Foods that Cause Acne. Or Do They?
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The Ultimate Acne Diet: What to Eat and What to Avoid for Flawless Skin

by Christine GlasgowJune 2, 2017

Acne Diet; The Do’s and Don’ts of Eating to Right to Combat Bad Skin

It’s an old adage; you are what you eat. And there is little doubt that the foods – and beverages – you consume can and do have a serious effect, sometimes negative, sometimes positive, on your health overall. But do foods really have an impact when it comes to preventing – and maybe even treating – acne?


The effect of foods on acne prone skin is a controversial subject, and there are a lot of myths out there that science has, for the most part, exploded over the last several years. On the other hand, science has also supported the beliefs, good and bad, about some other food stuffs and food groups. Let’s take a look at some of those more recent findings and what they might mean for your daily diet if you have acne prone skin and want to avoid breakouts as much as possible.

Acne Diet Don’t: High Glycemic Index Foods

High Glycemic Index Foods are a concern for many scientists and nutritionists in general. And the evidence that they have a negative effect on acne prone skin is some of the strongest in the field at the moment.

The Glycemic Index, if you have not heard of it before, is a number value that is assigned to foods based on how quickly or slowly those foods cause increases in blood glucose levels. As some of you may already know a blood glucose level – more commonly known as a blood sugar level – that is above normal can be considered toxic, and, if sustained could lead to kidney failure, heart failure and blindness.

Therefore, those with diabetes and other conditions that call for strict blood sugar control already know that High Glycemic Index Foods are off the menu for them. However, according to numerous studies, they should also be off limits for those with acne prone skin.

Consuming foods on the High Glycemic Index spectrum causes a rapid spike in blood glucose levels. For a diabetic it’s a health risk, for others it often just promotes queasiness and maybe heartburn. For those who have acne prone skin though that spike in blood sugar levels often also triggers the skin to produce more sebum than normal, something that can quickly clog and block pores, a leading cause of acne.

What are these bad for your skin, sugar spiking foods? They include all the following:

  • White potatoes
  • Plain flour
  • White rice
  • White Sugar
  • Watermelon
  • Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Corn Flakes, puffed rice and other similar breakfast cereals
  • White bread
  • Soda
  • Most cookies
  • Crackers
  • Pizza (sorry)

If this sounds like by cutting these foods out of your diet you’ll be left with nothing tasty to eat, the good news is that does not have to be the case. Low Glycemic Index foods have the opposite effect, and so subbing some of them for their ‘bad’ counterparts can help keep your diet interesting while keeping your skin clearer. These include;

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Asparagus
  • Cauliflower – and yes, you can make a great cauliflower crust for pizza!
  • Spinach
  • Steel-cut oatmeal
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Multi wholegrain breads (brands like Ezekiel for example)
  • Lentils
  • Kidney and black beans
  • Farrow
  • Quinoa
  • Low fat yogurts
  • Peanuts
  • Sesame seeds.

Acne Diet Don’t: Foods High in Unsaturated Fats

The belief that eating junk food – as in food that is high in saturated and trans fats – contributes to breakouts – is an old one, but one that current nutritional science has found some evidence for.

The fats that are found in highly processed foods, especially those purchased in fast food restaurants, are known to trigger inflammation, something that can worsen existing acne and/or trigger new breakouts in acne prone skin. Eating these fatty foods fatty foods release inflammatory cytokines in the blood that in turn increase inflammation in the skin, leading to red blotches and sometimes, inflamed acne pimples.

So, in addition to avoiding those fast food burgers and fries, what other bad fatty food should those battling acne avoid. They include:

  • Hot dogs
  • Pork ribs
  • Beef burgers
  • Dark meat poultry
  • Fatty cuts of beef, pork and lamb
  • Fried foods of any kind (grill your food instead, or at least invest in an air fryer)
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Lard

Acne Diet Do: Omega 3 Rich Foods

Omega 3 fatty acids have become known as ‘the good fat’ and a great deal of research has shown that consuming Omega 3 rich foods offers all kinds of health benefits, everything from lowered cholesterol and risk of heart disease to improve memory and cognitive function and yes, for some, an improvement in the condition of their acne prone skin.

This improvement can come, researchers say, from the fact that Omega 3 fatty acids have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, so that can, in some cases, help calm redness and cystic acne.

