The Best and Worst Foods for Your Acne Diet

There are countless diets doing the rounds that allegedly combat acne, but can you distinguish fact from fiction? First – we don’t think there is a perfect diet for acne-free skin yet, because we still don’t know enough about how diet affects acne. Yet, it’s not inconceivable that your skin condition will improve on a better diet, so read on.

A plate with meat and spices.

Even though there’s no specific acne diet, there may be certain best and worst foods for acne that can help or hurt your skin.

Why The Perfect Acne Diet Is So Elusive

Our physiology differs, which means that people can have very different reactions to the same foods. Also, using the scientific method to investigate the connection between diet and acne is difficult.

What Research Says

Diets and acne have a complex relationship history in terms of research. Between the 1930s and 1960s, a link was commonly accepted in medical circles, but two influential studies relegated it to myth, so restrictions flew out the window.

This changed again following a review of the data in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology with stronger evidence of a link between diet and acne. Since then, several studies have been conducted and a few dietary culprits stepped forward. You will see that this topic can be thoroughly confusing, though, so we tend to align ourselves with another, more recent review of the data, where the authors found:

If a dermatologist’s patient notes an association between a particular dietary factor and acne severity, the dermatologist should instruct the patient to avoid that food or limit its consumption. Doctors should encourage patients to keep a food diary to note which foods produce acne flare-ups.

You don’t need your doctor to be a good listener for this, though, because a balanced, healthy diet 🥗 will prevent or combat a condition usually associated with bad acne breakouts – chronic systemic inflammation. Systemic inflammation will almost certainly play a role in both teenager and adult acne breakouts and can cause multiple other health problems too.

A lot of well-designed research is still needed, but in this article, we identify some dietary guidelines that people with acne can follow. However, nothing should be taken as gospel. So, as they say, if the shoe fits…

5 Foods That Help Improve Acne Vulgaris

1. Does Drinking Water Help Acne?

Water consumption 💧 or the lack thereof is not commonly associated with acne, but staying hydrated is an important part of any diet for acne-free skin—and for your overall health.

Proper cell function depends on proper hydration, and too little water can cause premature skin cell death, cell damage, or general impairment of various cellular processes. When skin cells renew more slowly than they die off, the dead skin cells can clog pores, which leads to blackheads and whiteheads. This might trigger an inflammatory response to contain the damage, and acne vulgaris is associated with inflammation 🔥.

So how much water is really enough? Eight 8-ounce glasses per day are a good benchmark, but, for instance, if you exercise or live in a humid climate, you will need more.

2. Will Garlic Help With Acne vulgaris?

Some research 🕵️ has shown that topically applied garlic could be a viable acne treatment because of its antimicrobial potential, but more research is needed.

It’s probably better to take garlic systemically for its antioxidant content 🧄. Antioxidants help prevent cell damage and reduce inflammation by fighting off free radicals, which are oxygen cells that are missing an electron. Free radicals often damage cells in their search for another electron, but to stabilize them, antioxidants “lend” free radicals an electron.

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Antioxidants are the main reason we recommend garlic as part of a diet for acne-free skin because they can reduce various kinds of inflammation that could spark breakouts.

3. Fantastic Fish Oil And The Power of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fish oil 🐟 might be a good addition to your diet for acne-free skin, as it contains several vitamins, including vitamin A and vitamin D – two potentially powerful vitamins for combatting acne. Vitamin A has been shown to regulate skin cell turnover which will prevent clogged pores, and vitamin D is a powerful antioxidant, which we know helps reduce inflammation.

The other acne-fighting ingredient in fish oil is Omega-3 fatty acid, a particular type of fat that suppresses the production of various inflammation-causing enzymes and proteins. One recent study has shown that

After 10 weeks of Omega-3 fatty acid or γ-linoleic acid supplementation, inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions decreased significantly.

This is good news but as mentioned, much more clinical research 🔍 is needed to confirm Omega-3 fatty acids as a good aid in the treatment of acne.

