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  3. > Ask the experts: Does soda cause acne?

Ask the experts: Does soda cause acne?

Swap that soda for water—and chances are likely your skin will thank you.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 06, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
woman holding orange soda while smiling
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 06, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

The idea that sugary drinks and chocolate cause acne is a well-known “fact” you’ve likely heard again and again. But is there any truth to this claim? Does soda cause acne?

We asked our experts to take a closer look at the link between sugar (a major component of many sodas) and acne to explore whether the popular beverage really triggers breakouts. If you’ve ever wondered whether soda gives you pimples, this one’s for you.

The relationship between diet and acne 

It’s no secret that diet may significantly impact overall health, and the skin is no exception. Although there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for acne, research, and many individuals’ personal experiences suggest that the list of foods that may cause adult acne may include high glycemic index (GI) foods, which include sugary drinks.¹

High GI foods may increase inflammation, a potential contributor to acne. A study found that daily soft drink consumption significantly increases adolescents' risk of moderate-to-severe acne, especially when sugar intake exceeds 100 grams per day.² Another study found that milk, sugary beverages, and fatty and sugary products appear to be associated with current acne in adults,³ so there’s a potential link between fats and acne as well.

Everyone’s body is different, so it’s a good idea to talk to your medical provider if you have concerns about your diet and its impact on your skin. Here’s some general info on how diet may impact acne:

Do sugary foods cause acne? 

Sugar’s connection to acne has long been debated by researchers.⁴ Foods high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, such as soda, trigger an insulin response, but insulin itself ultimately helps lower blood sugar levels.

That said, high insulin levels may contribute to acne breakouts because insulin causes the body to produce androgens and potentially overproduce sebum (skin oil).⁵ When your blood sugar spikes, you may also experience inflammation throughout your body. The combination of inflammation and excess sebum may lead to an increase in pimples.⁶

Potential drawbacks of soda 

Sugary beverages may have damaging effects on the body, but they aren’t exclusive to soda. Most sugary foods and drinks may harm the body and skin, although the impact varies from person to person.

Here are three possible side effects of drinking soda on a regular basis: 

Tooth decay

Research shows that excessive soda consumption may lead to complex dental consequences, such as dental erosion and cavities. This is a result of the tooth surface being etched away by acid,⁷ which is found in many foods and drinks, including soda. 

Increased inflammation

Soda sweetened with sugar has been associated with an increased risk of several chronic inflammatory diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.⁸ Research shows that a low GI diet may reduce markers of inflammation, which could play a role in the reduction of acne severity.⁹

Accelerated signs of aging

The high sugar content in soda may contribute to the acceleration of skin aging, which includes fine lines and wrinkles.¹⁰ According to recent research, a healthy diet is associated with less facial wrinkling in women.¹¹

Does carbonated water contribute to acne? 

If you love sparkling water (flavored or unflavored), you’re in the clear—as long as the beverage doesn’t contain sugar, it is unlikely to contribute to breakouts as it’s not considered a high GI beverage.

Healthy habits to help avoid acne 

Acne is a common skin condition that can be frustrating and difficult to manage. While many factors contribute to its development, several habits may help reduce the frequency and severity of your breakouts. Here are some tips to help avoid acne and keep your skin healthy: 

Consider limiting sugar intake

Remember, high levels of dietary sugar may increase inflammation in the body and contribute to acne breakouts. Try reducing the amount of sugar and high-GI foods in your diet to see if it helps improve your skin. 

Replace soda with water or low-sugar (or sugar-free) drinks 

Soda and other sugary drinks may contribute to acne breakouts due to their high sugar content. Try swapping soda for water or drinks with minimal or no sugar to help improve skin health. Tasty options include unsweetened iced tea or flavored sparkling water that has no added sugar. 

Manage stress

There is increasing evidence that stress may be involved in the development of acne breakouts,¹² so try to limit and manage stress levels. Make time every day to relax and unwind, and consider incorporating stress-reducing activities into your routine. If you’re feeling stressed on a regular basis, try going for a walk outdoors, meditating, hitting the gym, or journaling. 

