10 Foods to Avoid If You Have Acne Plus How to Treat Your Breakouts
Acne at any age can be annoying to deal with, and while many of us rely on topical treatments, it's well-established that diet can play a role in skin health, too. And when there's literally anything we can do to prevent a breakout, we'll try it.
Altering your diet can keep at least some breakouts from arising. We gathered all the information about what to avoid eating if you want to avoid acne. These are general guidelines, so be sure to consult with your doctor in the case of serious skin conditions.
Keep scrolling to learn which foods cause acne and why.
1. Skim Milk
Skim milk can make acne worse. That's because it contains bovine growth hormones that are fat-dissolvable. Since there's no fat in skim milk, they don't dissolve. Those hormones, left in the body, can result in acne.
What to eat instead: Probiotics or milk alternatives. Probiotics are controversial but shown to be anti-inflammatory in other conditions.
Probiotics play an important role in a healthy diet. They help boost immunity, and studies show they help decrease inflammation, which may help with weight loss, regularity, and digestion. Try incorporating foods such as Greek yogurt, fermented sauerkraut, tempeh, or kefir into your diet regularly or taking a well-sourced probiotic supplement that contains over 12 strains of bacteria. It is essential that you eat probiotics with a high fiber diet to maintain and build the bacteria colony in your gut.
Use a little almond or oat milk rather than skim.
2. Processed Carbohydrates
Any refined, white, sugar, or grain-based food (pasta, white bread, desserts, juice, or soda) are foods high on the glycemic index and, therefore, release sugar into the bloodstream—followed by a crash. This wreaks havoc on our bodies, causes skin damage (and damage to other body systems), triggers inflammation, and worsens acne, rosacea, and other skin disorders.
What to eat instead: Whole foods. If you want to see if it might work for you, do a 60-day trial. As to what you should be incorporating into your diet, eating whole, real foods (e.g., fish, meat, eggs, root, and green vegetables). Whole foods are not processed, provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all of which help to protect our skin and to promote health. Additionally, many whole foods provide fats to keep our skin moist, fiber to help remove toxins from the body, and proteins to help repair the skin. By remaining unprocessed and not packaged, our bodies digest and use them for energy much more efficiently.
As a healthier alternative, you can get your carbs elsewhere, namely, from gluten-free oats, sweet potato or squash, and quinoa.
Not only are pastries high in calories and low in nutritional value but according to a study, consuming a diet rich in fat and sugar was found to be positively correlated with acne.
What to eat instead: The next time you try to satisfy your sweet tooth, consider reaching for some sugar-free treats.
- Hard-boiled eggs: Portable, high in protein, void of sugar, hard-boiled eggs keep you full and provide vitamin D3, omega 3s, b-vitamins, choline, and iron which is found in the yolk.
- Pistachios: They're good for your heart, are high in fiber, keep your hands busy, and a serving is 49 calories!
- GoodPops: These ice pops are a hit in my house as they are made from fruit and water, have many options that are vegan, and are portion controlled. They are organic and refreshing. Many flavors are low in sugar and calories, which make them a great store-bought option and a healthy dessert when the craving calls.
- Dark chocolate: A go-to sweet treat that is high in antioxidants, and fiber, and low in sugar. The darker the chocolate, the less sugar it contains. Some favorite brands include Hu Kitchen and Endangered Species. Aim for greater than 70 percent cacao for a healthy balance of flavor and health.
You should consider avoiding foods that score high on Harvard's glycemic index chart. Bananas are right up there, scoring a whopping 62—the highest glycemic score possible is 100. Enjoy a banana smoothie every morning? Don’t beat yourself up about it. We do, too. There are health benefits to eating bananas (especially in the morning), but you may want to ditch the bananas for a while and see if there’s a noticeable difference in your acne.
What to eat instead: Cherries. If you use bananas for sweetness in your smoothies, try swapping with a fruit that's lower on the glycemic index chart, like cherries (which come in at 20 on the scale, as opposed to bananas at 62).
