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The Ultimate Acne Diet: What to Eat and What to Avoid for Flawless Skin

Foods that Cause Acne. Or Do They?

by Christine GlasgowMay 11, 2017

Acne is complicated stuff, as anyone who suffers from it already knows. So many causes, possible causes and potential triggers. It’s enough to make your head spin sometimes. And often, to make things even harder, you’ll come across all kinds of conflicting information online that can make it even harder to understand just what might really be causing your unique case of acne and how you can improve things.

One of the biggest ‘gray areas’ is how much of a role diet has to play in acne and which foods should be considered ‘bad choices’ for those with acne prone skin. Again, there is a ton of conflicting information out there. Is chocolate bad for acne? What about those articles that said dark chocolate is helpful to fight it? Is dairy bad for acne? And if it is, where are you supposed to get all the calcium your body needs if you cut it out?

We don’t have all of the answers and we aren’t scientists/nutritionists/medical experts. We have however spent time going through what these people have had to say – and haven’t had to say – in order to come up with this very basic guide.

Foods That May Cause – or Worsen – Acne


Yes, the bad news is for dairy lovers that more and more experts are concluding that dairy foods can be a problem for acne sufferers.

The problem may not actually be the dairy itself though. According to recent research undertaken by the American Academy of Dermatology it i the hormones in milk that are to blame. It contains certain hormones that seem to spike the production of certain acne causing hormones, potentially leading to an increase in breakouts.

Should you give up dairy altogether? Probably not, if you are a fan. But cutting don may help. Swap regular milk for almond or another nut milk. Try vegan cheese if the thought of living without that hurts too much. And understand that the occasional indulgence in the ‘real thing’ may be quite OK, just make a note of how your skin reacts after you’ve eaten dairy.


As we are all learning, sugar is just bad. It’s bad for your teeth, it’s bad for your weight, it’s bad for blood sugar levels and yes, experts say it’s bad for those with acne too. The reason is that sugar is considered a pro-inflammatory, as in it can worsen inflammatory conditions, of which acne is often one.

Cutting down on sugar isn’t easy because we can’t always see it. Sure you can switch to diet soda and use stevia in your beverages but have you ever taken a look at how much sugar there is in pasta sauce? Or some breads? Trust us, if you haven’t you’ll be shocked.

The real key then to cutting your sugar intake – and maybe your acne breakouts – is reading the labels on the things you eat and drink. It’s time consuming but overall better for your health, and not just your skin’s health either.


If you love coffee but also suffer from acne we may have some bad news for you. It’s been found that one of the organic acids in coffee beans stimulates the production of cortisol. That’s the pesky hormone known as the stress hormone and it can trigger acne breakouts. Going decaf won’t help either so switching coffee for tea may be one way to decrease your acne breakouts.


This one may be really bad news if you are a vegetarian. Recent studies have linked natural plant estrogens found in soybeans to breakouts that tend to occur around the mouth and jawline. This substances minim estrogen in the human body, throwing off hormonal balance. Why the mouth and jawline? That’s still under investigation.

Breads and Cookies and Cakes

What do all of the foods above have in common, apart from being generally delicious? They are all considered to be high in refined carbohydrates, things that are increasingly being linked to acne more than any other food type.

These refined carbs are known to cause sudden spikes in blood sugar, and researchers have increasingly be able to tie this to increased acne breakouts. One big problem is that the breads and pastries found in most stores are simply over-processed and have far more refined carbs than similar foods sold as little as 20 years ago. Some nutritionists do have some advice for bread loving acne sufferers though; you don’t have to give it up, just learn to make your own.

Foods with Less Proven Connections to Acne

Some foodstuffs are being linked, by some, to acne breakouts but only on the basis of some limited study or just scientific theory. These include:


Some have suggested that nuts might be a problem for acne sufferers but the link is very tenuous and most disagree right now. As nuts are an excellent source of protein and a good alternative energy booster to empty sugars and bad for you fizzy energy drinks no one really wants to suggest cutting them out of a healthy diet just yet, until there is better evidence for a potential to cause acne.


Some have suggested that rice may also be an acne causing food as it is a high glycemic food which, as discussed when we mentioned breads and cakes, has been linked to an increased incidence and frequency of acne. Again though the evidence is very tenuous and the jury is most certainly still out.

Acne Causing Foods and You

So, with all of this not at all clear, even among the experts, how do you know what you should and should not eat. The answer may lie solely in your on unique physiological make up.

We already know that acne can have lots of different triggers and that what causes acne in one person may not cause it in another. And as some of the foods on this list are actually valuable to your health in other ways it may be a little drastic to kiss them goodbye when they may not even be having any effect on your acne one way or the other.

That’s why many nutritionists are now advising that people keep a food diary, so that they can figure out for themselves, over a certain amount of time, whether certain foods are damaging their skin and causing, or worsening acne or not.

How to Keep an Acne Food Diary

  • Using an old fashioned notepad or the Notes app on your phone, record everything you eat and drink in a single day.
  • Be honest about it all. At the moment this is for your eyes only so no one will judge you if you had a second piece of that birthday cake.
  • Note down, at the end of each day, what the condition of your skin currently is. Is it breaking out? If so, with what kind of acne? Blackheads? Whiteheads? Inflamed pus-filled pimples?
  • Do this every day for at least 30 days
  • Reread your diary at the end of the month and if there are clear patterns between a worsening of your acne and the consumption of certain foods, you’ll begin to see them.
  • Cut out any foods that did seem to have an effect.
  • Rinse and repeat the whole process. re-analyzing every month

This way you’ll be able to see how food is affecting your and your skin personally, not ho a scientist surmises that maybe it will.

A Final Word

According to a study conducted in 2015 by researchers for the American Academy of Dermatology, published in the  Journal of the American Medical Association, there is just not enough solid evidence yet that foods have any real effect on acne. Day to day anecdotal evidence may suggest otherwise for some. The best advice right now? Eat a healthy, balanced diet, keep you acne diary to watch out for personal food triggers and maintain a good acne prevention based skin care routine.

Now it’s over to you. Do you think there is a connection between food and acne? Do certain foods seem to make you break out? Let us know, we’d love to learn more from your real life experiences.

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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