Does Sugar Cause Acne – 3 Ways Sweet Tooth Can Ruin Your Skin

Does Sugar Cause Acne – 3 Ways Sweet Tooth Can Ruin Your Skin

Sugar and spice and all things nice may be what little girls are made of. But we can equally say, milk and sugar and all things sweet, that’s what little pimples are made of.

Leaving poetics behind, we come to the point of this post. Does sugar cause acne? The short answer is yes, and in this post I’ll explain why.

Research in the past few decades has uncovered two main factors behind acne: hormones and inflammation. Hormones put the skin glands to overdrive, resulting in excessive sebum production and skin cell growth. Combination of sticky sebum and dead skin cells is the ideal recipe for blocked pores.

Inflammation damages sebum in those blocked pores and creates ideal environment for P. Acnes bacteria to thrive. Research has shown that it’s the inflammation of sebum that triggers acne – not bacteria. Bacteria add to existing inflammation, but don’t start the process.

Sugar has it’s dirty sweet fingers at both of these pies.

Sugar aggravates hormonal acne

All acne is hormonal to some degree. Because of genetics, acne-prone skin is sensitive to androgens (male sex hormones). They increase sebum production and skin cell growth.

Insulin and insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) are other hormones that are linked to acne. Studies show that IGF-1:

  • Increases acne severity, the higher the IGF-1 levels the more severe acne
  • Increases sebum production
  • Increase pore size, making them more visible

Clearly, high IGF-1 levels are not good for the skin. Insulin has similar effect than IGF-1, but it’s not as potent as IGF-1 is.

Connection to sugar

Insulin and IGF-1 are linked to blood sugar levels. As you eat carbohydrates, and especially sugar, your blood sugar levels increase. The pancreas responds by releasing insulin, a hormone that takes sugar into cells and reduces blood sugar levels.

Elevated insulin levels increase both IGF-1 levels and IGF-1 bioavailability. This is not a problem if you have a soda or donut once in a while, but becomes a real problem if you frequently eat sugary foods.

Here’s an easy way to think this. Sugar is sebum. Anytime you drink soda or eat a donut you are just adding sebum into your face and make it more likely that you get acne.

Sugar promotes inflammation

Inflammation is another critical factor in acne. Studies have shown acne patients have higher levels of inflammation than those with healthy skin. This depletes antioxidants and leaves the skin vulnerable to inflammation, making it more likely that you get acne. Increase in inflammation is the reason food allergies, gut problems, and some foods aggravate acne.

Sugar is bad for inflammation. Very bad. This study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows just how bad. In this study they took 29 young, healthy men and gave them either 1 or 2 12oz cans of soda per day for 3 weeks. These are people who normally don’t drink much soda. After 3 weeks here’s what happened to their C reactive protein (CRP) levels, CRP is one of the best measures of inflammation.

  • 1 can per day, inflammation levels went up by 87%
  • 2 cans per day, up by 105%

These are pretty shocking numbers considering the people didn’t drink that much. 1 – 2 cans per day is normal for many people.


Candida is a third way sugar wreaks havoc on your face. Candida is yeast that lives in the skin and the digestive track. Normally it’s harmless and the immune system keeps it in check. But under certain conditions (such as excessive sugar intake or frequent use of antibiotics) it can grow out of control.

When this happens in the digestive track it can cause gut problems and indirectly contribute to acne, see how gut problems are linked to acne. Candida overgrowth in the skin causes inflammation in the skin that can lead to acne. Read more about how Candida causes acne here.

Research links high GI foods to acne

Research over the last decade has finally debunked the myth that diet doesn’t cause acne. Lot of that research has focused on high glycemic index (GI) foods. Glycemic index measures how quickly a particular food increases blood sugar levels. Sugar and refined carbohydrates (such as white bread and pasta) are high in GI whereas whole grains and most fruits have low to moderate GI values.

Research clearly shows that low GI foods reduce acne and the hormones linked to it. Some studies show that simply switching from high GI food to low GI foods can reduce acne by 30 to 50%.

If you are not familiar with glycemic index The University of Sydney Glycemic Index website is a good place to start, you’ll find tons of recipes and meal plans here. Harvard website also has a handy table with glycemic index for 100 common foods.


