How Much Does Diet Contribute to Acne?

Health Writer

The role of your diet in either reducing or increasing acne has long been debated. At one time, chocolate and fatty foods were thought to cause acne. However, recent studies do not show a correlation between these foods and acne. Instead more recently, milk and dairy products have been seen as culprits behind the presence and severity of acne.

Is There a Link Between Milk and Acne?

All milk naturally contains hormones because cows have hormones. However, some farms will inject cows with additional hormones to increase milk production. These are then transferred to the milk, especially if the cow is pregnant, which happens in most of the milk production in the United States. Some experts believe that the hormones in milk and other dairy products can lead to increased and more severe acne by signaling the skin cells to produce more sebum, which clogs your pores and causes pimples.

A few studies, completed in the early 2000's, showed a connection between acne and dairy products. One study looked at information from over 47,000 women. The women were asked to self-report on their milk consumption during high school and their level of acne. The second study, published in 2008 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, did the same with teenage boys. According to the results, those participants who reported higher levels of milk consumption were more prone to have acne.

Apostolos Pappas, in a review that was published in Dermato Endocrinology, says there are some problems with the studies. Both studies were "self-reporting," which means information was based on the participants word, rather than documentation from a medical professional. This type of information is usually considered less reliable than studies where medical professionals provide an evaluation and diagnosis. Another concern is that some of the participants were adults, who were asked to recall their daily milk consumption from years before.

Can a Low-Glycemic Diet Decrease Acne?

Pappas doesn't however rule out the possibility that your diet can affect your skin, and whether or not you have acne. He believes Western diets, which are high-glycemic, might contribute to acne. High-glycemic foods include refined carbohydrates that greatly increase your blood glucose, such as white bread, short grain white rice, and russet potatoes. However, diets that are low in Omega-3, which has anti-inflammatory properties, might help reduce acne.

Pappas believes the connection between diet and acne shouldn't be ignored, and because changing to a low-glycemic diet is healthier, it should be encouraged. According to his review, Western countries have much more of a problem with acne than in other parts of the world. For example, those in the Kitavan Islands are hunters-gatherers and live on a low-glycemic diet, eating mostly fresh fruits, vegetables and lean protein. They do not suffer from acne.

The Question of Diet and Acne  ** Scientists have long debated whether diet plays a role in acne. We know that eating healthy improves your overall health, which includes your skin health. That you need certain vitamins and nutrients to maintain your health. And it would stand to reason that your health extends to the health of your skin. But no one is quite sure as to what degree. It is possible that while what you eat or drink doesn't cause acne, it might influence** it - causing it to worsen, or in cases of eating healthy, causing it to lessen.

Managing Your Diet and Acne

The best advice is to keep a food log of what you consume and see if there are certain foods that are causing break-outs. Keep in mind that a pimple doesn't occur immediately after eating a certain food, so you will need to keep up the log over a long period of time to look for patterns, rather than a specific cause and effect.

You can also eliminate foods (suggestively dairy products or refined carbohydrates) to see if it makes a difference. Again, you will need to follow this for several weeks or months to give your system a chance to respond. Your dermatologist can help you to determine if a change of diet would be beneficial to your acne treatment plan. If you decide to eliminate certain foods, consider talking with a nutritionist to make sure you are receiving the right amount of nutrients to stay healthy.


"Milk Consumption and Acne in Adolescent Girls," 2006, Adembamowo et al, Dermatology Online Journal, 12(4):1

"Milk Consumption and Acne in Teenaged Boys," 2008, Adembamowo et al,  Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 58(5):787-793