Foods and Other Causes of Acne

Medically known as Acne Vulgaris, acne is a skin condition that often occurs during the puberty stage of an individual (teenage) —whether male or female.  Only about 20% of the cases occur in adults with teenage boys having the most severe type.




While acne is not a dangerous skin condition, it can leave unsightly scars on the face, neck, shoulders and back.

Who is susceptible to acne?

There are three groups of people who will most likely get acne:

  • People who are naturally prone to it, especially if they have a history of acne in the family. A study cited that if both of your parents had acne, it is highly likely that you will be susceptible to acne at an early age. You also have higher chances of getting adult acne if any of your parents had adult acne, too.
  • People who have sensitive skin. These are the kind of people who could easily get an immediate acne reaction from exposure to dust or harsh chemicals.
  • People who are experiencing skin to body complications. These are people who get acne as a complication or effect of a disease.

The Primary Causes of Acne

The reality is, hormones and heredity are the primary causes of acne. Your body’s predisposition to having oilier skin is the main reason why you have acne. Nevertheless, acne can be aggravated to full-blown breakouts when certain foods are often consumed. But we will talk about that later. Let’s take a closer look at the 2 primary causes of acne.

Hormones—Common acne starts when the production of hormones—particularly testosterone—increases during puberty. During the teenage years, both girls and boys produce higher levels of androgens, which overly stimulate the sebaceous glands located on the face, chin, neck, chest, back and shoulders to produce sebum. Sebum is the oily substance that protects the skin from drying but its excess quantity blocks the skin pores.

Bacteria—Overproduced sebum and dead skin cells clog skin pores, creating a perfect environment where bacteria can multiply which results in inflammation. If the pores swell outward without opening at the surface it causes a whitehead ( closed comedones) that appears as a flesh colored bump. But when the clogged pores open at the surface and turn dark with exposure to air they are known as blackheads (open comedones).

Pimples, also called zits, (papules, pustules) are the painful red swellings with a white center that form when hair follicles become infected with Propionibacterium acnes bacteria. If the inflammation goes deeper inside the hair follicles it produces nodules or cyst-like lumps beneath the skin surface.

Foods (Diet Constituents) That Cause Acne

It sounds cliché, but “You are what you eat” is true because the body resonates whichever nutrient it gets from the food. Like other health conditions, acne can be triggered by some foods.

Let’s take a look at the most commonly known “acne culprits” and see if you should really get rid of them from your diet:

  • Foods With a High Glycemic IndexFast Food Causes Acne

Junk foods are basically the epitome of the causes for acne breakouts. Excessive oil, high sugar content, intense sodium – the contents of every junk food screams acne breakouts.

Countless discoveries have shown how high-glycemic foods like donuts, white bread and pizzas make a person susceptible to inconvenient complications.

Los Angeles dermatologist Jessica Wu, MD, expressed the increase of blood sugar levels equates to an increase in the body’s pumping of insulin which leads to a breakout. An excessive production of androgens, superfluous oils and skin cells will cause pore clogging resulting to inevitable acne breakouts.



  • Chocolate

It is not a myth. Tons of studies have been conducted on the correlation between chocolates to pimples and acne. While there are mixed results as to whether chocolate can specifically cause acne breakouts,  the general verdict claims that chocolate does have the capability to trigger breakouts because of the high sugar and fat content.

An overload of both substances will lead to an elevated production of sebum and a serious rise of the body’s inflammation response. This is how acne is generally formed on account of chocolate consumption.

  • Sugar

Any food that contains high amount of sugar has the downright capability to cause acne breakouts.

Sugar is known to be pro–inflammatory. It elevates the levels of androgens and skin cell production due to insulin production. Acne is a great representation for inflammatory complications that are caused by food high in sugar content.

  • Dairy

Milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, ice cream and anything considered as dairy products are seen as one of the main causes of acne breakouts. This is all due to the hormonal and insulin effects of dairy on the body. Any increase in these two will most likely trigger an acne breakout.

Out of all the types milk, cow’s milk is the unhealthiest (in terms of acne). Apart from altering and increasing secretion of insulin and growth hormones, it can also cause skin irritation.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there may be a strong link between acne breakouts and milk consumption. Dairy causes significant spikes in certain hormones that lead to sebum production.

As explained by a celebrity nutritionist named Paula Simpson, milk has the tendency to cause skin aggravation which paves the path for an acne breakout, especially in the neck, chin and jaw line regions.

