The link between diet and acne has been hotly debated over decades. As acne has many different causes, it is difficult to pin one down that is definitively linked to diet.
For many years, people believed there was a link between acne and eating too much chocolate, but unfortunately things didn’t turn out to be quite that simple.
Changing your diet can certainly help you to reduce your acne symptoms, but especially in the case of severe acne, it won’t be the sole solution.
Acne occurs on the parts of your body that have oil-producing glands. When these pores become blocked and/or inflamed, or when the oil production increases sometimes as a result of hormonal fluctuations, or dirt that gets trapped, or bacteria infects the pores, the result is acne. This can be mild, medium or severe.
Few people completely escape acne during their teens, but if the problem becomes severe, it might be time to see the GP or the dermatologist.
Is there a link between acne and diet, or not?
As recently as fourteen years ago, the American Academy of Dermatology published recommendations that said there were no apparent links between diet and acne, but several studies which have been done since then seem to point in a different direction. While few researchers would be prepared to state categorically that certain foods cause acne, as such, there certainly seem to be indications that certain foods can make it worse.
By the same token, eating healthy fresh foods, and looking after your overall health, does seem to reduce the severity of acne.
Remember also, that what works for one person, may cause a flare-up in someone else, so it is a good idea to keep a food diary for a week or two to see how your skin reacts to certain foods.
The general rules are to go for fresh, whole foods, and to stay away from fatty, processed and pre-prepared meals and foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates. While fat in the diet doesn’t cause overproduction of oil in the skin, too much saturated fat in your diet is not good for your general health.
Here are some suggestions on some of the foods you should be eating, and what these foods can do for your skin. (This list is by no means comprehensive.)
Leafy green vegetables
This includes spinach and cabbage. Not everyone’s favourite, but if it makes a difference, what do you have to lose?
How does this help your skin? These are high in vitamins A and E (which are also antioxidants). Vitamin E helps to prevent skin scarring, and vitamin A helps your body to get the most benefit from selenium, which helps to reduce inflammation in your skin. Studies have pointed to the fact that low levels of vitamins A and E are linked to severe cases of acne. Antioxidants fight free radicals, which can cause inflammation in the skin.
Oatmeal porridge and soluble oat fibre are both good options. Soluble oat fibre can be sprinkled into soups – you won’t even know you are eating it.
How does this help your skin? This is a high-fibre food, and studies point to the fact that fibre- rich food helps to control blood sugar levels, which in turns helps to reduce acne.
Melons, strawberries and oranges
These fresh fruits have high levels of vitamin C. They are tasty, and pleasant to eat, and can be used to make smoothies as well.
How does this help your skin? Vitamin C not only protects against acne scarring, but helps to heal damaged or irritated skin. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant.
Salmon and tuna and sardines
These all contain omega-3 fatty acids, which is a type of fat found in certain plants and animal proteins.
How does this help your skin? Together with antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation in your body. It also increases the elasticity of your skin and helps to fight blemishing of the skin.
Sweet potatoes, beans, cauliflower
These foods help to regulate your blood sugar levels as they have a low glycaemic index. This means they stop your blood sugar from rising too quickly.
How does this help your skin? When your blood sugar rises quickly, your body releases a hormone called insulin. If these spikes happen frequently, it can cause a hormonal reaction, which can lead to the oil glands in your skin to produce more oil, which increases your risk of acne. These foods mentioned above counteract this process by releasing energy slowly, and preventing a sharp spike in your blood sugar levels.
Lean meat, chicken and turkey
Several studies point to the fact that people with acne often have low levels of zinc, which is present in these foods.
How does this help your skin? Zinc helps your immune system to function at its best, fight inflammation, and it also reduces oil production in the skin.
Wholegrain foods, such as wholewheat bread
When having to choose between whole grains and refined carbohydrates, always go for the whole grains. They are high in fibre, and help control your blood sugar levels by preventing insulin spikes.
How does this help your skin? The slow release of insulin in your bloodstream reduces oil production in the skin.
Walnuts and almonds
These are high in omega-3 fatty acids and have high levels of zinc.
How does this help your skin? This helps your body fight inflammation, reduces the levels of bacteria on your skin, and may also reduce oil production.
Water. Opt for water rather than sugary drinks or flavoured beverages. It is cheaper and much healthier.
How does this help your skin? This helps to hydrate your skin, which is important, as dry skin can cause excess oil production.
National Institutes of Health
American Academy of Dermatology