How Food Affects Acne

Grown ups with Acne

It used to be a rite of passage into adulthood – the pimple faced high school years that some of us would be happy to forget. Thankfully, we’re grown up now and our faces have cleared up.

Except for the fact that in recent years, acne prevalence amongst adults is on the rise.

We all know the food we eat impacts our well being, as well as our facial complexion. Each individual has her particular foods to stay away from because they either affect her or a friend. But what does the science say?

A literature review by scientists at HONEI (Humber Obesity Nutrition Education and Innovation) at the University of Hull assesses the latest evidence and comes to a conclusion some of you may already be familiar with:

  • High glycemic foods may exacerbate skin conditions.
  • Milk (but not cheese or yogurt) is singled out in the review as a contributor to acne (Though it is not extremely high in glycemic index [27-40] compared to refined carbs.)

The scientists conclude:

“The research review suggests a low glycemic index diet but also a healthy diet, rich in fruit and vegetables, can have a protective effect on acne. Further research is needed to fully understand the role diet plays in acne in specific populations.”

Sounds like advice grandma could have given.

What’s your experience with acne and food? Any miracles you’d like to share with the community?

  • Kiki

    After I became a vegetarian nearly two years ago, I noticed within maybe a couple of months a decrease in breakouts and an overall better complexion. I think my increase in veggies and fruits is to thank. I do still consume dairy, but only moderately. I use nut milks mostly. I think it really does make a difference.

    • cuddly_cinnabun

      I have had the same experience – less than one month after I became a vegetarian, my skin instantly cleared, and now I rarely ever suffer even a single spot of acne. I also only consume dairy in extreme moderation, (I honestly can’t stand the flavor of milk) and have seen a dramatic difference in both bloating and skin health. I believe a healthy, well-balanced diet focused on vegetarian cuisine diet is one of the most effective ways to promote healthy skin and an overall sense of well-being!

  • Meghan

    I was just talking to my husband about this last night! We made some dietary changes at the beginning of the year and I saw vast improvement in my acne. The under-skin redness is almost completely healed. This past week I “fell off the wagon” and was eating not much more than carbs. My skin exploded. Needless to say, I have learned my lesson.

  • Michelle

    In the last couple of years I have made significant improvements to my diet and my acne issues have mostly vanished.

  • Summer

    Taking fermented cod liver oil has truly transformed my face. I had been suffering through horrible adult / hormonal acne. Drastically cutting back on my refined sugar intake and increasing fruit and vegetable intake has helped tremendously as well.

  • Lynn

    I have tried dietary changes – and it everything else I’ve ever read or heard about – to get rid of my adult acne. Nothing seems to work :(
    I would eat sandpaper if it would help!

  • Veronica Moore

    A big thing for me when I feel like my skin is breaking out is to drink lots of water and cook more at home. When I go through periods of eating out a lot, I notice my skin looks greasier and is more prone to blemishes. My favorite vegetable (or is it a fruit? Probably a fruit because it has a seed…) is avocados. If I include them in a couple meals for 2-3 days, my complexion becomes more even and sometimes glowy.

  • Audrey

    Before I began eating healthier and working out, I had awful acne. What I think helped me is cutting out bleached breads and pastas and replacing them with whole grains. Also, drinking a ton of water and only water helped a lot too.:)

  • SuperMOM101

    Thanks for getting the word out there about acne and food.

    Our oldest son has always been allergic to cow’s milk, and it would manifest as a bad skin rash on his face – even as an infant. In high school he developed pretty bad acne. (He was lifting weights for sports and drinking cow’s milk.) I suggested he do an experiment, “call me crazy – go three weeks and see if your skin clears up.” It sure did but the cycle would continue: stop, skin clear up,,, I finally purchase a vegan protein powder using primarily peas and he’s been using it for nearly two years – no more acne.

    p.s. I’d like to believe it was all my wisdom but there’s actually a very well respected foot ball player that created a whole line of vegan and non GMO protein powders. Plus, the college football trainer wants them eating brown rice and loads of fruits and veggies. Always helps to have back up for grandma’s sound advice.

    Best health!

