Diet And Acne

When it comes to skincare, we often put so much attention on the outside that we forget about our insides. Once upon a time, a common acne myth was that French fries and chocolate were to be avoided at all costs if you wanted clear skin. Now we know those foods don’t necessarily cause acne, but some foods do have properties that can trigger breakouts. And overall diet plays a role in how our body functions, especially when it comes to our largest organ – our skin. While few experts believe diet is the primary cause of acne, these are a few pointers that could help you determine if your diet is affecting your acne disproportionately.


Acne is a condition that affects as many as 5.6 million Canadians, a number that accounts for close to 20% of the country’s population, while it affects 9.4% of the global population, putting it on the list of the top ten most prevalent diseases worldwide. While acne can affect individuals of all ages and genders, it tends to be more prevalent in teenagers and young adults, with at least 80% of those with acne being between the ages of 12 and 24.  


Along with age, there are several other contributing factors that can lead to the development of acne – including hormonesmedication, and even your stress level. When hormones are the cause of acne, this is usually due to the increase of androgens – the hormone that occurs in boys and girls during puberty and results in enlarged sebaceous glands and the creation of more sebum. You can also develop hormonal changes as a result of pregnancy, while lower levels of androgens can also cause acne to worsen. Certain medications such as corticosteroids, lithium, and testosterone have also been known to cause or worsen acne. Corticosteroids are typically taken on a short-term basis, so once you stop this medication you will most likely notice that your acne problems decrease. However, it’s always important to discuss these medications with your physician and let them know if you happen to develop acne or noticing a worsening of your acne while on them, as well as let them know about any other side-effects you might be experiencing as a result of taking these or any other medications. In some cases it may simply be a matter of altering your dose (this is something you should never do on your own, however) or changing your medication all together. Stress has also been known to make acne worse, so it’s important that you avoid any known triggers in effort to prevent acne flare-ups. 


Something else you might not consider to be associated with acne is food – but studies have found there to be a strong link between the development and/or worsening of acne and diet – especially carbohydrate-rich foods such as white bread and potato chips. These are already foods that are considered to have little to no nutritional value and can increase things like weight as well as your cholesterol level, so for these reasons alone you should avoid these and other high-carb foods. While there has been no consensus reached, chocolate has also been long suspected as an acne-causing culprit as some research has suggested a link between it and the development of acne. While dairy products are a great source of calcium and can help strengthen our bones and teeth, several studies have also found a link between some dairy products and the severity of acne in teenagers and young adults, finding that those who consumed certain dairy products such as milk or ice cream were approximately four times more likely to develop acne than those who didn’t consume dairy products. One theory that has linked milk to the worsening of acne is due to the fact that milk is known to increase insulin levels, and it also contains liver-stimulating amino acids which have also been linked to acne. While omega-4 fatty acids are something you have likely heard of due to their health benefits, diets that contain high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids have also been linked to both acne and increased levels of inflammation. Omega-6 fatty acids are typically part of Western diets that contain large amounts of things like soy and corn oils, and fewer foods containing the previously mentioned, healthier omega-3 fats. It is the imbalance between these two types of fatty acids that send the body into its inflammatory state, thus causing acne to develop. 


Now that you know what foods to avoid to try and prevent acne, what are some of the foods you should eat? Starting with those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, these are foods such as salmon, oysters, sardines, flax and chia seeds, soybeans and walnuts. Probiotics have also been linked to a reduction in acne, as well as are known for their benefits in promoting a healthy gut. One common food source of probiotics is yogurt – though if you’re concerned about dairy being a potential cause of your acne, then you can always try taking a probiotic supplement instead. If you drink a lot of tea, consider making the switch to green tea if you’re someone with acne, as it contains polyphenols which are associated with both the reduction of inflammation as well as decreased sebum production. It’s also important to make sure you’re getting essential nutrients such as more vitamin A, D, E and zinc, as these have all been known to improve both the health of our skin and of the immune system – and the stronger your immune system is, the easier it will be for your body to fight off illness.