Foods that Cause and Prevent Acne

Vegetables on a white background

Eating raw vegetables can help reduce acne in teenagers.

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.

{ 9 comments... read them below or add one }

    Am in africa Ghana am 17 years old and am a male acne are all over my face and also there is too much oil on ma face as well my face keeps on swelling and a yellowish juice do appear when ever i press them pls what do i intend to do in other to help cure my acne and also to avoid oil from kamin on my face?

    Do what I did for about a week. Drink lots of Black coffee with no sugar and no milk. Fast every 3 days. Eat only Vegetables and beans, and you will see a difference.

    the yellow juice is called pus. It can be caused by inflammation. I would recommend going to a dermatologist because i suffer the same too. My dermatologist prescribed mr some tropical and oral medication which helped me. Stay away from SUGAR!!

    You just have to wash your face in the morning and before sleeping, “Dove” soap is the best soap that I’ve used for washing my face.
    First,wash your hands,then wash your face (with warm water,not hot!),wash your neck as well and then take the soap,rub it on your hands and then on your face and neck,rub it in circular motions,not too hard and not for too long.
    You could use a cleanser to replace soap and you could use one that makes your face more dry.
    Hope I helped :p

    About soybeans: soybeans in the shell are called edamame, not edema. Shelled soybeans are called mukimame. Edema is the medical term for swelling. You might want to correct that in this article.

    This is one of the best articles I have ever read on acne – many fail to give accurate information, this one is brilliant and explains 20 years of pain for me (aswell as several years of recent success in abolishing what I once thought I would be stuck with for the rest of my life after suffering terrible acne). A recent outbreak led me to googling and took me to this article – and it fits exactly – I have been binging on coffee and dark chocolate since Christmas and my skin is oilier than it has been for several years. I gave up crisps and chocolate a few years ago and my acne all but disappeared. Time to cut down on dark chocolate and coffee. Thankyou very much.

    I second every word Peter just said.

    My face is not improving either…… Acne all over,am following your steps but there’s nothing new.Are there any natural ways of treating them,with naturally homemade scubs,,

    I just read this article after reading yours. It is titled ‘Get Rid of Acne With These 10+ Food’ s’ — by Health with ……..
    it referenced Health Benefits of Eating Carrots. It states the following: “Basically that Vitamin A in carrots regulates sebum” ,
    It doesn’t increase sebum. Vitamin A is the natural version of Retin A, often used as an acne treatment. The article doesn’t differentiate between raw or cooked. So my question is, Are you saying that raw is good, but cooked is bad?If so Why, Maybe it is that when you cook carrots the natural sugars in carrots become stronger and affect the acne. Of course that is just my reasoning if both your article and their article is correct. I really wish I knew which statement is more true.
    Any ways below is the part of the article I am referencing.
    Paragraph from article below ———->
    “Most people know that carrots aid eyesight, but did you know that they can also be great for treating acne? These low glycemic veggies are one of the best sources of beta-carotene, which can be converted to vitamin A in the body (Note: some people have a genetic variation that may hinder beta-carotene conversion). Vitamin A has been shown to exert positive effects on acne sufferers, probably due to its ability to affect the inflammatory aspects of acne. Vitamin A is also thought to regulate sebum production. Further, carrots are believed to have detoxifying properties and to enhance the immune system which allows your body both to fight acne before pimples occur and to help you skin recover from an acne breakout. Aside from their acne fighting properties, carrots also offer a number of other health benefits (for more information, see the article on the Health Benefits of Eating Carrots).”
    article in Health with
    Also, I have read more than 1 article that states All dairy, (milk, cheese, butter) are bad for acne and will have a tendency to worsen the breakouts because they are higher on the glycemic index, which can cause our sugars to not process properly which then causes a peak in our insulin which causes a hormone fluctuation.
    The more I read, the more confusing. No wonder acne is still an issue.

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