Acne and your diet: What you should and shouldn’t eat

Acne and your diet: What you should and shouldn’t eat

Can the right diet really clear your acne? 

Does diet really matter when it comes to acne?

Is the anti-acne diet just a gimmick or is there some truth to it?

All your questions answered right here right now!

The commonest question I get as a dermatologist practicing for more than a decade now is what foods to avoid? And it is not just restricted to acne but every damn disease. So, are those burgers, fries and spicy ramen causing your acne? Let’s find out.

Let me first get this thing clear that FOOD cannot CAUSE acne, it can only flare it up… Acne will happen if you have the deadly combo of an oily skin, active P. acnes bacteria, hypercornification and inflammation in the skin. For acne to form, your pores need to be blocked long enough for inflammation to set in resulting in acne. If you are unfortunate enough to have acne-prone skin, the following food items can flare your acne.

Food that aggravates acne

There are only 2 groups of food items that have proven to aggravate acne. These are dairy and food items with high glycemic index. There are only two ways food items can aggravate acne; either by causing “insulin resistance” or by creating a “relative excess of testosterone”. Let me explain!! 

Insulin is the hormone in the body that is released when there is a sugar spike in the blood. This hormone functions to lower down the sugar levels. As an accessory function, it also increases sebum production via insulin-like growth factor or IGF-1. This sebum increase is the reason for acne flare. 

There are predominantly 2 kinds of sex hormones in us. The female sex hormone is progesterone and estrogen while the male sex hormone is testosterone. Testosterone causes more sebum production and is evident by greasier skin amongst men. Increase in testosterone could be the reason for seborrhoea and hence acne flare due to certain food groups.

  • Dairy

Not all dairy products are contraindicated for acne. This is specifically true for cow’s milk and skimmed milk. Cow’s milk is rich in IGF-1 which can increase sebum production in the skin and hence cause acne flare. Skimmed milk or toned milk contains whey isolate which is the reason behind acne flare. Processing of toning milk decreases the estrogen content of the milk. As is explained above, this decrease in the estrogen levels which are protective towards acne can cause acne flare. Remember that not all dairy products have to be excluded in anti-acne diet. You can have panner, cheese, yogurt and even full cream buffalo milk to reap the nutritional benefits of dairy.

  • White sugar/Food with high glycemic Index

Glycemic index is a value used to measure how much sugar levels increase with a specific food group. Sugar or glucose have a glycemic index of 100 because it is sugar in the purest form and hence can cause sudden sugar spike. Foods with high glycemic index like sweets, mangoes, ice-creams, milk chocolates, etc can cause sudden sugar spike and hence insulin spike as well. This starts the cascade of insulin related sebum production and leads to acne.

Food that “might” aggravate acne

These food groups have an equivocal response to acne. Some studies claim that these food groups trigger acne while others don’t.

  • Chocolate

Milk chocolate can flare acne for 2 reasons: one is due to a sudden spike of insulin due to high sugar content in chocolate and secondly due to milk itself. However, dark chocolate, in moderation, might be protective for acne due to powerful anti-oxidants present in them.

  • Whey protein 

Whey protein is a common supplement taken by gym goers. It has been shown to flare acne when taken for long.

Food that “protects” against acne

One of the reasons behind acne development is inflammation. So anything that decreases inflammation will reduce acne. Anti-inflammatory foods have long been in the news for their myriad health benefits. One such benefit of anti-inflammatory foods is protection against acne. Here is a list of acne-protecting foods that must be part of an anti-acne diet.

  • Zinc

Zinc has the strongest correlation for protecting and to some extent even “treating” acne. So much so that many dermatologists tend to prescribe zinc for acne patients. But you need not be on zinc supplements if you can include it as part of your diet. Here’s a list of zinc containing foods:

  • pumpkin seeds
  • cashews
  • quinoa
  • lentils
  • seafood such as oysters and crab
  • Selenium

Selenium containing foods have a proven role in controlling acne and even hair fall. Your body relies on selenium, an important mineral, for many of its basic functions, from reproduction to fighting infection. The amount of selenium in different foods depends on the amount of selenium in the soil where the food was grown. Some common Selenium containing foods that can be part of your diet includes:

  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Oatmeal
  • Mushrooms
  • Cottage cheese
  • Brown rice
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Baked beans
  • Spinach
  • Milk and yogurt
  • Lentils
  • Cashews
  • Bananas
  • Green tea 

Green tea has anti-inflammatory benefits owing to polyphenols which are potent anti-oxidants. Green tea not only boosts metabolism, helps in weight loss but clears out acne too. How amazing to have a perfect body and great skin all in one due to green tea!

  • Anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids

A recent study published in a reputed journal states that free radicals might be the cause behind your acne. Free radicals are “toxins” generated inside your body as a result of UV rays and air pollution. These have to be nullified via anti-oxidants. Vitamins and minerals come in the group of anti-oxidants. Omega-3 fatty acids also protect against acne. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • fish, such as mackerel, salmon, and sardines
  • pastured eggs
  • soybeans and soy products, such as tofu
  • spinach  
  • nuts, such as walnuts and almonds
  • flaxseeds
  • mustard seeds
  • wild rice

So, get your diet acne-proof today!

Watch the video to know more.