Can diet cure acne?

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The acne diet connection is extremely complicated.

There are no clear-cut answers to that question.

Diet has a significant effect on acne. And chances are you must change your diet, if you want to get rid of acne naturally. That said diet is just one part of the acne puzzle and diet alone may not be enough to clear acne.

Dermatologists often say diet has nothing to do with acne. And diet is often listed as a myth in acne books and websites.

However you should know that those statements are based on two flawed studies done in late sixties and early seventies. Those studies were so badly flawed that they prove absolutely nothing. They would have not accepted for publication today. And later studies point towards a clear link between diet and acne.

So when dermatologists say diet doesn’t cause acne they are simply repeating a well accepted dogma. It has nothing to do with science. I covered this in detail at origins of acne diet myth article.

Before we get to using diet to cure acne you need to understand how diet causes acne.

How diet causes acne

In the what causes acne page I explained that acne is a result of blood sugar problems and inflammation. Diet can affect both. In fact, diet is one of the main factors behind both of them.

Diet and blood sugar problems

When your blood sugar levels swing too much it triggers a hormonal reaction that leads to:

  • Increased sebum production
  • More dead skin cells
  • Big lumps of dead skin cells

In other words blocked pores. I explain how this happens in blood sugar and acne page. Also see, how hormones cause acne page.

The main dietary causes of blood sugar problems are:

  • Eating too much fat. When you eat a high-fat meal the fat goes into your bloodstream. It blocks insulin receptors in the cells and thus increases insulin resistance. Though this only becomes an issue when your fat intake goes above 35% to 40% of your total calorie intake.
  • Eating high glycemic index (GI) foods. High GI foods lead to sharp increases in blood sugar levels. The body has to respond by releasing large quantities of insulin, which often leads to crash in blood sugar levels. This is mostly an issue with processed and refined foods. Whole foods in their natural state, such as potatoes and fruits are not such a problem.
  • Eating too much. When you eat more calories than your body needs it converts the extra calories into fat. If this happens often the body develops insulin resistance to fight excess weight.

Diet and inflammation

Inflammation is the other big evil that leads to acne. Too much inflammation weakens the immune system and allows acne causing bacteria to overtake your skin.

The main dietary causes of inflammation are:

  • Toxins and free radicals. Wrong diet can lead to leaky gut syndrome. It means the toxins from your gut leak into bloodstream. These toxins create free radicals that increase inflammation. I explained how this happens in how foods cause acne page.
  • Food allergies and sensitivities. Eating foods you are allergic to triggers a response from the immune system (immune system response always means more inflammation). I cover this in more detail in acne and food allergies page. Gluten (wheat) sensitivity is a fairly common acne trigger, for more see gluten (wheat) and acne.
  • Eating inflammatory foods. Certain foods lead to increases in pro-inflammatory hormones. Vegetable oils, refined sugar, wheat (and other grains), dairy products and processed meats are the worst.
  • Chemicals in foods. The body treats preservatives, colors, additives and other chemicals in foods as toxins. They trigger an immune system response, which automatically leads to more inflammation. I covered some of the most dangerous ones in toxic chemicals in everyday foods page. As a rule all processed foods contain chemicals and increase inflammation.

See also:

Now that you understand how diet causes acne, let’s see how you can use diet to cure acne.

How to cure acne with diet

If you want to cure acne with diet you have two objectives:

  • Maintain stable blood sugar levels
  • Reduce inflammation

Maintaining stable blood sugar levels

To keep your blood sugar levels stable follow these two simple rules.

  • Low fat.
  • High fiber. Fiber in foods slows the absorption of sugar and helps to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Because of fiber most fruits, though high in sugar, don’t cause sudden spikes in blood sugar levels.

Reducing inflammation

The simple rules for reducing inflammation with diet are.

  • Avoid inflammatory foods.
  • Get plenty of antioxidants. The body uses antioxidants to fight free radicals. Less free radicals, less inflammation. Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of antioxidants.
  • Eat foods rich in omega 3 and other essential fatty acids. With antioxidants omega 3 fatty acids can fight free radicals and inflammation. Good sources of omega 3 fatty acids are salmon and other fatty fishes and flax seeds.

