No, Food Doesn't (Directly) Give You Acne

Contrary to popular myths, acne is mostly due to heredity and hormones and not caused directly by foods you eat.

Acne is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition that causes spots and pimples, especially on the face, shoulders, back, neck, chest, and upper arms.

Most of us have experienced a pimple or acne breakout in our lifetime with the most likely time being the teenage years.

Affecting as many as 50 million people in the United States each year, acne is the most common skin condition in the country. It often begins during puberty, and it is especially prevalent between the ages of 12 and 24.

Acne can continue throughout life for some people, and it can become a damaging psychological and emotional issue as well. Symptoms vary from mild to severe, and they can impact a person's quality of life.

How acne appears

Acne is a skin disease involving the oil glands at the base of hair follicles. Acne occurs when the pores on your skin become blocked with oil, dead skin, or bacteria. This pore clog begins with dead skin cells.

Normally, dead skin cells rise to surface of the pore, and the body sheds the cells. When the body starts to make lots of sebum – oil that keeps our skin from drying out – the dead skin cells can stick together inside the pore. Instead of rising to the surface, the cells become trapped inside the pore.

Sometimes bacteria that live on our skin, p. acnes, also get inside the clogged pore. Inside the pore, the bacteria have a perfect environment for multiplying very quickly. With loads of bacteria inside, the pore becomes inflamed (red and swollen). If the inflammation goes deep into the skin, an acne cyst or nodule appears.

Causes of acne

With more so many people in Western societies experiencing acne, researchers have also begun to focus on modifiable factors, such as the relationship between diet and acne.

Myths about what contributes to acne are quite common.

A lot of people have heard this one — that acne is caused by dirty skin. Many people also believe that foods such as chocolate or French fries will contribute to acne. While there’s no scientific support for these claims, there are certain risk factors for developing acne.

Contrary to popular myths, acne is mostly due to heredity and hormones.

Researchers have found a link between acne pimples and higher levels of testosterone and other androgens, the "male" hormones that also exist in lower levels in females.

Most skincare experts agree that a range of factors triggers acne, but the main cause is thought to be a rise in androgen levels. Androgen is a type of hormone (namely, male hormone), the levels of which rise when adolescence begins. In women, it gets converted into estrogen.

Rising androgen levels cause the oil glands under the skin to grow. The enlarged gland produces more sebum. Excessive sebum can break down cellular walls in the pores, causing bacteria to grow.

Other risk factors, according to physicians of many spheres, include genetics, the menstrual cycle, anxiety and stress, hot and humid climates, using oil-based makeup, and squeezing pimples.

Controversial and complicated

Actually, no food gives you acne directly, doctors agree.

The role of diet in acne is unclear, but, since a healthy, balanced diet is known to promote good health, some dietary factors may affect the likelihood of getting acne or pimples.

It has often been said that eating chocolate triggers acne, but so far, scientific research findings have not supported this.

In the medical community, there is extensive debate about the impact of the diet. While many experts once thought that the diet had no role in the development of acne, results of some recent studies suggest otherwise.

The research is even less clear when it comes to identifying foods that may combat or prevent acne.

Though there are some links between diet and acne, the relationship isn't quite what you may think it is. When it comes to your daily diet, what you eat can actually help keep your acne under control.

A number of studies have shown that downing foods like French fries, cheeseburgers, and chocolate doesn’t have any impact at all on your skin's health. But getting that grease on your skin can make an oily complexion worse, clogging pores and leading to an acne breakout.

According to research reported in the Journal of Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, these kinds of foods stimulate the production of hormones that can cause excess oil to be created and secreted by oil glands.

What junk food also gives your body is a spike in blood sugar levels, so it triggers a cascade of effects that cause the skin to produce more oil and plug the pores, which sets the stage for acne.

Dairy and sugar also trigger an increase in insulin levels, which increases the amount of androgens (male hormones) in your system, according to specialists.

These are the hormones that can cause the large, painful cysts that tend to cluster around the jawline. So, if someone is suffering from acne, avoiding milk or sticking to a low glycemic index diet may actually be helpful.

Also, while more research is needed, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may reduce inflammation and improve symptoms of acne.

To be treated individually

Acne is one of the hardest conditions for dermatologists to treat because there can be so many different causes at work simultaneously. Since acne appears to stem from a complex interaction of nutrients, hormones, and other factors, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes pimples to worsen.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, "There is not enough data to recommend dietary changes for acne patients."

If dietary changes are to play a role in acne treatment, the AAD suggest that this should be as a "complement to proven acne treatments," rather than as a sole treatment. They suggest that individuals monitor themselves to see what might trigger a breakout.

Although many different diets, supplements, and treatments have been proposed to get rid of acne, a careful skin care régime provided by dermatologist individually should alleviate symptoms for patients with non-chronic acne.

So, if over-the-counter products do not seem to help your condition, see a qualified dermatologist in your area, who can prescribe patient-specific treatments.

Tips include:

  • keeping a food diary, and sharing it with a dermatologist
  • waiting for 12 weeks after cutting out a particular food, as it may take time to see the impact
  • continuing with regular acne treatment while making any dietary changes

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