Is your diet responsible for your acne breakouts?

April 13, 2012
Is your diet responsible for your acne breakouts?

Are You What You Eat?

Millions of Americans are plagued with acne and are doing everything they can to make better decisions towards improving their skin. A common place people begin looking for what is causing their skin to break out is their diet. Linking foods to acne breakouts has been debated in literature for decades. It can sometimes be hard to tell if some of the foods you are eating are causing you to have acne flare-ups, but there is convincing evidence that can possibly make people think twice about how the types of foods they’re eating may affect their skin.


Let’s start with dairy: a set of ingredients in most processed foods we consume. Migration studies have shown that people who are not accustomed to “Westernized diets” that are high in processed ingredients, sugar, beef, and dairy products have increased occurrences of acne. Individuals who reported drinking more than three servings of milk a day were shown to develop acne more often than those who drank milk infrequently. However, keep in mind whether it is skim, 2%, or whole, there is no correlation between fat content in the milk that is consumed and acne.

Glycemic Index

Studies have demonstrated a notable connection between dairy and high-glycemic-index foods with acne.

The glycemic index is a numerical index that rates how fast your body is able to breakdown carbohydrates in foods. This system is on a scale from zero to 100. Foods on the higher end of the scale indicate that they cause a rapid increase in your blood sugar levels; foods on the lower end of the scale do not cause such a sharp spike in blood sugar levels and increase blood sugar levels slowly.

High-glycemic index foods include:

  • potatoes
  • white bread
  • sugar (of course)

Foods that are on the lower end of the glycemic index include:

  • bean sprouts
  • grapefruit
  • apples

When compared to those whose diets have a high glycemic load, those who ate low glycemic-load foods had a lower number of acne blemishes and lower body weight. Low glycemic-load diets may not only help to regulate weight, but may reduce acne and improve insulin sensitivity.

Dairy, especially low-fat and non-fat, have not always had an obvious connection to acne, whereas chocolate tends to get the blame. It seems to be quite the contrary; there is no correlation to eating chocolate and causing acne breakouts or worsening existing ones. Studies have shown that chocolate seems to have little to no effect on acne. On the other hand, dairy, even non-fat dairy, has been linked to acne flare-ups.

If you have any questions about these diet and acne myths or facts, you can always ask the docs! Dr. Larry S. Nichter and Dr. Jed H. Horowitz can answer your questions and also share with you what they’ve learned throughout their years as medical doctors.