We started this post poetically wondering if sugar causes acne. I think we can conclude that the answer is a resounding YES. Sugar aggravates the two major causes of acne: hormones and inflammation.

This doesn’t mean you have to obsess over sugar. Occasional soda or sugary snack is nothing to worry about. But expect trouble if you eat them frequently, as it increases hormones that stimulate sebum production and skin cell growth. Indulging in sugar can also feed Candida overgrowth that may indirectly cause acne.

Research has shown that this is more than just theory. Several studies have shown that low glycemic index foods improve acne whereas high GI foods increase sebum production and worse acne.

So in the end there is a price for having sweet tooth, and your skin is paying it.

If you are serious about reducing sugar, you have to go beyond sodas, cakes and other obvious sweets.

Listen to this, a study published in 2012 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that 3 out of 4 foods in supermarkets is a hidden sugar bomb. Many of so-called healthy foods have as much sugar as candy bars.

I’ve put together a short info package that explains how to identify and avoid hidden sugar bombs the food industry has placed all over supermarkets. You’ll learn:

  • 5 Simple ways to reduce your sugar intake by 80% or more
  • How to avoid cravings and temptations that lead to sugar binging
  • How to identify foods with tons of hidden sugar

Plus tons of other practical tips and hints on how to stop sugar from destroying your skin. Click the download link below to get started.

About Me

Hi, I am Acne Einstein(a.k.a. Seppo Puusa). I'm a bit of a science nerd who is also passionate about health. I enjoy digging through medical journals for acne treatment gems I can share here. You can read more about my journey through acne and how I eventually ended up creating this.

68 thoughts on “Does Sugar Cause Acne – 3 Ways Sweet Tooth Can Ruin Your Skin”

  1. This does not bode well for me as I have an awful sweet tooth! Chocolate is really my achilles heel.

    Since I came off the contraceptive pill 9 months ago I’ve begaun to notice again how eating sugar effects not only my skin, but everything to do with my hormonal cycle. My acne was definitely mostly hormonal so I’ve been trying to control things with plenty of anti-androgens such as peppermint and green tea, and eating more a paleo-style diet (not that my diet was terrible before but there were definite improvements to be made). I did myself a favour by going on a “candida cleanse” diet back in March for about a month, which I feel really gave me a good foundation to work on, but my sugar consumption since it became colder outside in recent weeks has just been so bad, and it’s started to show on my skin again; I think I’ll need to do another cleanse!

    • Sorry about the late reply Laura. I was sick for the past few days.

      I don’t think you have to avoid all sugar. Some sweets every now and then should be ok. On the other hand, we all know how addictive sugar is. So it might be worth it to just go sugar-free for a few weeks to break the addiction.

      By the way, this also includes diet sodas and other artificially sweetened stuff. At least in my personal experience sweet taste (even without calories) keeps those sugar cravings alive.

  2. I’ve never liked sodas so I mostly avoid them in any case, but my weaknesses are chocolate and pastries, and I’ll have some chocolate everyday (and often more than just ‘some’). I think I could do with a bit of a restrictive break for a few weeks, but it means I’ll be irritable and climbing the walls for at least the first week or two! Once the pattern is broken though, I’m often very good for a while at least.

    Sorry to hear you weren’t feeling well, it does seem to be ‘flu season though! Take care of yourself 🙂

  3. Dear Seppo

    I recently eliminated most simple sugars from my diet. It’s been a few months now. I suffered the shame if acne for thirty years. Now, the acne is gone! It’s truly an amazing change. Please, anyone out there, looking for answers, its worth the effort. Once you see the results, you won’t want to go back to eating the sugar!

    Glad you’re out there revealing the truth Seppo. Wishing you the best.

  4. I have been struggling with moderate to severe acne for the last 4 years now, I am now 30. I have tried everything, and have learned that diet is the number one factor in determining the condition of my skin. I have learned that I can’t eat any sugar, bread, pasta, and even certain fruits! If I do, I instantly feel a pimple coming. Really sucks because I love sweets and pasta. Just wonder why this sugar sensitivity doesn’t happen with everyone, and why it started when I was 26.