Putting it all together

To make it easy for you, I compiled few simple diet rules that help you to cure acne:

  • Eat whole foods in their natural state. Especially eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid processed foods (full of chemicals and low in fiber and nutrients.
  • Avoid foods that cause acne. These are the most common foods that lead to acne.
  • Keep oils and other overt fats at minimum.

Following those simple rules you can avoid most of the dietary complications with acne.

No discussion about diet and acne is complete without the unhealthy friend objection. Someone inevitably points out that they have a friend who eats the unhealthiest diet but doesn’t get acne. I cover the whole story at unhealthy friend objection page.

Finally, please remember that diet is only a part of the acne puzzle. Diet is often not enough to get you clear. Thinking you can cure acne with diet often leads to stress and frustration that may prevent you from getting clear. As this dangers of anti-acne diets article explains.

You need to attack acne from all sides. My book Clear for Life takes you by the hand and shows how to do this.

Related articles:

Acne and athlete diet (blog post).
Do you make these 5 diet mistakes? (blog post with many comments)..

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Comments on Can diet cure acne? Leave a Comment

Kim @ 1:39 am #

Hey!
Seppo, I just want to say, your a genius. I cut out gluten and all high GI foods for a whopping 3 days,and ALL of the cysts on my back just dried right out and scabbed over. INCREDIBLE! My doctors put me on every kind of birth control known to man, I’ve used more skin care products than the average Shopper’s Drug Mart employee has ever seen, and nothing had any effect. The acne on my chin tends to fluctuate with my monthly cycle, ranging from full blow cyst attack to a few moderate sized pimples, and when I cut the gluten was when I was just entering my worst phase. My skin is perfectly clear now, and I swear I can even see my pores shrinking. I’m going to keep it up, and make sure it wasn’t just a lucky month, but I am so, so excited! I can finally start using anti scarring products on my back without fear of breaking out more.

I can honestly never thank you enough, thank you thank you thank you! =D

Kim @ 2:34 am #

For sure!
My younger brother actually struggles substantially worse than I do, I can’t wait to see him next and recommend cutting the wheat to him. He’s family so I’m pretty optimistic it will help =)

Erin @ 4:33 pm #

Hi Seppo, I’m trying to get to your page about the foods that cause acne and every time I click on it it says page not found.

Are things sweetened by cane juice ok?

janet @ 8:56 pm #

i have a couple of questions

first, are salads with baslamic vinegar good?

second, is chicken or other meats okay?

and third, what are the BEST foods to prevent acne?

thank you!

janet @ 10:15 pm #

sorry, but i was also wondering if oatmeal is bad

and you say it should be low fat, are nuts okay?

janet @ 7:40 pm #

thank you! your site is very helpful!

pascal @ 5:46 am #

Hello Seppo, I had read what you wrote in the past and very much agreed with just about everything you wrote. However I do think you miss out something.
We are so used to eating what we ate in the past so just to adapt to eating different foods is in itself a challenge. How often we want to go back to eating the foods we ate, like fried foods, food high in starch, or just a nice thick chocolate drink with lots of cream. This drink is hard to avoid even with sugar reduced if you make it at home but still the cream is the culprit not the pure cocoa powder.
How do I go about changing this mindset so that I will not eat those acne active foods?
Carry on your good work Seppo and by the way is Seppo your real name, or is it one you use on the website.

Jayme @ 6:25 am #

I’ve been sugar free for a year now, and have cut gluten, dairy, red meat and all packaged food from my diet for the last 2months and still get breakouts.. I don’t know what to do anymore..

jamey @ 11:14 pm #

how about scrambled eggs? ive heard both good and bad, so i wanted to get the truth from you. :) i live on a farm and we have chickens, so i know that my eggs are organic, grass fed, the best. what if i added some peppers or something to give it flavor?

its just, im having such a hard time with what to eat for breakfast, since it’s winter, and fruits arent at their best.

and if eggs arent good, what are some breakfast ideas, other than fruit?

Naseem Haidari @ 6:21 am #

@Kim: Seppo what does GI means and gulten?

