Acne + Diet: The Food That May Be Fueling Your Breakouts

Psst … it might not be oil or greasy foods.

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Rumors are always stewing about which foods—if any—cause acne on your face. One day it’s cheese, the next day it’s oil, and the next day it’s chocolate.

Research continues, but one type of food stands out as a primary culprit: high-glycemic foods. 

The glycemic index is a way of measuring how certain foods affect blood sugar based on the types of carbs in the food. Remember, there are three main types of carbohydrates: starches, sugars, and fiber. While starch and sugar spike blood sugar, fiber takes longer to digest and can help keep blood sugar more steady.

High-glycemic foods are high in starches and sugars, but low in fiber. This makes them tough not only on blood sugar, but also on digestion, weight, and acne.

Foods with a high glycemic load include anything made from refined flour (white breads, pastas, crackers, pretzels, and baked goods), processed breakfast cereals, fruit juices, candy, sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages, pineapple, melon, white Russet potatoes, and white rice.

By contrast, low-glycemic foods are either high in fiber, or they’re lower in carbs altogether. For example, high-fiber veggies, beans, and whole grains have a low glycemic load, as do low-carb proteins and fats.

Many studies have found that eating patterns focused on low-glycemic foods tend to produce fewer acne breakouts and limit the severity of breakouts, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. 

There's one more food that might play a role in worsening acne. Along with high-glycemic index foods, dairy foods also show a potential link to acne, even though dairy itself is a low-glycemic food. However, results are mixed, and more studies need to be done. That said, if you're struggling to manage your acne, it's worth seeing if eliminating dairy can help. Just make sure you load your diet with these bone-boosting foods without dairy.

Keep in mind that having a high glycemic load doesn’t mean the food is “bad” for you, and having a low glycemic load doesn’t mean the food is “good” for you. However, it’s a good idea to assess your diet to make sure it’s not focusing solely on high-glycemic foods, since this can increase your risk of not just acne, but also insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

If you feel like nothing seems to help your acne, see if adapting your diet makes a difference—and don’t be afraid to reach out to a dermatologist for additional advice. Plus, check out these habits that help prevent acne.