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5 Foods to Eat—and 5 Not To Eat—to Reduce Acne Outbreaks

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Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is general in nature and for informational purposes. It is not meant to substitute for the advice... read more

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is general in nature and for informational purposes. It is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. None of the statements on this site are a recommendation as to how to treat any particular disease or health-related condition. If you suspect you have a disease or health-related condition of any kind, you should contact your health care professional immediately. Please read all product packaging carefully and consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet, exercise, supplementation or medication program. Cosmetic products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. read less

eatforacne

In 2010, researchers surprised some people when they reported that diet could indeed, affect acne outbreaks. That year, an article in the scientific journal Skin Therapy Letter reported the results of a 27-study analysis—21 observational studies and 6 clinical trials. Scientists found that cow’s milk intake increased acne prevalence and severity, and also found an association between a high-glycemic load diet and acne risk.

An earlier study published in 2007 showed similar results—Australian researchers found that young men between the ages of 15 and 25 with mild-to-moderate acne experienced dramatic improvement when they switched from eating the typical American diet (with white bread and highly processed breakfast cereals) to a healthier diet of whole grains, lean meat, and fruits and vegetables.

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“The acne of the boys on the higher-protein, low-glycemic index diet improved dramatically,” said senior author Neil Mann, associate professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, “by more than 50 percent, which is more than what you see with topical acne solutions.”

Some people have long believed that diet affects acne, but only recently have researchers started to find evidence that this is true. If you’d like to try changing your eating habits to enjoy clearer skin, we’d encourage you to try it. You have nothing to lose!

What Not to Eat

Studies so far have focused mostly on the foods that make acne worse. Here are the five that come up most often as culprits in increasing breakouts. Avoid these for about a week, and see if you notice a difference.

  1. Cow’s milk: The 2010 study found an association between cow’s milk and acne. Scientists aren’t yet sure why this may be, but there are several theories. Cow’s milk spikes blood sugar, which can increase inflammation (leading to pimples). It also increases insulin levels, which encourage the production of skin oils (sebum). A lot of the commercial milk we buy comes from pregnant cows, and thus contains other hormones that can trigger the production of sebum. Milk also has growth hormones that can encourage the overgrowth of skin cells, potentially blocking pores. In 2005, researchers studied data from the famous Nurses Health Study II, and found that participants who drank more milk as teens had much higher rates of severe acne than those who had little or no milk as teens.
  2. Sugar: You may have already suspected that sugar is related to breakouts. Some studies now suggest that there may be a link. This doesn’t mean that if you eat a cookie you’re going to get a pimple. It comes down to how much sugar you’re eating in a day—particularly at any one time. If you consume a soda and a candy bar, for example, you’re likely spiking your blood sugar levels, and you could break out hours later. If you suspect sugar could be a culprit for you, try to cut back even by one sugary drink a day to notice a difference.
  3. High-glycemic foods: These are foods that break down quickly in the body, triggering an insulin spike and raising blood sugar levels. They trigger hormonal fluctuations and inflammation—both of which encourage acne. We’re talking foods like white bread, processed breakfast cereals, white rice, pretzels, potato chips, cookies and cakes, etc. Choose low glycemic-index foods instead, like vegetables, whole grains, sweet potatoes, and most fruits.
  4. Junk food: For the same reasons stated above (hormonal fluctuations, blood sugar levels), junk foods are on the list to avoid if you’re trying to clear up your skin.
  5. Fast food: Greasy fast food creates inflammation in the body. Studies have already linked fast food to conditions like childhood asthma, strictly because of its ability to raise overall inflammation in the body. Inflammation leads to pimples, so if you’re going to a fast-food restaurant, choose the salad or the yogurt.

What About Chocolate?

Long suspected to trigger acne, chocolate has received a pass until just recently. One small study from the Netherlands published in 2013 found a connection between chocolate and skin changes leading to acne. For the study, the scientists collected blood from seven healthy people before and after they ate 1.7 ounces of chocolate, each day, for four days.

Researchers then exposed the blood cells to bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes—which contribute to acne when they grow inside clogged pores—and to Staphylococcus aureus, another skin bacteria than can aggravate acne.