    • Hard to say why you got this now. It could have something to do with hormones. One of the symptoms of excessive androgen levels is sudden onset of acne. I could also see how sugar in that situation aggravates the skin. Have you gotten your hormone levels tested? Do you have any other symptoms of PCOS?

      It’s also possible you have Candida infection in the gut, which gets aggravated by sugar intake. Do you have any often symtoms related to yeast infections?

  5. My new years resolution is to cut down the sugar drastically. I am 16 years old, and have had bad acne and inflamation for most of my life. After reading your article, i look back and I have loved and consumed alot of sugary food, drinks, etc. Thank you so much Seppo, because until now, i didnt believe sugar was the cause of my acne. Also, thank you Sandra Hiser, because you have motivated me to give it a try and see the results!

    • Rachel,

      Glad to hear if I was able to help you. Just remember that acne is rarely a black and white thing. Yes, sugar can make acne worse, but it’s probably not the sole cause of anyone’s acne.

  6. I’ve been starting to eat healthier the last six months (almost eliminating processed sugar) but I think it was a mistake to include juicing of orange juice and carrot juice in my diet. I kept telling myself that it was healthy fruit sugar, but if I have candida, I now think that any type of sugar can aggravate that. I’ve basically eliminated meat and am eating high raw, with oatmeal for breakfast, fruit meals for lunch, and lentil soup or guacamole and tortilla strips for dinner. With the juicing, I think the carrot juice with ginger may have actually been helping me, since it is loaded with Vitamin A. I think the orange juice was hurting me. I have also heard of using sugar to bait cancers or bacteria and then deliver a hidden ingredient that attacks the infection. Molasses and baking soda is an example. I wonder if I could combine carrot juice with another powerful antioxidant to fight acne. Sorry this got so long. Do you think I should switch to smoothies for a more even delivery of sugar to my system or just get rid of fruit all together? My results from eliminating meat and processed sugar have been encouraging, but I’m not quite there yet. I know I’m doing something wrong with my diet.

    • Sugar is sugar is sugar. All the sugar is processed the same way and your body doesn’t really care where it came from. Of course in fruits the sugar comes with vitamins and antioxidants, so that’s good, but it’s still sugar.

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a glass of fruit juice with breakfast, but I wouldn’t drink more than a glass a day, and preferably even less than that.

      I know you probably won’t believe me, but let me just start by saying that I used to be where you are now. There was a time in my life when I was eating most of my foods as raw, raw vegan type of thing. It didn’t end up well for me. I almost gave myself a diabetes in the process, but luckily my symptoms got so bad that I just couldn’t ignore them anymore (ridiculous joint pains, constantly tired, etc).

      Anyway, my point is that the raw food diet is based on some massive fallacies. It can be healthy, but it’s not something I would recommend to anyone anymore. Just something to keep in mind if you run into symptoms.

      Also, don’t put too much faith into diet. Most people can’t cure acne with diet alone. There are so many other factors involved. Diet helps, but it’s not a miracle cure by anymeans. And I would argues that worrying too much about your diet does more harm than good.

      I’ve written a few posts about Candida. Maybe you can read them to get a different point of view. Because as far as scientific evidence is concerned the whole Candida thing looks very, very weak. I admit that there’s not enough science to say for sure, but what we have suggests that the alt-med claims about Candida are grossly overstated.

      As to smoothies, I don’t think there’s any reason to avoid them. I still regularly have a green smoothies. But if I were you, I would avoid excessive carbohydrate intake. There’s good evidence to show that replacing a portion of carbohydrates with healthy fats is good for insulin and blood sugar levels, and for acne by extension.

      I don’t think it’s a good idea to cut meat from your diet. At least if you have no ethical objections to it. Meats actually have quite a bit of healthy fats also, especially grass-fed and pastured meats.

      I’ll be happy to guide you a bit. Just understand that what I recommend may not agree with a lot of what you believe about health now. Based on what you wrote you remind me of myself a couple of years back, and during those days I wouldn’t have believed much of what I say now 🙂

      • Thanks for your response. I’m skeptical about the raw vegan diet myself, and I’m not married to that or any other dogma. The scientific evidence is very lacking for the case to eat everything raw. I’m not against cooking. I decided to stop eating meat at home, just because it is everywhere and I was trying to get a better balance. I still eat meat outside of the home (I just had a double cheeseburger yesterday in fact). I have read that animal protein increases IGF-1 levels (, so I think it is pro-inflammatory. And meat comes with a lot of baggage like cholesterol and slow digestion. For now I’m simply limiting my consumption. I agree that the evidence for candida is also limited, but even though the mechanism might turn out to be false, it still seems like eating a low glycemic diet is a good idea for those trying to reduce acne. Thanks for creating this site. I’ve already started drinking more green tea!