If you really must have milk, choose rice milk, almond milk, hemp milk or coconut milk instead of the usual cow’s milk.

  • Soy

Soy contains organic plant estrogens that are known triggers for acne breakouts. These plant-based estrogens called Phytoestrogens have the ability to replicate the natural estrogens in the body.

As this happens, a relapse will occur in the balanced number of hormones found in the body, triggering a breakout in the areas of the mouth and the jaw line. Individuals would have to watch out for the main ingredients used on veggie burgers and the like because it’s such a commonly used ingredient.

  • Salt

Have you ever woken up with puffy eyes? That’s your body telling you that you had too much salt, and it is retaining water. Facial skin is thinner than the rest of the body, so it swells rather easily. Salt also inhibits the healing progress of acne.

Aside from that, salt has high iodine content. High levels of iodine in your diet can induce acne breakouts. Experts concur that iodine found in vitamin supplements as well as in your food can easily irritate the lining of facial pores and accelerates the formation of pimples in acne-prone individuals.

Iodine is found in table salt, dairy products, and seafood.

  • Caffeine in Coffee

A lot of students and workers these days are so reliant on caffeine supplied by coffee in keeping them up to accomplish their tasks for the day. However, despite its ability to increase your productiveness, it can also bring damage to the skin. All kinds of coffee have cortisol and this component acts in the same way the androgen hormone does. It fuels the sebaceous glands which then promotes skin inflammation. Nutritional experts would strongly advise to consider switching from coffee to tea or real fruit juice.

  • Bread

There are people out there who are more susceptible to acne when compared to others and these are the kind of people who should intensely consider altering their pastry and bread consumption to a minimum. Several US dermatological experts like Yap-Tan and Lipman have expressed that breads are known acne triggers.

Health puritans should think twice about the wheat bread they like so much because it’s known to cause inflammation. Breads, especially the commercial ones, are not made without these three basic ingredients – sugar, soy and oil – the same trinity that increase inflammation in the body.

  • Alcohol

Alcohol is often referred to as the “beverage for the soul”, but it has never been called as the “beverage for flawless skin”. People drink it for merriment and they also indulge in it when they’re feeling the spirit of negativity surrounding them. Whichever the cause may be, too much of it will cause acne breakouts.

Not only does alcohol dehydrate the skin, it also alters the levels of vitamin A, B3, and C in the body. It basically renders your body’s naturally occurring antioxidants ineffective, making skin cell regeneration slow and improbable.

  • Supplements – Biotin & Creatine

A majority of supplements contain an extra amount of nutrients that have the tendency to alter the natural balance of the body. As this happens, adverse effects are bound to surface.

With biotin, it may do well for hair growth but it lowers the amount of vitamin B5 in the body. The same thing happens with creatine because it alters the level of sugar in the body and causes dehydration. This results to hormonal imbalance, which then leads to acne breakouts.



  • Coconut Oil

In the Comedogenicity of Common Substances List Part 1 (Fulton, et al), Coconut Oil was listed as one of the highest scoring comedogenic ingredients with a rating of 4. This means that using coconut oil can contribute to clogged pores and significantly increase the risks of acne. While other people swear to the efficacy of coconut oil against acne, people with oily skin should avoid using it on their skin.

  • Nuts

Another food source that increases the normal levels of androgen in the body, nuts usually cause acne breakouts because of the way it prompts the production of sebum. The most common culprit is peanuts.




Peanuts have high androgen content, which increases your skin’s sebum production, hence worsening acne. According to a study conducted on people who eat more peanut butter, the instances and severity of acne breakouts are higher than those who do not consume peanuts at all.

If you must have nuts, choose cashews and almonds instead.

  • Spicy Food

A number of spicy recipes have excessive peppers and spices. This kind of combination triggers the creation of acidic lycopene which then heightens a person’s pH levels. It’s because of this that acne breakouts occur for some people.

An article published in the Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal indicated that there is a strong link between spices and worsening of acne. The article explained that while spicy foods do not cause acne, it is the side effects of eating spicy foods that increase the chances of acne breakouts.

When you eat spicy foods, an inflammatory reaction happens in the body, causing a rise in body temperature, which results to sweating. The sweat then triggers sebum to be released in the skin, and when the oils get trapped, acne breaks out.

  • Medications

There are some medications that can lead to acne breakouts. Some examples are steroid medications, anti-epileptic drugs and lithium (used in the treatment of bipolar disorder and depression) “If you’re taking any kind of medication, check it out and see if acne is listed in the adverse effects column.