After eating the chocolate, the participants’ blood cells produced more interleukin-1b, which is a marker of inflammation, when exposed to Propionibacterium acnes. Eating chocolate also increased production of another immune system factor called interleukin 10 after exposure to Staphylococcus aureus. Interleukin 10 is thought to lower the body’s defenses against microorganisms, so higher levels could allow bacteria to infect pimples and worsen them.

This suggests that chocolate could increase inflammation and encourage bacterial infection, making acne worse. This was an extremely small study, however, and more research is needed. Dark chocolate has health-promoting antioxidants, so depending on how much you eat per day, you may want to wait for more evidence. In the meantime, to see if you may be sensitive to chocolate, try eliminating it for a week, by itself, and see if you notice a change in your skin.

What to Eat

Just cutting out the damaging foods listed above will likely lead to clearer skin—especially if you were regularly consuming them before. But what if you’re already eating healthy? Are there certain foods that could give you the edge against acne? Research is in its earliest stages, but we do have some knowledge of particular foods that may help. Here are five of them:

  1. Fish or flaxseed: The typical Western diet contains too many omega-6 fatty acids, which are tied to inflammation. Eating more omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseed, and the like, can help tame inflammation and improve acne breakouts.
  2. Green tea: Green tea is filled the antioxidants that can protect from environmental stressors. Drink more green tea throughout the day.
  3. Oysters: Several studies have indicated that the mineral zinc may reduce the effects of acne. It’s best to get zinc from your food, however, as too much in supplements (more than 100 mg a day) can result in side effects. Eat more oysters, toasted wheat germ (sprinkled on salads and steamed veggies), veal liver, roast beef, roasted pumpkin and squash seeds, and dried watermelon seeds.
  4. Juicing: Eating more fruits and vegetables can naturally help clear up acne. Many contain beta-carotenes, which naturally help reduce skin oils, and all are naturally anti-inflammatory. Dark, leafy greens also help clear impurities from the body, which can encourage acne. Dark-colored berries contain phytonutrients good for skin when eaten.
  5. Probiotics: These have been found to reduce inflammation in the gut, which may help reduce acne. According to a 2011 study, intestinal microflora may affect inflammation throughout the body, which in turn, can affect acne breakouts. Since pre and probiotics can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, scientists believe they may help reduce acne breakouts. “There appears to be more than enough supportive evidence to suggest that gut microbes, and the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract itself, are contributing factors in the acne process,” the scientists wrote. To get more probiotics in your diet, try yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, dark chocolate, microalgae, miso soup, pickles, tempeh, kimchi, and kombucha tea.

Of course, there are many factors that contribute to acne, and diet is just one of them. Along with eating cleanly and avoiding acne triggers, there are many other factors that can contribute to your situation.

Have you cleared up your acne with dietary changes? Please share your story.

* * *

Sources
Ferdowsian Hr, Levin S, “Does diet really affect acne?” Skin Therapy Lett, 2010 Mar;15(3):1-2,5, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20361171.

Adebamowo CA, et al., “High school dietary dairy intake and teenage acne,” J Am Acad Dermatol, 2005 Feb;52(2):207-14, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15692464.

Myung Im, et al., “Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate Suppresses IGF-I-Induced Lipogenesis and Cytokine Expression in SZ95 Sebocytes,” Journal of Investigative Dermatology December 2012; 132:2700-2708, http://www.nature.com/jid/journal/v132/n12/full/jid2012202a.html.

Yoon JY, et al., “Epigallocatechin-3-gallate improves acne in humans by modulating intracellular molecular targets and inhibiting P. acnes,” J Invest Dermatol. 2013 Feb;133(2):429-40, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23096708?dopt=Abstract.

“Acne,” University of Maryland Medical Center, http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/acne.

Whitney P Bowe and Alan C Logan, “Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis—back to the future?” Gut Pathog, January 31, 2011; 3(1): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3038963/.

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COMMENTS ( 68 and counting )
  1. I’d also add removing gluten (at least for an experimental month) and adding in even more healthy fats like coconut oil, avocado, and making sure to avoid the inflammatory veggie oils.
    Great post!!

