Acne Awareness Month: Does Diet Play a Role in Acne?

Canva - Woman Covering Her Face With Her Hands.jpg

You might have heard that eating certain foods like chocolate, fries, or milk will make your skin breakout, but what does the research say? There’s a lot of misinformation on the web about skincare, so in the spirit of Acne Awareness Month, we’re diving into the best evidence on the link between diet and acne to give you the real deal.

True or False: Greasy Foods Cause Acne

According to the Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA), scientists have not found a link between chocolate or greasy foods like fries and acne flare-ups. If you think a certain food does aggravate your acne, however, they recommend cutting it out and seeing if your acne symptoms improve. It is advisable to see a dietitian if you do cut out foods from your diet to ensure you don’t miss out on any key nutrients.

True or False: Dairy is Inflammatory and Worsens Acne

The CDA says that some people may experience reduced acne symptoms when avoiding dairy products, and observational studies appear to support this. A recent meta-analysis and dose-response analysis of observational studies found an association between dairy intake and acne development, but yogurt and cheese were not found to impact acne. Another study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that consumption of low-fat and skim milk, but not full-fat milk, was higher among teenagers with acne than those without. Another systematic review and meta-analysis found a link between any kind of dairy and acne development in children and adults. If you suspect that dairy could be aggravating your acne, try milk alternatives like fortified soy beverages and speak with a dietitian.  

True or False: Low-Glycemic Index Diets Improve Acne


The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of a food’s ability to raise your blood sugar. Low-GI foods cause mild fluctuations in blood sugar, such as whole grain bread, while high-GI foods (like white bread) cause a greater spike in blood sugar. Glycemic load (GL) takes into account both the GI and amount of carbohydrate in a portion of food. A low-GI diet has been the most researched nutrition component of acne management and could reduce acne symptoms for some people, according to the CDA. A recent review suggests an association between consumption of a high-GI and high-GL diet and acne. A randomized controlled trial of adults with moderate to severe acne found that two weeks on a low-GI and low-GL diet lowered insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which has been found to play a role in acne development. If you suffer from acne, try to fill your plate with more whole grains and vegetables and limit your intake of refined sugar wherever possible. 

Bottom Line

There is still a lot that is unknown about the food and acne relationship, and research on dietary causes of acne should be interpreted with caution as much of it relies on observation and self-reported intake. If you struggle with acne and want expert support, work with a dietitian and dermatologist.

Ryan Stallard