        • Glad to hear that you are keeping an open mind. And it wasn’t my intention to imply anything. Some of the things you mentioned just raised some red flags on my head.

          I think I know that meat increases IGF-1 study you refer to. The study actually showed that milk and dairy proteins increase IGF-1 levels but other forms of animal foods don’t. Anyway, I’m not advocating eating too much meat. There’s a lot of evidence to show that too much saturated fat is not good for you. Just that in a context of balanced diet there’s nothing wrong with eating meat or animal foods.

          Agree with you on low GI diets. My point about Candida is to argue against excessively strict diets and spending a lot of money on Candida killing supplements. But cutting out sugar and refined carbs can only be good for you.

      • My wife has been doing a juice diet for the last few days (a New Year thing) – and I joined in – it includes a lot of fruit (pineapple, apples, oranges) juiced up with ginger or mint – sometimes a bit of cucumber – and vegetable broth in the evening. She’s convinced that the sugar in fruit is ok – but based on your blog this seems wrong? I’m sure my skin was getting worse after 2 days so I stopped. I guess you’d recommend against a juice diet in general? I also wondered how fast the impact of a sugar rush from a pint of fruit juice would be – I got a raised red bump about an hour afterwards – coincidence – or could sugar in the bloodstream act this fast?

        • Sugar is sugar is sugar, regardless of where it comes the body processes sugar the same way. Fruit is generally not bad for acne since the absorption is slowed by fiber, and most people eat just a few pieces of fruit at a time, so the total sugar load it limited. But all bets are off when you juice them. Sugar from juice enters the bloodstream almost immediately, like within 10 to 15 minutes.

          In my books fruit juices are not much better than soda. They both spike blood sugar and insulin levels. That’s why I don’t generally recommend juice diets. Most people do them for ‘detox’ purposes, but the whole detox concept is fallacious. That kinda defeats the whole purpose of the juice diets.

          Science-Based Medicine blog just posted a nice article on detox fallacies:

          As to you getting acne so quickly, it’s probably a coincidence. While the sugar can enter bloodstream quickly, I don’t think it could affect the skin so quickly.

  7. I wrote a long reply but it didn’t seem to go through for some reason. Basically, I’m not married to the raw vegan diet, I am skeptical myself as there is very little data to back up their claims. I often eat cooked food for dinner. I’m just willing to experiment until I find what works best for my body. There are studies suggesting that animal protein raises IGF-1 levels, making it pro-inflammatory. I’m not totally avoiding meat, but significantly reducing it. I used to eat frozen food a lot, so I know the quality of that meat was bottom of the barrel, antibiotic infused anyway. If quality meat wasn’t so expensive, I might enjoy it more often. I think the greatest benefit I have experienced so far has been from eliminating processed foods and sugars, which seems to be the common denominator to many currently popular diets including paleo. A lot of people in the “raw movement” say they were vegan but still unhealthy until they went raw. I think the elimination of processed foods like soy burgers was the biggest factor in their newfound health, not the theory that cooking reduces the amount of vitamins or enzymes in food. Thanks for creating this site, I’ve already stepped up my green tea consumption!

  8. Thank you sooo much for clarifying things – pun intended ; ) I have noticed that after eating sugary stuff my skin has bad issues, but part of me was probably in denial. At least now I know it’s true, and I love the fact that science is backing it up. Rather than just sounding like an old wife’s tale.
    Thank you very much : ) : ) : )

  9. I am a living evidence that sugar (a lot in my case) is a primary cause of acne!

    I assure you that this is true. there might be many reasons for pimples on your face (and probably on other parts of the body) but I figured that in my case, it is much sugar.

    Why am I so sure about this? because I “experimented” on myself.

    I’m 25, I have a history of zits, I always had them but it was changing, sometimes I had a lot on my face and other times just a few.

