Diet and Acne

by Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Posted on Oct 5, 10:29 PM in and . No comments.


This week, I had a query about diet and acne, whether or not there is a link and what sort of dietary changes could help to reduce or avoid acne.

Acne can be very distressing for young people and older people alike. A high proportion of 11-30 year olds are affected by acne (over 80%). There have been many suggestions about the links between diet and acne in the past, but there have been variable amounts of evidence to support many of the claims.

Foods such as sweets, chocolate and fatty foods have been blamed for being acne triggers and suggestions have been made that zinc and vitamin A can help to reduce outbreaks.

So where do we stand with what we know about diet and acne?

There have been a few literature reviews on the topic of diet and acne. Recent reviews all seem to come to the same conclusions:

  • It’s reasonable to assume eating sweets is a problem. There is strong evidence of the association between acne and diets with high glycaemic index (GI) and glycaemic load (GL).
  • Being overweight also tends to contribute.
  • Drinking lots of milk may trigger acne. This may be down to hormones in milk but more needs to be investigated, especially around some of the different components of milk (e.g casein).
  • There is good and bad news for chocolate. There is still not enough proof it has a direct link but it’s suggested that high sugar and milk containing chocolate can be a problem, so high cocoa percent chocolate is the best choice.
  • The evidence regarding intake of salt and saturated and hydrogenated fats is still limited.
  • Low meal frequency and lack of raw vegetable intake may be related.

GI and GL

Glycaemic index (GI) is a ranking system of carbohydrates which describes the way they will affect blood glucose. Carbohydrates that are digested and broken down to glucose quickly are high GI and those which break down more slowly are low GI.

High GI foods include sweets, white bread, white baguettes, french fries, doughnuts and sweet fizzy drinks.

Low GI foods include yoghurt, heavy mixed grain breads, sweet potato, beans and chickpeas, lentils, nuts, wholemeal pasta, noodles, sweet corn, apples, pears and peaches.

Glycaemic load (GL) takes into account the GI but also considers the amount or quantity of carbohydrate being eaten.
GL is calculated by (GI x amount of carbohydrate/100).

To reduce your GL, its best to choose low GI foods and control your portion size of carbohydrates when having meals and snacks.

Key tips to avoiding acne through diet

  1. Avoid high GI/GL foods and meals- choose low GI foods and control your carbohydrate portions. Cut out sweet fizzy drinks. Dont eat large quantities of sweets and biscuits or go crazy on large pizza/pasta or rice meals. Avoid adding slices of bread to your meals.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight.
  3. Eat regular meals/don’t skips meals.
  4. Include vegetables in your diet.
  5. Consider reducing milk intake (ensure you are getting enough calcium through fortified soy milks and other dietary sources).
  6. Try 70% cocoa solid chocolate instead of high sugar/ milk varieties.


Veith WB, Silverberg NB. (2011). The Association of Acne Vulgaris With Diet. Cutis;88:84-91

Ferdowsian HR, Levin S.(2010) Does diet really affect acne? Sin Therapy Lett. Mar;15(3):1-2, 5.

Purdy S, de Berker D.(2006) Acne. BMJ.;333:949

About the author

Anne Myers-Wright

Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Anne is a Health Professions Council (HPC) registered dietitian (RD), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD- Australia), a fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), a member of the British Dietetic Association, The Nutrition Society and of The Dietetics Association of Australia.


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