  • Friction

Clothing items—regularly wearing headbands or backpacks can place excessive pressure on the affected skin area, which can cause aggravation to acne, leading to breakouts.

Other Causes of Acne

It’s easy to predict that food is the major cause for such undesirable skin breakouts.

However, there is more to it than the food you eat…

  • Stress Can “Uglyfy” You

People who are under a lot of stress are more prone to acne breakouts because of the way cells produce sebum when undergoing too much pressure.

Quite a number of scientific researches have revealed that there is a direct link between stress and acne. When your body is under stress, a hormonal fluctuation happens, which then increases the amount of oil secreted by your skin. Aside from causing acne, these hormonal fluctuations also affect blood pressure and weight.

  • Smoking Weed Is Not Alright for Your Skin





Alternative medicine has claimed that there is a myriad of health benefits that can be derived from smoking weed, but most dermatologists are against this because of its high probability in causing acne breakouts.

It is true that the act of smoking weed will help an individual come to a calm state of mind but it’s not always like that for everybody. Some people experience severe stress and anxiety and those two things are believed to be major causes for acne breakouts.

While the main substance in marijuana called “cannabinoids” is known to be a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, the delivery method to your body makes a huge difference.

Smoking a joint can decrease the collagen production of your skin and can lead to older-looking skin and can exacerbate skin conditions such as acne and rosacea.

  • Shift In The Body’s Hormone Levels

It’s a common fact that every person has its own hormonal programming which upholds their body’s natural state. However, there are instances in one’s lifestyle that could disrupt such balance and cause adverse effects on the body, ergo an acne breakout.

For women, pregnancy and intake of birth control pills are one of the most apparent causes for acne breakouts because both circumstances alter the normal hormone levels of a woman’s anatomy.

In the case of pregnancy, it’s something that just can’t be helped. It is how a woman’s body reacts as she carries two sets of levels of hormones in one body.

Birth control pills which comprise although prevent the act of conception, adverse effects in a woman’s body are likely to take place due to the changes in her hormone levels.

Generally, people who are taking vitamin/mineral supplements can also experience acne breakouts and it’s all because of one reason: your hormones are altered.

  • Cigarette Smoking

Apart from the leisure and relaxation inducing response of cigarette smoking, there is really no positive thing it can contribute to the well-being of a person. Smoking kills and a study partially revealed its correlation with acne breakouts.

It turns out, free radicals are created when you smoke. It then causes impairment in the body’s production of collagens and the skin proteins degradation follows which then leads to the immediate aging of the skin.

In the absolute occurrence of a dry, aging skin, it will then lack the ability to continuously moisturize itself and the clogging of the pores with oil becomes evident.

  • Diagnosed for Hyperthyroidism

The main cause of the appearance of acne can be stemmed to one – hormonal imbalance. Now, in the event that one of the body’s main hormone regulating system, the thyroid gland, gets a complication, it’s evident that an acne breakout would take place in different parts of the body.

This is one of the many adverse effects when the thyroid gland no longer functions the way it should. Apart from acne, other issues could also resurface such as dry hair, frail nails and even bulging of the eyes.

  • Make Up and Cosmetic Products

Applying way too much makeup and not removing them properly can cause acne breakouts.

Cosmetic products—there are some brands or products that are pimple-triggering, which is why it is important to choose products that are labeled “oil free or non-comedogenic”. Acne may develop due to oily lotions and creams.

Build up of leftover makeup on makeup brushes provides for a thriving habitat for bacteria and yeast which can causes Folliculitis, a type of acne.

  • Greasy Or Oily Environment

People who are working in greasy areas, such as in restaurant kitchens and automotive shops, are more likely to have acne because of their constant exposure to oil, which sticks to the skin and eventually clogs pores.

  • Scrubbing

While exfoliation is great for the skin as it sloughs off dead skin cells, too much scrubbing can be detrimental. Excessive scrubbing and cleansing with chemically-laden soaps can irritate the skin and lead to acne.

While there are many things that can cause acne, there are also many solutions to get rid of it. But the best ones are the solutions that can address the problem from the inside out. Eat organic, eat healthy, avoid sugar and dairy, and get enough exercise and sleep. You’d be amazed by how significant the effects will be with just small diet and lifestyle changes.



About DrGoel 28 Articles
Doctor by profession and more than a decade of practice behind her Dr Goel occasionally writes to bring awareness on various diseases and conditions.

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