Foods That Cause Acne

Foods that Cause Acne

Are there certain foods that cause acne? This is an ongoing debate amongst skin care experts and dermatologists, but I say yes!

There is plenty of proof that food and acne are connected.

If you think about it, why is it that people in some indigenous societies (who have not yet been exposed to a Western diet) do not experience acne skin conditions whatsoever across the entire population? This contrasts greatly to the huge prevalence of acne in the U.S.

And in some areas of the world where the Western diet is being introduced, these people are now getting acne! Clearly this shows a link between diet and acne.

While there is no scientific evidence that there are foods that directly cause acne, there have been studies showing that certain foods can indirectly make acne skin conditions worse by influencing other factors in the body.

For instance, the foods we consume directly affect our body's insulin levels. Insulin is the master hormone that influences all other hormones including androgens (male hormones). Higher androgen levels result in more oil secretion, which can lead to worse acne. So, it follows that foods that cause insulin spikes may ultimately make acne worse.

So let's cut to the chase...

What are the foods that cause acne?

While diet might not be the specific cause for acne skin, there are certain foods that have been identified as more problematic than others when it comes to breakouts.

For people looking for ways to reduce their acne, eliminating any possible acne causing foods can often help improve their complexions dramatically.

Foods to Avoid

hormones in milk

1) Dairy :

If there is just one food you remove from your diet in order to reduce acne, make it dairy products! Dairy products are considered to be one of the main foods that cause acne.

Dairy products (including cow's milk, cheese, cream, and yogurt) can aggravate acne for a number of reasons:

  • Many people are lactose intolerant without realizing it and even a mild intolerance can result in acne.
  • Dairy products are also acid-forming in the body. Our bodies need to be slightly alkaline and over-acidity can lead to acne. Read more about alkaline foods vs. acidic foods.
  • Consuming dairy, especially non-organic dairy products, can increase the levels of hormones in the body because there are hormones in milk. An increase in hormone production often results in increased sebum secretion, clogged pores, and more acne.
Try to avoid products that list any of the following ingredients: lactose, milk proteins, whey powder, and dried skimmed milk powder.

The best alternatives to dairy products are nut and seed milks, like hemp and almond milk. Soy milk is also an option, but it contains estrogen which is not good in large amounts either.

2) "Bad" fats :

Saturated fats and Trans fats.

Saturated fat is found in animal products, many dairy products, and tropical oils such as coconut and palm kernel oils. Too much saturated fat is hard for the body to break down and can contribute to high cholesterol and heart disease. Not to mention clogged pores.

Trans fat should be avoided at all costs! Trans fats are found in processed and packaged foods such as chips, donuts, cookies, and many other snacks as a way to extend their shelf life. All of these are potential foods that cause acne skin conditions. Trans fats can lower HDL (good cholesterol) and increase LDL (bad cholesterol) and they're the worst type of fat for your health. So stay away from processed and packaged foods as much as possible if you are trying to avoid foods that cause acne.

acne causing foods

*Side Note*: Monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the good fats and you want them in your diet. They help attract moisture into cells and keep skin lubricated. Foods such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fish all contain these good fats.

3) Refined carbohydrates and sugars :

Eating refined carbohydrates and sugar (white rice, pasta, white flour, sweets, etc) leads to surges in insulin levels. As a result, more androgens (male hormones) will be produced, which then encourage the skin to excrete large amounts of oil. The end result can be clogged pores and zits.

Unfortunately, sugar is found in many foods. It can also go by the names: high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, maltose, and dextrose. If you simply can't conceive of a life without sugar - I know I couldn't! :) - then try to use raw sugar instead of refined sugar. You could also try real maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, or brown rice syrup as substitutes for sugar (all of which have less drastic effects on insulin levels).

Most importantly, try to avoid processed foods and simple carbohydrates, like sucrose (table sugar), fructose, and lactose (milk sugar).

4) Fatty meats :

Fatty meats such as beef and pork should be avoided as much as possible if you want clear, glowing skin. Cooked animal protein is difficult to digest and often takes several days to get through the digestive system. During this time, it putrefies and creates toxins in the body. These toxins can manifest in acne.

Similar to dairy products, meat is acid-forming in the body and non-organic meats often contain synthetic hormones.

If you like eating meat, the best options are organic poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.) and organic fish. In terms of protein substitutes - foods like tofu, nuts, seeds, chickpeas, etc. are great options.

5) Excess Salt :

Salt, or sodium, is a necessary part of our diet because it retains fluid in the body's cells, among other things. If you have too little sodium in your diet, you can become dehydrated, BUT, too much sodium can cause you to retain fluid - leading to bloating, weight gain, and possible kidney damage.

According to the American Heart Association, we should only consume about 2.5 grams (about a teaspoon) of sodium per day! This is way less than the average American consumes on a daily basis.

Salt is also rich in iodine which has been linked to acne. If you use iodized salt, consider switching to alternate products such as celtic sea salt which you can find at gourmet or health food stores. Celtic sea salt can also help increase your energy. Himalayan pink salt is also an option. Drinking Himalayan pink salt mixed with water in the morning can help normalize cortisol levels (a hormone associated with stress and lower-stomach weight gain).

6) Caffeine :

Although caffeine is more commonly found in drinks than in food, I still decided to include it in this list of foods that cause acne because it really can make acne skin conditions worse. Caffeine stimulates hormone production, which, as described earlier, can lead to overproduction of sebum and ultimately clogged pores and zits. Caffeine can also increase some people's anxiety and stress levels which can also aggravate acne.



It may seem like an overwhelming task to avoid all of the potential foods that cause acne, but the truth is that it's not necessary to completely eliminate these foods from your diet in order to see improvements in your complexion.

You may find that reducing just one of the foods listed above (even just a little bit) can help clear your acne skin dramatically. Additionally, after a few days of not eating these foods, your cravings for them will diminish and they'll be easier to resist.

Also, when discussing the link between food and acne, I should point out that, in addition to foods that cause acne, there are also many foods that can help improve acne. For a list of these foods, you can read my article on foods for clear skin.

And since a big part of acne is inflammation (acne is actually defined as an inflammatory disease), incorporating certain anti inflammatory foods into your diet can also help to greatly improve and clear your complexion.





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