Is There a Relationship Between Diet and Acne?

Diet and acne have been linked for years, with many myths thrown into the mix. How true is it that certain foods can influence acne to appear? Find out below.
Is There a Relationship Between Diet and Acne?

Last update: 22 February, 2021

Decades ago, specialists investigated the possible relationship between diet and acne. Acne is a condition that develops in the pilosebaceous follicle. People that are affected develop small spots or swelling in different parts of the body.

Androgens produce a double effect: they stimulate the body’s sebaceous production and obstruct the pore where the body would expel the sebum. This process results in glandular inflammation and accumulation of bacteria.

However, acne is a dermatological condition that’s common among the general population. In fact, among adolescents, specialists note it affects more than 85%. It can also appear in 54% of women and 40% of men older than 25.

Until a few decades ago, specialists recommended against consuming chocolate, nuts, fried foods, and cold cuts. They believed these could worsen the symptoms of the condition. However, the results from various studies haven’t found any evidence between including these foods in the diet and developing acne.

Diet and acne: the key could be in the glycemic index

Over the last few years, specialists have studied the influence that foods with a high glycemic index have on acne. The results suggest that consuming refined sugar and dairy products can cause the symptoms of acne to appear.

These foods promote the body’s secretion of androgens that are the main cause for the changes in the sebaceous follicle, such as inflammation.

Bakery goods.
White bread and industrial bakery products aren’t the best options if you want to enjoy a healthy breakfast.

The ketogenic diet as a treatment for acne

Some authors propose following the ketogenic diet to improve the condition. By restricting carbohydrates and other foods with a high glycemic index, it may be possible to notably improve the symptoms of the condition and reduce the process of inflammation.

There haven’t yet been any randomized clinical trials that associate consuming milk or fats with the development of acne. With that said, the best way to prevent acne, according to the evidence we have today, would be to restrict carbohydrates and processed foods.

Be careful with excess protein

An investigation published in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology warns of the possibility of developing acne when taking supplements with a high dosage of protein. Regardless, the results don’t show a strong relationship between the protein load in the diet and the development or severity of the condition, as the studies presented considerable bias.

On one hand, there are individuals with a high body mass index; on the other, some of those use doping substances. These can modify the number of androgens that exist in the body, which are the base of the condition.

Genetics play an important role

Acne is a condition that’s present in around 85% of adolescents between 15 and 24 years old. Despite that, inherited genetic conditions will also have an impact on the development of acne.

People with dry skin are less prone to developing acne as they have less sebum in their follicles and, as a result, the follicles are less likely to become inflamed due to bacteria accumulation.

A woman with acne.
Many factors contribute to an individual developing acne. Among those, genetics could play an important role.

Effective treatments

Beyond the role diet can play in the prevention and reduction of acne signs and symptoms, the most effective treatments against this condition are pharmacological.

These inflammations produce bacteria that are sensitive to many drugs like benzol peroxide or clindamycin. These treatments are usually applied topically as creams, but in some more severe cases, the individual may opt for oral treatment.

Diet can be a turning point in acne treatment

Acne is a very common condition among adolescents. This is because hormonal changes and the androgenic load contribute to the risk factor. However, diet can influence the severity of the condition.

Although diets and acne have been linked for years, with many myths thrown into the mix, nowadays, specialists believe that the only possible relationship that exists is with foods rich in refined sugars that stimulate the body’s production of insulin.

Overall, we recommend visiting a dermatologist when you begin to show signs of this condition. They should be able to assess whether it’s necessary to turn to medication to prevent large breakouts.

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  • Reynolds RC, Lee S, Choi JY, et al. Effect of the glycemic index of carbohydrates on Acne vulgaris. Nutrients. 2010;2(10):1060–1072. doi:10.3390/nu2101060
  • Paoli, A., Grimaldi, K., Toniolo, L., Canato, M., Bianco, A., & Fratter, A. (2012, April). Nutrition and acne: Therapeutic potential of ketogenic diets. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology. https://doi.org/10.1159/000336404
  • Smith RN., Mann NJ., Braue A., Makelainen H., et al., The effect of a high protein, low glycemic load diet versus a conventional, high glycemic load diet on biochemical parameters associated with acne vulgaris: a randomized, investigator masked, controlled trial. J Am Acad Dermatol, 2007. 57 (2): 247-56.