Foods That Cause Acne (What To Avoid)

Foods high in processed ingredients and sugar create an inflammatory response in the body that results in skin conditions such as acne.

When many people hear that dietary changes can help clear acne they think of some horribly restrictive diet, that prevents them from eating anything they enjoy. This mindset could not be further from the truth. While going “cold turkey” will certainly speed up the process of reducing skin inflammation, there is a healthy balance that allows you to still eat what you love without breaking out constantly

Below we have created an overview of the top food and drink culprits that are responsible for acne breakouts.

Although the connection between acne and diet has been considered controversial there are numerous studies showing the efficacy of how “eating clean” can clear acne prone skin.

And if you’re looking for more in-depth information on this topic, be sure to check out GoodGlow’s ebook, which is packed with step-by-step guides and information on how to make healthy diet changes and heal your skin.

Is There a Link Between Diet And Acne?

The link between diet and acne is pretty solid, as many studies have proven the effect the inflammatory components in common foods consumed by millions of people daily can have on the skin.

Here are some commonly researched foods for their connection to acne and how they can impact your skin:

Gluten & Carbohydrates

Gluten and carbohydrates have been linked to acne in numerous studies that have found a high glycemic load diet, which includes foods that are high in carbohydrates or macronutrients that provide the body with energy but also cause a rapid increase in blood sugar levels, may worsen acne due to triggering the rise in insulin to control these sugar spikes, which can then lead to an increase in the activity of certain hormones which stimulate the sebaceous glands.

When overstimulated, the sebaceous glands will produce excess oil, which, instead of traveling to the skin’s surface where it serves as a barrier of protection between the skin and the environment, remains stuck inside the pores where it attracts bacteria that feed on it and proliferates, triggering an inflammatory response with symptoms such as swelling and redness.

Gluten, on the other hand, is a protein that can be too harsh for the body to process, leading to damage of the gut lining and subsequent permeability, causing inflammation throughout the body and resulting in skin issues such as acne.


Dairy is another potential acne trigger that can be particularly problematic for individuals with a predisposition to developing the inflammatory condition and those who are particularly sensitive to components found in dairy, such as casein, a protein found in the curd of milk and whey, a protein found in the liquid part of milk that remains after the milk curdles.

While how exactly dairy causes acne is considered a topic still under debate by professionals in the nutritional and skin care industry, some studies suggest that dairy products contain large amounts of the hormones IGF-1 and estrogen, both of which have been linked to acne, especially when they are not in balance with other hormones.

Additionally, some of the problematic proteins in dairy have been linked to the disruption of the gut lining and subsequent microbial imbalance and inflammation that eventually manifests on the skin as inflammatory conditions such as acne.


Alcohol is a toxin with little nutritional value that can decrease general health and lead to issues that manifest on the skin as inflammatory conditions such as acne.

Alcoholic beverages are of sugar and carb-filled nature, which can cause insulin spikes, leading to inflammation and overstimulation of the sebaceous glands, resulting in excess oil production and clogged pores.

Furthermore, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to decreased liver function and the inability to filter out toxins, which remain floating in our bloodstream and lymphatic system, causing inflammation and diseases, which can manifest on the skin as acne.


Chocolate contains not one but three major acne triggers, including sugar, dairy, and nuts, which can have an imbalanced ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Now, while omega-3 fatty acids are fantastic for your skin, omega-6 are pro-inflammatory components because they are a precursor to the production of inflammatory molecules in the body, such as prostaglandins and leukotrienes.

Prostaglandins and leukotrienes are molecules that play a role in several physiological processes, including blood clotting, regulation of blood pressure, and increased mucus production, which are responses to various injuries.

While prostaglandins and leukotrienes play essential roles in the body’s immune response, excessive production of these molecules can lead to chronic inflammation and contribute to various health problems and inflammatory skin conditions, such as acne.


Soda is another sugary acne trigger containing components that can lead to an increase in insulin levels and an elevation in IGF-1 levels, which are proteins that can lead to hormonal imbalance and overactivity of androgens, causing excess oil production, clogged pores, inflammation, and acne.

Greasy & Fried Foods

Greasy and fried foods can also contribute to the development of acne due to being high in unhealthy fats, such as saturated and trans fats.

These inflammatory components can lead to oxidative stress in the body and reduce the cells’ ability to renew.

Additionally, greasy and fried foods have also been shown to increase the production of inflammatory molecules, such as cytokines, eicosanoids, and interleukin-6 (IL-6), which are produced by the immune system in response to injury and infections to help promote healing and fight off pathogens.

However, this chronic state of inflammation can eventually show signs on the outside in the form of inflammatory skin conditions such as acne.

Surprising Foods That Can Cause Acne Breakouts

While some foods, such as sugar and dairy, have been extensively researched and proven over and over to have a strong acne-causing potential, some foods may not be well known for this particular side effect but can nevertheless be the factor that could exacerbate or even cause acne.

Here are some surprising foods you never would’ve guessed could be behind your acne:


While probiotics are generally considered safe and beneficial for most people due to their ability to balance out the bacteria in the gut and encourage the growth of microorganisms that protect us from diseases, not every probiotic is the same, and some can lead to the development of acne in certain circumstances.

This adverse effect can occur due to probiotics promoting the growth of certain strains of bacteria and yeast in the gut, such as the Saccharomyces boulardii yeast, which can trigger unwanted effects such as bloating, gas, and fungal infections on the skin that may resemble a rash or acne.

In addition, probiotics can also be overused, which can tip the balance of the gut’s microbiome, resulting in the overgrowth of harmful bacteria and subsequent inflammation and acne.


Some nuts can be problematic for acne-prone skin due to the high content of pro-inflammatory components such as omega-6 fatty acids.

