Acne And Diet: What’s The Connection?


If you’ve ever battled acne, chances are good that you’ve wondered whether what you eat plays a role in the status of your face. Keep wondering, because the jury is still out on whether any particular foods help or hurt your complexion. But that doesn’t mean the food you eat doesn’t have an impact on the look and feel of your skin.

“There’s no single cause of breakouts,” says Jungho Kwon, M.D., a dermatologist at Henry Ford Health. “Several things can cause acne or make it worse, including stress, bacteria, hormones, and genetics.” That means that while certain foods might trigger a breakout in one person, the same food could have little to no effect on another.

While the relationship of acne and diet is still under much debate, Dr. Kwon suggests taking note of a few foods at the crux of the diet-acne controversy:

  1. Refined carbs. Refined (sometimes called white) foods like white bread, rice, and pasta, as well as processed snacks, have a high glycemic index. That means they take blood-sugar levels on a roller coaster ride. Spiking blood-sugar causes insulin levels to rise and an uptick in the skin’s sebum. That, in turn, may clog pores and trigger acne.
  2. Milk. Milk is among the most virtuous foods, boasting plenty of nutrients, including vitamin D and calcium to support healthy bones. The rub: Naturally occurring hormones in milk affect the balance of androgens (acne-causing hormones) in the body. Interestingly, studies suggest that skim milk in particular puts the skin’s oil glands into overdrive.
  3. Chocolate. There’s a reason chocolate gets a bad rap when it comes to your skin. In addition to sugar, if it’s milk chocolate, well… see point #2 above. In more not-great news for chocolate lovers, one study showed that even when cocoa was tested alone, chocolate-eaters experienced a subsequent outbreak.
  4. Fried foods. Common sense suggests the grease in your fries could impact your skin. But it’s less about the actual grease and more about inflammation, which is triggered by consumption of fast and fried foods. And while acne is considered an inflammatory condition, studies haven’t confirmed a link yet so it makes sense to steer clear of greasy foods for health reasons alone

The science on foods that benefit the skin is similarly murky, but according to Dr. Kwon, it makes sense to eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fatty fish. Then add a lot of water to the mix to hydrate the body and skin.

Still suspect certain foods are causing you to breakout (be it milk, sugar or a visit to your favorite greasy diner)? Cut the suspected offenders out of your diet for a few months to see whether there’s any change. The reality is, eating for your skin isn’t rocket science. What’s good for the body is probably good for the skin it lives in.

To find a dermatologist to help with acne issues, visit or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Jungho Kwon specializes in general dermatology, skin cancer prevention and cosmetic dermatology. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers in West Bloomfield (on Farmington Road) and Troy.

Categories: FeelWell