Which Foods Can Trigger Acne?
It’s no secret that what you eat can affect how you feel – and that includes your skin. While diet alone won’t clear up most breakouts, there are foods that can help your skin fight acne – and some foods that make acne worse.
Pimples and breakouts are among the most common skincare issues out there, and there are lots of different ways to treat acne. However, taking a closer look at the foods you eat and making just a few changes to your diet could go a long way toward keeping breakouts at bay.
Let’s talk zits and how your diet comes into play.
Where Does Acne Come From?
Before we dive into how certain foods can make them worse, it’s helpful to understand how pimples happen at all.
Like many skincare issues, acne is all about your pores. Your skin is covered in them—small holes that connect to oil glands, or sebaceous glands, which produce something called sebum. These glands push sebum up to the skin’s surface, which helps the body get rid of dead skin cells and keep your skin hydrated.
When this process gets clogged, usually with excess dead skin cells, oil, or bacteria, the pore swells up, resulting in blackheads, pimples, and even those deep, painful zits that come with cystic acne.
How Can Food Make Acne Worse?
For most of us, our acne is at its worst when we’re teenagers. A side effect of our bodies’ changing hormones during that time is that our sebaceous glands begin to over-produce sebum. The excess oil overloads our pores, and next thing you know, you’ve got a forehead covered in pimples.
Your diet can affect sebum production in the same way. All foods contain nutrients that affect your body’s hormone levels. Specifically, foods that raise your blood sugar release hormones that increase sebum production. And those are the foods you want to avoid.
Here are some of the most common foods that cause acne.
In short, the top foods that trigger acne are:
- High-glycemic food like white bread, white rice, soda, and pastries
- Chocolate (sorry, we know)
- Fast food (and similar processed foods high in refined carbohydrates and fatty acids)
Let’s take a closer look.
A quick and easy way to tell how a particular food might affect your acne is to check its glycemic index. This includes foods that are high in sugar.
If a food is high-glycemic, it’s going to raise your blood sugar more quickly. This increased blood sugar triggers increased production of hormones such as insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which leads to more sebum and could result in increased acne.
Common high-glycemic foods include:
- White Bread
- White Rice
- Potato Chips
- White Potatoes or French Fries
- Donuts and Pastries
- Sodas and Sweeteners
In contrast, low-glycemic diets based on foods like vegetables, beans, and oats have been found to prevent acne breakouts.
Experts at the American Academy of Dermatology Association have reported studies in which low-glycemic diets have led to reduced acne among a large percentage of patients, though the research on this is still ongoing.
Chocolate has been a prime suspect in the hunt for causes of acne ever since the 1920s, but it’s only in the past few years that science has begun to back this up.
2016 was a golden age for research about chocolate and acne. In one very fun-sounding study, participants were randomly assigned to eat either a chocolate bar or 25 jellybeans, which each provided the same glycemic load. Over a period of four weeks, the people who ate the jellybeans did not experience an increase in acne, whereas those who ate chocolate did.
But that study used milk chocolate, which is high in sugar and milk content. What about dark chocolate, which doesn’t contain those ingredients?
Same result. A later study at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand found that ingesting dark chocolate exacerbates acne to a similar degree.
Yet, all these studies included patients who already identified as “acne-prone,” so scientists held back from saying decisively that chocolate causes acne. Plus, so many factors go into the creation of acne that they’re not sure which specific ingredient in chocolate affects the process.
The science isn’t conclusive on this one, but there is a growing body of research to suggest a link between eating fast food and increased acne.
The theory is that because fast food staples like burgers, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, French fries, and sodas contain all the refined carbohydrates and fatty acids that throw off your body’s regular hormone production, we have reason to believe that eating fast food increases your risk of developing acne.
However, there just haven’t been enough studies for us to say definitively – yet. But if you’re looking to change up your diet to prevent breakouts, avoiding fast food is a good place to start.
Avoid these foods and enjoy clearer skin.
It’s no coincidence that the same foods most diets tell you to avoid are the ones that can harm your skin. Those high glycemic indices and refined carbohydrates throw off your body’s production of natural substances and, among other things, lead to acne breakouts. So, while the scientific jury is still out on things like fast food, the safest bet is to fill your diet with skin-friendly foods.
Foods that can help prevent acne include:
- Fresh vegetables
- Vitamin C-rich fruits
- Foods with gut and skin-friendly probiotic like yogurt and kimchi
These foods can help boost the good bacteria in your body’s microbiome to naturally fight off the bad bacteria that cause acne and inflammation.
Acne is complicated, and your unique treatment plan will likely include a combination of diet, the right skin-friendly products, and exercise. If acne persists after making these changes, ask your doctor about next steps.