Aim for a healthy, balanced diet

A healthy diet is vital to overall well-being, not just skin health. Try to eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Avoid consuming processed, sugary foods and drinks regularly, but don’t forget to treat yourself now and then. 

Stay hydrated

Although hydration doesn’t directly improve, acne breakouts, it’s vital for your overall health. Drinking plenty of water will keep your body functioning at its best. If you’re not a big fan of plain water, try adding sliced fruit, such as lemons, limes, or strawberries, for added flavor.

You can count on Curology

Three Curology Bottles

Changing your habits may help improve your overall health, but if you’re still experiencing acne, nothing compares to seeking the help of a licensed dermatology provider. That’s where Curology comes in. Founded in 2014 by a board-certified dermatologist, Dr. David Lortscher, MD, our mission is to provide accessible, effective treatments to help maintain your skin’s health. 

We’ll help take the guesswork out of your skincare routine. Our licensed dermatology providers work with you to examine your skin, assess your skincare goals, and create a custom treatment plan for you, complete with a personalized prescription formula. Our formulas contain active ingredients, such as tretinoin, azelaic acid, and niacinamide, that are clinically proven to help you reach your skin goals.

Signing up is easy. Just answer a few questions and snap some selfies to help us get to know your skin. If Curology is right for you, we’ll pair you with one of our in-house healthcare providers. They’ll guide you on your skincare journey and be there to answer any skin questions you may have.

FAQs

Do sugary foods cause acne?

High insulin levels may contribute to acne breakouts because insulin causes the body to produce androgens and to potentially overproduce sebum (skin oil). When your blood sugar spikes, you may also experience inflammation throughout your body. The combination of inflammation and excess sebum may lead to an increase in pimples.

Does carbonated water contribute to acne?

If you love sparkling water (flavored or unflavored), you’re in the clear—as long as the beverage doesn’t contain sugar, it is unlikely to contribute to breakouts as it’s not considered a high GI beverage.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Baldwin H, Tan J. Effects of Diet on Acne and Its Response to Treatment. Am J Clin Dermatol. (2021).

  2. Huang X, Zhang J, Li J, Zhao S, Xiao Y, Huang Y, Jing D, Chen L, Zhang X, Su J, Kuang Y, Zhu W, Chen M, et al. Daily Intake of Soft Drinks and Moderate-to-Severe Acne Vulgaris in Chinese Adolescents. J Pediatr. (2019).

  3. Penso L, et al. Association Between Adult Acne and Dietary Behaviors: Findings From the NutriNet-Santé Prospective Cohort Study. JAMA Dermatol. (2020).

  4. Zamil, D., Katta, R. 25159 The history of diet and acne: From sugar and dairy to the Western diet. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2021).

  5. Sadowska-Przytocka A, et al. Insulin resistance in the course of acne - literature review. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. (April 2022).

  6. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Can the right diet get rid of acne? Nd.

  7. Cheng, R., et al. Dental erosion and severe tooth decay related to soft drinks: a case report and literature review. J Zhejiang Univ Sci B. (2009)..

  8. Hu Y, et al. Sugar-sweetened soda consumption and risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis in women. Am J Clin Nutr. (September 2014).

  9. Baldwin H, Tan J. Effects of Diet on Acne and Its Response to Treatment. Am J Clin Dermatol. Ibid.

  10. Jović A, et al. The Impact of Psychological Stress on Acne. Acta Dermatovenerol Croat. (July 2017).

  11. Mekić, S., et al. A healthy diet in women is associated with less facial wrinkles in a large Dutch population-based cohort. J Am Acad Dermatol. (2019).

  12. Jović A, et al. The Impact of Psychological Stress on Acne. Acta Dermatovenerol Croat. (Ibid).

Laura Phelan is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Benedictine University and went on to get her post-master’s certificate as a Family Nurse Practitioner at the University of Cincinnati.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Image of Laura Phelan Nurse Practitioner

Laura Phelan, NP-C

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