Helping People Achieve Clear Skin Since 2007

Helping People Achieve Clear Skin Since 2007

Are There Really Foods That Cause Acne?

By Dr. Jaggi Rao, MD, FRCPC, Double board-certified dermatologist

Many teens and young adults who experienced acne “back in the day” were told to stop eating certain foods such as chocolate and crisps. This is because it was commonly thought that a “bad” diet was a key cause of acne and blemished skin. Studies have debunked this somewhat, as the role of surging hormones as a cause of teen and adult acne is more understood.

However, diet does play a role in the cause, severity, and management of acne, as it does in every facet of our health. While it’s not as simple as “put the chocolate down!”, there are acne food causes to be wary of. There are also some skin-loving foods you can eat to reduce the risk and severity of acne.

Let’s start with the “⛔ no list” before discussing the “👍 yes list”.

Acne-Causing Foods

Milk / Dairy

You may not be surprised to see dairy at the top of the list, as it is a commonly-known acne culprit, and for well-backed reasons.

Researchers in the Polish peer-reviewed journal Pol Merkur Lekarski, reported that dairy products such as milk may indeed trigger acne for some people. This is because milk increases the insulin-like growth factor-1, otherwise called IGF-1, which in turn ultimately leads to the production of sebum. Sebum is the oil made by the glands under the skin which combines with dead skin cells to feed and exacerbate acne-causing bacteria.

If you suspect that milk is leading to breakouts, try swapping dairy milk to plant-based milk such as coconut 🥥 or almond and see if it makes a difference to your acne regularity and severity.


Chocolate has been blamed for “bad skin” and breakouts for decades, and there is certainly some truth behind these claims.

The same Polish researchers as mentioned above reported that eating chocolate can aggravate acne because it predisposes people to hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). When you have a spike in blood sugar, your body produces more androgens, which leads to increased acne. Another study conducted in the Netherlands supported the idea that chocolate aggravates acne, reporting that this is due to chocolate changing the immune system.

Interestingly, the immune system can be to blame for acne breakouts as it responds to bacteria with inflammation leading to pustules. However, a healthy, strong immune system is also important for fighting acne and keeping the skin healthy. For this reason, it’s smart to take immunity-loving Vitamin C and Zinc supplements for a strong immune system and to prevent acne. What’s more, it’s important to keep inflammation-causing factors such as stress and irritating skincare products at bay, to stop the immune system from responding with inflammation.

Carbohydrates and Sugars

In a research article published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, researchers reported that when it comes to diet and acne, carbs are the main culprit. Based on their data, they advised that dermatologists should encourage their acne patients to keep high-glycemic foods to a minimum. High-glycemic foods are foods that lead to a drastic spike in blood sugar, causing you to “crash” after that initial sugar high.

According to Harvard Medical School, some of the highest carbohydrate foods (therefore, high-glycemic) are bread, tortillas, rice, noodles, potatoes, and couscous. Many breakfast meals are also considered to be high-carb foods that spike blood sugar and lead to breakouts, including some cereals, rolled oats, porridge, and muesli.

You don’t have to give up carbs and sugars completely, but approach them as occasional treats.

What’s more, you can make diet substitutions such as eating brown rice as opposed to white rice, and whole-grain bread as opposed to white bread.

Unhealthy Fats

It won’t come as a surprise that high-fat snacks are on the naughty list, especially those containing saturated and trans fats. Omega-6 fatty acids are also considered to be among foods causing acne as they cause inflammation in the body like trans and saturated fats do. Avoid food such as processed meats, cheese, oily snack foods, and fast food, basically anything deep-fried, salty, or packaged! Stick to healthy fats found in foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds, fish, and olive oil.

Foods That Help To Prevent Acne

Plant-Based Foods

Your skin, body, energy levels, and overall health benefit from a diet high in fruits and vegetables, as countless studies show. In research published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, researchers explored how plant-based food and supplements can help to control acne. Specifically, they explored how the gut microbiome provides feedback between the foods that we eat and our bodies. The gut microbiome and the relationship between food is also important when it comes to inflammation, one of the key acne causes.

Unsurprisingly, the scientists reported that a diet rich with plant-based foods and low in processed foods is linked to improvement of acne.

Food that is “close to the source”, meaning that it has gone through little-or-no processing contains the most vitamins and minerals, especially food that is plant-based (i.e. not meat or dairy). 🍌 Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains supply your body with skin-loving vitamins such as vitamin E, vitamin D, and vitamin A. These food sources are kind to the body and don’t lead to inflammation, instead, they nourish the body from the inside out.

Specifically, some of the best plant-based foods that can help to prevent acne include avocados, walnuts, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, and soy. Many of these plant-based foods contain such nutrients as zinc, essential fatty acids, beta carotene, vitamin C, and lycopene. It’s also a good idea to use the spice turmeric, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Add a pinch to your smoothie, salad dressing, or make a golden latte using turmeric and almond milk.

Green Tea

Green tea has been touted as a superfood for decades, with claims that it helps with weight loss, brain power, and yes, acne reduction.

A study published in the journal Antioxidants was conducted to see if green tea helped to reduce acne. What the researchers found was that the polyphenols in green tea were effective at reducing the amount of sebum that was produced. Too much sebum being produced, as mentioned earlier, can lead to the pores becoming clogged, which leads to an increase in acne.

