3 Reasons Why Pizza Causes Acne


Have you ever eaten a greasy, cheesy, savory pizza and found yourself breaking out the next day?

Well, there are several good reasons why – and it’s not just because “greasy food causes acne”.

Pizza is one of the worst foods to eat for acne-prone skin for a few reasons – it contains a significant amount of dairy, which has hormones that overstimulate skin oil production and can trigger inflammatory acne.   It also contains gluten, which can damage the gut and lead to even more acne, and unhealthy fats that can trigger inflammation.   Finally, pizza is high in carbohydrates, which triggers the body to release even more acne-causing hormones.

Overall, pizza hits just about every possible root cause of acne – digestive, hormonal, and inflammatory acne.

Pizza, dairy, and acne

Unless you’re getting a Vegan or dairy-free pizza, odds are you’re going to be consuming a lot of low-quality cheese anytime you eat pizza.

Cheese is likely to cause acne for a few reasons:

Pizza typically contains pasteurized, soft, young cheese from cows, which is some of the worst for acne.

Aged, hard, raw cheese from goats or sheep are lower in acne-causing hormones like IGF-1 and easier to digest than most of the cheese you’ll find on pizza.   The downside?  It usually isn’t as tasty as fresh mozzarella.

Pizza, grease, and inflammatory acne

If you’re like me, your mom probably told you:

“Don’t eat greasy foods, it’ll give you acne!”

While this isn’t entirely true, and there are plenty of reasons why some fat is actually great for acne-prone skin, there is some truth to it when it comes to foods like pizza.

Artificial foods like pizza contain vegetable oils, including  soybean, sunflower, safflower, and canola oil.   The problem with these oils is that they are extremely unstable, especially under high heat.   When these oils get cooked, they  turn into highly-inflammatory fats.   Inflammation is what takes a simple little acne infection and turns it into a bright, red, protruding pimple.

A single slice of pizza has around 1.36g of omega-6 fatty acids.

That’s quite a bit by itself, but ask yourself this: when’s the last time you had just one slice of pizza?

Pizza, gluten, and acne

Gluten, which is a protein found in wheat and many other grains, is a pretty big problem for acne.

Pizza crust is loaded with gluten.

Gluten is what’s known as a lectin.   Lectins are compounds found in plants that prevent animals from digesting them properly.   Our bodies aren’t able to break down certain lectins, so they enter the small intestine undigested and can punch holes in the intestinal wall.   This can lead to a condition called leaky gut syndrome.

Leaky gut syndrome is a problem for acne for a few reasons: first, it allows undigested protein to enter the bloodstream.   When this happens, your immune system fires off an inflammatory response.   If this happens too much, it can lead to a hyperactive immune system that triggers inflammatory acne.   It also can lead to hormonal acne through insulin resistance, and prevent your body from absorbing acne-fighting nutrients like zinc.

In summary, gluten damages the digestive system by making it easier for undigested food to pass through your gut into your bloodstream.   This can trigger inflammatory and hormonal acne.

Pizza is no exception, as the majority of pizza crusts are loaded with gluten.

For more details on gluten, read this guide on the impact of gluten to acne.

Pizza, carbs, and acne

Pizza is pretty high in carbs, with a single slice contains  23.5g of carbs.

Carbs aren’t evil, and they won’t automatically cause acne, but too many carbs too frequently will.

When you eat carbs, your body releases a hormone known as insulin to help break the carbs down and transport them to the muscles that need them.   When you eat too many carbs too often, your body becomes insulin resistant.   Just like how you need more and more coffee to feel energized every morning your body needs more and more insulin to move carbs around.

This is bad for acne because insulin doesn’t work alone – it’s a master hormone that triggers the release of three other acne-causing hormones:

  • IGF-1 -increases skin oil production, blocks pores, and promotes inflammation
  • IGFBP-3 – clogs and blocks pores
  • IL-1 – promotes inflammation

These three hormones trigger pretty much every root cause of acne.

If you’re having 3 or 4 slices of pizza, that’s a pretty big insulin response.   Granted pizza isn’t the world’s largest source of carbs, it’ll still make a dent.

See my guide to Carbs, Sugar, Insulin, and Acne for more details.

Pizza, additives, and acne

Okay, this is a more minor point, but have you ever looked at the ingredients list for a frozen pizza?   Here’s a snapshot of one popular brand:

Wow, yeah, not so great, I can spot a dozen or so added ingredients that are known to be problematic for acne right off the bat…

  • Enriched wheat flour
  • Skim mozzarella cheese
  • Soy protein concentrate
  • Cornstarch (modified)
  • Yeast extract
  • Gluten
  • Soybean oil
  • Corn oil
  • Corn meal

Yikes, not great – unless you’re in Europe, odds are your pizza is going to have a massive ingredients list with tons of acne-causing additives – not a good play for your skin.

“Will pizza always give me acne?”

At this point, you’re probably wondering if it’s ever safe to have pizza again when it comes to acne.   Here’s the deal – everyone is different.   Some people might be able to handle certain types of kinds of pizza, while others may not.

Personally, I can’t handle pizza in the United States because the cheese is grain-fed, low-fat, and pasteurized, the crust is enriched and high in gluten, and there are tons of additives.   In Italy, I don’t seem to have a problem with the occasional high-quality pizza (the cheese is almost always raw buffalo cheese, the grain is much lower in gluten, and the ingredients are fresh, local, and often organic).

You might be able to handle some pizzas, but not others – some of you might have to cut it out altogether and try adding it back later.   There is no one-size-fits-all.

With that being said, there are some ways to make your pizza considerably more acne-friendly.

How to make your pizza more acne-friendly

There is no perfect pizza for acne – but there are certainly better pizzas for your skin than your typical frozen or delivery pie.

Here are a few tips to get started:

  1. Go for a gluten-free crust – try to use coconut flour or a cauliflower crust instead of grain.   Most places will have a gluten-free crust option that uses eggs, nuts, coconut, or cauliflower.
  2. Use better cheese  – use a raw (unpasteurized), aged, sheep or goat cheese if possible.   These cheeses are lower in hormones (IGF-1) and easier to digest
  3. Make your own tomato sauce  – a lot of tomato sauces are filled with vegetable oils and sugar – instead, make one with real tomatoes and use olive oil instead of vegetable oils

Again, it’s not going to be perfect, but making your own pizza, or even just substituting with a gluten-free crust can make a world of difference.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does tomato sauce cause ance?

Most store-bought tomato sauces are inflammatory because they contain high sugar and vegetable oil content. If you are buying or making your own tomato sauce make sure to use olive oil and avoid adding sugar or processed tomatoes.

Is pizza bad for your skin?

Pizza is high in carbs, sugar, and dairy which all spike the glucose levels and are highly correlated with acne breakouts. Additionally, eating lots of dairy can slow down collagen production which makes it more difficult for acne to clear up.

Originally Published: March 16, 2019

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.

Get The Definitive Guide To Permanently Clear Skin

Everything you need to beat acne at the source. 250-Page eBook, Clear Skin Food + Drink Database, and Members-Only Content

Get The Kit

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.

Leave a Comment