Foods with a high Omega-3 content include fatty fish 🐟 like herring, tuna, or cod, but if you don’t love seafood, fish oil supplements are also popular and available at most drugstores.

4. Tea for Clear Skin

One of the best foods for acne isn’t actually food, it’s tea ☕. There’s no one specific tea for acne because several types can reduce breakouts in various ways. We like drinking green tea and spearmint tea for healthy skin the best.

Green Tea Goodness for Breakouts

Green tea for acne works primarily by reducing inflammation 🔥 with antioxidants and suppressing inflammatory proteins and enzymes. Specifically, green tea contains a type of polyphenol called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Polyphenols are nutrients commonly found in plants, and EGCG is a particularly powerful one. One study has demonstrated that it reduces inflammation and “decreases the viability of P.acnes” (the acne-causing bacteria). It significantly improved acne skin after eight weeks of use.

If green isn’t your cup of tea, spearmint is another good option, especially if your acne seems to be affected by your hormones.

Super Spearmint for Hormones

Spearmint tea fights acne by modulating hormones, as the tea has been shown to reduce the level of a group of hormones called androgens in the body. When androgen levels spike, they trigger oil glands to go into overdrive. This excess oil causes clogged pores in the skin, which, in turn, can lead to blackheads and whiteheads. Oil is also P.acnes’ main food source, and this bacteria 🦠 is often associated with an increase in pimples and cysts.

The current popular treatments for excessive androgens are combined oral contraceptives or spironolactone, but both are associated with unpleasant side effects. Spearmint tea, on the other hand, has several studies suggesting it can safely help suppress androgens, though more research is needed to confirm its effectiveness in treating acne.

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Tea can be a powerful part of an acne diet, but like all other foods on this list, it can’t cure acne on its own.

5. The Dangers and Benefits of Algae

Some sources adamantly recommend that you try spirulina for acne, but we aren’t so convinced. While spirulina contains many compounds that could help fight acne, it could also contain compounds that make acne worse.

What is Spirulina, and what are its Benefits?

First, what is spirulina? It’s a blue-green alga containing many nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, and is most commonly sold in powder or supplement form. For this, it is mostly grown in a laboratory setting 🧪.

The main benefit of incorporating spirulina for acne into your diet is its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which it gets primarily from phycocyanin – a protein spirulina produces that also functions as a powerful antioxidant and can suppress inflammatory proteins. However, as we’ve seen, several other foods on this list can do the same thing, and the supplement’s manufacturing holds potential dangers.

What Are The Dangers?

As we have mentioned, most spirulina is lab-grown nowadays, but some supplements still use natural spirulina. All-natural sounds like a good thing, but when it comes to algae, this might not apply.

Natural spirulina is a phytoremediator, meaning it is able to soak up the pollutants, toxins, and heavy metals in the water, thereby rendering the algae unsafe for human consumption.

However, the FDA doesn’t regulate spirulina until after it’s already being sold in stores or online. The FDA might catch a bad batch of spirulina and pull it off the shelves, but there’s always a chance that you might ingest toxic spirulina before this.

While research is ongoing to determine the ideal diet for acne-free skin, cutting out or reducing foods that can worsen acne is something anyone can start doing immediately. Also, many of these foods are known to be bad for your health anyway, so much more than your skin could benefit from their elimination. And if you’re looking for an easy way to get the micronutrients your body needs to develop clearer skin from the inside out, investigate safe daily supplements.

3 Foods That May Make Acne Worse

1. Can A Sweet Tooth Contribute to Acne?

The link between diet and acne is well illustrated with refined sugar vs low glycemic foods. Let’s explain.

Large, fast increases in blood sugar can lead to increased breakouts, and refined, sugar-dense foods are definitely the culprit here.

Glycemic Indices Explained

To understand how sugar can lead to increased breakouts, we need to first understand what a glycemic index (GI) and a glycemic load (GL) are because merely looking at a food’s sugar 🍫 content isn’t enough to know if it could contribute to a breakout.

