Diet and Acne – Improving Your Skin Through Food

Acne in adult women is becoming more common, and I think it is an excellent idea to address other ways to treat acne besides traditional acne medications.  Diet and acne go hand in hand. Typically, adult acne presents with very tender, deep pimples around the chin and jaw that take forever to resolve.  These deep lesions cannot be picked and all this does is cause the area to become more inflamed and resolve with a brown, scarred area.

While food allergies do not typically present this way, there is growing evidence that the types of foods we choose, along with other factors, may influence the severity of these breakouts. Years ago, when I was a resident, we were taught that food had no impact on acne.   After practicing quite a few years and listening to my patients, it seemed more and more clear that sugar binges definitely caused breakouts in patients whose acne was previously well-controlled.  Also, our food sources have changed dramatically over the last 30-40 years, which is one of the reasons why we are now seeing more adult acne.

In general, acne has a number of causes: hormones, inflammation, clogging of the pores, and bacteria.  Anything that can worsen one of these factors will predispose you to breakouts. Some great changes to make where you can easily see the relationship between your diet and acne are as follows:

  • Choose low glycemic, unprocessed foods – The glycemic index measures how fast your blood sugar rises after eating a certain food. The more rapidly a food is converted into glucose, the more insulin is secreted into the blood.  Eating lower glycemic foods will help reduce the number and severity of acne breakouts by helping hormones to stay balanced and reducing inflammation.  In African populations who consume a low glycemic, plant-based diet, acne is rarely seen, even in teenagers.
  • Avoid dairy – dairy products tend to cause inflammation and throw off hormone balance. Good substitutes are almond, coconut, and flax milk.  Choose the unsweetened varieties.  Some people can tolerate small amounts of dairy or in different varieties (ie. Cottage cheese or unsweetened yogurt).
  • Drink enough water so that your urine is clear – water flushes out toxins and hydrates your skin from the inside out.
  • Zinc 15-30 mg daily may help reduce acne – careful not to take more too much, as zinc can displace iron and copper from the body. Zinc reduces inflammation and in some studies proved to be as effective as oral antibiotics.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids – supplement with 2, 000 mg daily to help reduce inflammation. Rich sources include walnuts, avocado, salmon, and flax.
  • Choose organic – pesticides are also endocrine disruptors and throw off the delicate balance of hormones in the body causing many problems, including acne. Grass-fed beef is a necessity as the nutritional value and omega-3 percentage is so much higher.


If going 100% organic is cost-prohibitive, at lease avoid the “dirty dozen” :

  1. Apples
  2. Strawberries
  3. Grapes
  4. Celery
  5. Peaches
  6. Spinach
  7. Sweet Bell Peppers
  8. Nectarines (Imported)
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry Tomatoes
  11. Snap Peas (Imported)
  12. Potatoes
  13. Hot Peppers
  14. Kale/Collard Greens


  • Choose glass or stainless steel over plastic all the time – many plastics (even BPA-free) leech out hormone-like chemicals, known as estrogen disruptors, into your food and water that disturb the balance of hormones in your body.  Also avoid touching receipts from the grocery store to avoid these chemicals.
  • Control stress – if you can’t change your situation, you can always choose to change how you perceive and handle it. Positive thinking, deep breathing, and getting a minimum of 7 hours nightly are key.  Stress causes the adrenal glands to produce corticosteroids, which can cause acne.

Give these changes at least 3 months to work as flushing out toxins and rebalancing hormones naturally takes time.  While you may see improvement quicker, be patient and know that you are improving your health in so many ways by reducing inflammation. Once you see results, you’ll realize the significant relationship between diet and acne.

Suggested for you

Trending Posts

Connect With Me

Picture of Dr. Jen Haley, MD

Dr. Jen Haley, MD

Dr. Haley received her Bachelor of science in biology and nutrition from Cornell University before attending medical school at F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine in Bethesda, MD. After completion of her residency, and as an Officer in the Unites States Navy, Dr. Haley was selected as the VIP dermatologist consultant to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. In 2006, Dr. Haley was named as the Head of the Dermatology Department in Pearl Harbor. Since 2009, Dr. Haley has been in private practice using her extensive international experience in medical, cosmetic and surgical dermatology. With her background in nutrition, fitness, and skin science, Dr. Haley understands the true integration of wellness and its effects on skin health. She has recently launched a podcast, called Radiance Revealed with Dr. Jen Haley, where she discusses tips on how to integrate wellness into your life to achieve true radiance.