Is your diet causing your chronic acne breakouts? While the verdict is still out on whether what you eat can increase the risk of getting acne in the first place, there are sufficient studies linking our food choices to a rise in breakouts in those who already have acne. Based on this evidence, it’s worth taking a closer look at your diet to see what might just be the culprit of your acne flare-ups.
Top Foods That May Be Causing Your Acne Breakouts
Based on more extensive studies, the following foods appear to affect skin’s natural processes, leading to a rise in the number of blackheads, papules, or other common types of acne you may be currently struggling to keep under control.
While carbohydrates are essential to a healthy diet, not all carbs are considered healthy. The glycemic index (GI) is a useful tool for determining how much a particular carbohydrate-heavy food will raise your blood glucose (sugar) levels, which is directly associated to a spike in insulin production. These spikes in blood sugar can cause inflammation in the body, which affects skin health by promoting increased sebum (oil) production. Meanwhile, high insulin levels produce more androgen hormones, which release a growth factor that causes your natural skin cell renewal cycle to speed up, leading to increased shedding of oil skin cells. Simply put, this combination leads to oily skin and increased dead skin cells that all stick together and clog pores, leading to acne breakouts. The higher a food falls on the GI, the more likely it is to spur acne flare-ups. In fact, one study in particular notes that those who consumed a diet that favored high-glycemic foods led to a 30% greater risk of acne breakouts.
Foods to Avoid: Highly processed foods, white potatoes, white rice, sweetened beverages, natural sweeteners like maple syrup, pastas, breads, crackers, and pastry desserts made with white flour should be avoided.
Foods to Eat Instead: Following a paleolithic-style diet—which favors lean meats, fruits, and vegetables—or a Mediterranean-style diet—high in vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, and olive oil—has been associated with lower blood sugar and insulin levels simply because they prioritize low-glycemic foods. Some other foods to favor include complex carbohydrates, multi-grain breads, nuts, legumes (beans), fresh vegetables, and steel-cut oats.
Milk and Dairy
While dairy is often blamed for acne breakouts, it seems that cheese and yogurt may not be as much at fault as milk. While studies are still underway to determine exactly how milk may be contributing to increased acne, the effects may lie in milk’s influence on insulin. Further, whey present in milk can have an impact on acne breakouts (more on that later) and hormones present in some animal milks, like cow’s milk, has been linked to increased acne as well.
Foods to Avoid: While milk is the main beverage to avoid, dishes that include dairy, such as macaroni and cheese or ice cream, are likely to not only hit high on the GI scale, but also have similar effects to milk on acne. For this reason, it’s best to limit dairy in your diet altogether.
Foods to Eat Instead: Opt for nut milks (like almond milk) for beverages, or vegetable or chicken stock options as bases for sauces. Depending on your dish, searching for a vegan recipe online is also an easy way to avoid dairy and keep acne breakouts in check.
Chocolate and Cocoa
Chocolate and cocoa have long been suspected to be an acne trigger, with some preliminary research dating back to the 1920s. In one study published in the International Journal of Dermatology, male subjects who ate 25 grams of dark chocolate containing 99% cocoa experienced an increase in acne breakouts over a two-week period. A second study reports that male subjects who consumed a daily capsule of 100% cocoa powder experienced increased breakouts in just one week. While researchers are still working on understanding this correlation, one theory suggests that cocoa may increase the immune system’s sensitivity to acne-causing bacteria, leading to increased flare-ups.
Foods to Avoid: Chocolate milk should definitely be avoided. Cutting back on solid chocolate and chocolate-based sweets containing high sugar and cocoa content is also a safe choice.
Foods to Eat Instead: Fruits can help subdue sugar cravings, though a small amount of chocolate on the rare occasion should have minimal impact on acne breakouts.
Whey Protein Powder
For those who opt for a post-workout protein shake, whey protein powder could be causing your acne breakouts. As mentioned when discussing milk, certain amino acids can impact acne. Whey protein powders contain amino acids that stimulate the body’s production of insulin, which leads to a spike in androgen hormones and growth factors that lead to increased dead skin cells that clog pores and cause acne breakouts.
Foods to Avoid: Avoid protein shakes that contain whey powder, as well as milk and dairy products. Whey can also be a surprising ingredient in some breadcrumbs, protein bars, spice mixes, chips, and frozen convenience meals.
Foods to Eat Instead: For protein shakes, opt for pea protein, hemp, or collagen protein powder. Alternatively, search for increased protein in foods like nuts, beans, beef, chicken, and eggs as an alternative to post-workout shakes.
General Food Sensitivities
Unfortunately, there are some foods that may only cause acne breakouts for you and have not been identified as a food to avoid for those who are acne-prone. Our bodies are unique and as such, you may have a food sensitivity that someone else does not. At the root of it, any food that your body reacts to may cause increased acne breakouts as a result of inflammation. When your body is sensitive to a certain food, your immune system mistakenly identifies that food as a threat and increases its circulation of pro-inflammatory molecules to attack and neutralize the threat. This immune response results in inflammation, which has a negative effect on oil production, therefore aggravating acne.
Foods to Avoid and Foods to Eat Instead: There is a long, long list of foods to which your body may react. For this reason, the best way to determine which foods you should avoid and which foods to eat instead is to test out an elimination diet. An elimination diet works by limiting the number of foods you eat and gradually adding more foods back into your diet while carefully tracking how your body reacts. This way, you’ll be able to discover which food(s) may be contributing to your acne breakouts.
Take Your Acne One Step Further for More Effective Results
While you may be making your acne worse simply based on the types of foods you eat, discovering which food is causing your breakouts can be a long process. Get a little backup help to keep skin clear while you discover a diet that works for you with Venus Versa™ acne treatments.
Utilizing Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) technology, these dual-light acne treatments work to effectively target the cause and visible symptoms of problematic and chronic acne. Red and blue light therapies work together to reduce acne-related inflammation and destroy acne-causing bacteria to heal current breakouts and prevent further flare-ups. The result is a reduction in the appearance of acne for smoother, healthier-looking skin.