Affecting up to 50 million Americans each year, acne is the most common skin condition in the country. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, acne vulgaris affects more than 85% of adolescents and often persists into adulthood. By now, it’s common knowledge that certain nutrients help specific body parts work better. Healthy bones require calcium, magnesium, vitamin K, and vitamin D3. Our hearts may do better when we eat fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids and CoQ10. What about healthy skin?

The Relationship between Diet and Acne

Acne can occur due to the following etiologic factors: hormones, excess sebum, bacteria, dead skin cells or hyperproliferation of follicular cells. Some of these factors are influenced by diet. Researchers have studied the connections between a so-called “Western diet” or “standard American diet” and acne. This kind of diet is based heavily on:

  • High-Glycemic Carbohydrates
  • Dairy
  • Fried Foods, Saturated, and Trans fats

According to studies, types of foods stimulate the production of hormones that can cause excess oil to be created and secreted by oil glands.

The Most Common Foods Linked to Acne

Say Goodbye To High-Glycemic Carbohydrates.

The Glycemic Index is a system that ranks foods on a scale from 1 to 100 based on their effect on blood-sugar levels. A good way to improve the health of your skin is to eat in a manner that keeps your blood sugar steady. Some foods make your blood sugar quickly soar causing the body to release a hormone called insulin. Having excess insulin in your blood can cause your oil glands to produce more oil, increasing your risks of acne. A few examples of high-glycemic foods that trigger spikes in insulin include:

  • Sugar
  • White bread
  • White rice
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Enriched pasta
  • Snack foods, such as popcorn and pretzels.

Disregard Dairy

Milk contains components related to hormones that may stimulate oil glands in the skin, setting the stage for acne. Researchers found evidence that milk, other dairy products, and diets rich in carbohydrates with a high glycemic load are associated with acne, in a study from the International Journal of Dermatology.

Fried Foods

We all know greasy fried foods like French fries and fried chicken aren’t exactly health foods. And if you’re breaking out, you may want to reconsider taking another bite. One study found fried foods is a risk factor to developing acne. Healthier options for cooking are baking, roasting, or steaming rather than frying.

The Skin-healthy Foods that Prevent Acne

Hello Low-Glycemic Complex Carbohydrates.

Eating low-glycemic foods made of complex carbohydrates may reduce your risk of developing acne. Complex carbohydrates are found in the following foods:

  • Whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, and steel cut oats
  • Legumes, such as black beans, chickpeas, and adzuki beans
  • Unprocessed fruits and vegetables

In a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, researchers found that following a low-glycemic, high-protein diet for 12 weeks improved acne in men, and also led to weight loss.

The ‘Good’ Fat: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s are a type of fat found in certain plants and animal protein sources and are thought to reduce inflammation. Studies largely support the connection between increased consumption of omega-3s and a decrease in acne. The adequate intake of omega-3s for an adult is 1.1g – 1.6g, according to the National Institute for Health.

Common plant sources of omega-3s include flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, avocados, flaxseed oil, and olive oil. Common animal-derived sources of omega-3s include wild salmon, mackerel, cod, trout, sardines, tuna, and pasture-raised organic egg yolks.


For many people, consistently drinking enough water has done wonders for getting rid of acne and improving overall skin health and texture. Water helps your body fight back against the causes of inflammation, and when you’re talking about acne, this means shortening the lifespan of those zits. Make sure you drink at least half of your body weight in ounces every day for best results.

Other Considerations

Another consideration to help track acne and your diet is food journaling. By tracking what you’re eating, you can determine which foods tend to create acne. And all you’ll need to do is eliminate that food.

You can also try an elimination diet for 30 days. Eliminate fried foods, dairy, wheat, and other foods you suspect are causing your acne. After the 30 days are up, reintroduce one food at a time and observe if that food contributed to acne.

My best advice in dealing with acne is eating a wholesome, balanced diet, rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, omega-3 sources of protein, whole grains, and drinking at least half your body weight in ounces of water. Your skin is a reflection of your total body health. A nutritious diet that keeps you healthy internally will reflect externally.

About the author

Charlene Wang has been helping people meet their health and fitness goals in California and Colorado
Charlene Wang

Charlene Wang has been helping people meet their health and fitness goals in California and Colorado. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian with professional certifications in Alternative Nutrition, Applied Kinesiology, and Healing Touch. Her professional services include health risk assessments, weight loss plans, food sensitivity testing, disease prevention education, personalized health coaching, a variety of nutrition and health education classes, and energy healing therapy.

Charlene currently runs her own private practice in Colorado Springs called Auric Nutrition & Wellness. She also consults for a new integrative health clinic called the International Health & Wellness Center located within the Garden of the Gods Club and Resort.

Auric Nutrition & Wellness
2110 Hollow Brook Drive, Suite 104
Colorado Springs, CO 80918