Do certain foods contribute to acne?
A common question that dermatologists receive from acne patients is “do certain foods cause acne?” Many patients feel that eating greasy foods like potato chips, drinking soda, eating high sugar foods, or chocolate can contribute to acne. And many patients will point to very specific examples of when they ate these foods and broke out. Do some foods really cause acne?
There is mounting evidence that certain foods do in fact contribute to acne. However, diet alone is not likely to be the cause of acne. Rather, in susceptible people, certain diets can contribute to acne flares.
The foods most commonly implicated in acne are:
- Foods with a high glycemic index/glycemic load. Glycemic index measures how fast a food makes your blood sugar rise. Glycemic load also takes into account not just how fast the sugar rises, but how high it goes. See: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-lowdown-on-glycemic-index-and-glycemic-load ). The glycemic index of many common foods can be found here: (https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic-index-and-glycemic-load-for-100-foods)
- Dairy products, especially milk
- Whey protein
In general, fatty foods without a high glycemic index or glycemic load do not appear to independently cause an increase in acne, and chocolate (without sugar or milk), also does not. But a sweetened milk chocolate bar will have both dairy and a high glycemic index.
For acne patients that feel strongly that food is contributing to their acne, a food diary can be helpful. Keep track of what you eat and keep track of your acne flares, and see if there is truly a correlation. People have selective memories. Following a breakout, it is common to look back and wonder if diet was to blame. But people will remember the one time they broke out after a bag of potato chips, but forget the many times that they did not. A food diary can reduce this recall bias.
Modification of diet and nutritional counseling can be part of acne treatment, but should not be used as the only treatment. Modification of diet along with suitable medical treatment is the best approach to treating acne.