Acne and Diet

Acne is a very common skin condition occurring in pubertal adolescents and young adults. It typically involves the face, the chest and the back in varying severities and it can range from a few open and closed comedos to severe painful pustules and cysts. Acne is a disease that has several causes the most important of which are an increased production of sebum, the presence of the bacteria Propionobacterium acnes and its role in increasing inflammation within the skin as well as several factors such as hormonal imbalance and genetic predisposition. 


Recent data suggests that our current westernized diet that is rich in refined sugars and dairy products may have a role in increasing the occurrence and severity of acne in our populations.  In a study published in 2002, among approximately 1300 subjects from two aboriginal populations in Papua New Guinea and Paraguay, there were no cases of acne. These societies are shielded from the modern world and their diets do not contain refined foods such as cereals, chips, cookies and bread. The researchers concluded that their diet might have a role in the low prevalence of acne in their societies. 


The two main groups of food that can worsen acne are high glycemic index foods, (meaning foods that can increase the sugar in your blood very quickly), and milk and dairy products. Examples of high glycemic index foods are refined white sugar, white bread, white rice, sodas, cookies, sweetened cereals and sweetened juices. The reasons why these foods can worsen acne is that they increase the amount of a particular hormone called insulin in the blood, and the constant increase in this hormone plays a key role in increasing the lesions of acne. As for milk and dairy products, they contain hormonal factors that can also affect acne in a negative way. 


A question that we are often asked is does chocolate cause or increase acne? Although most of us believe that it can, there is no real evidence to support this claim. However staying away from the sweeter milk chocolate and favoring the antioxidant rich dark chocolate is a good idea. The combination of milk and high sugar content of milk chocolate could contribute to the appearance of acne lesions.
Finally, remember that diet modifications should be done in conjunction with a proper medical treatment and skin hygiene in order to treat and control acne.