What is the Connection Between Diet and Acne?

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  • Written By: Marlene de Wilde
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 26 January 2020
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For many years it was generally held that there was no link between diet and acne but because of new research this view has changed. Diets high in certain kinds of carbohydrates with a high glycemic index seem to cause or exacerbate acne, while a high protein and low glycemic carbohydrate diet appears to improve the condition. A healthy diet that is loaded with whole grains and low on highly processed foods should have a positive effect on acne.

High glycemic carbohydrates are those that cause a higher glucose response in the blood. Factors that affect the glycemic index include processing, protein and fat content, fiber, and the size of the food particles. A diet high in refined processed food results in a surge of blood sugar or insulin, which then affects all of the other hormones in the body.

One effect, that of producing a fluctuation in the male hormone called androgen, encourages the sebaceous glands under the skin to produce large amounts of sebum. The bacteria responsible for acne uses sebum for growth, so when there is more of this natural moisturizer produced, the bacteria increases. When sebum gets blocked in the pores of the skin, the bacteria flourishes and skin problems flare. Therefore, it is possible to follow a clear skin diet to improve acne.


A typical Western diet includes many foods that are high glycemic, leading to conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and problematic skin conditions. Dairy products, grains and processed refined foods are broken down quickly during the digestive process and produce an insulin rush. Any food that is broken down more slowly results in a steadier blood sugar level, with hormones not fluctuating so much.

This means that it is not only junk food that may be responsible for acne but also breads, refined cereals and carbohydrates. In support of this theory are studies which show that those cultures not affected by Western eating habits have very few problems with acne. When people living in these cultures changed their diet to include more "Western" type foods with high glycemic indexes, they were affected to the same extent as Westerners.

Other culprits within the diet that are believed to affect acne are fat content, caffeine, red meats and dairy products. Those who follow diets based on plant and vegetable based foods with little meat and dairy are much less likely to be affected by acne. This recent change in thinking has come about because of substantial new research and the realization that the studies upon which the theory that there was no link between diet and acne were flawed.


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