Does Food Cause Acne?

February 12th, 2011

Many people over the years have asked me if certain foods cause or exacerbate acne. I’m not a dermatologist, but I can go to pubmed and do a search. After reading for a while, these are my opinions about the topic.

Creative Commons License photo credit: moonshake

Yes, I’m a doctor, but don’t do anything without discussing it with your own personal doctor.

Most people have acne at some point in life. Over 80% of adolescents suffer with it at one time or another. In my life the pendulum over diet and acne has swung back and forth. When I was young, everybody said fat and chocolate made it worse. In college, the popular notion was that diet did not play a role. Now, it seems obvious that diet is an important factor in the control of acne.

Sugars and Fats–

In societies without refined sugar, acne basically does not exist. As societies become “more Western” and add more fats and sugars, acne starts to appear. Even in modern societies, people who have acne are more likely to eat high fats and/or high sugar foods. Studies have shown that changing diet patterns by decreasing sugar intake can decrease acne.

Interesting enough, I could not find any association with chocolate. Chocolate is unlikely to have a role–thank goodness.

In overly simplistic terms, sugars cause stimulates the insulin pathway which changes the hormonal balance and increases the likelihood of acne. Bad fats are pro-inflammatory and increase follicle stimulation which ultimately increase acne severity.


As much as a dairy fan as I am, good evidence exists that high daily intake can increase risks of acne. Both whole and skim milk seem to have this effect. It’s unclear if this is a hormonal or lactose effect.


The evidence is fairly strong that diet does affect acne. Multiple, multiple studies have now shown that refined sugars and dangerous fats are very bad for the body for multiple reasons. It should not be surprising that the skin shows these affects as well.

Milk is a tough one for me. Many studies exist that milk in a balanced diet is helpful; however, I can not argue that the research also suggests that it contributes to acne.

Many articles on pubmed are no longer free, but Ferdowsian has an article about diet and acne that is an easy, free read.

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