As we previously mentioned, omega-6 are a precursor to the production of inflammatory molecules in the body that are part of the immune system’s defense and become active when trauma, such as an injury or infection, occurs.

However, not all nuts are the same, and some, such as almonds, hazelnuts, and chestnuts, are generally not problematic due to containing excellent ratios of omega-3 and omega-6.

Other types, such as cashews, walnuts, pistachios, and peanuts, can be problematic due to their high content of pro-inflammatory components that can create inflammation in the body, leading to acne.

Therefore, if nuts are a regular part of your daily menu, thoroughly researching which ones to include or avoid is recommended.

What Are The Best Foods for Acne?

Much like certain foods can cause inflammation in the body and trigger or exacerbate acne, others can help soothe inflammation, encourage cell regeneration, and even strengthen the skin barrier and help it protect itself from pathogens.

Therefore, here are some of the best foods that can help you fight acne and prevent this pesky condition from coming back:

Fatty Fish

Fatty fish is a fantastic food for acne due to its rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help reduce inflammation by inhibiting the production of inflammatory molecules, including the 5-lipoxygenase pathway in neutrophils and monocytes, which helps prevent the formation of prostaglandins and leukotrienes that can contribute to inflammation in the body and subsequent conditions such as acne.

Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids are also present in our natural skin oil, which means consuming these components can aid the production of healthy sebum.

This also means that omega-3 fatty acids can aid in strengthening the skin barrier, which, again, is another factor that contributes to acne, as a compromised skin barrier can’t function optimally and defend itself from an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, such as the strain that causes acne.

Overall, incorporating fatty fish into your diet can be a healthy way to support skin health and reduce inflammation. Some good sources of fatty fish include salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring.

Leafy Greens

Leafy greens are considered to be good for acne due to containing high vitamin and mineral content essential for overall skin health.

One of the main components of most leafy greens is vitamin A, which is essential for regulating the production of sebum and cell renewal,  and also aids in encouraging the process of natural exfoliation, meaning it can normalize cell-shedding and prevent cellular debris from accumulating inside the pores and causing acne.

Additionally, most leafy greens also contain antioxidants such as vitamin C, which helps reduce the oxidative stress on the cells and aid in their regeneration, as well as vitamin E, which helps with wound healing and reducing inflammation.

Finally, zinc is another significant component of many leafy greens, and this mineral is essential for wound healing and skin regeneration, with studies suggesting people who deal with acne and other forms of skin trauma, such as burns, have significantly lower zinc levels than those with healthy and clear skin.

Finally, leafy greens are also a great source of dietary fiber, which can help promote healthy digestion and improve gut health. This will lead to a balanced and healthy microbiome and the reduction of pathogenic overgrowth causing acne.

Overall, incorporating leafy greens into your diet can be a great way to support gut and skin health and reduce the risk of developing an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and acne. Some fantastic options for leafy greens for acne-prone skin include broccoli, cabbage, and celery.

Antioxidant-Rich Foods

Antioxidant-rich foods are great for acne and other common skin concerns, such as premature skin aging, due to their ability to reduce oxidative damage of the cells by free radicals or inflammatory components found in unhealthy foods.

Some fantastic antioxidant-rich foods that you can incorporate into your daily menu include carrots, artichokes, beetroot, and berries.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Anti-inflammatory foods and drinks are great options you can consume daily to reduce the appearance of acne by soothing the internal inflammation causing this pesky condition.

Some fantastic anti-inflammatory foods and drinks you can incorporate into your diet to soothe acne include turmeric, ginger, garlic, olive oil, and green tea.

Can Your Diet Actually Trigger Acne Breakouts?

While there isn’t a direct cause-and-effect relationship between eating a particular food and immediately breaking out, your diet can be a significant factor in triggering acne breakouts over time.

This is because our bodies have a natural ability to heal and repair damaged tissues and cells, which is a process that involves a complex sequence of events and various biological processes, such as inflammation, tissue regeneration, and cell growth and division.

This is why the effects of inflammation won’t be noticeable immediately, and it will take a long time and a lot of inflammation for the body to show signs of it, be it through a disease or a skin condition such as acne, which is the product of long-term inflammation.

Therefore, it is important to be mindful of what you eat and how the food you consume will affect your general health and the health of your skin down the line.

By avoiding foods that are high in inflammatory components, such as carbohydrates, dairy, alcohol, greasy fried foods, etc., and making simple changes to our diets, we can help reduce the risks of developing inflammatory conditions such as acne and even aging prematurely, and ensure our skin remains healthy, radiant, and glowy from the inside out.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Should You Eat to Avoid Acne?

The best diet to avoid acne should be rich in low-sugar fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, and lean meat, as these foods contain essential nutrients that minimize inflammation and heal our body and our skin from the inside out.

What is The Worst Food for Acne?

The worst foods for acne are sugar, dairy, and saturated fats, as these foods contain components that interact with our hormones and cause inflammation in our body that will lead to imbalances in how our skin functions, resulting in inflammatory skin conditions.

Is Cooking Food at Home Good for Acne?

Some studies have shown an association between inflammatory skin conditions and some food processing methods, such as grilling, frying, baking, etc., meaning that the way your food is cooked and the oils used to cook it also play a significant role in the quality; therefore, cooking at home might be the best way to heal your skin as you alone will determine what goes in your meals.

Originally Published: June 11, 2023

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Analyzed by Simone Sydel

Hi, I’m Simone Sydel, a licensed esthetician and acne expert dedicated to helping others solve their skin issues including acne, eczema, and UV damage. I specialize in testing and reviewing the latest acne treatments and beauty products, offering honest, practical advice for skincare. I’ve helped hundreds of clients clear their skin and my skincare product reviews have been read by several hundred thousand people. Thanks for visiting!

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