A recent article published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics discussed the relationship between dietary factors and acne severity in young adults. Affecting nearly everyone between the ages of 15 and 17, acne is caused by bacterial colonization, inflammation and hormonal mediators,which diet can exacerbate.
The article refers to a study for which participants filled out a food frequency questionnaire, noting their usual consumption of certain foods—including candy, French fries, milk, soda and pizza. Researchers estimated the amount of total sugar, added sugar, saturated fat and trans-fat consumer by the participants, who were also asked to report their acne severity and current skin conditions.
Foods with a high glycemic index (i.e., rapidly digested carbohydrates) had a significant impact on young adults with moderate to severe acne. They cause a spike in blood sugar, triggering a release of insulin into the body, which leads to oil production in the skin glands.
There was also a relationship between moderate to severe acne and sugar, dairy, saturated fat and trans fat intake.
Among all participants, “the foods most commonly perceived to increase acne severity were chocolate, French fries and pizza.” This is most likely due to the amount of sugar, dairy and trans-fat in these foods.
More surprisingly, perhaps, there was also a correlations between acne and diets high in poly-unsaturated fat sources, such as fatty fish, which may suppress inflammation and therefore decrease acne. Acne development was also lower in females who had a diet rich in vegetables.
What does all of this mean to you? Although the study had certain limits—especially the fact that food consumption and acne severity were self-reported—the evidence is clear supporting a link between diet and acne, especially among teenagers.
If you struggle with acne and want to improve your skin health, here are some foods to include in your diet and others to avoid.
Vitamin A: This is the main ingredient in accutane, a prescription medication that treats acne. Vitamin A regulates the skin cycle. Food sources include salmon, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach and broccoli.
Selenium: This mineral protects the skin from free radical damage. It is found in wheat germ, tuna, salmon, and brown rice.
Omega 3 fats: Omega 3 fatty acids lower inflammation in the body. Salmon, walnuts and olive oil are great sources of these healthy fats.
Foods to Avoid
If you struggle with acne, you should avoid foods with simple sugars and trans-fats. Opt for whole foods instead of processed foods, which tend to have higher amounts of trans-fats. Limit dairy intake. Try alternatives such as almond milk or coconut yogurt.
Other factors may also contribute to acne, such as the amount of sleep you get and your stress level. If your acne causes you problems, I recommend meeting with a dermatologist to explore the best options for your skin health. A registered dietitian can help you create a plan based on your food sensitivities, if you have any.
“Relationship of Self-Reported Dietary Factors and Perceived Acne Severity in a Cohort of New York Young Adults.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Volume 114, Number 3. March 2014.
Bowers, Elizabeth. “Coping with Acne: Your Care Plan.” Web MD. June 18, 2011.