  2. PARAMESH says:

    FROM FOUR YRS IAM SUFFERING FROM PIMPLES IN MY FACE IT LOOK UGLY FOR ME FROM TWO MONTHS IAM CONTROLLING MY FOOD IT IS GIVIVG ME A RESULT BUT I WANT TO CLEAR MY FACE WITHOUT PIMPLES CAN SOME ONE GUIDE ME

  3. Lambros says:

    This is great! Thank you for sharing the information about Omega 3 vs. Omega 6 fatty acids. I think too many people hear the word “Omega” and immediately assume Omega 3, without noticing the issues with Omega 6 fatty acids. Very good information 🙂

  4. rajesh says:

    i am having big acnes on my face with yellow pus in them and they are killing me . the pain comes n go every time like someone pushing needle in my acnes and i am helpless now can anyone suggest me what to do

  5. Kyu says:

    I hope it will be helpful as I was just starting to change my lifestyle for the reason that I am suffering from a severe acne..

  6. Vanessa says:

    I’m a teenager whos had acne for 5 years and i too tried a vegan diet. Though i couldnt last past a week ive never had clearer skin then for that week.

    • admin says:

      Hi Vanessa! Don’t worry, you probably don’t need to go fully vegan in order to clear up your skin. Small steps help, too! Try adding in a morning green juice or green smoothie (more veggies than fruit!) and drinking more water. Maybe add in some oysters into your diet or reduce the amount of “junk food” you’re eating. Little things can help!

    • Talya says:

      Hey! I think that it’s a LOT easier than you think. First maybe just think about reducing. If you think – my goal is to be vegan you might be intimidated out of it.

  7. Vincenzo says:

    Hilarious that we need studies in 2010 to find out what we already knew in 1885: https://archive.org/details/acneitsetiology00bulkgoog

    Acne was successfully cured with Diet for decades by few doctors in the past and given that every cell is nourished by blood and blood depends upon what you eat, and bacteria depends upon the food they find in your blood and tissue to thrive, you can imagine what brainwash we all (including doctors) underwent in order to deny what is simply common sense.

    By the way, if you want some additional hint: go and review medical library of the past in archive.org site and you will find that dr. Duncan Bulkley, dr. Robert Bell, dr Henry Bieler already knew almost all that there is to know on many other “incurable” disease and how to clean the body from them.

  8. siddharth says:

    i have acne nd acne scare on mah face…can any one suggest me how to remove scares and how to avoid acne…plz help me

    • Neeti says:

      Siddarth, to treat acne scars you can either use 100% tea tree oil daily before sleep or Murad – post acne scar gel. Both of them are pretty effective.

  9. mark says:

    True… eating chocolates make my acne worst and produce more breakouts.. so I decided to void all sweet things except fruits.. Of course you can eat fruits.. they dont raise your insulin level cause fruits have fibers

    • Amy says:

      Fruit does raise your insulin levels, some more than others. There is a ton of sugar in bananas, but berries have slightly less.

  10. Lexi says:

    Hello… that advice was very helpful. Although i have heard coconut oil is great for your skin and helps clear up pimples along with acne scars. Is this true? What other products do you recommend for pimples and acne scars?

    • admin says:

      First off, I recommend using a gentle, astringent cleanser for controlling break outs. Our Citrus Mint Cleanser has a healing aloe vera juice base, plus herbs like neem which help prevent break outs.

      Our Anti-Aging Serum is a great product if you’re looking to prevent break outs while healing acne scars. It has aloe vera and rose distillate, which are very calming and healing.

      Our Citrus Stem Cell Serum targets hyperpigmentation and scarring. In my opinion, this is a magical product!! If you have oily skin, the jojoba oil in here might be too heavy for you, so I’d stick with the Anti-Aging Serum.

      As far as the coconut oil, it can actually clog your pores! We use fractionated coconut oil, which means the molecules are smaller and non pore clogging. Grape seed oil is actually great for clearing up acne while moisturizing. You can read about that here: https://www.annmariegianni.com/benefits-grapeseed-oil-skin

      I hope this helps!!!

