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      The 5 Best (and Worst) Foods For Acne

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      Though acne is not considered a serious medical issue, it can be devastating for many. Even with makeup, acne can lead to lower self esteem and embarrassment. Genetics play a large role, but lifestyle factors, especially diet, are also very important. In this article, I share the 5 best and worst foods for acne.


      Growing up, I was not blessed with perfect skin. Starting in 8th grade, about the time I hit puberty (fun stuff), my face blew up. Little red little bumps showed up all over my face, especially on my forehead and cheeks. It was devastating. 


      Face creams and medications helped here and there, I was by no means acne-free. I tried going vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free, but nothing seemed to work. I even went low-fat vegan and that just made it worse!


      It seemed like nothing I tried helped. It wasn’t until I was a senior in college that my acne really started clearing up. That’s right, 8 years of torture until I figured it out! 


      Though my hormones leveling out played a huge role, my diet had drastically changed over the years. Because of this, I am now (mostly) acne free, with a few pimples around my time of the month. I’d call that a win!



      How many people suffer from acne?

      Acne affects 85% of people ages 12-24 years old and 15% of women in their 30s and 40s. This is a whole lot! Though many of us outgrow acne in our 20s, there are still many women who experience adult acne, which can be even more devastating than as a teenager.


      Along with this, in 2013, over $1.2 billion was spent on acne treatments. Even though acne is a very common affliction, a cure has not yet been discovered. But, there are many topical treatments and research on the subject, which is promising.



      What causes acne?


      Though no one knows the true cause of acne, we do know that genetics and lifestyle factors play a huge role in if you will develop acne or not.


      Frankly, some people were blessed with incredible genetics. We all know that one girl who can eat a bag of potato chips with some Twinkies to wash them down every night and still have baby smooth skin. These are the worst kind of people, right? Though that may be my jealousy speaking. 


      It’s just a fact that some people will not get acne, because of their genes. We could try to fight it, but what’s the point? Honestly, that’s awesome for them. For the rest of us, we may have to focus more on lifestyle changes.


      Just as there are those with blessed genetics, there are also those with quite the opposite. Some may find that it is nearly impossible to rid themselves of those little red bumps from hell. 


      Implementing lifestyle changes, such as diet changes, will definitely help to improve your acne, but sometimes the complete eradication of acne may need the help of a dermatologist and a strict skincare routine. 


      As for lifestyle changes, diet and exercise are going to be huge. Regular exercise and a balanced diet are going to be key. Adding certain foods high in specific nutrients will help, as I discuss below, as well as reducing your consumption of certain foods. With a solid diet, you will likely see big improvements!



      The 5 Best (and Worst) Foods for Acne

      The role of diet in the treatment of acne has been up for debate for the past century. Before the 1960s, diet was commonly part of acne treatment. The recommendations included low sugar and carbohydrates, along with limited chocolate, fats, sweets, and sodas.

      Since then, diet has not been considered an important part of acne treatment. But, more and more research has come out over the past few decades, which has made it clear that diet and acne are connected.


      The Worst

      dairy acne

      Dairy Foods

      You have probably heard about this one before. Dairy has been linked to acne in many studies, though there is not strong evidence that dairy is the actual cause of acne. It could be true that those with acne just tend to eat more dairy foods. 

      But, just to air on the side of caution, it could be beneficial to try eliminating or reducing dairy from your diet for several weeks and see if you experience any improvements. If you notice your skin is clearing up, try adding some dairy back into your diet to see if your acne reemerges. If so, dairy is likely the culprit, if not, try some of the other foods on this list.

      refined grains acne

      Refined Grains

      There is sufficient evidence to suggest that high glycemic diets may worsen acne. What is a high glycemic diet you ask? Well, to keep it simple, when you eat foods that are high in carbohydrate and low in fat, protein, and fiber, your blood sugar tends to sharply increase and decrease. This is considered a high glycemic food. 

      On the other hand, if you eat a food moderate in carbohydrates, but high in protein, fat, and fiber, your blood sugar will still increase and decrease, but at a much slower, steadier rate. This is a low glycemic food.

      blood sugar acne

      An example of a high glycemic food is any refined grain such as white rice, white bread, white pasta, etc. An example of a low glycemic food would be broccoli. 

      Now, this isn’t to say that you can’t eat low glycemic foods. If you choose to eat them, pair it with a protein, fat, and fiber food. For example, have white rice, but add chicken breast, vegetables, and cook in olive oil. This way, your blood sugar rises and lowers steadily. 

      My best recommendation is to make more than half of your grains whole. Swapping white rice for brown rice or white pasta with whole wheat pasta will not only lower the glycemic index, but will add extra nutrients to your diet.

      added sugar acne

      Added Sugar

      I added this one since added sugar such as white sugar, honey, maple syrup and brown sugar is high glycemic index. Because of this, a diet high in added sugar may exacerbate acne. 

      Now, having some added sugar in your diet (less than 10% of your daily calories) is going to be fine. If you are going to have a food high in sugar, try pairing it with protein, fat and fiber! This will reduce glycemic index.

      So, in general, reducing added sugar intake will definitely be beneficial. But, you don’t need to cut out all added sugarLearn more about the health effects of added sugars. 

      The Best

      vitamin a acne

      Foods High in Vitamin A

      There is some evidence to suggest that vitamin A can help with acne. This is likely because those with acne tend to be deficient in vitamin A. Including vitamin A rich foods can likely help with your acne if you have an underlying deficiency!

      This vitamin can be found in both animal and plant foods. Plant foods high in this vitamin include orange vegetables such as sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, peppers and tomatoes, orange fruits such as cantaloupe, mango, and apricots, along with green vegetables like spinach and broccoli. Animal foods high in vitamin A are liver, cheese, eggs, salmon, yogurt, tuna, and chicken.

      zinc acne

      Foods High in Zinc

      Zinc has also been linked to improved acne status. Similarly to vitamin A, those with acne tend to be deficient in zinc. Foods high in zinc include beef, shellfish, pork, beans, chicken, yogurt, nuts and seeds, almonds and beans. Try incorporating more of these foods into your diet.


      Acne can be incredibly frustrating and embarrassing. Though genetics play a huge role, more evidence is coming out to suggest that diet is a big component. 

      In general, a low glycemic diet is going to be best for the treatment of acne. Every meal and snack should include carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats, and fiber. Make most of your grains whole and do your best to keep your added sugar intake less than 10% of your daily calories. 

      A dairy free diet has also shown to help some acne-sufferers. It could be worth trying a low-dairy or dairy-free diet for a short period of time to see if you notice a difference.

      Apart from diet, acne is influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics, hormones, and stress. Despite this, modifying your diet can be a great first step.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article! Comment below or contact me directly with any questions or comments.

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      ABOUT ME

      tia glover rd

      My name is Tia and I am a registered dietitian and content creator.

      My goal is to help young people learn how to eat a nutritious, balanced diet without restriction or giving up cultural foods. 💛

      Hapa/Japanese American 🇺🇸🇯🇵

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