Long empirically accused of playing a role but then cleared of any responsibility, diet once again seems to be in the spotlight, with scientists investigating its contribution to acne spots and blemishes in both adolescents and adults.

What is the role of processed products, milk and dairy products, sugar and high-glycaemic foods? What should you eat if you have acne?

Professor Loren Cordain, from Colorado State University in the United States, undertook a study on acne-free adolescents around the world, with a focus on Papuan and Inuit peoples. He observed that acne was absent from Inuit populations until they adopted the Western diet. Several doctors have underlined that the modern diet is often pro-inflammatory and thus maintains favourable conditions for the development of acne.

Industrial food products are being blamed for acne as well as for many other diseases due to their extremely high levels of fat, sugar and harmful ingredients.

Healthy Food

The elimination of dairy products appears to be beneficial1 for acne-prone skin. In this case, it is important to find other sources of dietary calcium, such as fatty fish (sardines) and nuts (walnuts, almonds), and to eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. It seems that omega-6 fatty acids in cow’s milk combined with insulin and testosterone can cause undesirable skin reactions.

Food - Cheese

Sugar causes insulin to be secreted by the body, in turn triggering the production of androgens, which regulate sebum production2. Acne patients should therefore monitor their intakes of foods with high Glycaemic Index (GI) values and of bread, refined cereals, white rice, etc. Further research on this topic is currently under way.


Is there such a thing as an anti-acne diet?

During the 2017 Annual Meeting of Latin American Dermatologists (RADLA), which took place in Colombia, Dr Barona (Colombia) advised people with acne to:

  • reduce their consumption of low-fat milk products3, such as skimmed and semi-skimmed milk. It seems that these dairy products contain compounds that stimulate androgen production, which is not the case of whole milk.
  • eat a low-glycaemic diet. High-GI foods increase the secretion of insulin and IGF1 which induce cellular proliferation, stimulate sebum production, increase the synthesis of androgens, etc.  The expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which increase the size of the sebaceous glands, is also an effect of this type of diet.
  • increase their consumption of fruits, vegetables, tea and fish.


1 Relationship between diet, especially sugar, and acne:
T. H. Sakuma and H. I. Maibach, “Oily skin: an overview”, Skin Pharmacol. Physiol., vol. 25, no. 5, pp. 227–35, Jan. 2012.    
Pr Loren Cordain, “Acne vulgaris: a disease of Western civilization”, Arch Dermatol. 138(12):1584-90, Dec 2002.
Apostolos Pappas, “The relationship of diet and acne”, Dermatoendocrinol 2009 Sep-Oct; 1(5): 262-267
2 Relationship between milk and acne:
Quynh-Giao Nguyen, “Diet and acne: an exploratory survey study of patient beliefs”; Dermatol Pract Concept 2016 Apr, 6(2): 21-27
3 Regarding low-fat milk in particular:
According to a talk by Dr Barona (Colombia) RADLA - May 2017