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Diet & Acne

Updated: Apr 11, 2021

Quick Overview on Diet & Acne

Acne is caused by build up of sebum (oil) in the sebaceous glands. It gets stimulated by increase in androgens. Many dietary factors can influence the biology of sebaceous glands and sebum production. Acne is not found in people eating traditional diets. Western diet (rich in animal products and fatty and sugary foods) has been associated with acne. Acne has been linked to insulin resistance and high glycemic index - both influenced by diet.

A diet focused on complex carbs, fiber, unsaturated fats and unprocessed or minimally processed foods can be helpful in fighting acne.

Dairy & Acne

Dairy has one of the strongest links to acne and many people see improvements in their skin eliminating dairy. Dairy consumption leads to an increase in IGF-1 production and an increase in insulin levels that can contribute to acne. Skim milk has the strongest association with acne - possibly due to higher estrogen levels in skim milk. Whey protein has also been implicated, potentially due to higher sources of leucine and stimulation of higher levels of insulin. Read more on dairy here.

Refined Carbs & Acne

Refined carbs including refined sugars, white breads, cold cereals, etc. that create a high glycemic load can cause abnormalities in lipids and insulin and rise in IGF-1 levels that can contribute to acne. Focus your diet on complex carbs as they help keep the overall glycemic load in healthy range. Read more about healthy carbs here.

Fatty Foods & Acne

Saturated fatty acids have been found to be associated with acne. Diets high in omega-6 fatty acids are linked to increased levels of inflammation and acne. Imbalance of omega-6 and omega-3 fats leads to higher inflammation in the body, which may exacerbate acne. Consuming omega-3 rich foods and/or supplementing with omega-3 can help reduce inflammation, which may in turn help reduce acne severity. Read more on omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids here.

Vitamins A & E and Zinc

People deficient in vitamins A and E and zinc have been associated with increased severity of acne. Foods rich in vitamin A include leafy greens, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots and cantaloupe. Foods rich in vitamin E include avocado, almonds, peanuts, leafy greens, and sunflower seeds. Foods rich in zinc include whole grains, legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans), nuts and seeds.


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