Acne Blog Part III - Does Diet Affect Acne?

Does Diet Affect Acne?

Before reading this blog, if you’ve not done so yet, it may be helpful to read my previous acne blogs:

  1. Acne – how and why do we get it?
  2. Acne – Complications and Consequences

There are a huge number of treatments for acne and the debate and research continues (I don’t imagine it’ll ever stop). I won’t attempt to go through the entire list or debate the evidence but will discuss the most common. In this blog, I’m concentrating on the role that diet plays in acne. Almost everyone that comes to see me about their acne tells me that they have tried altering their diet. Sometimes, this is extreme with some cutting ALL dairy from their diet. This is not an easy or pleasant way to exist and, unfortunately, rarely has any impact on the problem.

With all the proven and effective acne treatments, other than trying to maintain a healthy diet (no need to be too clever here – more veg, less chips & cake etc), it’s best to look into those before trying extreme diet changes which have little or no evidence of working.


Effect of Diet on Acne

High Glycaemic Index Foods can Worsen Acne

 The best evidence linking diet to acne is found when looking at high glycaemic index (GI) foods. These are carbohydrate-rich foods that rapidly increase blood sugar levels. It’s not just the quantity of carbohydrates but also the quality that contributes to the glycaemic load (GL) (think of white pasta or bread vs brown/wholemeal).

Although dermatologists will agree that high GI foods have been implicated in the triggering and severity of acne, they would recommend that diet change should not be the sole treatment for acne but used in conjunction with proven acne treatments.

Dairy Products May Have Weak Effect on Acne

Research looking at the effect of dairy in diet on acne has been going on for decades and to date, there have been no strong finding. There does appear to be possible weak correlations between dairy (particularly skimmed milk) but if you’ve suffered with acne for some time and are keen to prevent future scarring, there will be easier and more effective solutions than cutting out dairy from your diet. On its own, this is highly unlikely to have significant impact - more often than not, you will simply be more miserable!


How will you know if your diet is making your acne worse?

As discussed already, diet can certainly have an effect on your acne - striving for a healthy diet and lifestyle is beneficial for you in many ways and is something that all doctors would recommend.

Start by reducing high GI foods from your diet and see if that helps but know that it can take up to 12 weeks to see changes. For many of my patients, it is more straightforward than that – they know that if they have a heavy weekend of booze and fast food, they pay for it with outbreaks over the following days… it’s then just a choice of which you’d rather.

If you really think that there are other foods that are affecting your acne, keep a food diary and pay careful attention to the detail. Eliminate the food for several weeks and note the timing, quantity and duration of your outbreaks. If things have improved, this doesn’t prove anything but it’s a good start. Introduce that food again watch carefully to see if this provokes your acne (not months later but soon after). Once again, remove that food and see if your condition improves. If you can demonstrate this pattern, you may well have found a trigger – discuss this with your doctor or dermatologist but remember, don’t stop any treatment that you are currently on in favour of this. The goal must always be to treat your acne as aggressively as is appropriate to minimise the chance of permanent scarring.


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Dr Askari Townshend is a GMC registered doctor, qualified in 2002, and Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, England. He is founder and Medical Director of ASKINOLOGY in the City of London and has been practicing aesthetic medicine full time since 2008.