Diet and Acne: What Foods Make Acne Worse?

I know acne can be such a tough journey, leaving you feeling frustrated and self-conscious. I get it; it's not just a skin issue, but something that touches on our confidence, self-image and feelings of worthiness.

Nothing makes me more frustrated than when a doctor dismisses your struggle  with acne as cosmetic or insignificant just because it's "superficial" or non life-threatening. 

Not only is acne very personal, and it's also an important clue to deeper issues in your body. When we pursue healing for acne, we are actually invited on a journey to reverse the underlying imbalances which lead to acne. This is a sacred and empowering invitation!

While it's true that there often isn't just ONE thing that is causing your acne, our focus in this discussion is on the foods that may be contributing to your symptoms. 

I hear so often from clients that their doctors dismiss acne as simply "genetic" or puberty related and don't empower them with important dietary and lifestyle changes that could help!

New research, along with my clinical experience, shows that certain foods can definitely make acne worse. After working with hundreds of acne clients, I've seen it all! and I'm here to share what are the most common foods to trigger acne.

By becoming aware of these dietary triggers and making informed food choices, you empower yourself with yet another avenue to improve your skin's health and reduce the frequency and severity of breakouts.

What Foods Make acne Worse?

  1. High Sugar and High Glycemic Foods
    Foods that are rapidly digested and cause a spike in blood sugar levels can lead to increased insulin production, triggering the release of hormones that may contribute to acne. Insulin stimulates androgen hormones which impacts skin cell proliferation and increases sebum production. As these excess skin cells and sebum build up they can lead to clogged pores.

    Some examples of high-glycemic foods include white bread, sugary snacks, processed cereals, and sugary beverages. We can avoid blood sugar spikes by properly pairing higher-glycemic foods with fiber, fat and protein.
  2. Fried Foods
    Consuming foods high in unhealthy fats, such as fried foods, fast food, and processed snacks, may contribute to acne development.

    The fats that I find most healing are fats found in their unprocessed state in nature and that aren't heated to a high temperature. This includes fats attached to natural, organic animal products (beef, chicken, eggs) or minimally processed vegetable fats such as avocado, olives, and coconut. Olive oil is also acceptable.

    The worst fats are processed vegetable oils, particularly if they've been used for frying repeatedly such as in restaurants. This includes canola oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil or other "vegetable oils". These fats can go rancid easily causing increased oxidative stress in the body and increased inflammation which can manifest as acne on the skin.

  3. Dairy
    Several studies have shown a possible link between dairy consumption and acne. It is believed that insulin-like growth factors present in high quantities in cow dairy (hello baby calf needing to gain hundreds of pounds rapidly!) are also active in humans. This hormone is intact in milk and whey products and may stimulate oil production and inflammation in the skin, leading to acne breakouts.

    However, fermentation will decrease the concentration of growth factors. The most important dairy products to avoid are milk, whey or casein products. Organic, grass-fed long-aged cheese, kefir and yogurt are better options. In addition goat milk tends to be easier to digest for most people and contains less growth factors since the animals are much smaller.

  4. Gluten
    Gluten is controversial in acne. Few studies have been undertaken to study gluten, but I can tell you from my clinical experience that for some people gluten is THE TRIGGER that is at the root of their acne.

    Emerging research is exposing that it's not primarily the environmental factors that trigger acne but actually how the individual person's immune system reacts to the trigger. New research shows that the C. Acnes bacteria is present on all skin, but some people's immune system is triggered to react to it and others do not. This likely has ties back to the gut because the gut lining is the main regulator of immune regulation.

    Gluten can trigger zonulin, a hormone which increases the gaps in the gut wall leading to changes in gut health. For some people this exposure will also trigger system immune disruption and alter the skin microbiome leading to inflammation.

    I always encourage people to find out for their own body if gluten is a trigger. I have a specific protocol for this in my 5-Step Skin Method outlined in my self-paced courses that has proven to be very enlightening!

Do I have to avoid these foods forever??

The good news is that for the majority of people you do not have to avoid these foods forever! However, it may be necessary to avoid these foods for a period of time to promote faster healing though. 

I compare healing acne to the process of healing a broken leg. When you first break your leg you will need to be on crutches, in a cast etc. Your daily life will be highly impacted because you can't even walk! It's not that walking in and of itself is bad, it's that it's bad for your body at that particularly vulnerable state. 

Many of the healthier forms of gluten and dairy such as organic sprouted grain bread or kefir will be totally ok after you fully heal your gut and reduce inflammation in your body. Just like the broken leg example, the goal isn't to stay on crutches forever, but to fully heal the source of the problem to get back to the fullest function possible! Unless you find you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you should be able to reintroduce these foods in a number of months once you have restored health to your gut.

It's interesting to note though that not everyone reacts the same to certain foods. Research studies make generalizations about diet in populations of people, however you are unique. It's important that you take the time to learn about your own body and how it feels with certain foods. 

In my clear skin courses I walk you through how to do a structured elimination diet which I call the 30-Day Reset. It's been incredibly helpful to my clients to see how they feel after committing to a dietary reset. So many of my clients thought they were eating all the right foods but found out they were actually eating some triggering foods!

If you're curious about making skin-friendly food choices and want some delicious, acne-fighting recipes to get you started, I've got just the thing for you. Click HERE to download your Free Clear Skin Recipe Book, specifically designed to nourish your skin from the inside out.

And if you're truly committed to unraveling the root causes of your acne and embracing a holistic approach for clearer, radiant skin, I invite you to check out our courses: Teen Acne Academy for the younger folks and The Clear Skin Code for adults. In these comprehensive courses, you'll find transformative modules that cover everything from understanding the mind-skin connection to the impact of your gut health on your complexion. Don't miss this opportunity to embark on a life-changing journey towards better skin and overall health.

Download Your Free Recipe Guide Here!

Enroll in Teen Acne Academy or The Clear Skin Code Today!

Your journey to clearer, healthier skin starts now. Don't wait another day to take control of your skin and your life.


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  2. Penso L, Touvier M, Deschasaux M, Szabo de Edelenyi F, Hercberg S, Ezzedine K, Sbidian E. Association Between Adult Acne and Dietary Behaviors: Findings From the NutriNet-Santé Prospective Cohort Study. JAMA Dermatol. 2020 Aug 1;156(8):854-862. doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2020.1602. PMID: 32520303; PMCID: PMC7287950.
  3. Alves E, Gregório J, Rijo P, Rosado C, Monteiro Rodrigues L. Kefir and the Gut-Skin Axis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Oct 23;19(21):13791. doi: 10.3390/ijerph192113791. PMID: 36360671; PMCID: PMC9653948.
  4. Rasti SD, Dewinta NR, Kamal RH, Adissadah AF, Madanny AE, Dewanti L. Correlation between Serum 25-Hydroxy Vitamin D Levels and the Severity of Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review. Indian J Dermatol. 2022 Jan-Feb;67(1):31-36. doi: 10.4103/ijd.ijd_871_21. PMID: 35656233; PMCID: PMC9154172.
  5. Singh A, Khurana A, Sardana K, Dixit N, Chitkara A. Correlation of Serum 25-Hydroxy Vitamin D and Interleukin-17 Levels with Disease Severity in Acne Vulgaris. Indian J Dermatol. 2021 May-Jun;66(3):291-296. doi: 10.4103/ijd.IJD_551_19. PMID: 34446953; PMCID: PMC8375544.


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