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5 foods that can trigger acne—and what to eat instead

The truth about dairy, fat, soy, and more.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 28, 2023 • 2 min read
Medically reviewed by Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C
What are the best foods for acne?
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 28, 2023 • 2 min read
Medically reviewed by Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-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.

In this article


Acne and diet have a complicated relationship, and scientists are still researching exactly why that is— but don’t clear your cupboard just yet. Some people break out from certain food and others don’t. The scientific community is still gathering evidence, conducting trials, and debating the exact links. While they work, read this guide to learn more about how what you eat may contribute to acne. 

What is the relationship between acne and diet? 

“There is quite a bit of debate as to whether there is a direct link between acne and diet, and this discussion continues to evolve,” says Curology provider Mary Kreshon, PA-C. “I’d call their relationship status ‘complicated.’” That said, she adds, we do know that eating certain foods can impact the absorption of nutrients and affect hormone levels, which can impact the skin and contribute to acne. 

You may have heard of the glycemic index (GI), a scale that classifies foods based on the effect they have on a person’s blood sugar. High glycemic index foods spike your blood sugar quickly, causing your body to produce more insulin, a hormone that signals our body to use or store the sugar in your blood. High blood sugar levels can lead to widespread inflammation and may contribute to acne. These spikes in blood sugar and increased release of insulin can also lead to increased sebum (oil) production, and excess sebum can lead to breakouts.¹ So generally, the lower the glycemic index, the less “risky” a food may be to your skin.

Illustration of various foods with text "Low glycemic index" and "High glycemic index" against a light neutral background

That said, a healthy diet is not a complete replacement for a solid skincare routine—but it is still one of the lifestyle factors that’s important to consider for the overall health of your skin. “We may not be able to ‘treat’ acne breakouts with nutrition, but we can definitely influence its behavior,” Kreshon says.

What are the worst foods for acne? Why? 

As previously mentioned, some foods may contribute to acne in some people, especially dairy and foods with a high glycemic index that can lead to blood sugar spikes and may trigger acne. Here are a few that could be impacting your skin.

Simple carbs include white bread, processed cereals, white rice, and certain potatoes.

1. Simple carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates, which are digested quickly and can result in blood sugar spikes, are high glycemic foods that may lead to acne in some people. Simple carbs include white bread, processed cereals, white rice, and certain potatoes.²

Assorted gummy candies. Top view. Jelly sweets

2. Sugary foods

Foods that are high in sugar can—you guessed it—also cause your blood sugar to spike. So, sugary foods can contribute to acne for some people.³ That includes candy and desserts, but added sugars in processed foods may also be a culprit behind your acne breakouts.

Image of pizza, hamburgers, fried onion rings and chicken wings assorted fast food favorites

3. Fast food

It may be tasty, but a lot of fast food is rich in fats, sugars, and high glycemic ingredients (like white potatoes and bread)—all of which may contribute to acne.⁴ That doesn’t mean that the oil from your fried food is causing your breakouts, though: It’s a myth that greasy foods contribute to oil (sebum) production.⁵ That said, the nutritional content of most fast food can still lead it to contribute to breakouts. When it comes to delicious french fries, moderation is a good idea.

Image of glass of milk

4. Milk

Research has shown that cow’s milk can contribute to the development of acne (but the same isn’t necessarily true for dairy products like cheese and yogurt).⁶ Some studies have found that skim milk and low fat milk are especially likely to contribue to acne⁷—so you might want to consider swapping out your coffee additive to a non-dairy option, like oat milk or almond milk. 

Assorted chocolate bars

5. Chocolate

Does chocolate cause acne? This answer isn’t totally clear. It can be hard to pin the blame on chocolate, since many chocolate bars contain ingredients that may contribute to breakouts, like dairy and sugar, potentially leading to an increase in acne (so, dark chocolate may have less of an impact than milk chocolate). Some research suggests there may be a relationship between acne and chocolate, but more studies should be conducted.⁸

What are some of the best foods for acne? Why? 

Because high glycemic foods cause blood sugar spikes that can contribute to inflammation and increased sebum production, some scientists believe that a low glycemic diet can help to reduce acne by keeping blood sugar levels stable These foods may help you to keep your skin healthy—plus, they’re great for you overall!

Because high glycemic foods cause blood sugar spikes that can contribute to inflammation and increased sebum production, some scientists believe that a low glycemic diet can help to reduce acne by keeping blood sugar levels stable These foods may help you to keep your skin healthy—plus, they’re great for you overall!

Grapes, oranges, apples, bananas, and assorted fruits

1. Fruits

Although not proven yet, fruits that are rich in antioxidants may be beneficial for your skin, especially if they’re packed with other great vitamins and minerals. Apples, for instance, are rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps to support the immune system,⁹ as well as quercetin, a plant chemical with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.¹⁰ Other vitamin C-rich fruits include oranges (and other citruses), strawberries, and tomatoes.

