Can Eating More Sardines Cure Your Acne?


One of the first things I realized when I started balancing my diet was how difficult and expensive eating wild-caught seafood can be. I’d eat salmon once every few weeks, but I was primarily getting my omega-3s (the good fats found in fish oil) from supplements.

Despite the supplements, I still had the tell-tale signs of chronic inflammation – pain in my joints, dry skin, and plenty of angry pimples.

One day at the grocery store I stumbled upon a can of sardines advertising their high omega-3 content. Omega-3s are a fatty acid found in fish that keep our immune systems running properly.

At $2 a can it didn’t hurt to try em’ out, and much to my surprise the next day my skin looked noticeably better. So, I continued my habit of eating at least two sardines a day.

The results were pretty incredible. The number of inflamed, angry, red pimples diminished greatly – and best yet, I wasn’t breaking the bank on seafood. After doing a little research, I found that not only are sardines a great source of omega-3s, but also other vitamins and nutrients that truly make a superfood. In fact, there really aren’t many foods that are as inexpensive and nutritionally dense as sardines.

Why Sardines Are a Superfood for Your Skin

Long story short: Sardines are loaded with omega-3 anti-inflammatory fatty acids.

Trust me – you need more omega-3s.

A single serving of sardines (about 2 whole sardines) contains over 1,000mg of omega-3 fatty acids, including 670mg of EPA and 722mg of DHA. That’s right on-par with the omega-3 content found in the king of all acne-fighting meat – wild-caught salmon. A single serving of sardines contains 3 times more omega-3 fatty acids than you’d find in the average fish oil pill. For the cost, you really can’t find a better food source of omega-3s.

Best sources of omega-3 - mackerel, salmon, sardines, omega-3 eggs, fish oil supplements

Sardines are also an excellent source of vitamin D, protein, potassium, and vitamin B12. Best of all? They have zero carbs. Sardines won’t spike your insulin levels and block your pores or produce excess oil that leads to acne.

You may be wondering – why can’t I just get these nutrients from fish oil supplements or (cheap) farmed fish? Well, to answer that question lets first take a quick look at what the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids do for your body…

Omega-3s, Omega-6s, and acne

The name of the game here is inflammation.

As I describe in detail in this article, acne can be broken down into a three-step process:

  1. A pore becomes clogged and blocked
  2. Excess oil is produced and lays the breeding ground for infection
  3. Bacteria swarms the blocked pore, a bacterial infection occurs, and (due to an imbalance of omega-3s and omega-6s) inflammation causes the formation of a pimple.

Inflammation is your immune system’s natural response to threats. If you cut your knee it’ll send inflammatory chemicals to help heal the wound. Inflammation is usually a good thing, but not in the case of acne. The infection caused by a blocked pore and acne bacteria isn’t really all that damaging or dangerous, but when you have chronic inflammation due to an overactive immune system, your body is revved up and ready to fight off any minor warning sign you throw its way. It launches a full-on attack against this harmless threat, and the end result is a nasty, inflamed, and painful pimple.

So, what causes chronic inflammation in the first place? It usually stems from an unbalanced ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in the diet.

Omega-6 and omega-3s are both healthy fats for the body in the right amount. Omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation while omega-3s reduce inflammation.

As I said earlier, this doesn’t mean omega-6’s are always bad. You need some inflammation to fight off infections and heal the body. The problem occurs when chronic inflammation enters the mix.

Chronic inflammation summary - too many omega-6s from nuts, salad dressings, and processed foods, and not enough omega-3s from fish

Chronic inflammation is when your body is so jacked up on omega-6 fatty acids that it can’t distinguish a proper threat (a wound, injury, or dangerous infection) from a harmless acne infection. If you have chronic inflammation it means your immune system doesn’t have the proper balance of omega 3s to help decrease and balance inflammation, so what was a simple infection turns into an inflamed pimple.

You need more omega 3s if you want to beat chronic inflammation. But more importantly, you need the right type of omega-3s, primarily DHA and EPA. There’s also ALA omega-3s, but your body has a hard time breaking them down and can’t use them properly. This is why sardines make an amazing source of omega-3s – they’re all DHA & EPA.

