Do Certain Foods Cause Acne?

April 9, 2023

Should you avoid chocolate to prevent or control acne? The jury is still out.

What studies have been done regarding chocolate and acne?

  • In 2011, the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reported a study showing a strong association between eating chocolate and acne breakouts. This study included only 10 men.
  • A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1969 showed no difference in acne between participants eating chocolate and others not eating chocolate. This study included 65 participants. It went on to test the amount of oil in the skin of 5 participants consuming 2 chocolate bars  a day for a month, and found that their skin did not become more oily.
  • In 1971 American Family Physician reported a study that included 27 students and found no correlation between chocolate consumption and acne. More research is needed on chocolate, but more is known about other foods.

Could glycemic index be the culprit?

Glycemic index is a measure of how rapidly a given food raises your blood sugar level. (Glycemia means sugar in the blood.) Glycemic load signifies the rise in blood sugar level for a given amount of that food. When sugar enters the blood, the pancreas responds by increasing blood insulin levels, which in turn triggers a rise in another hormone, insulin-like growth factor. This hormone is associated with acne. Two studies, published in 2007 and 2008, lead scientists to conclude that foods with low glycemic load could help against acne.

In 2007 the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reported a 12-week study of 43 male acne patients. After keeping a food diary throughout the study, participants with lower glycemic load showed improvements in their acne not seen in those with higher glycemic load diets. In 2008 the Journal of Dermatologic Science reported a study comparing acne patients on low glycemic and high glycemic diets. Those on a low glycemic diet showed improvements in their skin and lowered levels of fats on their skin, while those on a high glycemic diet did not. In general, glycemic load for the day should not go over 100. To find glycemic load, see any number of websites with listings and calculators for various foods.

The American Academy of Dermatology, too, endorses a low glycemic index diet, with these further studies as support:

  • In the United States 87% of 2,258 patients on a low-glycemic diet reduced their acne, and 91% reduced their need for acne medications.
  • A Korean study of 32 patients aged 20 to 27 consumed either their regular diet or a low-glycemic diet. The latter showed significantly less acne by the end of 10 weeks.
  • Turkish researchers found that among 86 study participants, those with the worst cases of acne consumed a high-glycemic diet over 7 days.

What about milk and milk products?

The American Academy of Dermatology also has evidence for milk as a possible cause of acne:

  • In the United States over 47,000 women recalled their diets during high school. Those who drank 2 or more glasses of milk per day were 44% more likely to have acne than other women.
  • Another study in the United States found that among more than 6,000 teenage girls, those drinking the most cow’s milk were the most likely to have acne.
  • In a study of over 4,000 boys in the United States, those drinking nonfat milk were more likely to have acne.
    Half of 88 Malaysian patients with acne consumed more milk and a higher glycemic diet than the 44 who did not have acne.

Surprisingly, no studies on yogurt or cheese have shown any correlation with acne.

The bottom line

For readers wanting to prevent or control acne, munch some good fruits and veggies, go easy on processed sugars, and get your calcium from broccoli, dark green leafy veggies, cottage cheese, and yogurt.

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