Ted @ 1:00 pm #

Seppo,
Hello and thanks for all your help. I’m confused about one thing, though. You told one person, I think it was Janet above, that chicken and meats are ok to eat, but on your other page titled “what foods cause acne”, you mention to try and avoid meats. Is it just packaged meat?
Also, why is honey bad for you if it’s natural?
Are certain soaps or shampoos bad for your skin?
And what about coffee or caffeine?
How about canned goods? Do you suggest staying away from all of them?

I’m just one of those people that have been suffering since I was a mid-teenager, and now I’m 32. It’s all over my back, face and shoulders. I’ve become so self-concious in life because of this problem.

Sorry if you’ve already mentioned these things and I missed it.

Ted

Audra @ 5:34 pm #

Hi Seppo! I’ve just discovered your website and am very impressed:) The low down on me…well I’ve had acne all through high school. It didn’t get super severe until the last year or so. I’ve got all the scars to prove it. Anyways, the derm pushed to put me on accutane and I’m so thankful I didn’t because my homeopath told me I’m allergic to dairy. However, I’ve completely cut it from my diet and stillllll breakout pretty badly. I read something about skin deep? Was wondering how I could get my hands more information from YOU and natural ways to finally kick this thing in the ass. I’d appreciate anything you’ve got to offer. Thanks so much!

Ashley @ 12:24 pm #

Hello Seppo,
I am excited to find your web site. I suffered from severe acne for several years. I always have had clear skin, I figured it was just part of growing up. Well, after several years of heavy foundation and crying at the sight of my skin, I decided I was done with acne. I saw my doc several times and nothing was working. My last visit I came in drinking a latte, which I drank every morning, and he asked me how much dairy I consume.
To be honest I drank a latte every morning, I went a through a gallon of milk every week and I would eat cheese almost every day. WOW!! I have never even thought of my diet. I would scrub my face twice a day every day and it never worked, it actually aggravated my acne. Turns out I am allergic to dairy and my only side effect is acne.
With all of that being said no one should give up. I was prescribed EPIDUO and cut all dairy out of my diet! ( Which is really easy! They have veggie cheese, almond milk ice cream, gluten and dairy free bread; just look around the grocery store, its there ;) My skin is now clear and I am using clinique dark spot remover to help with my scars.

Thanks Seppo.. you are changing peoples lives! keep it up. I cant wait to read more from you, because diet really does make the difference

- Ashley
P.S EPIDUO is magical… seriously. Try cutting dairy out of your diet, and try a skin corrector. There is a lot of product out there to help with scarring. Clinique dark spot remover works, but it takes about 6 months for it to really work. Its slow but worth it! Good luck everyone <3

Tommy @ 7:12 pm #

Seppo, im so happy to hear how you have been helping everyone and i have to say i feel motivated. I have had clear skin for a long time often the occasional breakout but nothing much, recently i have been getting spots on my jawline and they havnt cleared up, infact they’ve spread. As soon as this problem occurred i have changed my diet from a teenage binge diet to a very healthy diet. For Breakfast i have sesame/pumpkin seeds with sliced banana and a soya chocolate pot (delicous and healthy btw!) and iv been eating a lot of fruit and vedge throughout the day and my spots arnt clearing up they look better but are starting to spread even more i dont know what to do i have cut a lot of dairy out of my diet, i have some milk with cereal for breakfast occasionally before i have my seeds (being a keen surfer i need alot of food) but i have completley cut cheese and fatty foods.
Before i started getting spots on my face i have had back acne for a little while now and my chest is starting to breakout this matters but not as much as my face matters.

I wash my face twice a day, sometimes i use teatree oil which i have only just started using. I try to stay away from chemicals and if i ever use a scrub its only a light exfoliater. My back looks better than ever since i have started eating healthy, but i just dont know what to do.

