Foods to Avoid for Acne (and What to Eat Instead!)

Foods to Avoid for Acne (and What to Eat Instead!)

There's no denying that what we eat influences our skin. So if you're using all the right products but your skin doesn't ever seem to clear up, it's probably a good idea to take a look at what you're eating. But how do we know what to eat for the results that we want? Is it really as easy as eating our way to clear skin? Well, yes and no. I know what you’re thinking—what is this article even going to be about? The fact is, there isn't clear research out there that without-a-doubt says "this food contributes to acne!". However, some connections are being looked into to establish a relationship (or the absence of one.)

Most of these foods were first identified by anecdotal evidence—that is, people noticing that whenever they ate this specific food, their breakouts seemed to get worse. So what exactly are the current foods (and drinks!) that we think causes acne?

  1. Dairy Products

Dairy is perhaps the number one food group that is accused of causing acne. Why? Well, there’s actually more than one hypothesis for why dairy is supposedly linked to acne. The first is that dairy cows are sometimes given extra hormones to increase their milk supply. It’s thought that these hormones make their way into the milk and when you consume the milk, it’s breakout city. Another idea is that it doesn’t even have to be added hormones—the naturally-occurring hormones in milk could possibly be causing hormonal imbalance, creating acne.

  1. Alcohol

Alcohol has a huge effect on skin—the most noticeable is how dry your skin might be after a few drinks or even the morning after a night out. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it begins to dehydrate you—and your skin. If your skin is dehydrated for long enough, it's more vulnerable to the environment and any acne-causing bacteria on it. Alcohol can also be responsible for extra inflammation in skin—basically, that's increased redness, or in some people could even cause a rosacea flare-up.   

  1. Fast Food

Here are the numbers—a study found that teenagers who ate a high-fat, mainly fast-food diet had a 43% greater chance of developing acne than those who didn't. Multiple studies are associating fast food with greater chances of acne, but the relationship is actually still unclear. Is it the grease? Ingredients used? More research needs to be done, but that doesn't mean fast food has the all-clear. It's best to avoid it for the sake of your overall health—not just your skin! 

  1. Sugars & Refined Carbs

In case you’re not sure what types of foods this includes, it’s basically everything made of white flour (pasta, bread, noodles), white rice, and obviously anything that contains a lot of sugar. This includes all kinds of fizzy drinks, sweets, and lollies—and you might be noticing chocolate bars are a double no-no, since they’re sugary and dairy products. So, what is the issue with sugar and acne?

It has to do with blood sugar and insulin. When you consume sugar, it's very easily absorbed as a source of energy into the bloodstream, raising blood sugar levels. As blood sugar levels rise, insulin levels rise to ensure that the sugar makes it to where it's needed in the cells. The thing is, high insulin levels stimulate acne-causing hormones, aka androgens by producing Insulin Growth Factor (aka IGF-1). This hormone is specifically linked to increased sebum production and therefore acne.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Wait, how am I supposed to know if any of these are breaking me out?”

The answer is super simple—keep a food journal. Write down everything you eat, and make a note of your skin that day. It can be as easy as taking a selfie but noting any breakouts on your skin in your journal fine too. As long as you're recording your skin somehow, either is ok. The point is to help establish a pattern of what does and what doesn't affect your skin. Experiment with cutting out food groups, too—so for example, avoiding dairy for two weeks and recording the results could let you know for sure if it's an acne trigger food for you.

But, what can you eat for healthy skin? Like with finding out what food doesn’t work for you, journaling while eating better food for your skin can really help you understand how to have beautiful skin from the inside out.

Foods rich in antioxidants work to protect your skin from the inside out. Fruits and vegetables are a great source of natural antioxidants, especially ones rich in Vitamin C such as kiwifruit, blueberries, and most citrus fruits. Green tea is another great natural source of antioxidants—so opt for a cup of tea instead of coffee for healthier skin. Antioxidants may potentially support collagen production, ensuring that skin looks youthful, starting from within.

Another category to focus on are foods rich in good fats, aka omega-3s. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that benefit the whole body, not just the skin! A great source of omega-3s is oily fish, such as salmon and sardines. Another great source of omega-3s is walnuts and chia seeds. Omega-3s also have potent anti-inflammatory effects, and some early studies have shown a link between omega-3 supplementation and acne reduction—but of course, more research is needed.

The last (and one of the best!) things you can do is stay hydrated! And this doesn’t mean drinking as much water as you can in a day—you can ‘eat’ a lot of water through eating the right fruits and vegetables. Watermelon is a great, healthy snack that hydrates at the same time. Grapes are also full of water, but also have natural polyphenols that help to make your skin glow from within.

At the end of the day, eating well is going to benefit more than just your skin—your whole body will thank you! However, that’s not to say that eating well does nothing—it’s a great foundation to ensure that your skin is going to be clear and healthy, all starting from the inside out.


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