Foods that Cause and Prevent Acne
There are no foods that always cause acne. There are no foods that always prevent acne. But there are a number of foods that often make acne worse or make acne better—although cleansing, disinfection, and other aspects of acne skin care are also important to keeping your skin blemish-free.
- No food always causes acne, and no food always prevents acne, but some foods make acne more or less likely.
- Greasy foods do not cause acne by themselves, but consuming too many foods made with corn oil or soybean oil can make your skin break out.
- Lard, butter, cheese, and nuts are actually good for your skin, although eat too much of this kind of fat may have a detrimental effect on your waistline.
- Whey in bodybuilding supplements and instant milk products can cause blemishes and pimples.
- Soy can be helpful for hormonal acne in women.
- Raw vegetables reduce the incidence of acne in teens, but cooked carrots and stewed tomatoes can cause breakouts in teenage males.
Greasy Foods and Acne
The old advice used to be that greasy foods always cause acne. Then more enlightened commentators started telling acne sufferers that greasy food have no effect on acne. The truth is, whether greasy foods give you blemishes depends on both what you eat and how much you eat.
Every cell in the human body uses a group of fatty acids known as the n-6 (or omega-6) essential fatty acids to make the hormones that cause inflammation. Every cell in the human body uses a group of fatty acids known as the n-3 (or omega-3) essential fatty acids to make hormones that stop excessive inflammation. Both kinds of fatty acids are “essential,” meaning everyone needs to consume in their diets to live. But the problem is that most people get far more n-6 fat than n-3 fat.
The n-6 fatty acids are abundant in corn oil and soybean oil. If you live in North America, almost every processed food contains either corn oil, soybean oil, or both. The n-3 fatty acids are abundant in flaxseed and flaxseed oil, and cold-water fish and cod liver oil, as well as many nuts and seeds. Outside of some parts of northern Europe, most people just don’t get enough of the n-3’s.
There isn’t any little pipeline that goes from your stomach to your pimples to deliver grease you eat from food. In fact, the oil in your pores is made by your pores. It is not extracted from your food. But whether or not your pores get inflamed depends in part on the ratio of n-6 essential fatty acids to n-3 essential fatty acids in your diet. And nearly everyone who has acne gets too many of the n-6’s.
The solution to the problem is to cut back on certain kinds of fat in general, not just to avoid greasy foods. Margarine can make your skin break out. Chips (crisps) that are fried in corn oil or soybean oil can make your skin break out. Most packaged candies and desserts contain soybean oil and can make your skin break out.
Lard, cheese, butter, olive oil, fish oils, and coconut oil, on the other hand, actually help clear up your skin. Just be sure to consume them in moderation. These fats may not make your skin break out, but excess calories have a way of becoming belly fat.
“Everybody knows” that eating chocolate can cause pimples to pop out on acne-prone skin. It turns out, however, that it’s not the fat in chocolate that causes irritation of the skin. It’s the chemical called theobromine.
When the skin breaks out in pimples, it is responding to stress by releasing inflammation. Nerve endings in the skin sense “stress” (which can be something like rubbing alcohol on the skin, or something more general like studying for final exams). Theobromine blocks a chemical called adenosine that turns off the stress receptors in the skin, so they churn out more of the inflammatory chemicals that make the skin break out.
Even if you keep your skin scrupulously clean, chocolate may make it break out. Dark chocolate has more theobromine than milk chocolate. And you liver transforms about 10% of caffeine into theobromine. If chocolate makes you break out, consuming too much coffee or other caffeinated beverages will make you break out, too.
Whey is a byproduct of making cheese, the liquid that is left when milk has been curdled and strain. It’s a great source of protein. It can help stimulate the immune system. In fact, it stimulates the immune system so much that it in some people can cause acne.
The Nestlé company, maker of a variety of powdered milk and canned milk products, sponsored a report finding that whey is “insulinogenic.” That is, whey increases sensitivity to insulin in the skin. This makes follicles grow tighter, trapping sebum inside, and also increases the production of sebum inside the skin.
The insulinogenic properties of whey encourage the formation of blackheads and whiteheads. The immunostimulant properties of whey encourage the formation of pimples.
If you have acne, you should avoid whey. Don’t use whey-based bodybuilding supplements (pea and rice protein are fine), and don’t drink Nestlé’s Quick. Cutting back on milk may also help if you have active acne breakouts.
Soy is often called a super-food, but the cultures that consume soy on a daily basis usually consume it in a very natural form, either as edema (whole green soy beans) or tofu, and in very small amounts, seldom more than 1/2 oz (14 grams) a day. The body can absorb only a small amount of the estrogen-like genistein and daidzein in soy. More than 1/2 oz per day provides protein, but not phytoestrogens.
Men’s skin usually is not affected by phytoestrogens, but women who have premenstrual acne often get visible results from including just a little soy in their daily diets, especially during the second half of their menstrual periods. Only 1/2 ounce a day is needed for supporting healthy skin.
Scientific researchers have found some surprises regarding vegetables and acne. Norwegian researchers have found that eating raw (or pickled) vegetables does more to protect against acne than avoiding fat. Norwegian teens who don’t eat salads or pickles tend to have more acne.
Dutch researchers, on the other hand, have found that cooked carrots and tomatoes, especially if they are served with olive oil, butter, or margarine, tend to increase sebum production, making the skin oilier, especially in teenaged males. Teenaged males still need to eat their salads, but they may have a good excuse for skipping the cooked carrots and stewed tomatoes.