Acne is an inflammatory skin condition. Therefore, any foods that trigger inflammation may increase your risk of developing acne. This means that any highly processed foods with a long list of additives, preservatives, and artificial ingredients should be limited or avoided. Examples of these types of foods include processed candies, salty snacks, and canned or prepackaged convenience foods. Further studies need to be done, but preliminary research suggests that processed food consumption may be linked to oxidative stress in the body, which can lead to increased risk of chronic disease and skin health conditions.
A study of young adults looked at the impact of diet on acne severity. The research shows that those who reported a diet higher in added sugar, total sugar, milk servings, saturated fat, and trans-fat had a greater likelihood of having moderate to severe acne. Another similar study of adults found that those who had moderate and severe acne consumed greater amounts of carbohydrate-laden foods and high glycemic load foods. The glycemic load reveals how much the food impacts blood glucose levels, so those foods with higher glycemic loads such as white-wheat flour bread, baked goods, and candy are more likely to cause skin health issues.
You may wonder how certain foods can cause a skin condition such as acne. It is suggested that AGEs, or advanced glycation end-products may be the link between diet and inflammatory skin conditions like acne. AGEs are found in cooked meat, oils, and cheese can trigger an inflammatory response. Foods that contain sugars can bind to bacterial protein products to produce AGEs. On the other hand, consuming a diet high in healthy fats and whole foods, such as in traditional Mediterranean and Asian cooking methods, may help reduce formation of AGEs and in turn improve skin health, upon further study.
Burris, MS, RD, CSSD, J., Rietkerk, MD, MBA, W., and Woolf, PhD, RD, FACSM, K. (March 2014) “Relationships of Self-Reported Dietary Factors and Perceived Acne Severity in a Cohort of New York Young Adults.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 114(3): 384-392.
Burris, PhD, RD, CSSD, CSG, J., Rietkerk, MD, MBA, W., Shikany, DrPh, PA-C, J.M., and Woolf, PhD, RD, FACSM, K. (September 2017) “Differences in Dietary Glycemic Load and Hormones in New York City Adults with No and Moderate/Severe Acne.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 117(9): 1375-1383.
Higdon, PhD, J. (2003; updated in March 2016 by Delage, PhD, B.) “Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load.” Linus Pauling-Oregon State University. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/food-beverages/glycemic-index-glycemic-load
Smith, BMedSci, MBbS, FRACP, PhD, P.K., Masilamani, PhD, M., Li, MD, X-M., Sampson, MD, H.A. (February 2017) “The false alarm hypothesis: Food allergy is associated with high dietary advanced glycation end-products and proglycating dietary sugars that mimic alarmins.” The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 139(2): 429-437.