Some people think that the only good sources of Omega 3 are certain types of fish, but if you are not a fan of seafood there are plenty of other tasty options. And if you are a fan of fish then the improvement it offers to your health – and the health of your skin – is a great excuse to treat yourself to at least one extra portion a week.

The best sources of Omega 3 fatty acids in food include all of the following:

  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Walnuts
  • Soy beans
  • Fish roe (caviar or cod roe)
  • Tuna (including canned tuna)
  • Hemp seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Anchovies
  • Oysters
  • Trout
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Watercress
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified cereals (check the package)
  • Peanuts

Acne Diet Do: Anti-Oxidant Rich Fruits and Vegetables

If you have been near any beauty counter over the course of the last ten years or so then you know that anti-oxidant skin care is a big deal. That’s because anti-oxidants fight what are known as free radicals, pesky little molecules that float in the air, attach to skin and cause premature aging, dry and dull skin, pore damage and an increased incidence of acne.

While anti-oxidant skin care is a good idea for some, it’s always best to start off by getting anti-oxidants from a food based source, so that they are absorbed quickly and easily by the body. And as fruits and vegetables are essential for good health in general it makes sense that those that are high in anti-oxidants should be an essential part of the diet of anyone who struggles with acne. These fruits and veggies include all the following:

  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Raisins
  • Raspberries
  • Tangerines
  • Oranges
  • Plums
  • Red grapes
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Alfalfa Sprouts
  • Beets
  • Radishes
  • Red Bell Peppers
  • Onions

Acne Diet Do: Zap Zits with Zinc

Many nuts do contain at least some Omega 3 fatty acids, which, as we have already discussed, are considered to be great for those hoping to reduce the number of acne breakouts they must deal with, as well as for your health in general. Nuts offer an added skin benefit that is harder to find as well; zinc.

Zinc is a nutrient that is utilized by a number of naturally occurring bodily enzymes to break down molecules in the skin, and researchers and dermatologists believe that a lack of zinc in your diet can lead to acne outbreaks, as well as to things like impotence, a weakened immune system, diarrhea and even hair loss. As people’s diets began to take a ‘junkier’ turn over the last several decades so did the incidence of zinc deficiency.

Zinc supplements are available, but they are notoriously difficult for most people to stomach, literally, as they often cause quite nasty nausea. It’s better then to get your zinc from your food, and in addition to nuts of many kinds, all of the following are good sources of this essential mineral:

  • Spinach
  • Oysters
  • Grass fed Beef
  • Lamb
  • Shrimp
  • Walnuts
  • Peanuts
  • Mushrooms
  • Chicken
  • Cashews
  • Chickpeas
  • Kidney Beans
  • Turkey
  • Garlic
  • Beef Liver
  • Brown Rice
  • Crab

Acne Diet Maybe: Probiotics

The idea that probiotics can both help prevent and treat acne is one that is rather ‘hot’ right now. The jury is still out as far as the scientific community is concerned, but most do agree that the fact that probiotics are effective for helping to create a healthier bacterial environment in the gut, and that by doing so may help reduce inflammation that can aggravate acne prone skin.

Probiotics are found in live culture yogurt, and the highest concentrations of them are found in the thicker Greek yogurt. This means that adding yogurt to your anti-acne diet is quite possibly a good idea, but only yogurt that is free of added sugars and artificial colors. Fortunately, as the idea of consuming more probiotics to improve digestive health is even ‘hotter’ than the idea of eating it to fight acne you’ll now find a wide variety of great tasting, great for you yogurts in almost any local supermarket or grocery store.


As you may have noticed, many of the acne fighting foods we’ve discussed make up part of a healthy diet in general. And many of the ‘bad choices’ are simply not good for people in general too. So basically, adopting a more acne friendly diet is adopting a healthier eating regimen in general, and that can only be a good thing.


Now we’d like to hear from you. Have any diet changes made a difference to your skin? Do you have any suggestions for preparing some of these foods in a tasty manner? If so, let us know, we’d love to hear from you!


Christine Glasgow
Canadian girl addicted to beauty and fashion. I'm a Blogger, Entrepreneur and web influencer 👑 I mostly talk about anything related to skin care and beauty. I created this site to share science-based information on skin conditions, treatments and skin care.

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