The advantages of eating fish vs. taking a supplement

You might be wondering why you can’t just take a fish oil supplement instead of eating a fatty fish like sardines or salmon.


On the surface, you get all the main benefits of fish: plenty of DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids. But in reality eating fish is a much better overall strategy for a few reasons:

  1. You won’t get the other health benefits of eating fish – Sardines are an excellent source of vitamin b12, selenium and vitamin D, all crucial nutrients for acne
  2. Fish oil goes rancid extremely easily and can make acne worse – One study found that over 50% of all fish oil brands exceeded the standard for oxidized fat, meaning they were full of rancid, inflammatory fats that do more harm than good. Omega-3s are extremely sensitive – light, heat, and air exposure can flip the switch from friend to foe.
  3. You don’t absorb as much omega-3s – Just like how some vitamin A is more easily absorbed by the body, some omega-3s are too. Numerous studies have shown that the consumption of fish is a much more effective way to increase DHA & EPA (the good omega-3s) levels than fish oil supplements

There is one caveat here – krill oil. Krill oil contains DHA & EPA that are absorbed easier by the body & contain the antioxidant astaxanthin – astaxanthin prevents krill oil from going rancid like regular fish oil, cod liver oil, or other fish oil products.

Again, quality matters, so make sure you get a high-quality krill oil. If you are going to take a fish oil supplement, I recommend Sports Research Antarctic Krill Oil, which contains plenty of DHA & EPA as well as astaxanthin, which will help protect the fats from going rancid.

Still, I would argue that the best solution is to stick to gently-cooked, wild-caught seafood, like salmon, anchovies, and sardines – however, if you just can’t stand the taste of seafood, krill oil is your next best bet.

How many sardines should I eat per day?

If you decide to make sardines a daily habit (your skin will thank you), you may be wondering how much to eat per day.

Personally, I eat about 2 sardines per day or half a can. This gives me a little under 1,000mg of omega-3s, which serves as a great baseline of protection from any omega-6’s I eat throughout the day.

List of foods high in omega-6 fatty acids - french fries, pastries, soybean oil, chips, salad dressing, peanut butter

But, like everything omega-related, the answer to this question really varies from person to person. The key questions to ask yourself are:

  • Roughly how much omega-6s am I consuming per day?
  • Roughly how much omega-3s am I consuming per day?

That’s why it’s helpful to keep a food log using an app like Cronometer, even if it’s just for a day or two. Make sure you include things like salad dressings, nut butter, and vegetable oils, which are loaded with unhealthy omega-6’s. You’ll never have a perfect picture of how much omega-6’s you consume, but once you have a rough estimate of your intake you can estimate how many omega-3s you really need.

Remember, the golden ratio for omegas lies somewhere in the 1:2 to 1:4 ratio depending on the person.

Comparing the omega ratio of Paleolithic-era man versus modern diets

If you don’t eat fatty fish on a regular basis or eat a diet high in vegetable oils, you’re going to need a lot more omega-3s – there’s just no way around it. For some people eating a pack per day may be the answer, while for others a single sardine could help reduce inflammation.

Quality Matters – Picking the Best Sardines for Acne

Remember how I mentioned that omega-3s are really sensitive, and that heat, light, and air can really mess them up (which is why you should avoid fish oil supplements)?

Well, this holds true for sardines too, and depending on the brand you buy this can be a huge problem.

Many brands of sardines contain little or even zero omega-3s because:

  1. During the canning process, they heat the can to extreme temperatures. This oxidizes omega-3s and turns them into inflammation-causing fatty acids instead of inflammation-fighting fatty acids
  2. They extract all the omega-3s from the sardines beforehand and sell them to fish oil manufacturers. You’ll still get the protein and other nutrients, but virtually no omega-3s.

For these two reasons, it’s extremely important to choose a brand that avoids these two issues.

Wild Planet lightly smoked sardines meets both these standards and more:

  • Wild-caught
  • Contain ~1,700mg of omega-3s per can
  • They come in organic extra-virgin olive oil
  • Taste surprisingly well

Overall Wild Planet is the safest and tastiest choice when it comes to sardines. I personally have them stocked up in my fridge, and I enjoy the lemon flavor as well. They’re also available at Whole Foods but tend to be more expensive ($3+/can) than buying them in bulk online.


