Fighting Acne with Diet

Acne is a common skin condition that affects people of all ages. It is characterized by pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, and inflamed red bumps that develop on the face, back, chest, shoulders and upper arms. While acne is not life threatening, it can cause emotional distress, low self-esteem, and lead to permanent scarring on the skin. There are many factors that contribute to acne, including genetics, hormones, stress, and diet. Making changes to your diet is one way to help fight acne naturally from the inside out. Here we will explore how certain foods can trigger acne breakouts, and what you should be eating more of to clear up your skin.

Fighting Acne with Diet

What causes acne?

Acne forms when hair follicles under the skin clog up. Dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria build up inside the pores, causing them to swell up into a lesion or pimple. Hormones called androgens, especially testosterone, increase oil production which can worsen acne. Stress causes hormone fluctuations, and can indirectly exacerbate acne.

How does diet impact acne?

While acne is not directly caused by diet, certain foods can influence hormonal changes and cause inflammation, which makes acne worse. Foods with a high glycemic index, lots of dairy products, foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids, and lack of nutrients can all trigger acne.

Foods That Can Trigger Acne

Being aware of which foods may be causing acne breakouts is the first step towards clearing up your skin through diet. Here are some of the top offenders:

High Glycemic Foods

Foods that are high on the glycemic index cause sharp spikes in blood sugar levels. This triggers increased insulin production and inflammation, which negatively affects acne. High glycemic foods include:

White bread, pasta, rice, bagels
  • Packaged breakfast cereals
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Sugary snacks like cookies, candy and baked goods
  • Soda, fruit juice and other sweetened beverages

Dairy Products

Dairy products contain hormones as well as IGF-1, a growth hormone that can trigger acne. Milk also has amino acids that may increase skin inflammation. Try cutting back on:

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Ice cream
  • Whey protein powder

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

While omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, too much omega-6 can have the opposite effect and worsen acne. Sources of these bad fats include:

  • Vegetable and soybean oil
  • Corn oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Mayonnaise and salad dressings
  • Nuts and seeds

Nutrient Deficiencies

Lack of key vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can make acne more likely. Nutrients that are beneficial for clear skin include:
  • Zinc - helps control oil production
  • Vitamin A - prevents clogged pores
  • Vitamin E - powerful antioxidant
  • Vitamin C - reduces inflammation
  • Selenium - strengthens immune system
  • Essential fatty acids - reduce inflammation

The Acne Diet: What You Should Eat

Making some changes to your diet can help treat acne from within. Follow these dietary tips:

Choose Low Glycemic Foods

Stick to foods that do not cause large or rapid increases in blood sugar. Choose:

  • High fiber whole grains - oats, quinoa, whole grain bread
  • Beans, lentils, legumes
  • Non-starchy veggies - broccoli, spinach, kale
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Some fruits - berries, grapefruit, apple

Eat More Omega-3s

Offset omega-6 intake by eating more omega-3 fats that lower inflammation:

  • Fatty fish - salmon, mackerel, tuna
  • Walnuts and flaxseeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Green leafy vegetables

Load Up On Antioxidants

Pile on produce that is packed with antioxidants and skin-clearing vitamins:

  • Vitamin A: sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, peppers
  • Vitamin E: nuts, seeds, avocado
  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli
  • Zinc: oysters, cashews, chickpeas
  • Selenium: tuna, eggs, mushrooms, chicken

Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of water to flush out toxins. Herbal teas are great too. Avoid sugary drinks and limit caffeine, which can increase hormone levels.

Take a Probiotic

Probiotics support gut health and may reduce inflammation. Look for live cultures in supplements or fermented foods like yogurt, miso and sauerkraut.

Limit Dairy

Cut back on milk, cheese and other dairy products to see if this helps. Opt for dairy-free milk alternatives if needed.

Reduce Processed Foods

Avoid fast and fried foods which are often high in bad fats and added sugars. Stick to a whole foods diet for overall health.

Other Lifestyle Changes To Improve Acne

Diet alone may not completely cure acne. For best results, combine it with other natural treatments:

  • Keep skin clean - wash twice daily with gentle cleanser
  • Try over-the-counter acne creams - those containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide
  • Don't pick or pop pimples - prevents scarring
  • Manage stress levels - meditate, get exercise, relax
  • Get enough sleep - aim for 7-9 hours per night
  • Making smart diet and lifestyle choices can go a long way in reducing acne breakouts and achieving clear, healthy skin. Be patient, it may take 6-8 weeks to see improvement. Stick with it by eating a wholesome anti-inflammatory diet, and your skin will thank you.


Diet plays an important role in the development and treatment of acne. By avoiding foods that trigger hormonal changes and inflammation, while eating a nutrient-dense diet, you can help control breakouts from the inside out. Focus on low glycemic foods, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, probiotics and staying hydrated. Limit dairy, processed foods and added sugars. Combine dietary changes with a solid skin care regimen for clear skin. With consistency and patience, you can achieve healthy, acne-free skin through the power of diet.


  • Q: How quickly will I see results after changing my diet? A: It can take 6-8 weeks for acne to start improving after making dietary changes. Be patient and stick with it.
  • Q: Do I need to follow a strict "no sugar" or ketogenic diet to get rid of acne? A: Eliminating sugar completely is not necessary. Just be mindful of added sugars and limit high glycemic foods. Moderation and balance is key.
  • Q: Will drinking more water get rid of acne? A: Staying hydrated helps flush out toxins but drinking more water alone won’t cure acne. It’s more important to limit beverages that spike blood sugar.
  • Q: Are supplements helpful for acne? A: Supplements like zinc, omega-3s and probiotics can provide added support, but work best combined with dietary improvements. Check with your doctor first.
  • Q: Will avoiding chocolate help clear up my skin? A: While chocolate can be high in sugar, enjoying it occasionally as part of a healthy diet is fine. Focus more on overall inflammatory foods.