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Foods With Acne Healing Properties

Are there foods that help clear up acne? How about foods that make acne worse? The truth is that individual foods have very little influence on acne all by themselves, either for making acne better or for making acne worse. Certain foods eaten in excess, however, even healthy foods eaten in excess, can have unexpected and undesirable effects.

Dark chocolate triggers acne
Dark chocolate triggers pimple production by increasing oil production.

This article presents an A to Z review of important foods and their effects on acne.


  • Foods don’t have a tremendous influence on acne either for better or for worse.
  • Dark chocolate triggers pimple production in people who already have acne but milk chocolate usually does not. The problem is a chemical called theobromine. This plant chemical “excites” the skin and increases oil production. The problem is not the healthy fats found in chocolate.
  • Cow’s milk may trigger blemishes, but the problem is the hormones in the milk, not milk fat. Butter and cheese sometimes help improve acne, because their fat dissolves large amounts of vitamin A.
  • Fried foods cause acne because of the combination of high-carb and high-fat in the same meal. Separating fats and carbs into different meals reduces inflammation of the skin.
  • High glycemic index, “sugary” foods aggravate acne. But eating less of a high glycemic index food may have the same effect on your body as eating more of a low glycemic index food.
  • Nuts, especially Brazil nuts, may actually help clear up acne. Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium. Don’t eat any kind of nuts if you are allergic.
  • Sweet corn and tomatoes sometimes aggravate blemishes in men, but not in women.


Dark chocolate can make you break out. Milk chocolate usually will not.

A study at the University of Miami found that eating just three 2-oz (approximately 60-gram) bars of dark chocolate every week can cause breakouts of up to 80 new pimples. If you don’t already have acne, however, eating chocolate will not usually cause your first blemish.

Cow’s Milk

The organization Physicians for Responsible Medicine reports two different studies that have found that introducing cow’s milk in the diets of people who have never consumed it before (Inuits in Canada and Okinawan Japanese) increased rates of acne.

A study of 47,000 nurses in the United States found that those who consumed the most milk (3 or more glasses a week) as teenagers had the most acne and that those who consumed the least milk (1 glass or less) as teenagers had the least acne. Skim milk caused more acne than whole milk. This suggests that it is the hormones in milk or given to cows to produce milk that cause the skin to break out.

Fried Foods

Everyone knows that fried foods cause acne. But is what everyone knows actually the truth?

The skin acts as a kind of “brick wall” to protect tissues beneath it. The skin cells are like bricks, and fats in the skin are like mortar.

Human skin makes the “mortar” between skin cells from saturated fatty acids. These are the kinds of healthy saturated fatty acids that can be found in avocados, nuts, and seeds. (They are also found in dark chocolate, but the theobromine in dark chocolate “excites” the skin and increases oil production.) Saturated fatty acids break down into smaller essential fatty acids that prevent the excess growth of bacteria. Deficiency of saturated fatty acids in the diet decreases the flexibility of the skin. This aggravates acne by allowing bacteria to multiply unchecked inside the pore. The combination of excess bacteria and dead skin cells with excess skin oil clogs the pore.

Some fats are great food for bacteria. The unsaturated fatty acids found in shortening, margarine, and the cooking oils used to make potato chips and Fritos are delicious to acne bacteria. These fats feed acne bacteria, but don’t help keep the skin flexible. They clog pores and tighten the skin at the same time.

Researchers have found that the fats that are used to fry foods cause acne but that the saturated fats in whole-milk dairy products prevent it. Bacon and fried foods, unfortunately, tend to make acne worse. Cleansing the skin partially compensates for bad diet.

High Glycemic Index Foods

The glycemic index measures how fast a food is digested into glucose after it is eaten. Usually 10 volunteers are asked to fast overnight and then come into the measurement laboratory. First they are given a 100-gram serving of a reference food, typically either white bread or pure sugar. Blood sugar levels are taken every 10 minutes for four hours to see how fast the sugar reaches the volunteers’ bloodstreams.

The volunteers are sent home and given a new test date. They are again asked to fast before they come into the lab. Then they are given a 100-gram serving of just one food (for instance, 100 grams of instant mashed potatoes or 100 grams of pickled beets) and their blood sugar levels are measured every 10 minutes for four hours. The faster  a food is digested into sugar, the higher its glycemic index.

The glycemic index is a workable estimate of the “sugariness” of a food, but there are fundamental problems with the measurement. The most important problem with the glycemic index is that no one ever eats that way. We don’t sit down and make a meal out of just 100 grams of Cheerios or just 100 grams of lettuce. We eat foods in mixtures, and mixtures take longer to digest.

Moreover, some tests have found foods that the body turns into sugar faster than it can digest sugar. This seems highly improbable. But the glycemic index is useful as a relative ranking of the “sugariness” of foods.

The more “sugary” a food, the more likely it is to make you break out. Studies have found that the body makes more of a substance called a sex hormone binding globulin when the diet is high in sugar and white flour products. This substance transports testosterone to the skin and increases sebum production. More pores are clogged. Excess sugar consumption, however, does not cause breakouts by itself if the skin is cleansed of excess oil—without irritation—on a daily basis.

High Protein Foods

A high-protein diet sometimes clears up acne in just a couple of weeks. High-protein diets only work, however, if there are no meals that combine lots of sugar with lots of fat. The body has to make extra insulin to store both sugar from sweets or high-carb foods and fat from fatty foods eaten at the same meal. The extra insulin triggers the production of growth factors that stimulate oil production in the skin.

The reason a high-protein diet clears up acne may be that people who eat high-protein diets don’t eat lots of high-carb foods and high-fat foods at the same time. If you aren’t a meat eater, simply avoiding sweets that are high in fat (such as cookies, cakes, and whole-milk ice cream) will also help.


Every acne sufferer used to be warned that nuts can make you break out. But it turns out that sometimes the best advice for improving acne sometimes is to “Go nuts!” More precisely, a few Brazil nuts are a good addition to most diets for fighting acne.

Brazil nuts are a good source of selenium. This trace element is an important component of many enzymes important in fighting infection and also in the skin’s manufacture of calming chemicals. Eating up to 3 or 4 Brazil nuts a day can provide your body with all the selenium it needs to stop acne bacteria with a minimum of inflammation in your skin.

If you are allergic to tree nuts, you can also get your selenium from fish or shellfish, brown rice, eggs, or oatmeal. Most kinds of liver are also great sources of selenium.

Sweet Corn and Tomatoes

Sweet corn is a great source of plant chemical called zeaxanthin. Tomatoes are a great source of a plant chemical called in lycopene. In excess, both of these chemicals can cause excess oil production in men’s skin, but they have not been found to have a similar effect in women.

More important than any single change in your diet is maintaining clear skin with a complete acne treatment system, such as Exposed Skin Care.

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CJ Reply

I am a woman and break out every time I eat food derived from corn

February 22, 2017 at 3:30 pm Reply

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