Assorted fresh vegetables

2. Vegetables

It pretty much goes without saying that veggies are good for you—but it bears repeating! Like fruits, vegetables that contain nutrients like vitamin C can help to support a healthy immune system and fight inflammation. Vitamins A, D, E and B, as well as the mineral zinc, may also be beneficial in the treatment of acne.¹¹ Dark leafy greens are a great soure of vitamins A, C, and E!¹²

ayurvedic drink healthy juice

3. Turmeric

This South Asian root, which has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, has natural anti-inflammatory properties, which may help to relieve inflammation from acne when used topically.¹³ In theory, it may help with acne when ingested, so you might consider giving it a try! For more information on the benefits of turmeric, read our blog on the topic.

Image of probiotic foods

4. Probiotics

Probiotics—like those found in yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso—aren’t just good for your gut health.¹⁴ They may also help to reduce acne lesions, because the intestinal microbiome may play a role in the formation of acne.¹⁵

Fresh cut avocado and guacamole

5. Avocado

Here’s the case for adding guac to your next burrito bowl: Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like avocado, may have an anti-acne effect.¹⁶ Additional foods rich in these healthy fats include salmon, nuts, and seeds.¹⁷

What is the best diet for clear skin?

Diets are like acne treatments: highly individual. Extend the same skepticism for friends who wax poetic on the benefits of organic produce, gluten-free foods, and soy. There are no conclusive studies that show these foods cause acne or decrease acne breakouts.

If you’re dealing with acne and think that your dietary habits may be a culprit, doing an elimination diet for two weeks to see if your skin changes may help, but it’s not necessary (or even guaranteed to lead to the results you want to see)! Like most things, food is personal to you and your body. It may take some slow and careful experimentation, but Curology is here to help! If you have questions about the way food affects your skin health, just talk to your Curology provider. They’ll have plenty of advice.

Other tips to help prevent acne 

Acne vulgaris is one of the most common skin conditions, affecting between 40 and 50 million people in the United States each year.¹⁸ It’s characterized by any number of skin lesions, which can include papules, pustules (what you might consider zits or pimples), open and closed comedones (aka blackheads and whiteheads), and nodules and cysts (deep bumps under the surface of the skin. 

There are many potential contributing factors to acne, which can include genetics, fluctuating hormone levels (due to puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy, or hormone therapy, for instance), stress, medications, pollution, comedogenic makeup products, and, as previously mentioned, food.

Depending on the severity of your breakouts and the type of acne you’re dealing with, a dermatology provider may recommend certain acne treatments like topical products or even over-the-counter options. But one key factor that’s important in preventing and treating acne is a good skin routine. It can be as simple as this:

  1. Wash your face morning and night.

  2. Apply a topical treatment (like your custom prescription formula) at night.

  3. Moisturize morning and night with a hydrating, non-comedogenic (aka not pore-clogging) lotion.

  4. Apply SPF in the morning.

Curology Skincare Products

Beat breakouts before they start

We know that dealing with acne can be a frustrating experience, which is why Curology is here to help you through your skincare journey with our full-service skincare service. You’ll be paired with a licensed dermatology provider who can answer any questions you may have and prescribe you powerful active ingredients that can treat and help prevent acne. 

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

  1. American Academy of Dermatology. Can the write diet get rid of acne?. (n.d.)

  2. Harvard Health Publishing. Glycemic index for 60+ foods. (16 November 2021).

  3. Mahmood, S. N., & Bowe, W. P. Diet and acne update: carbohydrates emerge as the main culprit. Journal of drugs in dermatology. (2014).

  4. Laetitia Penso. Association Between Adult Acne and Dietary Behaviors. JAMA Dermatol. (August 2020).

  5. Jessica Hahne. Does Greasy Food Cause Acne? Yale Scientific. (16 November 2011).

  6. Mohadeseh Aghasi, et al. Dairy intake and acne development: A meta-analysis of observational studies. Clin Nutr. (June 2019).

  7. Caroline L LaRosa, et al. Consumption of dairy in teenagers with and without acne. J Am Acad Dermatol. (August 2016).

  8. Samantha G. Block, et al. Exacerbation of facial acne vulgaris after consuming pure chocolate. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (1 October 2011).

  9. Harvard T. H. Chan. School of Public Health. Vitamin C. The Nutrition Source. (March 2020).

  10. Harvard T. H. Chan. School of Public Health. Apples. The Nutrition Source. (n.d.).

  11. Aleksandra Podgórska, et al. Acne Vulgaris and Intake of Selected Dietary Nutrients—A Summary of Information. Healthcare (Basel). (June 2020).

  12. Lin Yan. Dark Leafy Green Vegetables. Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. (13 August 2016).

  13. Yunes Panahi et al. Evidence of curcumin and curcumin analogue effects in skin diseases: A narrative review. Journal of Cellular Physiology. (August 2018).

  14. Lye Huey Shi, et al. Beneficial Properties of Probiotics. Trop Life Sci Res. (August 2016).

  15. Karolina Chilicka, et al. Microbiome and Probiotics in Acne Vulgaris—A Narrative Review. Life (Basel). (March 2022).

  16. Mark G. Rubin, et al. Acne vulgaris, mental health and omega-3 fatty acids: a report of cases. Lipids in Health and Disease. (13 October 2008).

  17. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. (18 July 2022).

  18. Loren Cordain, et al. Acne Vulgaris: A Disease of Western Civilization. Arch Dermatol. (December 2002).

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• • •
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

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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