Acne & Diet: Which Foods to Eat and Which Foods to Avoid

Acne & Diet: Which Foods to Eat and Which Foods to Avoid

Acne flare-ups can happen at any age. Caused by many factors, breakouts can seriously affect a person's self-esteem and confidence. While medications and specially formulated acne-fighting cleansing and skin care products can help, there's also a strong link between your diet and your skin health.

In essence, this means that being conscious of what you eat and drink may help to prevent flare-ups, reduce the severity of breakouts and promote faster clearing of the skin. Read on to learn the best foods to eat to help combat acne — and those to avoid if you're hoping for brighter skin.

Foods that are beneficial for acne

Foods that are beneficial for acne

Foods rich in antioxidant properties, omega-3 fatty acids and fiber may be beneficial in the fight against acne. Natural foods are also recommended. The best foods to eat for acne include:

Fatty fish

Fatty fish are usually loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower the amount of acne-causing insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in the body. Oily fish can also reduce inflammation in the body.

Good fish to eat for acne include salmon, mackerel, cod, sardine, herring and trout.


Oysters are loaded with zinc, which can reduce inflammation and kill some acne-causing bacteria.


Nuts are a good source of Omega-3 oils. The antioxidant properties of nuts may also aid with acne cleanup when eaten in moderation. Try walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, macadamias and pistachios.


Turmeric is rich in a carotenoid compound called curcumin, which has strong anti-inflammatory properties. It can help to reduce acne-causing bacteria and regulate blood sugar levels.

Other foods often considered beneficial for acne include:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Vegetables such as pumpkin, carrot, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and sweet potato
  • Fruits such as apple, lemon, avocado, cherry and tomato
  • Berries such as blueberries and strawberries
  • Lean animal proteins such as turkey and chicken
  • Tofu
  • Quinoa
  • Flax seeds

Important note: If you have a food intolerance to any of these suggested foods, such as shellfish or nuts, eating them can make your acne worse.

Foods to avoid with acne

Research suggests that avoiding or limiting foods with a high glycemic index, dairy products, foods that enhance the insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) hormone and foods laden with Omega-6 oils may help with acne issues.

Avoiding excessive consumption of processed, oily and greasy foods may also move you closer to your skin goals. If you have a gluten sensitivity, fully removing gluten from your diet can also improve your skin health.

The worst foods to eat with acne include:

Cow's milk

While scientists aren't entirely sure why cow's milk contributes to acne, research suggests that cutting out consumption can positively affect the skin. Interestingly, studies suggest that skimmed milk is worse than full-fat milk.

One theory is that androgen hormones in milk elevate levels of IGF-1 in humans, which can enhance the production of sebum. Some scientists believe that the hormones in cow's milk are inflammatory, while others blame whey proteins as a trigger.

Other dairy products made from cow's milk

Because they are made from cow's milk, other dairy products can have the same acne-producing results as milk. Cutting out cheese, butter, yogurt, cream, ice cream, milk chocolate and similar is recommended if you are prone to acne.

Foods to avoid with acne


Sugar-loaded candies are typically a big no when it comes to defeating acne. When you eat lots of sugar, your body releases the hormone insulin to process the sugary glucose.

Elevated insulin levels increase the release of androgen hormones, including testosterone. Like a chain reaction, testosterone stimulates the sebaceous gland, which can make the skin oilier and more susceptible to acne.

White bread

White bread is filled with carbohydrates and has a high glycemic index. This means it causes a spike in blood sugar, boosts insulin production and affects oil-producing hormones. Additionally, white bread has been stripped of nutritional value and has none of the other health benefits of whole bread to offset the negative effects.

Other refined carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates, such as white rice and white flour, have a similar effect on the body as white bread.


Pineapple has a high glycemic index and can therefore increase the likelihood and severity of acne.

Processed meats

Processed meats are high in Omega-6 oils, making people more prone to inflammation. While non-processed meat also contains Omega-6, it generally has sufficient Omega-3 to balance any ill effects. Processed meats, however, are stripped of many beneficial nutrients.

Other foods to avoid if you experience acne may include:

  • Watermelon
  • Parsnip and turnip
  • Potato chips
  • Vegetable oils
  • Sweetened cereals
  • Honey
  • Cookies and cakes

In short, foods themselves aren't usually to blame when it comes to negative effects related to acne. Rather, the foods create various reactions and processes within the body, increasing the likelihood of acne flares.

Similarly, foods beneficial for acne stimulate bodily processes that can actively fight acne breakouts.

When changing your diet, it's important to remember that noticeable effects take time. You should expect to wait several weeks before seeing a perceptible difference in your skin. Additionally, everyone's body is different, so what works for one person may have no impact for another. However, dietary changes may significantly help to reduce acne.