Acne and Diet: What You Need to Know

October 11, 2016

By Katie Vigesaa, RD, LD

article_other_acne-mirror.jpgWhat does your diet have to do with acne? Everything. My breakouts started when I was around 13, and little did I know that they would last until my mid-twenties. Of course I wanted to clear up my skin as soon as possible, so my initial methods were aggressive, topical treatments. I applied harsh acidic products, daily masks to remove excess oil, scrubbed my face until it was red, and picked at every pore until the inflammation in my skin was rampant.

Topical treatments were not working, and I entertained the idea of an acne-food connection. However, I never stuck with any dietary changes long enough to notice a difference in my skin. What a shame, because I now know changing my nutrition has been the solution to overcoming acne. So my question to you is: Does acne plague you or anyone you know? If so, read on to discover the nutritional connections to acne.

Ditch the Dairy

Although it seems like nature's perfect beverage, milk and other dairy products can wreak havoc on the skin, a fact I wish I had known earlier because I drank glass after glass of milk daily. Milk contains growth hormones, such as insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which can be lead to acne breakouts.¹ In addition to the hormonal imbalance, the milk protein casein is difficult to digest and can aggravate skin. I found skim milk to be even more problematic. I now understand that it caused my body to produce more insulin and insulin-like growth factor resulting in breakouts. After learning this, I gave up dairy products.

Cut the Sugar and Processed Carbs

The typical American diet of soda, bagels, cereal, crackers, French fries and pasta can set people up for skin problems. All of these foods are loaded with sugar and ingredients that lead to high blood sugar levels and high insulin levels. This means that eating processed carbohydrates causes the body to secrete the hormone insulin. High insulin levels affect skin very much like the growth hormones found in milk and lead to clogged and irritated pores.² So, my previous habits of eating meals of cereal with skim milk and snacking on candy set me up for high blood sugar levels and high levels of insulin that led to more acne.

Support Your Skin with Key Supplements

As a nutritionist working with people young and old who experience acne, I understand that acne can be embarrassing and can affect your confidence. Let me share four supplements that I have found to be particularly beneficial in addition to a healthy diet.

  • Omega-6 GLA: This essential fatty acid helps hydrate your skin and reduce irritation.
  • Omega-3: This essential fatty acid reduces inflammation and helps with skin problems from acne to rosacea.
  • Zinc: A deficiency in this important mineral may actually show up as acne. Zinc supports skin health by fighting infections and controlling skin oil production.
  • Bifidobacteria: This beneficial bacteria supports digestion and detoxification. You may be surprised to learn that an unhealthy digestive system can result in acne.

Start Seeing Changes for Yourself!

By removing dairy from my diet, eating mostly vegetable carbohydrates instead of processed carbs, and supplementing with key nutrients, I am happy to report that my skin is clearer than ever. If you are struggling with acne, I know how you feel. I also know there is hope to get better! Try some of these strategies for yourself and see how your skin improves. If you continue to have acne, there may be other contributing factors that can be addressed nutritionally one-on-one.

1. Cappel M, Mauger D, Thiboutot D (2005). "Correlation between serum levels of insulin-like growth factor 1, dehydroepiandosterone sulfate, and dihydrotestosterone and acne lesion counts in adult women." Arch Dermatol 2005 Mar: 141(3):333-8
2. Berra B, Rizzo AM (2009) "Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load: New Evidence for a Link with Acne." J Am Coll Nutr August 2009 vol. 28 no. 4 Supplement 1 4505-4545


Back To Top