5. Specialty Coffees
Caffeine, sugar, and refined carbs cause a spike in cortisol in the body. Cortisol is the stress hormone, and it’s what your body releases when it’s stressed out. This spike can cause your body to overproduce oil, resulting in breakouts. Rule of thumb: If it tastes like a dessert, it will affect your body like a dessert.
What to eat instead: Green tea. While it is still caffeinated, it's lower in caffeine than coffee.
Stick to low-glycemic foods like grapefruit, prunes, and hummus for a midday pick-me-up; your body will thank you. Plus, you won't have that annoying sugar crash after.
While this doughy-dairy combo is indeed delicious, it also ranks high on the GI chart, meaning it releases glucose quickly. As mentioned earlier, this can result in a spike in sugar, instigating inflammation, ultimately aggravating the skin and contributing to acne flare-ups. Cheese is believed to exacerbate skin damage further—read: dairy face—if it contains high levels of hormones that drive acne.
What to eat instead: Popcorn. To satisfy your salty cravings, try air-popped popcorn instead of sodium-rich pizza or potato chips. Instead of chips or 'healthy chips,' enjoy air-popped popcorn or make your own popcorn quickly on the stovetop. Popcorn is made from corn, a whole food containing fiber and b-vitamins. Additionally, you can flavor it yourself with sea salt or parmesan cheese and spices for added flavor and nutrition.
7. Soy Products
While soy products are a popular way to get your protein intake, especially if you're a vegetarian, don’t load up on soy-based products, which can decrease estrogen levels and cause our glands to produce excess sebum (the stuff that clogs pores). A little is okay, but look for added sugar and avoid eating a quantity of pre-packaged soy-everything.
What to eat instead: Nut-based products. A quick swap from soy milk to almond or cashew milk can help clear skin. Nut-based swaps are available for most soy-based favorites, including dips and spreads.
8. Dried Fruit and Fruit Juice
While whole fruit contains natural sugars, dried fruit, and fruit juice are sources of concentrated sugar content. Known to promote oil production and inflammation, consuming too much dried fruit and juice would result in high sugar intake, which has been linked to acne.
What to eat instead: Instead of energy bars, eat trail mix. Energy bars are often glorified candy bars filled with sugar and fillers to help them taste good. Trail mix contains a mix of nuts full of protein, heart-healthy fats, and fiber along with some dried fruit for natural sweetness and energy—and it's a whole food snack.
9. Fast Food
Fast food is generally very processed and higher in refined carbohydrates, which means the sugar content is higher and the nutritional value is lower. Refined carbs cause a spike in blood sugar and insulin, which causes inflammation and increased sebum production, which can lead to acne.
What to eat instead: Omega 3s. To get started on your journey to clear skin, omega 3 (fish oil/DHA supplement, especially if you're not eating oily fish several times a week) since there is evidence that an elevated omega 6 to 3 ratio (common in the modern American grain-based diet) can be pro-inflammatory and lead to acne. Omega 3s decrease inflammation in the body and also help with skin inflammation. They also help to protect the skin from UV rays, keep it moisturized, and promote integrity to enhance healing. Some amazing sources include wild salmon, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, and krill oil.
As with many other items on our list, candy is full of refined carbohydrates — and generally full of sugar, which can wreak havoc on the skin. Eating something like Sour Patch Kids is probably the worst thing you can do for your skin.
What to eat instead: Dark chocolate. There is no link between acne and chocolate. It was totally disproven in a small blind trial in 2008 and again in later trials. Dark chocolate is especially good for you, including being a powerful source of antioxidants.
The idea that your diet can help acne is controversial, however, protected hunter-gatherer communities eat a more Paleolithic style diet, and they have no acne. That said, controlling for any one thing in a diet is beyond difficult, so it’s not easy to study. As with any dietary change, consult with your own doctor for personalized advice.
Skin & Diet Go Hand in Hand
While shifting things around in your diet to help with preventing acne from stemming internally, for the stubborn breakouts you already have, your skin care could also be a factor. Try Wild Naturals manuka honey products instead! Manuka honey is incredible at fighting acne and healing acne scars, plus its anti-inflammatory benefits help calm down your skin so it’s soothed and nourished.