6 Foods to Avoid With Acne

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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    A skin condition that results from clogged hair follicles, acne can involve symptoms like pimples, whiteheads and blackheads, which sometimes can be painful. Common perceptions abound that greasy foods and high-carbohydrate foods cause acne, especially in teenagers. Acne isn't caused by food, but there are some foods to avoid if you have acne. Steer clear of these worst foods for acne.

  • 1
    Cow’s milk
    Cropped image of man's hands pouring milk into clear glass

    Although it’s not clear why, several studies have shown that drinking any type of cow’s milk—whole, low-fat and skim—is linked to an increase in acne breakouts. One study focused on female high school students’ diets found that girls who drank two or more glasses of skim milk per day were 44% more likely to have acne than others. The study also found that sherbet, cottage cheese, cream cheese and instant breakfast drinks were positively associated with acne. It’s thought the milk’s hormones may cause inflammation in the body, sparking clogged pores and acne.

  • 2
    High-glycemic foods and beverages
    loaf of white bread

    High-glycemic foods and beverages, such as white bread, potato chips, doughnuts, white potatoes or fries, white rice, and even fruits, such as watermelon and pineapple, have been shown to lead to acne outbreaks. One study that followed patients placed on a low-glycemic diet for weight loss found that 87% of patients said they had less acne and 91% said they needed less acne medication. Although not confirmed, it’s believed a low-glycemic diet reduces or eliminates blood sugar spikes, which can cause inflammation in the body, resulting in clogged pores and acne.

  • 3
    Excess sugar
    Soda shopping

    Sugary drinks and foods high in sugar increase blood glucose, which could lead to inflammation in the body. High-sugar foods also lead to an increased insulin production, which contributes to an increased sebum (natural oil) production in the body. This excess oil can clog pores, leading to whiteheads and blackheads as well as pimples. To avoid triggering an acne outbreak, swap out sodas, milkshakes, sugary desserts, and pastries for low-sugar alternatives.

  • 4
    High-fat proteins
    Sliced medium rare filet of beef

    According to a JAMA Dermatology study, a diet high in fatty foods, such as meat, is associated with the presence of acne in adults. Therefore, a diet that includes lean proteins, such as chicken, turkey, egg whites, and shrimp, could help reduce acne outbreaks. High-fat meats, such as steak, ground beef, pork shoulder, and lamb chops, are still all right if enjoyed in moderation. Other acne food triggers: fried meats, such as fried chicken or fish, which should be limited.

  • 5
    Alcohol
    Close-up of glasses of beer being raised in a toast

    Like other sugary drinks that could be acne food triggers, alcoholic beverages have a high sugar content that could result in inflammation and increased insulin production. However, alcohol also can alter estrogen and testosterone levels, and these hormonal imbalances could boost sebum production that results in clogged pores, increasing the possibility of an acne breakout. Therefore, it’s important to drink alcoholic beverages in moderation and not overindulge to keep acne outbreaks at bay.

  • 6
    Greasy foods
    Men eating fast food, fried chicken and fries

    While greasy foods do not directly cause acne breakouts when ingested, it’s possible the grease from those foods could be linked to increased symptoms. This is because when you usually eat greasy foods, such as potato chips, French fries, pizza and chicken nuggets, there is a high likelihood you will touch your face with grease on your fingers and hands. This grease will find its way into your pores, which could clog them and lead to pimples, whiteheads and blackheads. When eating any type of food (or even when not), it’s important to keep your hands clean and avoid touching your face when possible.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Sep 1
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Acne. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acne/symptoms-causes/syc-20368047 
  2. Can the Right Diet Get Rid of Acne? American Academy of Dermatology Association. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/causes/diet 
  3. High School Dietary Dairy Intake and Teenage Acne. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(04)02158-9/fulltext 
  4. Association Between Adult Acne and Dietary Behaviors: Findings From the NutriNet-Santé Prospective Cohort Study. JAMA Network. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/fullarticle/2767075 
  5. Worst Foods for Acne. Vanguard Dermatology. https://www.vanguarddermatology.com/blog/worst-foods-for-acne