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Top Diet Tips for Preventing Acne

February 04, 2021

Top Diet Tips for Preventing Acne

Acne can be a frustrating battle to fight. If you’re someone who is experiencing this, know that you’re not alone—acne affects nearly 10% of the world’s population!

For years, researchers have tried to get to the bottom of this skin condition. This has resulted in thousands of different products and treatments for acne-sufferers to choose from. Unfortunately, this makes things confusing—and the process of trial and error has the potential to irritate the skin and cause even more flare ups. 

If you feel like you’ve tried every product and treatment under the sun, it might be time to start looking at other factors, such as your diet. While the connection between nutrition and acne has been controversial, studies that show that your diet can play a role in acne.

Keep reading to learn all about the connection between nutrition and acne, and decisions you can make that may impact the health of your skin.

Understanding the Cause of Acne

Acne is a skin condition that causes bumps to form on the surface of the skin. Our skin has small openings, known as pores, that connect to oil glands underneath the surface. Pores release sweat and oil, which is called sebum, through tiny follicles.

The oil that is released by our pores helps to get rid of dead skin cells by carrying them through the follicle to the surface of the skin. Sometimes, pores become clogged with excess oil, dead skin cells, or bacteria, which is what causes acne.

In general, there are three main types of acne:

  • Pimples: These red, inflamed spots form when a pore opens and bacteria, oil, and dead skin cells get underneath the skin. As a reaction to the bacteria, a pimple may form a white top filled with pus. 
  • Blackheads: When a pore becomes clogged but stays open, a blackhead will form—which is a tiny dark spot on the surface of the skin. The exposure to air is what causes blackheads to become dark in color.
  • Whiteheads: When a pore becomes clogged but closes, a whitehead will form. Whiteheads are hard bumps that are white in color, and can be very tricky to remove.

One of the most confusing things about acne is that it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what the cause is. It is often triggered by hormone changes, which can result in excess oil production in the skin. However, there are a variety of other factors that can lead to the formation of acne as well—one being your diet.

Diet & Acne

The foods we eat on a daily basis have the potential to affect our skin. Specifically, foods that raise your blood sugar quickly have been linked to an increased risk of acne.

When your blood sugar spikes, the body releases a hormone called insulin. A large amount of insulin can trigger oil glands to produce more oil, which as a result, can lead to the formation of acne. 

Based on this, one of the best things you can do is eat in a way that keeps your blood sugar stable. While there is still much more research to be done on the topic, there are a handful of foods that have been linked to increased acne. 

Foods That May Trigger Acne

If you suffer from acne, it may be worth taking a closer look at your diet. Here are 5 foods that have been shown to increase acne in the skin:

Refined Carbohydrates

Studies have found that people who struggle with acne tend to consume more refined carbohydrates than those with little to no acne.  

So what are refined carbohydrates? Also known as simple or processed carbs, refined carbs are stripped of vitamins, fiber, and minerals. They are digested very quickly and have a high glycemic index, which causes a rapid spike in blood sugar and insulin levels. 

There are two main types of refined carbs: sugars and refined grains. Sugars include things such as high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, and syrups. Refined grains are grains that are stripped of their nutrition and fiber. Some foods high in refined carbs include:

  • Pasta made from white flour
  • White rice
  • Crackers, cereal, bread, and desserts made from white flour
  • Sweeteners like table sugar, honey, or agave

2011 study found that those who consume added sugars often had a 30% greater chance of developing acne. Those who regularly consumed cakes and pastries had a 20% greater risk. Those who consume low-glycemic diets, which help to keep blood sugar levels stable, are linked to less acne.

Sugary Drinks

While we’re on the topic of blood sugar and insulin levels, sugary drinks are most likely not the best choice for those with acne-prone skin. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, sugary drinks are leading sources of added sugars in the American diet.

Sipping on drinks full of sweeteners can cause your blood sugar levels to rise and fall throughout the day, which isn’t great for your skin or your health in general. In fact, a 2019 study found that daily soft drink consumption significantly increases the risk of moderate-to-severe acne in adolescents.

Additionally, many sugary drinks contain caffeine—which has the potential to make acne worse. Caffeine makes you feel more alert, but it can also lead to higher stress levels. While stress doesn’t directly cause acne, it can make existing acne worse. This is because stress hormones may increase the oil produced by your glands. 

Instead of ordering a sugary frappuccino in the mornings, try a green tea latte or even some fruit infused water. That way, you can satisfy your sweet craving without suffering from an inevitable sugar crash.  

Saturated Fats

Acne has been linked to Western-style diets, which are typically high in fat, calories, and refined carbs. In particular, saturated fats have been associated with high concentrations of insulin growth factor, which has been shown to increase acne production. 

Foods that contain saturated fats include:

  • Processed meat
  • Butter
  • Fatty meat
  • Certain cheeses and dairy products
  • Many sweets and baked goods

Keep in mind that not all fats are bad—there’s an important distinction to make between healthy and unhealthy fats. Artificial trans fats and saturated fats fall into the category of unhealthy fats and have the potential to worsen acne. Healthy fats (mono- and polyunsaturated fats) actually play a role in maintaining the health of your skin. 

