we’ve mentioned, one of the best ways to look after your whole body is by eating a healthy, balanced diet, rich in nutrients. But there are some specific vitamins that it’s thought can help keep acne at bay. 

    Vitamin A 

    Vitamin A is really important for the skin’s health, so making sure you get enough can help skin health. Vitamin A also impact keratinocytes (the main type of cell found in the epidermis), which can affect whether you have acne or not.

    You can get vitamin A from cheese, milk, yoghurts, eggs, oily fish and liver. 

    Retinol, which is another term for vitamin A, can also be used to treat acne. You can find out more retinol and acne here.

    Zinc 

    It’s thought that lower zinc levels are related to increased severity of acne. Studies have also shown that taking steps to include more zinc in the diet can help with the treatment of acne

    You can zinc from meat, shellfish, some dairy and some cereal.

    Vitamin E 

    Like with zinc, studies have shown that lower levels of vitamin E are associated with having more severe acne.

    You can get vitamin E from plant oils (olive, sunflower, rapeseed, etc), seeds and nuts and wheatgerm. 

    Probiotics 

    More research needs to be done into the impact of probiotics on acne, but there is some suggestion that probiotics can have a positive impact on people with acne. There’s been small studies showing that people given probiotics have reduced levels of IGF-1, which as we know already, might be linked to having acne. 

    Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are often added to yoghurts or taken as a supplement. 

    Treating acne 

    If you notice your acne flares up after eating or drinking certain things, this could be paying a part, but also consider what else is going on. Could you be at a certain point in your menstrual cycle? Are you stressed? Have you tried a new skin product? These also might be impacting your skin. 

    There are also lots of treatment options available, from over-the-counter products you can get from high street pharmacies and prescription-only medications. Common treatments a clinician might prescribe include: 

    We have an online acne clinic which you can use to request acne treatment. Answer a few simple questions from our clinicians, upload photos of your acne and they’ll assess which treatment might be best. 

    Considering acne treatment?

    View options


    Help with a healthy diet 

    If you’re looking for advice on eating a healthy diet, you can visit our lifestyle hub. We have a huge library of advice from our clinicians on eating well and looking after other aspects of your physical and mental wellbeing.

    If you’d like to speak to someone about your diet or acne, you could also use our VideoGP service to speak to one of our doctors.

    VideoGP by LloydsPharmacy

    References 

    https://www.acnesupport.org.uk/cause/diet/
    https://patient.info/news-and-features/is-there-a-link-between-diet-and-acne
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7847434/
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17616769/
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22678562/
    https://www.diabetes.co.uk/insulin/insulin-sensitivity.html
    https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/enjoy-food/carbohydrates-and-diabetes/glycaemic-index-and-diabetes
    https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/food-and-diet/what-is-the-glycaemic-index-gi/
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4135093/
    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/others/
    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/probiotics/
    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-a/
    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-e/

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