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The Clear Skin Diet: Can Foods Cause Acne?

Written by Dr. Group, DC Founder
Fruits and vegetables are part of the clear skin diet.

The torment of acne has become a rite of passage for teens. But, as it turns out, acne is not a condition limited to adolescents. Today, over 40 percent of American adults age 25 and over deal with clinical, facial acne. That includes 12 percent of people who are considered middle-aged! What's most startling is that this condition is not a global phenomenon. Young adults in other, non-western societies experience a substantially lower incidence of acne.[1]

Hormones impact the amount of oil in your skin, and acne occurs when those hormones shift and cause more oil to be produced. The oil causes dead skin and dirt to get trapped in the pores, leading to the bacterial growth and infection we refer to as acne. What could cause some to be immune to the trials of acne that affect so many? Many signs point to genetics, stress, and environmental toxins as contributing factors. But there’s something more; new findings suggest that food may play a huge role.

A Closer Look at Diet and Acne

Researchers recently succeeded in positively identifying the correlation between diet and acne. A study of 43 men between 15 and 25 years of age showed that changing to a diet centered on protein and low-glycemic carbs helped clear acne within 12 weeks. And, in addition to improved complexion, the men also experienced a better insulin response and body weight.[2]

Most carbohydrates cause blood sugar to rise and make your body produce more insulin. This is worth mentioning because studies have shown that people with blood sugar spikes and high insulin are more likely to experience acne.[3] Conversely, a low glycemic diet encourages a better complexion.

The impact of food on a person’s blood sugar is quantified and measured using the Glycemic Index. High glycemic foods cause blood sugar spikes and insulin resistance. On the other hand, low glycemic foods are digested more slowly and have less effect on blood sugar. In recent years, researchers have noted that high glycemic diets increase the chance of type II diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic disorders.[4]

Milk may be another stressor, as research suggests a possible link between drinking milk and an increased risk of breakouts.[5] Reduced-fat and skim milk have a higher glycemic load than whole or raw milk.

Some have said that the oft-repeated warning about candy causing acne was just an old wives' tale, but with all the negative effects from sugar, it seems that the warning may be well-founded.

Foods That Cause Acne

To avoid acne, start by avoiding high-glycemic foods. This includes fried foods, processed foods, and any food that contains refined or added sugars. Start with the following:

  • White bread
  • Bagels
  • Cornflakes
  • Rice
  • Puffed rice
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Short-grain white rice
  • Pasta
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Baguettes
  • Baked russet potato
  • Pretzels
  • Rice cakes
  • Popcorn
  • Saltine crackers
  • Pizza
  • Soda

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Can Food Allergies Cause Acne?

Anecdotally speaking, people who suffer from food allergies seem to be more prone to acne. But, food allergies affect different people differently. For many, the immune system responds to food allergens like they’re invading germs. The reaction can be incredibly serious, sometimes even fatal.

Of course, not every allergic reaction is deadly. Some actually work so slowly that a person may not even know they’re happening. For example, some foods may cause inflammation in certain people. Symptoms may not actually appear until days after the food was eaten, making it tough to pinpoint as a cause. Acne can be one of those delayed symptoms.

Foods for Healthy Skin

For smooth, healthy skin, it's best to eat natural, organic, fruits and vegetables. Lean proteins like beans, nuts, and fish also support skin health. Big meals lead to blood sugar spikes. Eat smaller, more frequent meals to get the nutrition your body requires while keeping your blood sugar balanced.

Aim for foods high in skin-supporting vitamins A, C and E. For vitamin A, eat plenty of sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens like kale and spinach, and fish. Your best sources of vitamin C include acerola cherries, lemons, and cantaloupe. Tasty sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, and spinach. Many of these foods also protect against heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

Chickpeas are a great source of all of these vitamins, plus protein. Hummus is a great snack with veggies like carrots or broccoli. You can make your own or buy it from the store. Remember to look for organic and avoid options with added sugar.

Most importantly – drink water. Most people simply don’t get enough water.

Additional Acne Considerations

Nutrition and diet are an important approach to your skin’s appearance but environmental factors may also play a role in the incidence of acne. A consistent, natural skin care routine can help achieve healthy-looking skin, depending on your skin type. Be mindful of products used to cleanse, exfoliate, tone, and moisturize as they may contain harmful ingredients such as endocrine disruptors that can aggravate acne or absorb into the skin. Chemicals to watch out for include parabens, phthalate-based fragrances, and petroleum-based PEG compounds.

Acne takes time to heal; the residual markings and acne scars may take weeks to fade. Natural moisturizers such as coconut oil, aloe vera plant, and olive oil can assist the body’s self-healing mechanisms by supporting cellular function with nutrients and hydration. Again, make sure you are staying hydrated and drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day. Sleep is also important for cellular regeneration, make sure you are getting enough.

A 360 Degree Approach to Acne

To further support healing from acne, I personally recommend a three-tier approach: a low-glycemic diet, proper hydration, and a natural skin care routine. With this in mind, I formulated Global Healing's Skin Therapy, an ozonated olive oil paste, as a topical approach to skin care. This vegan, GMO-free product is made from 100% organic, extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oil bubbled through ozone. It's designed to be gentle on the skin and soothe areas of concern. Olive oil cleans and supplies essential vitamins to the skin with such efficiency that it is able to assist healing wounds.[6] The added ozone releases oxygen to the skin to help support cellular regeneration.[7]

YouTube Video

How to Get Rid of Adult Acne

Length: 4 minutes

What are your thoughts on diet and acne? Have you seen improvement in your skin’s appearance by adjusting your diet or by implementing a natural skin care routine? Share with the community below!

References (7)
  1. Cordain L1, Lindeberg S, Hurtado M, Hill K, Eaton SB, Brand-Miller J. Acne vulgaris: a disease of Western civilization. Arch Dermatol. 2002 Dec;138(12):1584-90.
  2. Smith RN1, Mann NJ, Braue A, Mäkeläinen H, Varigos GA. A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jul;86(1):107-15.
  3. Pappas A. The relationship of diet and acne: A review. Dermato-endocrinology. 2009;1(5):262-267.
  4. Rizkalla SW. Glycemic index: is it a predictor of metabolic and vascular disorders?. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2014;17(4):373-8.
  5. Adebamowo CA, Spiegelman D, Berkey CS, et al. Milk consumption and acne in teenaged boys. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008;58(5):787-93.
  6. Edraki M, Akbarzadeh A, Hosseinzadeh M, Tanideh N, Salehi A, Koohi-hosseinabadi O. Healing effect of sea buckthorn, olive oil, and their mixture on full-thickness burn wounds. Adv Skin Wound Care. 2014;27(7):317-23.
  7. Öksüz M, Yüce S, Koçak ÖF, Canbaz Y, Rağbetli MÇ, Mercantepe T. Effects of ozone pretreatment on viability of random pattern skin flaps in rats. J Plast Surg Hand Surg. 2015;:1-6.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.


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