At the end of the day, there aren’t many foods as great for your overall health and your skin as sardines.

  • They’re one of the best sources of omega-3s on the planet
  • Sardines are loaded with vitamin b12, selenium, and vitamin D
  • Buying sardines in-bulk is surprisingly affordable, especially compared to other wild-caught seafood

All-and-all, they’re an inflammation-fighting powerhouse that delivers you the good fat you need to create a healthy immune system.

If you struggle with inflamed, angry, red pimples that won’t seem to go away, I’d highly recommend giving sardines a shot. Even if you’re already taking fish oil pills, you may find that they’re actually making your acne worse. Fish oil supplements easily go rancid and aren’t nearly as easily absorbed by the body. High-quality sardines have plenty of stable, safe omega-3s and other nutrients.

For less than a dollar a day, sardines could be the secret to keeping your acne at bay.

Need more help? Ask our team!

I’ve helped over 2,500 people clear their acne naturally. If you cannot easily find an answer to your question on the website, please reach out to me by email ([email protected]) or send me a message on Instagram or Twitter. I will reply within 24 hours.

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sam wood is GoodGlow's Chief Editor
Analyzed by Sam Wood
Hi I’m Sam Wood. I’m the chief editor, lead acne expert, and health coach behind GoodGlow. I’m also an author of one of the top selling acne books on Amazon, a husband, father of two, and a pretty good cook!

I’m so glad you found GoodGlow and hope the information I have spent the last 10 years cultivating will help you clear your skin and improve your overall health.

I began experiencing acne breakotus as a sophomore in high school, but unlike most of my friends, my acne actually got worse as I got into my 20s. I exercised regularly, ate healthy (or so I thought) and spent hundreds of dollars a month on high end skincare products and supplements to help clear my skin. Despite these measures my acne breakouts and scarring only got worse as the years wore on.

This greatly wore on my self confidence and mental health. Simple things like taking pictures or going out with a large group made me feel self conscious. So I avoided these situations whenever I could help it.

As a last ditch effort I decided to try an extremely restrictive diet recommended by a close friend with an autoimmune disease. After following this diet for about two months my skin started to clear for the first time in over 8 years. The good news is that this restrictive diet is not actually necessary for 99% of people to permanently clear their skin, and over the course of a few months I was able to add back about 90% of my “normal diet”.

After clearing my skin I spent the next 4 years self experimenting on myself with different diets, supplements, skincare products to try and find a pattern for what was triggering my acne breakouts. I even tried different meditation, ice baths, and accupuncture to try and isolate the root cause of the breakouts.

In the end I realized that an extremely restrictive diet was not necessary for clear skin. The most important thing to do is to avoid inflammatory foods in your diet. Some common examples of this are fried foods, alcohol, sugar, and dairy.

Most impoirtantly I stopped reading trendy websites for skincare advice and began reading medical journals authored by dermatologists and nutritionists. Although the information in the articles was great the information was not easily understandable to most readers (including me). I spent hours dissecting individual posts and looking up terms I did not understand. Over the next 6 months I gradually began to understand these journals and started self experiemting some of the research on myself.

After experiencing quite a bit of success personally, I started sharing my research on forums and with close friends struggling with acne. When I shared the research it was in easy to understand, plain English. Everyone I talked to loved what I had to say and kept asking more and more questions. So I decided to start a blog so I could just send someone a link when they asked a question instead of rewriting something I had sent 100 times before 😅

While the same directional principles apply to everyone, acne is very personal and should be treated on an individual basis. That’s ultimately why I created GoodGlow. To help everyone reverse engineer the root cause of their acne and clear their skin permanently.

To date I’ve helped over 2,500 people clear their skin using a natural, holistic approach. If you are unable to find an answer to your question in any of the articles my team has written please reach out and I will do my best to guide you to the proper information and resources so you can make a thoughtful, informed decision. Read more of Sam's articles.

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