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Do some foods make acne worse?


Yes, but not necessarily the ones you think!

Acne is such a misery. In my medical practice, it was so gratifying to be able to prescribe medications that really, really helped improve acne; but for many acne sufferers, dietary changes can make a big difference, too. To my surprise, I learned that chocolate is not the most important change!

There are many factors that contribute to the development of acne, but they all result in inflammation of some of the hair follicles and sebaceous glands in the skin. Many studies have shown that there are two food groups that can make this inflammation worse: dairy (1,2,3) and sugars.

To be more specific about sugar, I’m referring to high-glycemic index foods, which are ultra-processed sugary foods, but also starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn.

In addition, scientists are now learning more and more about the intestinal microbiome, which refers to all the bacteria that normally live in the intestine. This microbiome affects not just your intestine but also your brain and even your skin (4). It is now thought that the “Western diet” – high in animal fats and processed foods – creates a very unhealthy microbiome. This, in turn, leads to more inflammation throughout the body and which may play a direct role in the development and severity of acne (5).

So eat your vegetables – doctor’s orders!


(1) Adebamowo CA, Spiegelman D, Danby FW, Frazier AL, Willett WC, Holmes MD. High school dietary dairy intake and teenage acne. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2005;52(2):207-214. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2004.08.007

(2)Adebamowo CA, Spiegelman D, Berkey CS, et al. Milk consumption and acne in adolescent girls. Dermatol Online J. 2006;12(4):1

(3) Juhl CR, Bergholdt HKM, Miller IM, Jemec GBE, Kanters JK, Ellervik C. Dairy Intake and Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of 78,529 Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults. Nutrients. 2018;10(8):1049.

(4)O’Neill AM, Gallo RL. Host-microbiome interactions and recent progress into understanding the biology of acne vulgaris. Microbiome. 2018;6(1):177.

(5) Penso L et al. Association Between Adult Acne and Dietary Behaviors: Findings From the NutriNet-Santé Prospective Cohort Study. JAMA Dermatol. 2020;e201602.