Whey Protein Powder

This may seem surprising, as protein powder is often promoted by many health experts. However, whey protein in particular has been linked to acne.

Whey protein powder is high in amino acids like leucine and glutamine. These amino acids make skin cells grow and divide quicker, which can lead to acne. Additionally, the amino acids found in whey protein can also cause the body to produce more insulin, which also has been associated with acne.

Much more research needs to be done on this topic, but it may be worth swapping your whey protein for a plant-based protein powder if you suffer from acne or have noticed an increase since you started using whey protein. 


Dairy is a controversial topic when it comes to skincare. There have been several studies that show there is a correlation between dairy consumption and acne. But, it doesn’t mean this is true for everyone. 

One study found that young adults who consumed ice cream and milk regularly were four times more likely to develop acne. Another found that milk increases insulin levels, which may also increase acne severity.

Despite these studies, research has not shown that there is a direct cause and effect relationship between dairy and acne. The effects of dairy are different for everyone. When in doubt, consult your doctor or dermatologist. 

Skin-Clearing Foods

It’s important to note that food alone doesn’t cause or prevent acne. However, certain foods are known to keep skin healthy

For example, eating low-glycemic foods with complex carbohydrates has the potential to reduce the risk of developing acne. Complex carbs are found in foods like legumes, whole grains, quinoa, and unprocessed fruits and vegetables.

Additionally, certain foods can help to fight inflammation, such as olive oil, fatty fish like salmon, nuts, green leafy vegetables, and fruits such as blueberries, strawberries, oranges, and cherries. 

Studies have also shown that eating foods that are rich in zinc may help to prevent and treat acne. Some foods that contain zinc include cashews, turkey, pumpkin seeds, lentils, and even seafood like crab.

Finally, vitamins A and E, antioxidants, probiotics, and omega-3 fatty acids have all been shown to support healthy skin. If you’re low in any of these nutrients, look for ways to include foods that are rich in these ingredients into your diet. In some cases, supplements may be helpful, but remember to always consult with your doctor first. 

Pay Close Attention to Food Sensitivities

Everyone’s body is different, and certain foods that trigger acne in others might not for you! At the end of the day, it’s important to listen to your body and consult a professional to determine a diet that is right for you. 

Always be sure to take into account any food sensitivities or allergies you have, as these may lead to inflammation and therefore, make your acne worse. If you’re unsure of what foods you might be sensitive to, consider talking to your doctor about taking a food sensitivity test. This can help to get to the bottom of what might be causing any skin issues you’re experiencing. 

Does Drinking Water Help With Acne?

Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your body in general. While there is no research that shows a direct relationship between water intake and less acne, drinking enough fluids is essential for keeping your skin healthy. 

Drinking water has been known to keep your skin hydrated, regulate blood sugar levels, support immune function, and promote detoxification—all of which may help to ward off acne. While it unfortunately isn’t a cure for breakouts, drinking water in addition to eating a healthy diet and following a good skincare routine can help to keep your skin looking its best.

The Importance of a Good Skincare Routine

Eating a healthy diet is one thing, but following a good skincare routine is key to keeping pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads at bay. Here are a few skincare tips that are essential for those with acne-prone skin: 

  • Don’t skip out on washing your face: Washing your face is one of the most important steps of a skincare routine, especially if you struggle with acne. Washing your face with a mild cleanser removes oil, dirt, and makeup, which can lead to blocked pores and breakouts. Always be sure to use a product with simple ingredients that won’t strip the skin of its moisture.
  • Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize: If your skin is dry, it will overcompensate by producing excess oil—which can cause blemishes. After washing your face, always be sure to follow up with a good moisturizer to keep your skin nourished and balanced. 
  • Exfoliate: Exfoliation is essential for removing buildup, which helps to keep skin clear. There are both chemical exfoliants, which often come in the form of masks and toners, or physical exfoliants like scrubs. Start by exfoliating once or twice a week, and slowly work your way up to three if you feel like your skin needs it. Remember to avoid over-exfoliating, as this can cause dryness!
  • Use non-comedogenic or oil-free products: It’s important to choose skincare and makeup products that won’t clog pores. Always search for formulas labeled ‘non-comedogenic’ or ‘oil-free’ to avoid skin irritation. 
  • Don’t pick!: As tempting as it is, picking at breakouts exposes them to even more bacteria, which increases the risk of infection and scarring. 
  • Use a spot treatment: Instead of picking at your skin, consider using an acne spot treatment. There are plenty available over-the-counter, and your dermatologist may be able to make suggestions or even prescribe you one. 

Fighting acne might seem like an uphill battle—but there are ways you can combat it! 

This process might take some trial and error, but if you commit to taking care of your skin, you’ll eventually start to see results. Remember to always do your own research on different products and treatments, and talk with a dermatologist if you have questions.