what foods cause acne?

Have you ever thought about how your diet might be affecting your skin? Is what you’re eating causing your acne? Could a food allergy cause acne symptoms? If you have skin that’s prone to acne breakouts then thinking about what foods might be triggering your symptoms could help you take control of your acne and achieve clearer skin. 

Different foods trigger different symptoms in different people but there are some common foods (and drinks) that tend to cause the worst symptoms. 

Here’s a look at the most common foods that cause acne and why.

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Does Dairy Cause Acne?

Cow’s milk, cheese, yoghurt and other dairy products have all been linked with acne, particularly in teenage skin. Studies have shown that eating high amounts of dairy can cause acne in young skin. 

However, studies so far haven’t provided conclusive evidence that dairy products cause acne, only that there seems to be parallels between eating dairy and having acne. Researchers can’t find a mechanism by which cow’s milk may cause acne breakouts, but they do have theories. 

Cow’s milk causes levels of the hormone insulin to rise. Insulin has been proven to play a role in the development of acne. Dairy products also cause another hormone called insulin-like growth factor, or IGF1, to rise. IGF1 can cause acne by increasing levels of inflammation and sebum production. An excess of sebum, the oily substance naturally produced by the skin, is a major cause of acne. 

Dairy products also contain hormones that are present in the dairy cows, including the hormone testosterone. Testosterone is an androgen, or male hormone, that is present in both males and females. A rise in androgens causes an increase in sebum production and therefore can breakouts too. 

Whey powder, often used in protein shakes, is a by-product of dairy. Studies show that whey protein can cause acne too by increasing the activity of insulin. If you use whey protein in your pre- or post-gym shakes and you have acne, it’s worth switching to a dairy free protein powder to see what effect it has on your skin. 

If you have acne prone skin, it’s likely that consuming cow’s milk and dairy products will cause your acne to flare up, so consider avoiding all dairy.

Can Lactose Free Milk Cause Acne?

Lactose is a milk sugar that some people are intolerant to. In lactose intolerant people, lactose causes stomach complaints such as pain, bloating and diarrhoea. 

Considering that it’s the hormones in milk that are thought to trigger acne breakouts, it’s likely that lactose free milk, that still contains hormones, will still cause acne symptoms if you have acne prone skin. 

what about dairy alternatives? can soya milk Cause Acne?

Soya milk is a common alternative to drinking cow’s milk. However, in some people soya milk can lead to acne breakouts. 

Soya contains plant oestrogens that mimic our own levels of the female hormone oestrogen. This can cause a hormonal imbalance that can lead to acne. 

If you want to avoid dairy products, it might be a good idea to avoid soya too, and replace your milk, cheese and yoghurts with other plant-based alternatives made with oats, coconut oil, almonds and cashews. 

does chocolate cause Acne spots?

Like with dairy products, in some people eating chocolate can cause acne breakouts, especially if it’s milk chocolate. But just like with dairy, scientists can’t find an exact method by which chocolate causes acne but they do have theories. 

All chocolate, even dark chocolate that contains no dairy, can lead to an increase in acne spots in those with acne prone skin. It’s thought that in some people, chocolate stimulates the immune system which leads to an increase in inflammation. This in turn can cause the skin to react to the presence of acne-causing bacteria allowing them to colonise the skin and cause acne spots. 

Therefore, if you have acne prone skin, it’s best to keep chocolate to a rare treat. 

does sugar cause Acne?

A diet high in sugar causes higher levels of inflammation which leads to acne breakouts. Consuming sugar also raises insulin levels very quickly, and a surge in insulin can lead to spots and acne as we discovered above when discussing dairy products. 

Given that excess dietary sugar leads to obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, it’s always best to limit it anyway. Especially so if you have acne prone skin.

does oily food cause Acne?

Eating a diet high in saturated fat, such as processed foods, ready meals, red meat, fried foods, crisps, cakes and biscuits is in no way healthy, for any part of the body. Skin-wise, there is a high correlation between eating a high fat diet and having acne. 

Dietary fat is thought to cause acne because in high amounts it can cause changes to the hormones that are related to acne development. 

Also, eating oily food can leave fatty residues around the mouth which can block the pores, leading to acne breakouts around the mouth area. 

A diet low in saturated fat is best all round, with a small amount of good fats coming from nuts, seeds, oily fish and avocados.

can gluten intolerance cause acne?

There’s no doubt a diet high in refined grains such as white bread, pasta and rice is bad for health. But can these refined grains cause acne too? 

Whether you have a gluten intolerance or not, it seems that white rice, pasta, bread, crackers and desserts made with refined white flours can cause acne. This is because refined carbohydrates such as these aren’t much different from eating spoons of sugar. In fact, the body treats them the in the same way as sugar. 

