5 Foods That May Trigger Acne Breakouts

Fed up with acne flare-ups and breakouts? Maybe it’s time to take a look at what you’re eating.

Acne is one of the most common skin problems we have, yet we still don’t fully understand all the reasons why it develops… or clears up. We do know certain things can make it worse, such as hormone fluctuations (there’s a lot of that going on in puberty), genetics and stress, but what about diet?

The good news is dermatologists have taken another look at just what role food plays in acne and although there are still gaps the picture is becoming clearer. One thing studies have shown is Westernised diets tend to be linked with acne. Whether what we eat can actually cause acne has yet to be proven, but certain foods can influence it.

How can diet affect acne? The main theory is it’s all about hormones. Acne is usually the result of too much oil (sebum) production by glands in the skin. The oil along with skin cells can block hair follicle openings (skin pores) creating blackheads and whiteheads. Once a follicle is blocked, bacteria can start to get to work on all that lovely oil and a red, angry, inflamed spot appears. All this is usually blamed on hormones, which in turn can be influenced by what we eat.

So what’s the evidence so far? When it comes to acne, 5 foods are commonly implicated: high-glycaemic index (high-GI) foods, dairy products, sugary foods and drinks, fast foods and chocolate. But when experts have looked at the available studies only two food groups appear to be linked with acne – high-GI foods and dairy products. This does not mean other types of foods will not affect your acne, just that the evidence so far is inconclusive.

High-GI Foods and Acne

The glycaemic index of a food is linked to the carbohydrates it contains and how fast your body digests them. High-GI foods are digested quickly and release their sugar (glucose) into the blood quickly, raising insulin levels to deal with all the glucose. If you eat a lot of high-GI foods, such as white bread, processed breakfast cereals, white rice, potato chips and cakes, this may cause your insulin levels to be raised for most of the time.

So what has insulin got to do with acne? Apart from helping the body use glucose for energy, insulin can affect other hormones which increase the amounts of oil produced in the skin and cell growth around and in hair follicles – both of which may be involved in acne. A diet full of high-GI foods may also prolong the time you have acne.

Dairy products

Although the evidence is weaker, there does appear to be a link between dairy products and acne, particularly skim milk. Interestingly, no link with cheese or yogurt has been found. This time the acne affect’ is thought to be caused by hormones contained in the products themselves, but the exact reasons are still unclear.

Fast foods

Burgers, tacos, hot dogs and doughnuts! All that fast food we love to eat are packed full of fats, and that’s not good for acne right? The evidence so far says that fat in our diet is used to make sebum and more fat means fattier sebum – but there is no link so far between fatty sebum and acne.

Sugary foods and drinks

These are usually high-GI food items as the sugars are quickly absorbed by the body leading to high insulin levels.


Caffeine, theobromine, and serotonin are all found in chocolate and all can affect insulin production. Chocolate also contains carbohydrates and milk (in milk chocolate) which may lead to insulin spikes, while it also contains antioxidants that may help with acne. So far studies have been inconclusive and the jury is definitely out on chocolate.

You’re the best food trigger detective so watch out for any foods that may aggravate your acne – keeping a food diary can help and you can share it with your dermatologist or doctor. If you are going to try eliminating any foods be patient as it can take up to 12 weeks to see if they are contributing to the problem. In the meantime, continue following your regular acne treatment regime. A healthy diet and early treatment with regular preventive skin care may just be one way to tame those acne breakouts.


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