Diet & Acne

Posted by Dr Davin Lim on


The debate of acne and diet is a controversial one, however this summaries my viewpoints on this topic. Most dermatologists encourage patients to try the acne diet before prescription medications. Avoiding your acne trigger foods can improve your acne. Trigger foods include foods with a high GI index such as sugars, sweets, biscuits & processed food. Eating a health well balanced diet can improve over 80% of acne cases.

Facts on diet and acne

  • Eating a well balanced diet can improve acne
  • The results of an acne free diet can range from minimal improvement to a significant reduction in acne counts
  • Hormonal acne and severe forms of acne may not respond well to diet changes
  • Eating less sugars and processed foods can help reduce acne counts
  • Consuming foods with a low GI index & non-milk based protein can help reduce acne
  • Chocolate does not cause acne, but sugars mixed with chocolate makes this a High GI food source and hence the relation to acne
  • Consuming a low dairy diet may reduce acne
  • I encourage patients to try the acne diet as a supplement to your skincare products

Why is there such a big deal publicised about acne and diets?

Over the past few decades stubborn academics refute the causal link between diet and acne. This myth has been now debunked. Recent research has shown that in some people there is a link between diet and acne, and if you change your diet, and your acne improves, you may not need to go on medication.

The acne free diet is not a fad diet, it is not based on eating hard to find foods, or restricting your calorie intake, it is a simple diet based upon eating less processed foods such as sugars, consuming less dairy, & increasing your low GI foods. You will be surprised what good eating habits can do for your skin.

What food can flare up acne?

Research has shown that foods with a high glycaemic index (GI) can flare up your acne. The mechanism is thought to be hormonally mediated, via insulin like growth factor mechanisms. Most Dermatologists now believe that following a low GI diet can help some cases of acne.

High GI foods include simple sugars such as sweets and chocolate (chocolate is actually a fat, and not a sugar, however most chocolates contain simple sugars, a source of high GI foods.). Processed foods such as white bread, biscuits, chips and junk foods have a high GI index and should be avoided in patients with acne.

What food groups should I eat to help improve my acne?

Eating foods with a low GI index can help improve acne. Food groups include complex carbohydrates, and protein such as meat, fish, eggs, and soy. Dairy products such as milk should be consumed in moderation or preferably eliminated.

Will an acne free diet treat all forms of acne?

No. The cause of acne is multifactorial, including genetics, hormonal, stress, and dietary.  Diet related acne usually has trigger foods, such as chocolate, sweets, sugars and high GI foods. Most people are usually aware of their triggers as acne lesions tend to flare 2-3 days after certain food types.

Hormonal acne is usually seen around the chin and jawline area and fluctuates with the monthly period cycle. Diet changes can be effective, however most patients may require adjunctive treatments. 

Bacne or back acne is a form of tunkal acne. This form of acne may respond to dietary changes, however the overall improvement maybe modest, compared to the severity of acne.

Cystic forms of acne affecting the face, and occasionally back can be resistant to diet changes. In most cases this type of scarring acne responds to oral medications prescribed by a medical dermatologist.

Should I incorporate the acne diet in my skincare routine?

Yes! The acne diet is a simple but most importantly a healthy diet that encourages sensible intake of all food groups, minimizing sugars and processed foods. Dietary changes may not necessarily be the first line treatment of scarring forms of acne, however in some situations it may be indicated if acne is mild, or non-scarring.

What other natural treatments are there for acne?

Apart from diet, there are numerous natural remedies that may help reduce acne. These natural treatments should be considered if your acne is mild, non-scarring, or if you would like to consider a more natural approach to treatment. Ideal if you are contemplating pregnancy or for breast-feeding mums.

  • AHA or Fruit acid peels- Simple chemical peels derived from fruit acids, great acne and skin rejuvenation. Can help with mild scars.
  • Zinc Sulfate tablets- Obtainable via a health food shop. Take as directed, as dosages will vary.
  • Tea tree oil – Can be used to dry out acne lesions. Be very careful not to cause irritation. This acts as an antibacterial agent and does not treat the cause of acne.
  • Omnilux Blue or red light therapy- This does not cure acne, and in 9 out of 10 times acne recurs when this procedure is stopped. We find it useful as adjunctive treatment of acne or in situations where other medication is contra-indicated- such as pregnancy or breast-feeding. Phototherapy works by temporarily suppressing bacteria associated with acne lesions.

Do protein powders cause acne?

No, in fact protein can improve acne. Make sure you are on a low GI protein powder, with a low sugar value. Protein is LOW GI, and this diet can actually improve acne. As discussed, a recent publication in the American Academy of Dermatology Journal has found a positive correlation between MILK and acne. If you are mixing your protein shakes with milk you may want to consider swapping to water. There may other factors contributing to your acne including sweating, occlusion, and hormones.

What happens if an acne free diet does not work?

If your acne still persists despite optimal dietary control & skincare, dermatologists can offer you treatments including tablets, creams, hormonal control, chemical peels and Vitamin A taken as a tablet. * Dr Davin Lim is a procedural dermatologist, he does not treat acne as his work focuses on the management of severe acne scars.

Can diet improve acne scars?

We do acknowledge that Vitamin E and Vitamin A creams can improve scarring, however vitamin supplementation does not treat scars. A diet high in Zinc can reduce acne lesions, which in turn can reduce future scarring.

Davin’s Viewpoint on acne diets & treatments:

Acne and other skin conditions can respond to dietary changes, however patients should be mindful as to what types of acne lesions are suitable for an acne diet. Cystic  scarring acne should not be managed with diet alone, and medical treatments should be considered. Patients with scarring acne should also consider medical treatments as first line, & dietary changes as adjunctive.

An acne free diet is a well balanced diet high in protein & with a low GI index. Consumption of dairy products should be avoided, diet can be supplemented with zinc. With accurate skincare, diet & good make up habits, over 80% of acne can be managed without the requirements for prescription medication.

If you have resistant acne, please consider seeing one of my medical colleagues for management.

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