Please help me and give me some advice you seem like the only reliable source out there i have been doing a lot of research.
Thankyou so much

Sorry this might seem like its dragging on lol, but i have heard a body detox from eating only apples is good if i did this would it help? many thanks.

ramya @ 6:51 pm #

Wonderful post! I wish that people spoke more truth like this.. instead of selling hope in a jar……

Bik @ 1:26 am #

Well ya im one of those persons who had acne for the entire teenage and still suffer from it in the 24th year of my life.I recently bought ridiculously expensive Clinique anti -blemish kit which i must admit has burned a whole in my pocket and the zits are there like an old renter who refuse to evict,please somebody suggest me something wonderful which can help me get my confidence back.I am not that big of a dairy eater but wouldnt mind some nibbles of feta or maasdam in my salads or ricotta in my sandwiches.Milk is certainly there for my daily fix of caffeine.Although I dont eat out at all ,but certainly looking forward to more of diet which suits my oily skin.

Jason @ 8:09 pm #

@Jayme: Hi Jayme, I was a long time acne sufferer and have tried many alterations of my diet to cure acne. Avoiding certain foods and eating a healthy diet held some improvement for my acne but not enough. I found the most important factor was limiting calorie intake. Now I eat fairly healthy but also importantly limit my calorie intake. My skin is now not oily and the cysts are gone. This is after suffering cystic acne for 18 years! ( with the scars to prove it) and trying just about all the medications out there. Please give it a go you might be suprised by the results.

Jason @ 8:17 pm #

@Seppo: Yes I agree how much you eat is just as important as what you eat. You must keep calorie intake to a minimum.

carmina @ 5:41 pm #

Brewers yeast works wonders. I was very skeptical, but taking the tablets along with diet cleared my acne. If you google “brewers yeast and acne”, you will find the information there. I am so happy that I figured it out!

simon @ 9:19 am #

This article is filled with dogma and is out of date. Fat does not increase blood sugar except from the small amount of Glycerol in the meat. To avoid spots you need to avoid carbohydrates, perhaps even as far as avoiding fruit (fruit juice especially). Eat lots of leafy and colourful vegetables, and eat only natural fat from meat and coconut etc. Not only will your spots improve, but you will loose weight and your teeth may very well improve as well.

Also I concur with previous statements on wheat and gluten, both should be removed from the diet. You can experiment with adding them back later and judge the effects.

simon @ 7:42 am #

Ketogenic diets have been shown to regress diabetes in Rats. If you are interested you could read “Reversal of Diabetic Nephropathy by a Ketogenic Diet” by Michal M. Poplawski et al.

Also Ron Raab from Insulin for life recommends Diabetics (type 2) try low-carb diets, high protein and fat diets. I think it is safe to say most people would not agree with the statement that fat causes insulin resistance, due to its rather widespread use treating Insulin resistance with great success.

simon @ 7:51 am #

High blood sugar promotes the secretion of insulin, and thus insulin resistance. I would love for you to post a link to some of these scientific studies.

simon @ 8:06 am #

Gluconeogenesis can cause pikes in blood sugar, but this is “sugar on demand” rather than erratic blood sugar. This only continues for approximately 24 hours after carbohydrates restriction is imposed though. After which the body switches to using predominantly ketones.

A lot of the studies you might be referring to also refer to these high fat diets inducing obesity. Something we now know does not happen in the absence of carbohydrates. It is important that we refer to studies that not only increase fat, but remove carbohydrates from the diet.

simon @ 10:25 am #

Great dito :) This is obviously going to take a while so I shall probably have to reply to each article in turn. Please bare with me. :) Particularly looking forward to the KANWU study.

Sara @ 3:29 pm #

Hi, I’m on board with the diet, but still confused about carbs- are whole grains not ok? You said even brown rice isn’t great to acne sufferers, but what about grains like quinoa or amarath?

Thanks so much- love the site!

simon @ 3:55 am #

They are both gluten free, however they are high in starch. Many believe that starch is the cause of many health problems. Taking the example of rice, most of the valuable nutrients are in the husk, and the husk delays the rice breaking down and reduces the blood sugar spike. However ideally you don’t want the inside (the white rice).

Personally I avoid all grains, seeds and legumes. Historically (pre-agriculture) it would be highly unlikely that anyone ate these in great quantity. A few here and there are probably not going to make a difference.

A great place to start is google “Dr Terry Wahls TEDx”. The first hit should be a YouTube video which is worth watching and will give a good overview of what a healthy diet should contain.

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