Foods that can trigger breakouts

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

2 minute read

Carrots of various colors against a neutral background
We’re here to tell you what we know, but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider about your specific health concerns.

Acne and diet have a complicated relationship. Certain foods may trigger acne — but don’t clear your cupboard just yet. Some people break out from 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 about foods that are suspected to cause acne.

Carbs that cause acne

Eating lots of refined carbohydrates may increase blood sugar and insulin levels and contribute to the development of acne, but more research is needed.

Not all carbs are created equal thought. 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 are bad. They spike your blood sugar too quickly, causing your body to produce insulin, a hormone that absorbs the extra sugar from your blood. Studies show that insulin causes inflammation in the skin and may trigger acne.

So generally, the lower the glycemic index, the less risky a food will be to your skin. The more low GI foods are in your shopping basket, the healthier your skin is going to be.

Illustration of various foods with text "Low glycemic index" and "High glycemic index" against a light neutral background
  1. High GI foods: white bread, white rice, corn flakes, cake, cookies, pretzels, bagels, potatoes, beetroot, mango, raisins, ripe bananas

  2. Low GI foods: whole grain bread, green veggies (broccoli, brussels sprouts, leafy salads), seeds, legumes, hummus, berries

Does dairy cause acne?

Illustration of milk glass, milk carton, and cheese against a light blue background

The jury is still out on whether dairy causes acne. Some people break out from milk, others don’t. It’s because dairy products contain certain hormonal components that can stimulate our skin to produce more oil, leading to acne.

Skim milk is more likely to cause breakouts than whole milk or cheese and yogurt. If you drink three or more glasses of skim milk per week, you have a chance of being the most affected. In fact, Curology recommends cutting out all dairy for at least two weeks to see how it affects your skin.

Protein shake junkies, beware of whey, casein, caseinates and milk solids. These can have the same effect on your skin as milk.

Fatty and oily foods ≠ acne

For decades, we were told that chocolate and greasy foods are acne villains. But modern science hasn’t found a clear link between acne and fatty or oily foods.

Best diet for clear skin

Illustration of a plate with a knife, fork, and spoon against a pink background, surrounded by outlines of fruit, cookies, donuts, pretzel

Sorry! There isn’t one. If a friend swears by a dairy-free diet, good for them! Take their advice with a grain of salt. 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 linking any of these foods to an increase or decrease in acne.

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, just talk to your Curology provider. They’ll have plenty of advice.

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• • •

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.

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Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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