How Your Diet Affects your Acne
Patients frequently ask me if their breakouts are related to food. My response is always
the same: dairy and refined sugar can be triggers for acne. Now we have new evidence
to support that conclusion.
For many years experts believed that there was no relationship between food and
pimples. But in 2002 a study was published which made dermatologists question that
belief. Over 1300 people from remote areas such as Papua New Guinea and Paraguay
were examined, and not one person was found to have acne. This led scientists to
wonder what it was about Western culture compared to life in remote corners of the
world that caused people to develop acne.
A new study, published in the January 13 online Journal of the Academy of Nutrition
and Dietetics confirms a higher incidence of acne in those who eat a lot of sugar and
drink a lot of milk compared to those who do not.
“Their study included 248 volunteers age 18 to 25 years old. The participants reported
on the severity of their acne, what they eat each day, and also which foods they thought
might exacerbate their acne.
Those patients also reported consuming more sugar, 199 g/day, compared to 56.4 g/
day for those without acne (p<0.001).
They drank more milk (0.7 vs 0.3 cups), and they ate more trans-fats (9.6 vs 2.4 g/day)
and more saturated fats (31 vs 15.6 g/day) (p<0.001).
Those with worse acne also reported eating less fish than those without acne: 0.2 vs 0.7
Although studies such as this one do not prove a cause and effect relationship between
diet and acne, it seems reasonable to conclude that sugar, milk, and unhealthy fats are
best avoided when trying to prevent breakouts.
Acne is based on several factors, including genetics, hormones, oil production, and
hygiene, in addition to diet. It’s multiple things in combination that trigger acne, not
just one thing. For instance a 6 year old patient with a diet high in dairy and sugar who
never washes his face may never have a pimple, but when that same boy turns 14
and experiences a surge in hormones and oil production, acne lesions suddenly start
to appear. Likewise one 17 year old girl might eat sugar all day long and never get
a pimple, while her best friend, who has a family history of acne, gets a breakout just
looking at a chocolate bar.
The best advice I can offer in regard to an “acne diet” is to eat clean. Choose complex
carbohydrates with a lower glycemic index over foods made with a lot of refined
sugar. Choose healthy fats such as those found in avocado and olive oil over foods
containing saturated fats and trans-fat. Keep dairy intake to a minimum but look for
dairy alternatives so you don’t run low on calcium, vitamin D, and protein.
When dietary modifications and good hygiene aren’t enough, it’s time for a visit to the
*image courtesy of dermalinstitute.com