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Struggling with Acne? Here Are 3 Ways Your Diet May Be Causing It


by Hollie Dubose

Medically reviewed by Dr. Nancy Rahnama M.D. to ensure the scientific accuracy and integrity of the article. Reviewed by Dr. Nancy Rahnama M.D.

Struggling with acne as a teenager is a common occurrence, but it usually clears up by the time we’re through puberty. If you’re struggling from acne as an adult, it’s likely that reassessing your diet will help clear a lot of the issues, without the need for harsh creams. We asked Dr. Rahnama what you need to know about your diet to best treat your acne.

3 Ways Your Diet May Be Causing Your Acne

1.     Hormonal Changes

Wait! Before you skip this because you’re over the age of 21, don’t. It’s not just puberty that causes hormonal swings, it’s also your time of the month, pregnancy, menopause, and being overweight.

“If you’re eating high sugar foods, more high processed foods, less nutrient dense foods, then you’re also going to have elevated testosterone,” Dr. Rahnama says. “Elevated testosterone contributes to acne.”

If you’re struggling with acne and think it may be hormone related, make sure you clean up your diet first. If your acne is still prevalent when you’re eating a clean, healthy diet, then it may be time to see your doctor to test for a hormone imbalance to see if there is another cause. 

2.     Minor Food Allergies

Minor food allergies can also appear as acne, even if you have no or very minor symptoms otherwise. Unfortunately, figuring out which food causes your acne isn’t easy. “It’s really just trial and error,” Dr. Rahnama says. Try an elimination diet to see if anything you are eating is causing your acne, or making it worse. For example, you may find that you break out whenever you eat a meal that’s heavy in dairy.

3.     High Insulin Leads to Increased Oil Production

Having high levels of insulin in the blood can cause the oil glands in your skin to produce excess oil, which increases the risk of acne. Acne forms when there is a blockage in the pore, so dealing with excessively oily skin means that you’re a lot more likely to get a blockage.

High carbohydrate and sugar foods are the primary causes of high insulin, so it’s a good idea to reduce your intake. Try to avoid:

  • White foods
  • Low fiber foods
  • Pasta
  • Sugar
  • Oily foods (such as pizza and noodle dishes)
  • Chips

If it’s a “junk” food, it shouldn’t be a staple of your diet.

What can I eat to treat my acne?

Eating a clean diet will give your skin every opportunity to clear acne, and will at the very least help treat the inflammation that makes acne worse and causes the redness and much of the irritation.

Foods that can help you reduce inflammation are:

  • Tomatoes
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Berries
  • Spices such as turmeric and cinnamon
  • Green tea
  • Legumes

There are plenty of others that help too – a general rule of thumb is that if you can find it in the produce aisle, it will be beneficial. All of these foods will also help you manage your blood sugar levels, which will avoid excessive oil and testosterone production.

After the pandemic, no one needs to be told about the importance of hand washing, but if you’re struggling with acne, it’s worth touching on it again here! (Pun not intended!) When you eat, especially when snacking on nuts or eating something you probably shouldn’t be, make sure you wash your hands before you touch your face. Any oil or salt on your hands will transfer to your face and can easily block your pores – if you’re acne is concentrated to one area (especially around the chin and mouth), this may be a big part of why you’re experiencing so many breakouts.

So, try cleaning up your diet if you’re consistently struggling with acne. It’s highly likely you’ll see it greatly improve!

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