  • The Candid RD

    Well this certainly doesn’t explain my zit-proned face! I would say I eat a VERY low glycemic diet, plus I never drink milk (unless it’s almond). Ugh, I guess it’s just in my genes. Bummmmmer

    • Brianne

      Me too;( mostly vegan raw and I use almond milk as well. I get terrible adult acne. I’ve tried lots of different approaches and really hoped I’d just outgrow it but alas it doesn’t appear to be working

  • Deb

    Food of course has a huge impact on our nutrition. If your body on the inside doesn’t do well with something, one way to get rid of the “toxins” is through the skin. Milk and refined carbs seem to come up frequently with many issues such as allergies, phlem, asthma, ADD/ADHD and others. But, what I’d really like to say is don’t forget about the external bacteria that gets on skin to irritate it. If you rest your chin in your hand while reading, for example, do small blemishes show up in the chin area a day or two later? So, a word from someone who speaks from experience, keep hands clean and don’t touch your face unless they are clean.

  • Angela

    I stopped eating cheese after being vegetarian with years of adult acne. Fish Oils never helped, and I switched to Hemp Seed Proteins, which have greatly helped! Then I became free of acne completely by switching to a vegan diet! (unfortunately cheese seems just as bad a milk for acne!)

  • Lauren

    My adult acne is completely hormonal. It’s just as bad as it was when I was 14 and I lived off of Oreos and cereal. Now I have a very clean diet with limited diary (some cheese) and limited meat. My acne still sucks. Maybe adult acne is seemingly on the rise because more people can afford to visit the dermatologist.

  • Lexa

    I noticed that not only dairy but also gluten affects my acne. There are other important things to consider when you have acne – inflammation. it is caused by intolerance and hormonal imbalance. I write how i got rid of acne in my blog

  • Alex Prince

    I have to have it something awful, then it just completely disapeared when i was around 21

  • Lucky Wright

    I have a very similar story as all of the rest, with a fw additions. I started eating a vegetarian diet, and most of my acne went away. However, seeing as I’m a 20 year old late-to-develop male, I was still holding quite a bit of acne my face. Only once I slowed my dairy intake(Greek yogurt) to about 3-4 times a week, my egg intake to 1 egg a week(my family has history of extremely high cholesterol, even at my age), started reducing my stress through meditation, and ate only the amount necessary to sustain on almost underweight diet(120lbs. @ 5′ 7″), did I FINALLY see results. As a side note, my skin is really hard to treat for acne, because it is both dry and acne prone(very tricky to treat, I had to start using organic facial care products). MY REASONING FOR POSTING ALL OF THIS, I would like to see a study done on the increase in my type of skin, dry and acne prone, because I believe it a strong possibility that all toxins in the air may be drying our skin out(you wouldn’t spray yourself in the face with glass cleaner right?) Just an idea, I’d love to see a study done :)

  • Chodedc

    I gave up dairy, gluten, corn, peanuts, soy and went the clean eating path two and a half months ago and my skin has never looked better in adulthood. I do get the occasional white head but none of the cystic acne that has been following me for 20 years. I saw improvement in 4 days on this food plan and in two weeks all the acne was gone.

    • PJCart

      Did you have a specific dietary plan? What sort of foods did you tend to get instead? I have struggled to clear my acne for some time now, and have just come to realize that a change in my diet could be the answer.

  • Kelly

    I’ve switched to soy milk completely for this reason and have noticed a drastic improvement in my skin! My skin was absolutely horrible when I was 23. I’m now almost 25 and happily blemish free. :) I now only notice minor breakouts when I’ve treated it poorly such as when I stay up later, have an increase in alcohol, or fast food, etc.

    • Kelly

      I’d also like to add that for me, that clearing up my skin started with obtaining oral meds from a dermatologist, When I wasn’t seeing results like I wanted, I stopped drinking cow milk and cut out greek yogurt completely (unfortunately, because I LOVE the stuff), and started seeing great improvements. I’ve now cut out the oral medication completely and continue to use a topical cream a couple of nights a week. Hope this helps someone who has been struggling with adult acne because I was definitely in your shoes once!