They also found that green tea was effective in helping to improve the severity of existing acne.

What makes green tea so powerful are the polyphenols that it contains, which are also found in nuts, berries, and legumes. The great thing about polyphenols is that they are anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antineoplastic, meaning they inhibit the growth of tumors.

Sip a hot cup of 🍵 green tea each morning and night, (add a little lemon juice if the flavor is too bland for your palate!).

Oily Fish

Oily fish is the subject of many past and recent studies concerning its effects on the skin, body weight, heart, and brain health. Studies show that the omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish such as salmon have anti-inflammatory properties that calm inflammation in the body that can lead to diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and even skin issues such as acne. What’s more, studies have shown that the western diet is high in omega-6 fatty acids and low on omega-3s, causing increased inflammation and, therefore, increased risk of acne.

Note: people with acne who follow a vegan and vegetarian diet can source healthy fats through chia seeds, flaxseed oil, nuts, and edamame beans. These foods all have a low-glycemic index, won’t raise blood sugar, and are not known food causes of acne.

Beyond the Diet, Skincare Products Can Help

In addition to avoiding foods that cause acne, you can speed up the acne removal process by trying a well-formulated acne skincare system.

One of the most effective and highly recommended products for acne treatment is Exposed Skincare. While this may sound like a pitch, nearly everyone who has used Exposed Skincare products to help fight acne has seen beneficial results within one month. This is because Exposed Skincare uses powerful natural ingredients such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and azelaic acid to treat acne without drying out the skin. What’s more, they use the right amounts of each ingredient so that they can work their magic without causing adverse effects, unlike other popular systems such as Proactiv. Proactiv reviews give an insight into the user experience, with many reports of dry skin, issues with billing, and a high price that doesn’t match up to the results.

Not only do Exposed products have an outstanding reputation for getting rid of acne, but the company also offers a full year guarantee with purchase, so you have nothing to lose and beautiful, acne-free skin to gain.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can certain foods cause acne?

Some foods may have a negative impact on the gut microbiome, lead to more sebum production, and negatively impact the immune system. Research shows that some of the food that causes acne include dairy products, chocolate, unhealthy fats, and high-glycemic refined carbohydrates.

Unhealthy fats linked to acne include those containing omega-6 fatty acids, such as vegetable oil, and those found in processed meats, potato chips, and pizza. Steer clear of processed treats and snacks that are filled with sugar and processed oils. Instead, shop for whole foods with minimal processing.

2. What should I eat to avoid acne?

Fill your plate with plant-based foods such as colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as green tea, which is high in polyphenols and helps to reduce the production of sebum. Choose high-fiber, whole grains such as brown rice and whole oats (if you tolerate gluten) as they have a low glycemic index and won’t spike your blood sugar. Add some oily fish such as salmon to your diet as it is anti-inflammatory and contains lots of healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids to nourish your skin from the inside out.

3. Do eggs cause acne?

This is an age-old question, with various answers. Some people find that cutting out eggs helped to clear their acne (including star Natalie Portman), while others did not see a difference. Eggs are packed with nutrients that are good for skin, such as vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin B7 (biotin), and zinc. However, eggs can also contain high levels of omega-6 and hormones when cage-raised as opposed to free-range. If you suspect eggs are causing your acne, cut them out while keeping the rest of your diet normal, and see if it makes a difference. The short answer? Everyone is different and eggs may or may not be a cause of acne…with evidence for both sides!

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Chris Reply

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?

August 2, 2014 at 9:48 am Reply
John Reply

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.

September 28, 2014 at 9:36 am Reply
Ruth Reply

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!!

February 3, 2015 at 10:16 pm Reply
Andrew Reply

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

September 10, 2014 at 6:29 pm Reply
Marcia Malotte Reply

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.

October 9, 2014 at 8:07 pm Reply
Peter Reply

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.

February 5, 2015 at 4:26 pm Reply
SDL Reply

I second every word Peter just said.

February 19, 2015 at 2:08 am Reply
Wanjiru Reply

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,,

June 23, 2015 at 11:20 pm Reply
Cat Reply

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.

October 12, 2015 at 10:21 pm Reply
Marie Reply

Hi John. I'm currently using Avene skin products, recently I bought a Neutrogena "Oil-Free Acne Wash Daily Scrub". I'm not sure if it's actually working, but should I exfoliate my face daily with this product or any at all?

December 2, 2015 at 3:43 am Reply
Crystal Reply

Types of foods definitely plays a significant aspect to the health and well being of skin care. Especially diary and high omega 6's oils.

August 6, 2016 at 12:31 am Reply
Sahira Morales Reply

What you eat definitely effects your skin..what you eat shows on your if you eat healthy obviously your skin will look much healthier. Different foods work different for different people so start a food diary and see what affects you positively and negatively

January 26, 2017 at 4:36 pm Reply
Aashi Reply

Definitely the food you eat is responsible to keep you healthy from inside out, while following a proper diet you need to first find out what is good for you and what not, its quite difficult to find that but one thing should be kept in mind that you should evn add something which has lots of protein in order to meet your body's protein requirements:) and try to keep yourslf stress free and drink lotss of water :)all the best :)

March 22, 2017 at 2:01 pm Reply