  11. Sim says:

    I hv small tiny bumps i.e white in color onma face nd olso pimples not too many but whn one pimpl get rid thn another goes up.. M taking alote of med but no result after a few months dey goes up on ma face again.. Nw m not taking any med can any one suggest hw i get ma clear skinback

  12. sania says:

    wait a sec..! can we eat atlest 1 or 2 sweets like chikki n all ?
    and at home we eat white rice n if I say to stop it dey all will laugh?

  13. Anjila says:

    I’ve been suffering from acne since five years. I am nineteen now. And acne really lowers my confidence and self esteem. I can’t even look straight on face of the new people I meet. I’ve tried so so many things but no nothing worked.
    Maybe I should totally devote myself to be a vegan now.

  14. nikhil says:

    Hi ! Am sufferIng with pimples since 4 years , also with bad breakouts !Could you please suggest me some diet to prevent pimples on my face !

  15. R says:

    I really need help. I can’t remember when my skin was last completely clear. I’m almost 20 years old and I’ve been suffering from unclear skin since I was 13. I got random pimples and blackheads, you name it. It’s been bothering me for years and I’ve tried prescriptions from dermatologists. I’ve tried soaps and creams and even pills.
    And I’m just so fed up. And I don’t need anymore advertisement on products that won’t work. I just want a clear face.
    If anyone could help me with that here, I’d be very grateful.

  16. jasmine says:

    hi i have acne from 5 years n in last 2 years it was removed with medecine but now again i have acne my skin doctor told that it willl remove after 2 or 3 4 years but it was not

  17. Toby says:

    This sucks. I’ve lost 15 lbs in 6 months because of cutting down foods that trigger acne, and i was alredy skinny. Now im 6′ 3” tall with 143 lbs, and i look like skeleton.

  18. pooja pedhadiya says:

    Why acini produce

  19. Logan says:

    Uh it’s so annoying how this is just fine with talking about animal testing (during the green tea section). I am surprised nobody has said anything! You should not take advice from people who tested products on a completely different creature. I’m not saying it might not work, I’m just discussed with the casualty of writing about this cruel thing!

  20. Lorraine says:

    I have tea tree and rosemary oils
    With almond coconut olive and castor oil and vitamin e
    I have normal to oily acne prone skin. Have scares too
    What you suggest with these available oils

  21. Durga says:

    Hello mame.i have acnes from last 3 years.now they have 90% gone.but now the marks and the large pores are the only problem.so can you plz help me to cure them???plz

  22. Great post! As a dermatologist we are always looking to find ways for our patients to make a real lifestyle change that will actually affect their skin. I highlighted some of the scientific studies behind acne and food in my blogpost here: http://www.teawithmd.com/2016/02/the-true-link-between-food-and-acne/

    Enjoy!

    XO
    Joyce
    http://www.teawithMD.com
    A dermatologist’s guide to health & beauty

  23. Charlotte says:

    What can i use for acne scars i have alot ???

  24. cathy says:

    Thank you for this awesome article! 😀 good luck everyone💕💕take care of your skin, it’s your largest organ🍀

  25. Kathy Mitchell says:

    Hey great article!! Thanks for sharing with us, I usually used Zeroblem a product of Solvaderm Brand, this Serum is also very good, I have been this since last 2 month, and I really recover a lot.

  26. Mary says:

    Wow, that’s amazing. I like drinking green tea. I also have to suffer from breakouts. Now thanks to your article, I know the benefits of green tea and certainly I will drink green tea frequently to prevent breakouts. Yesterday I also read an article about foods causing acne breakouts. Besides the foods that you mentioned, you can find more at http://effectiveremedies.com/foods-that-cause-acne-breakouts/. Thanks so much!

  27. Siva says:

    How to overcome from the pimples acne and black hair and white hairs and red spots
    Can we get Our skin back from the holes on face

  28. Indy says:

    Does this also work on the rest of your body, not just your face? Because I’ve been having spots on my back, chest and other places

  29. Tina says:

    I stoped eating candy and sugars fried foods and eggs for 6 weeks my skin cleared and i only had to deal with the red marks from the clogged pores for 6months after that
    Huge impruvment
    I suggest try to figure out what is causing the clogged pores instaed of usesing creams and cleaning the skin that only makes things wearst

  30. M.shofia says:

    What should I do to get rid of pimples?

