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Teen Acne: Is Food to Blame?

From the WebMD Archives

You may have heard that certain foods you eat affect your appearance. But it's not that simple.

Experts are still looking for proven connections between the foods you eat and the pimples that later pop up.

But one thing they do know: "Poor nutrition may make acne-prone teens even more susceptible to breakouts," says Ava Shamban, MD, a Beverly Hills, Calif., dermatologist and author of Heal Your Skin. Here's a look at some surprising ways foods may affect your skin.

Sweets and Carbs

Chocolate has gotten a bum rap ever since your parents were pimply teens. But recent studies suggest it's sugar, not cocoa, that's to blame for those zits.

A diet high in sugar and simple carbohydrates may make an acne flare-up more likely. Foods in this group include:

  • Processed foods like chips, crackers, and cookies
  • Starches like white bread, pasta, and potatoes
  • Sugary drinks like soda

These foods spike your blood sugar.

"Your body responds by cranking out more insulin, which increases the production of skin oils and contributes to the clogging of follicles. It can wreak havoc on your skin," says Valori Treloar, MD, a dermatologist in Newton, Mass., and coauthor of The Clear Skin Diet.

Greasy Foods

Your skin won't make more zit-causing oil just because you indulge in greasy foods like pizza, burgers, fries, and potato chips. But working in a grease-splattered setting -- such as flipping burgers and frying spuds at a fast-food joint -- may bring out blemishes.

"Oil particles in the air can coat your skin and clog your pores," says Ellen Marmur, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and author of Simple Skin Beauty.

You don't need to quit your job, but you do need to wash your face as soon as your work shift is over with a gentle, alcohol-free cleanser. Ask your family doctor or a dermatologist for a product recommendation.

Dairy Products

Some research suggests that dairy products, particularly milk, may contribute to flare-ups. That's not for sure, though, and the exact link between the two isn't clear. "More research is needed, but it may be that the growth factors and hormones naturally found in milk somehow act as acne triggers," Treloar says.