Can Certain Foods Make You Break Out?

is it a myth that certain foods will cause acne break outs such as chocolate or greasy fastfood?

Doctor Answers 13

Many of my colleagues feel that diet does not affect...

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Many of my colleagues feel that diet does not affect acne; well, science says differently. There are studies showing that natives of New Guinea and Paraguay had less acne with a diet rich in fiber and whole grains compared to Americans eating a diet rich in high glycemic index foods.

In addition, studies have shown that teenagers eating a diet rich in milk and dairy products (probably due to hormonal by-products) have a higher incidence of acne than those who don’t.

Manhattan Dermatologist


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For years the answer was no. I can recall scene after scene wherein the mother would ask me this question. When I would say, no the teen would vigorously nod and tell him/her mom, I told you so or something to that effect.

However, now more and more evidence is surfacing that indeed acne is worsened by the typical high carb, high glycemic diet favored by teenaged Americans.

Even back when I as a resident, it was felt that seafood, especially shellfish with its high idodine content, was detrimental for acne. Add milk and milk products since often progesterone, an acnegenic hormone, was added to cow feed to enhance milk production.

Studies, later to be determined as poorly done, had shown that chocolate had no influence on acne ( E Mail if you are curious about those studies).

However, a few years ago an enterprising, or maybe vacation hungry, dermatololgist journeyed to an island i the South Pacific where the natives had perfect, blemish-free skin. He somehow coaxed them into consuming typical American fare.

Before he could say Pro-activ, the natives began to break out with typical acne lesions.

More recently Robyn Smith of Austrialia ( Journal of Clinical Nutrition) showed that a low glycemic glycemic diet made acne significantly better. Her subjects were males but subsequently but this was later proven to be stue for both subjects.

Even more recently, in fact two weeks ago, at the American Acadmey of Dermatology meeting in San Francisco, dermatologists from the University of Miami showed that 90% of the people who followed the South Beach diet had marked improvement in their acne.

So, I now tell my patients that diet can be very important in controlling the outbreaks of acne. Follwing the South Beach diet plan certainly is worth trying if your acne is stubborn an unresposive. It actually might not be a bad idea even if you are not afflicted with the teenage scourge.

Arnold R. Oppenheim, MD
Virginia Beach Dermatologist

Diet and Acne

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This is a very controversial subject amongst my peers, but I think it is broadly agreed that you are noticing a substantial increase in acne after eating certain foods, whether it be chocolate or any other food, then it is in your best interest to try and cut down on those foods.  Studies recently have begun to show that there may be a link between food and acne.  Two such studies are the Harvard Milk study published in the JAAD showing a possible correlation with Milk products and Acne, with those drinking more than 2 glasses of Skim Milk having approximately a 44% increase in Acne and more than 3 glasses of any type of Milk having approximately a 22% increase in Acne.  This included other dairy products such as cream cheese, sherbet, breakfast drinks, etc.  The results are thought to be due to hormonal by-products and moderate consumption of milk is still recommended.  Interestingly this study did not show any correlation between chocolate or french fries and acne.  However, an older study from the Archives of Dermatology showed that populations eating traditional diets free of processed foods, like Inuits, Okinawians and Hunter/Gatherer types do not have Acne at any stage of their lives.    These 2 studies lend credence to the believe currently that there may be an increased association between Acne and High Glycemic Diets as well as with Milk based products.

Matthew Elias, DO, FAAD
Fort Lauderdale Dermatologic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 6 reviews

Acne, food, chocolate and myth

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Diet has an important role to play in many skin disorders. Doctors and dermatologists are frequently faced with the difficulty of separating myth from fact when it comes to dietary advice. 

There are certain disorders where one or more components in food are central to the what is happening (like dermatitis herpetiformis.) There are many other disorders where diet might have a role to play.

In general, there is a lot of talk about diet, hygiene and sunlight exposure, and how this relates to acne. Surprisingly little well studied evidence exists. This means that we, as doctors, can’t be firm about telling our patients exactly what to do about acne when it comes to diet, face-washing, and sunlight.

The best thing is to give individualized advice.

In general:

-From a practical point of view, it is useful to keep a diet journal, and so *you* can decide how this affects your skin. 

-Use sunscreen! We know sun causes damage.

-Face-washing may help, and there are products that can be applied to skin that will assist with mild acne

Magin P, Pond D, Smith W, Watson A. A systematic review of the evidence for ‘myths and misconceptions’ in acne management: diet, face-washing and sunlight. Fam Pract. 2005;22(1):62–70.

Certain foods triggering break outs

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A healthy diet results in glowing, radiant skin—and in many cases, what you eat may be triggering inflammation in the body, resulting in acne. Some studies have linked eating chocolate to an increase in acne but more research needs to be done. Don’t hesitate to call us and find out what might be working and not working for your skin.

Dennis Gross, MD
New York Dermatologist
4.7 out of 5 stars 11 reviews

Acne and Diet

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Acne is in large part a food-borne illness–that is, it is preventable by changing what you eat. Acne is non-existent in non-Westernized populations (such as the Inuit, Okinawa islanders, Ache hunter-gatherers, and Kitavan islanders, all of whom do not consume dairy products), suggesting that acne is largely, if not completely, caused by diet. A study in 2011 in Korea, which followed a total of 1285 participants (783 with acne and 502 as control), supports this idea, concluding that “a high glycemic load diet, dairy food intake, high fat diet, and iodine in Korean foods appear to play a role in acne exacerbation.”

Diet related to acne breakouts?

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Greasy foods and chocolate have been proven to NOT cause acne. But, that doesn't mean you should go crazy and eat anything you want! A healthy lifestyle is still indicated to help your skin. Recent research shows that eating less carbohydrates like breads and pasta will help reduce your acne, as well as reducing your milk intake.

Joshua L. Fox, MD
Long Island Dermatologic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 22 reviews

Acne and diet - Treatment in Los Angeles

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The issue is under debate. Many clinicians feel that there are some links, but they vary from person to person. Go with your gut instinct.

Raffy Karamanoukian MD FACS

Los Angeles

Raffy Karamanoukian, MD, FACS
Los Angeles Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 95 reviews

Foods that Cause Acne

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Recent research has shown that what you eat may actually cause your acne to flare.  Some studies have shown that dairy foods (particularly in teenage boys) can contribute to the formation of acne.  Additionally, foods with a high glycemic index may also play a role in the development of acne.  It is important to pay attention to your diet and see if you notice any patterns in your acne.  I also recommend meeting with a dermatologist, to determine whether there may be other non-dietary causes of your acne that should be addressed.

Eric Schweiger, MD
New York Dermatologic Surgeon

Of course!

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Scientific evidence is mixed in this area. However, if you find that you develop acne after eating certain foods, such as chocolate, then you should eat them sparingly. 

Also in rosacea, breakouts consisting of pimples, pustules and redness can occur with spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol.

Laura Rosenzweig, MD
Charlotte Dermatologic Surgeon

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.