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Can Foods Make You Break Out?

The links between your diet and your skin may surprise you.

The Blood Sugar Connection continued...

On the other hand, a study published in a dermatology journal later that year didn’t find an association between acne, insulin levels, and measurements of glycemic load. So the matter isn't settled yet.

Steps that keep your blood sugar steady, as well as fight inflammation and oxidative damage that could be linked to skin problems, include:

  • Focus on foods with a low glycemic index (GI), a measurement related to glycemic load These cause smaller increases in your blood sugar, as opposed to the steeper jump from foods with a high glycemic index, or GI. Identifying low and high GI foods may take some time. You can find a good introduction here.  
  • Eat small meals often. Eating every two and a half to three hours will help keep your blood sugar and insulin levels steadier, Treloar says.
  • Eat lots of vegetables. Treloar recommends 10 fist-sized servings of vegetables daily. Choose veggies across a range of deep and bright colors. These will provide a variety of antioxidants that dampen free-radical (or “oxidative”) damage and inflammation. But keep in mind that some vegetables have a high GI.

Dairy and Acne

There's no definite link between dairy and acne, but there are theories about it.

In an article he wrote for a medical journal in 2008, F. William Danby, MD, a skin expert who promotes the possible dairy-acne connection, explained how the two may be related. Milk contains components related to the hormone testosterone that may stimulate oil glands in the skin, setting the stage for acne.

Karcher has heard similar stories. “I’ve had patients who said they stopped dairy and their acne got better. You can have a totally healthy diet without dairy. If a patient feels that is a possible problem, there’s nothing wrong with trying it as long as they’re followed by someone to make sure they’re getting a balanced diet.”

“In my skin-care practice, I’d often take people off all dairy products, which is kind of unheard of for RDs to do, but it made a huge difference,” says Carmina McGee, MS, RD, a dietitian in Ventura, Calif., who has a special interest in skin disorders.

Although studies have shown associations between dairy and acne, they don’t show cause and effect, and they don’t prove that dairy causes acne. Anecdotes from people who've quit dairy also don't mean that the same will be true for you.

Dairy is an important source of calcium and vitamin D, which your bones (and the rest of your body) need. So if you cut back, do so with care:

  • If you find that your skin clears up after you cut out dairy, see if you can have a little without breakouts. Some people can drink small amounts of milk and stay acne-free, Treloar says.
  • Or try different kinds of dairy. Nonsweetened yogurt from cows, or dairy from other animals such as goats, may be more tolerable for your skin.
  • Replace the calcium that you would normally get from dairy by eating other foods such as calcium-rich leafy greens (like kale and mustard greens), broccoli, and sardines, McGee says.

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