The Glycemic Index Foundation explains that

Your blood glucose levels rise and fall when you eat a meal containing carbohydrates.  How high it rises and how long it stays high depends on the quality of the carbohydrates (the GI) as well as the quantity.  Glycemic Load (or GL) combines both the quantity and quality of carbohydrates.

The Foundation also advises that noticing something’s glycemic load is the best way to compare how different foods and different amounts of a certain food influence blood sugar. So, meals with high GI and/or GL are undesirable; the best would be to aim for low glycemic counts.

How Can A Low Glycemic Diet Combat Acne?

Our body breaks down sugars using insulin, which activates hormones that can cause increased oil production in the skin. The faster and more drastically our blood sugar spikes, the more insulin is required to break the sugars down, resulting in the increased release of hormones and the associated production of more oil.

This causes many dermatologists 👩‍⚕️ to believe that a high glycemic-load diet could contribute to breakouts.

Not All Sugar Is Sweet

It’s important to note here that a diet rich in sugar is not that easy to spot. Sugar can hide in foods such as white bread, pasta, and other refined carbohydrates that don’t necessarily taste sweet. The body processes these to become sugar, which makes for a high glycemic load diet.

2. Does Gluten-Free Mean Acne-Free?

In a word, no. Research does not support 📚 the notion that adopting a gluten-free diet improves acne-prone skin.

If people with acne vulgaris get better on a gluten-free diet, it may be because of underlying gluten sensitivity. Or, it may be because gluten exacerbates celiac disease, which is a known inflammatory condition.

Many gluten-free diets are also low in sugar and refined carbohydrates and are more likely to have a low glycemic index. High protein diets 🥩 also tend to have low glycemic counts.

3. Dairy Dos and Don’ts

The dominant theory is that dairy products 🐄 in a diet can cause acne vulgaris due to the hormones present in the milk. But is it true?

Unfortunately, the facts are not established yet, so we are unsure. There have been a few studies that show a correlation between increased milk intake 🥛 and acne, but these studies have been relatively small and survey-based. This makes them far less reliable than large, double-blind experiments.

Milk, Hormones, And Acne

It’s true that acne breakouts occur when our hormones fluctuate significantly because this hormonal action causes a spike in oil production. Increasing the intake of foods that contain various hormones, including bovine growth hormone (BGH) and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), could potentially cause a disruption in our own hormonal balance.

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Due to the hormones that most dairy cows are injected with, some people are concerned that milk and acne don’t mix well.

But Do We Really Know If This Is True?

That said, this is far from a sure thing. The FDA says milk containing these hormones is safe for human consumption, and many sources claim that most of the hormones are removed during pasteurization. What little remains is then supposed to be broken down through digestion and never absorbed into the bloodstream. If this is the case, then the hormones in milk should cause no acne disturbances, but the data on this is limited.

Why not experiment with adding dairy products to your diet and keeping notes to see if this contributes to acne breakouts?

The link between diet and acne is undeniable, but it can’t replace a good routine with good products to improve your skin condition.

One of The Best Ways to Reduce Acne is A Gentle, Consistent Skin Care Routine

For medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, rather visit a dermatologist. Knowing what the best and worst foods are for acne is a start. However, the best thing anyone could do for acne-prone skin would be to start with a good skincare routine using gentle treatment products. Regularly exfoliate the skin, kill bacteria, and moisturize, with a routine like the Exposed Skin Care Expanded Kit.

The Expanded Kit contains a Facial CleanserClearing TonicAcne Treatment SerumClear Pore Serum, and Moisture Complex. We combine natural ingredients 🌱 like tea tree oil, aloe vera, and green tea extract with chemical ingredients like glycerin, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid to give you clear skin without causing acne-causing irritation.

Different products for skincare routine found in Exposed Basic Kit

Our Expanded Kit contains gentle products that can help get rid of acne more consistently than any acne diet.

For more detailed information, check out our other posts on foods that help with acne and foods that make acne worse.

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