Can Diet Make Acne Worse? 5 Foods That Cause Acne

The saying “you are what you eat” couldn’t be more true for skin care. As our body’s largest organ, our skin acts as the first line of defense against environmental aggressors, such as free radicals and other airborne pollutants. That said, protecting our insides is only a fraction of its job. In addition to shielding us from harmful toxins, our skin acts as a roadmap to our health and provides beneficial insight into what is going on in the form of discoloration, dryness, excess oil, and, of course, acne.

Although some breakouts aren’t caused by diet — hormones and bacteria are also considered common acne culprits — some are. And, as it turns out, many of the foods that cause acne are not what you’d expect. From hidden ingredients to perceived “healthy” pantry items, we share all the ways diet makes acne worse, below.

Glass of blueberry smoothie

Whey protein smoothies are one of the foods that make acne worse. | baibaz/iStock/Getty Images Plus

1. Refined sugar and grains

You can blame refined sugar for many health concerns, so it should come of no surprise that it’s on our list of foods that cause acne. Studies show that people with more refined sugar — and refined grains — in their diet tend to experience more acne and breakouts than those that don’t. That’s because refined carbohydrates (aka sugars and grains) can impact blood sugar and insulin, which can cause excess oil and acne to form. If you are concerned about foods that cause acne, it’s best to steer clear of sugary cereals, crackers, bread, white rice, sodas, and sweeteners such as honey, agave, maple syrup, and cane sugar.

2. Corn and soy oils

Some oils such as avocado oil are good for you (and your complexion). However, others like corn and soy oil should be consumed with caution — especially if you experience breakouts. Both corn and soy oils contain omega-6 fatty acids, which have been linked to inflammation and, ultimately, acne. Instead of using these oils, reach for healthy oils and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as olive oil, salmon, and nuts.

3. Cheese and other dairy products

Dairy products get a bad rap when it comes to breakouts — and for a good reason. Cheese, yogurt, and milk are all linked to breakouts. However, it is unclear why. Teenagers and young adults tend to experience dairy-induced breakouts more than other age groups, although more research needs to be conducted to back this information up.

4. Fast food

Fast food should be avoided for a multitude of reasons including high cholesterol, the risk of heart disease, and high blood pressure. But, that’s not the only reason to kick fast food habits to the curb. As it turns out, common fast food ingredients such as refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and sugar are all linked to acne production and can wreak havoc on the complexion.

5. Whey protein

Your post-workout protein shake might also cause breakouts. The popular supplement is rich in leucine and glutamine — types of amino acids — that can cause skin cells to grow faster than usual, which could have a connection to acne formation. Also, the amino acides can boost insulin levels, which leads to breakouts.

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