Acne Free Diet Plan: What Foods To Eat And What Foods To Avoid

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At the intersection of skincare and health is a four-letter word that makes me cringe: diet. In the interest of full disclosure, the only diet I adhere to with any consistency is calorie-loading, mostly in the form of cheese and sweet potato fries, because that works for me. But to each her own...which is kinda the point, right? Your diet, like your skin, is highly individual and dependent on a slew of factors from genetics to climate. There is no one-diet-fixes-all formula, but there are certain foods that studies have increasingly linked to aggravating acne. And like all considerations on this continuous quest to live in harmony with our skin, it’s worth exploring every option, even the sugar-free ones.

Acne is the most common skin complaint impacting millions of people every year, so there’s definitely an appetite out there for dietary changes that might help. For many of us, acne didn’t just go away after we survived adolescence and continues to tank our skin’s mood (and glow) well into our 30s and 40s. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, adult acne is on the rise (1).

The growing evidence that our consumption habits are a contributing factor is hard to ignore (2). Think of this as a set of clues on your investigative journey to uncovering what does and does not work for your skin, not as a do-or-don’t list of skin-dieting rules. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll solve part of your skin’s breakout mystery one clue at a time.

What foods to avoid if you have acne prone skin?

1. Cut Back On Dairy

This might seem like a no-brainer in an allergen-aware world increasingly leaning toward dairy-free, but the research (so far) is actually inconclusive. The link is weak, but it’s there. The reason is unclear, but growth hormones are a suspect. Milk, especially skim milk, shows the strongest association of dairy products as a trigger for inflammation which in turn can set the stage for a breakout or make existing acne worse (3, 4).

Don’t go purging the fridge of every cheese varietal just yet. Some trial-and-error detective work is in order first. If you notice consistently worse breakouts after dairy consumption, adjust your intake and note changes in your skin’s behavior over time.

2. Watch Your Daily Iodine

At least one more recent study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology hypothesised that the link between dairy consumption and acne might actually come down to the iodine found in dairy products (5). But this is another gray area, complicated by the reality that it takes a lot of iodine (like 2,000 times more than the normal daily intake or 19 cups of milk per day) to cause a breakout. (6)

That doesn’t mean you should rule it out entirely. Since the 1960s, studies have shown that excess iodine in your diet can lead to acneiform eruptions, which aren’t quite the same as acne but definitely as unpleasant as they sound. A normal adult diet includes 150 micrograms of iodine per day. You would need to consume double or triple that amount to attribute your acne woes to iodine, so it’s likely not acting alone. But if you’re playing it safe, track your iodine levels and avoid high-iodine foods (like kelp) or high-iodine supplements. (7)

3. Avoid High Glycemic Index Foods

We all knew this was coming. If your acne is being fueled by food, refined carbohydrates and sugars are the most likely suspects. Growing evidence points to high glycemic index (GI) foods as the worst offenders when it comes to aggravating acne. Both refined carbs and sugars fall into the high GI category, which ranks foods based on their potential to increase blood sugar levels. Highly processed foods with a higher GI are easier to breakdown and raise blood sugar levels more quickly. An increase in blood sugar triggers more oil production in the skin, which in turns clogs pores and Voila!, breakout. (8, 9,). These are the comfort foods we crave most — like breakfast cereals, pizza dough, potatoes, fries, pastries, ice cream, candy...the list goes on.

What foods are good for acne free skin?

1. (Complex) Carb It Up

Your body still needs carbs to make energy, duh. But if refined carbs spike blood sugar and kick your skin’s sebum production into high gear, the reverse is also true: Complex carbs with a lower glycimic index rating aren’t so easy for the body to breakdown or as quick to raise blood sugar. When the body’s ability to regulate sugar levels improves, so can acne. Swapping high GI foods for low GI foods can help set the stage for a healthier environment where your skin doesn’t have to work so hard to stay in the clear. (10)

If you suspect that food is playing a role in your breakout, start here: swap your white bread for multigrain, potatoes for spinach, pasta for spaghetti squash and cookies for fresh peaches. (11)

2. Eat Your Fatty Acids & Antioxidants

Both fatty acids and antioxidants are lauded ingredients in topical skincare products. But you can also eat foods with tons of both for an inside-out approach to proactive acne prevention. Research shows that people with diets high in fatty acids found in fresh fish and seafood do have fewer symptoms of acne, and that increasing omega-3, found in many nuts, can inhibit inflammation. (12)

Likewise, oxidative stress has oft been implicated as an accomplice to breakouts. Although more exploration is needed to fully understand the connection between antioxidant consumption and acne prevention, antioxidants play a clear role as protectors of our health that goes beyond skin. They deserve a place on your personal food pyramid. The best way to get them? The old fashioned way — eat your fruits and vegetables, especially brightly colored berries. (13, 14)

3. Add Zinc

Although the connection between zinc and acne is still being explored, studies confirm that acne is frequently associated with a zinc deficiency. Our enzymes use zinc in their continuous breakdown and renewal processes, including the skin. Since our bodies don’t store excess zinc we have to get it elsewhere on the regular. Straight zinc supplements don’t sit well with everyone’s stomachs so getting it directly from foods high in zinc, like red meats, spinach, nuts or lentils, is probs the best option. (15, 16)

The controversies of dieting aside, it’s hard to overlook the relationship between food and face. More research is needed and sure to come, but for now the internet is ripe with opinions and suggestions to help you determine just how much of an impact your consumption choices have on the severity of your skin’s mood swings. All the Google searches aside, you really are your own best detective when it comes to determining what foods, if any, are related to flare ups. So serve up a well-balanced, zinc-rich meal of fatty acids, antioxidants and low GI foods. Start a food diary. And write down all your skin feels as you go.

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