Sugar and refined carbohydrates are said to have a high GI or glycaemic index. This means that they’re turned into glucose in the bloodstream extremely quickly, giving us a sugar rush. Inevitably, what goes up must come down, and blood sugars then rapidly fall again making us feel low in energy and craving the next sugar hit. 

This rush of sugar triggers the release of insulin to deal with the high levels of glucose in the blood. Insulin triggers the release of IGF1 and androgen hormones, both of which trigger the release of excess sebum. 

So it seems that sugar even in the form of processed, white rice, bread and pasta is a no-no if you have acne prone skin.

can eating eggs cause acne?

In some people, eating eggs can cause acne flare ups. This is thought to be for three reasons. Non-organically reared egg laying hens are often fed hormones to increase their egg laying productivity. These hormones are transferred to their eggs, which then enter our bodies when we eat them. This can cause hormone imbalances which in turn can lead to acne. 

Non-organic hens are also sometimes fed antibiotics to prevent and treat disease. These antibiotics can also enter our bodies via their eggs. Antibiotics, whether we take them knowingly, or we eat them in our food (meat from chickens and other animals such as cows is also thought to contain traces of antibiotics and hormones) can disrupt the delicate balance of good bacteria in our guts called the microbiome. An imbalance in this gut bacteria can lower our immunity which can lead to acne breakouts. 

Finally, eating all animal products, including eggs, can increase the levels of inflammatory markers in our body. This can then cause acne breakouts. 

Aim to eat organic eggs or even better, try eliminating eggs altogether. 

can eating fish cause acne?

Fish is a great source of essential omega 3 fatty acids. We need to eat omega 3 for a healthy brain and heart as well as healthy skin. A similar fatty acid, omega 6, is present in cooking oils such as vegetable oil or rapeseed oil. 

However, omega 3 and omega 6 are not created equally. 

Omega 3 helps to lower the level of inflammation in the body, which helps to protect against acne breakouts, so eating oily fish could help to manage your skin. 

But omega 6 has the opposite effect and can cause levels of inflammatory markers to increase which can aggravate acne prone skin and cause breakouts. It’s thought that many of us eat too few omega 3 fatty acids and too many omega 6. 

Therefore, cooking in high omega 6 oils should be avoided and olive or coconut oils used (sparingly) instead.

It will be trial and error, but if you eat fish, aim for two or three portions of oily fish such as sardines a week and change your cooking oil if you use vegetable or rapeseed oils and see how this might improve your skin.

can nuts cause acne 

Nuts are rich in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids but there are certain nuts that contain more inflammatory omega 6 than others. 

To avoid consuming too much omega 6 whilst still getting omega 3 and antioxidant vitamin E which is great for healthy skin, eat a few walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts or macadamia nuts a day. Avoid eating too many nuts that are high in omega 6 including almonds and brazil nuts. 

Seeds are also a great food for the skin as they’re high in omega 3 fatty acids and low in omega 6. Aim for a small handful of chia or hemp seeds a day.

does drinking coffee, beer or sugary drinks cause acne breakouts?

As we’ve discussed, sugar can cause acne breakouts in some people with acne prone skin, and this includes sugary, fizzy drinks. These kinds of drinks can lead to obesity and tooth decay and are best kept to a minimum anyway, but especially so if sugar triggers your acne. 

There isn’t any conclusive evidence that caffeine in tea and coffee can cause acne. In fact, it’s thought that the antioxidants found naturally in tea and coffee are beneficial for the skin. 

Drinking more than a couple of cups a day however can cause the thin blood vessels in the skin to constrict. This means that the skin will be starved of the nutrients and oxygen it needs to stay nourished and healthy. 

The research into the link between drinking alcohol and having acne flare ups is also inconclusive. One or two alcoholic drinks may not cause a problem, but excessive alcohol consumption does lead to higher levels of inflammation. As we’ve discussed here, inflammation leads to a worsening of acne symptoms, so anything you can do, including limiting your alcohol intake, to reduce inflammation is good news for your skin.

Looking at diet to help treat acne

The message here is clear, some foods can cause acne in some people. As we’re all so different, there is no definitive answer, no absolute “dairy products cause acne” statements or conclusive evidence that “sugar causes acne breakouts”. 

It’s up to us all as individuals to put in the hard work to really discover if certain foods cause acne breakouts in our own skin. Once we do, we’ll know that to have clearer skin, we’ll need to eliminate those acne-causing foods from our diet. 

If you think there may be certain foods that might be causing your acne to flare up, then looking closely at your diet will help. Keeping a food diary, where you record everything that you eat, plus what acne symptoms you notice for a few weeks will be enormously helpful. 

Acne doesn’t have to rule your life – there are things you can do holistically such as amending your diet to avoid trigger foods, along with trialling certain medications and topical acne creams and getting your skincare right. If you have any questions about skincare for acne prone skin drop us a line below, we’re always happy to help.