Foods That Cause Acne

Foods That Cause Acne

We all know that eating a clean, well-balanced diet is one of the cornerstones of whole-body health. But did you know that what you eat can actually show up on your face? More specifically, a diet laden with particular foods can actually contribute to acne breakouts.

Stick around as we break down breakouts and explore the foods to avoid in an effort to prevent them.

What is Acne?

Acne is a chronic inflammatory disorder that causes blemishes and all sorts of chaos for your complexion. It is very hard on the skin and can even cause scars that may last anywhere from years to a lifetime.

If you have struggled with acne, you are not alone. The condition is very common. According to a 2020 market research report, more than 90% of individuals suffer from some form of acne at a given point in their life, with 60 million people currently suffering from acne in the United States alone.

While it can be hard not to feel discouraged by acne, there is hope. Schedule a trip to your dermatologist to explore the wide range of treatment options available to you.

But in the meantime, know that you are not powerless. It begins with making some seriously solid choices to help get your skin back on track, starting with what you eat; or more specifically, what you don’t.

There are some foods that may not only encourage the occasional breakout, but also provoke your acne. If clearer skin is the goal, you may want to avoid certain foods.

Foods That Cause Acne

Dairy products

Dairy products, (i.e., animal milks or foods derived from animal milks like traditional butters or cheeses), are rich with two proteins: whey and casein. These proteins are meant to encourage growth and hormone development in animal babies as they nurse from their mothers. But when humans consume animal milk and other dairy, these proteins act similarly, releasing hormones that can potentially cause breakouts and encourage acne symptoms. Further, the other hormones already inherent in dairy (especially in the case of milk from animals who have been treated with artificial hormones) can disrupt human endocrine systems, also bringing on acne.

Another reason to mind your dairy consumption in the pursuit of clear skin involves the natural sugars in milk, otherwise known as lactose. As humans grow beyond the nursing stage, breaking down and processing lactose becomes more challenging for the body. So much so, that many individuals develop a sensitivity to lactose or even a full-on allergy (i.e., lactose intolerance). Both of these can cause irritation and inflammation that can show up on the skin, causing breakouts and acne symptoms.

It also may be worth noting that some dairy products could be more nefarious than others. Some clinical studies suggest that skim milk may offer the highest likelihood of undesirable effects for your complexion because of synthetic proteins which help balance out the texture. So, think twice before literally skimming the fat or just opt for plant-based milks instead.


There are strong empirical ties between the development of acne and the consumption of what is known as a western style diet – aka, one perpetually punctuated with fast-food faves such as burgers, fries, chicken nuggets, and milkshakes; not to mention the supplementary vats of way-too-sugary carbonated beverages. Diets like these are calorie, fat, carb, and sweetener-dense and may increase the risk and presentation of acne. This is likely due to these foods’ abilities to affect our endocrine system and distort our gene-expression in ways that disturb the skin’s stasis. But if you can’t avoid a quick grab, choose a meatless salad to avoid added hormones and save your calories for a more nutritious meal later on.


Remember what we said about milk and lactose? The same concept applies. Sugar in any form causes an abrupt spike in blood sugar levels, faster than what your pancreas is able to process. This brings about an increase in insulin, which directly affects the production of oils in the skin. More oils in pores equal greater opportunity for clogged pores, leading to breakouts and aggravating acne symptoms.

Sugar also brings on inflammation, which can swiftly transform the molehill that is your average clogged pore into a mini mountain. So instead of white sugar, opt for other non-refined sweeteners that fall lower on the glycemic index, like agave syrup.

Simple Carbs

We all learn it in science class: carbs become sugars. So avoiding sweets and white sugar may be ineffective if you’re still loading up on simple carbohydrates like white bread, white potatoes and white rice. These are super high on the glycemic index as well, bringing about the same insulin-producing process.


Similar to what happens with insulin when one ups their sugar intake, increased alcohol consumption creates an imbalance of estrogen, testosterone, and even some adrenal hormones, as alcohol acts as a bodily stressor. These hormones also encourage the production of sebum, jamming up pores and leading to breakouts. Drinking can also compromise the efficacy of your immune system, challenging its ability to fight off harmful bacteria that can exacerbate your pimple problems.

Eat This; Not That

It’s great to know what to avoid, but what should you eat for healthier skin? Well, we could write an entire article about just this; in fact, we did! Reach for wholesome, colorful superfoods like nuts, leafy greens, green tea, citrus, and berries. Healthy fats like avocado and coconut oil are also amazing for a more clarified complexion. And one cannot underestimate the power of proper hydration.

So, if you are suffering from acne, go easy on yourself. Try to focus on taking good care of not only your skin, but your whole body by paying attention to your diet and food choices. Small changes can have a huge impact, and when given the choice between struggling skin and a few dietary cuts, we think the choice is clear.