If you’ve ever struggled with break-outs on your skin, you’ve probably heard that you can reduce your break-outs by changing what you eat. Maybe you’ve heard that avoiding greasy foods or chocolate can help you get less pimples. Is it true that your diet can affect your acne? Find out about some surprising studies and facts that will debunk acne myths, while verifying other acne/diet connections.
The American Academy of Dermatology labels acne as the most common skin condition in the US, affecting 40-50 million Americans. Acne occurs when hair follicles get clogged with dead skin cells that mix with the oil (sebum) your body produces. This can cause pimples, whiteheads, blackheads and papules. Bacteria that live on your skin can also get inside your pores, creating deep and painful nodules and cysts. Acne most commonly appears on your face, neck, shoulders, upper back and chest, areas where your body produces the most sebum. Because acne is often triggered by the body’s production of certain hormones, the fluctuating hormones of adolescence make teenagers more likely to experience acne. Women’s hormonal fluctuations before menstruation and during pregnancy make them more likely candidates for acne than men. However, people of all genders and ages can get acne, including babies.
Besides age and hormonal changes, there are other risk factors for developing or worsening acne. If you have a family history of acne, you are more likely to have it as well. While stress can’t cause acne, it can cause it to worsen. Certain substances coming into contact with your skin can also create acne, such as greasy creams or lotions, grease in the air from things like fry vats, and objects that rub against your skin -- think cellphones, helmets, tight collars on your neck. There are some medications that lead to acne, like corticosteroids or birth control pills. And yes, diet can also be a contributing factor to acne. While your food choices can’t cause acne, certain foods do seem to exacerbate acne.
One type of food that appears to worsen acne is high-glycemic food. High glycemic foods are those high in refined sugars and carbohydrates -- they cause your blood sugar to rise rapidly. Scientists theorize that when your blood sugar spikes, your body’s level of inflammation increases, which can then cause your body to produce more sebum. More sebum means more acne. Favorite high glycemic foods in much of American culture include white bread, bagels, most crackers, white potatoes (most frequently consumed as fries & chips), white rice, corn, most breakfast cereals, sugary drinks, and donuts. The American Academy of Dermatology cites a number of small studies in multiple countries that indicate that a low glycemic diet can help reduce acne. Low glycemic foods are most fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, pasta, less processed grains, and low-fat dairy. In these studies, groups of people were kept on their regular diets, while other groups followed a low-glycemic diet. Those who were on a low-glycemic diet reported having significantly less acne and/or needing less acne medication -- as many as around 90% of the low-glycemic diet respondents in one study. While these studies indicate a definite link between diet and acne, these are small studies, and experts agree that more research is needed to confirm the link.
Other studies have shown a connection in the consumption of milk and increased acne breakouts. In all of the studies, the groups with the greater amount of acne consumed substantially more milk than the groups that didn’t drink as much milk. In most of the studies, all types of milk were consumed (skim, whole, 2%). There haven’t been any studies to show a link between acne and other milk products, like cheese and yogurt. Like the relationship with high-glycemic foods and acne, the association of milk and acne needs more studies to both prove that milk can exacerbate acne and explain why milk might have this effect.
You may have been tempted to forgo that slice of pizza or that hamburger in the belief that greasy foods can cause acne. There is no evidence that the grease in food means more oil on your face. Many greasy foods are also high-glycemic foods. So avoiding greasy, high-glycemic foods is possibly helpful for your acne, and definitely for your overall health. The idea that the gluten-free diet means acne-free skin is also a myth. Recently many people have postulated that eating a gluten-free diet can help clear up acne. While having a gluten intolerance or celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder that disables your body from absorbing nutrients when gluten is consumed) can cause skin a rash or hives, there is no scientific evidence that gluten causes acne.
The reality is that there are many contributing factors to acne. Diet is just one of them, and probably not the overriding contributor. However, eating more low-glycemic foods and less high-glycemic ones is still great for your body and skin. A good approach is to pair a healthier diet with other acne-reducing treatments. Your dermatologist can recommend a good course of treatment, including ways to prevent and treat breakouts and treatments to reduce acne scars.
Call Vanguard Dermatology in the greater New York City area to schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist. At Vanguard, you can get the treatment and direction you need for reducing your acne and healing your skin.