  31. jyoti says:

    Really Nice

  32. Sarah says:

    Changing your pillow case at least weekly really helps

  33. Ayivoren Daniel says:

    Please what foods are best to prevent and cause pimples? ??

  34. These are some great tips . Thanks for sharing with us.

  35. ABHISHEK YADAV says:

    Sir/Mam I am facing a difficult problem that is acne and oily face please suggest one method which can cure both problems.

  36. jelly belly 22 says:

    I have a lot of small tiny bumps on my face.Maybe it’s genetic.They are on my entire face (on cheeks,forehead,nose,between my eyebrows,Literally Everywhere!) They are most on the cheeks and my forehead.Can anyone Please help me with this?

    • Sarah says:

      Those sound maybe like Milia? If you squeeze them does small stringy stuff come out? (though the say not to squeeze)

  37. Amanda says:

    I honestly thought this was a myth myself until I lost my job and was too broke and poor to eat much of anything at all. My face was clearer than it had ever been in 20 years for the whole duration until I got another job.

  38. Ofcourse food can cause acne and it depends totally on you that which type of food you eating. There are several food which cause acne to grow more

  39. Richard says:

    Just wanted to share my experience in case any one is skeptical. I have struggled with acne for about a year and since my first breakout I have tried various name brand acne treatments and creams. My acne only got worse. Recently I became so fed up with my acne and my appearance that I literally could not look in the mirror. I have begun to cut out all sugary foods and fast foods from my diet and instead eat fruit, vegetables, grass fed beef and fish as well a green tea and walnuts among other things as well. My acne has become less inflamed and swollen and is even clearing up all together in some spots. I have only been following this new diet for 5 days so far. Diet is so important and will change not only your acne but alot of other aspects of your health as well.

    good luck to all of you!

  40. Joel says:

    Hello guys. I recently turned 22 years old. I’ve been suffering from acne since the past 5-6 years. But it’s getting worse from the past 2 years. I get pimples, cystic acne, boils on my face and my scalp too is affected by pimples. The very next day when I wash my hair that I get my scalp oily and stinky. Well I’m more worried about my face. Consulted many dermatologists. The prescribed pills affect as long as I take those. I feel pathetic about myself on looking in the mirror. I’m thinking that maybe diet is a problem. I workout too for an hour everyday. Sweat out. Yet it all doesn’t help in reducing the acne. Somebody please help.

  41. Tiffany says:

    I’ve had acne since becoming a teen, and I’m 33 now. I’ve tried supplements that were supposed to help, but it made things worse. It has always been an annoyance for me. I’ve been incorporating juicing (I use raw veggies and fruits in my juicer) into my diet for a few months now. Sometimes I skip a week, sometimes I drink just one juice a day, and sometimes I go on a juice kick and have mostly juice & smoothies for a week. I have very much noticed clearer skin! I literally have 0 acne on my face right now, and it’s been 2 weeks since I had any kind of breakout. I love juicing and adding more veggies and fruits into my life!! They are nature’s pharmacy 🙂

  42. Sarah says:

    Also, if you do eat yogurt eat it sparingly, It can cause cystic acne due to hormones.

  43. Vero says:

    Hi!
    I had a mild acne in my teens but now in my 40s?
    I love baguette. Could it be the cause?
    A bit sweet everyday.

  44. Curteasea says:

    I need help with pimples on my chest area.

  45. livwatson says:

    hi i’ve had acne for over a year now and i have tried so many acne masks and treatments, it’s cost me a fortune! but nothing seems to be working. as i’m only 13 i don’t really want to change my diet as i’m underweight and don’t want to loose any more weight. can anyone recommend any treatments or something that will help. thank you x

    • Annmarie Skin Care says:

      Hi Liv,

      I’m sorry to hear that you’re experiencing this. Changing your diet doesn’t have to mean cutting out foods that help you gain weight! In fact, sometimes working with a healthier diet can help you to gain weight and clear up your skin. We would suggest seeing a nutritionist and/or a holistic practitioner to get on the right track with your diet!

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