    I started noticing that when I eat more sugar, I see more zits (especially on my face) in the following 2-3 days.
    So I did an experiment, I stopped eating all the sweets I love, which include chocolates, gummy snakes, ice cream etc.. (btw I only drink water, so cutting sodas wasn’t a problem for me & I only eat full grain bread, pasta, brown rice etc.. so the white rice, bread etc was not part of my problem).

    I started noticing MUCH improvement on the 4th and 5th days. it was like they were dry and vanishing.

    then I did it again, I sinned again by eating LOTS of candies (lots of candies for me = ~500 grams of chocolate a day) then I got off sugar once again, guess what? same results –> looked like a 13 year old with my face full of zits and after being sober for 4 days my face got much better!

    I was a smoker once, I used to smoke for 6 years. I quit smoking when I decided I really wanted to quit smoking.

    Now I decided I really wanna quit eating unhealthy sugary foods & I’m sure I’m gonna succeed!

    Respect your bodies by eating healthy foods & exercising regularly (minimum 2 times a week).

    Good Luck everyone!

  10. Hi Seppo ……i m from india really liked ur information …i m also suffering a very bad acne from last 17 months .and one more thing i noticed that from that time only i pee (urine)a lot… so is sugar is the prob for me also?what i should do to treat with this what thing should i eat to handle it .pls help me …i am a vegetarian ..

  11. ok thanks seppo .i m only 27 so can it is possible that it is a sign of diabetes???actualy bcoz of job i change my city all the climatically condition ,food is different compare to my native …when i came here in this city (bangalore) from that time only i m suffering with bad acne..otherwise my skin was oily not much breakouts once in month it happened but here too much oil came with some sticky kind of material.plss help me i m really want ur help seppo 🙁

    • India is the diabetes capital of the world and Indian food (in general) is really bad for blood sugar health (lots of white rice, wheat flour in chapatis and rotis, and tons of omega-6 rich vegetable oils). I of course don’t know what you have been eating, I was just commenting on Indian food as general. Diabetes and blood sugar problems can and do strike people at increasingly young age. So I wouldn’t say it’s impossible just because you are 27.

      That said, your skin problems can also be due to change in climate. I live in Thailand and I notice that my skin is much oilier in the hot and humid conditions here than in the colder environment back in Finland.

  12. Seppo, nice website.

    About food in India, is not like that.Traditional food : whole flour, ghee, milk.etc.But now is changing.

    • I guess that depends on where you live, but when I lived in Mumbai most of the food in normal restaurants was quite unhealthy, but home-cooked is different.

  13. thanks for your web so’s so helpful for people like me.i hope you keep doing these research that really save lives (acnes bring serious pains to me for years)

  14. I have found with me that sugar free gum or anything with aspartame causes me to have multiple facial acne within 24 hours.

    • Thanks for sharing, Daniel. That sounds really weird. I can’t think of any way aspartame could have such a drastic effect. Not saying it doesn’t happen or it’s impossible, it just sounds really weird to me.

  15. Hi Seppo, i’ve been learning about acne for about 5 years now…I’m 20 and still have it. I’m now learning and starting to become paranoid once again about my skin and now sugar. I’m afraid to really eat anything. And feel like I have to cut out the foods I love to have clear skin. I don’t eat any gluten, soy, dairy, or grains really except for brown rice.

    But with this sugar thing…does it mean I can NEVER eat sugar again. If I don’t have sugar for months, and then go eat 5 lollipops or some baked potatoes am I going to have an acne flair? I just don’t get how to know that i’m limiting my sugar intake correctly and doing good for my acne.

    It sucks that people can eat anything, and drink nothing but soda and have clear skin and I have to be worried here about the juice I make from my juicer having too much sugar or the potatoes salad I just ate.

    I can’t even focus on my school work cause I’m so paranoid and constantly thinking about how to make my skin better.

    I eat lots of salads, and veggies, take fermented cod liver oil…I just feel like sugar would still cause acne even if I didn’t have nutritional deficiencies…I just don’t get it!

    • “Elevated insulin levels increase both IGF-1 levels and IGF-1 bioavailability. This is not a problem if you have a soda or donut once in a while, but becomes a real problem if you frequently eat sugary foods.”

      Is a few bananas a day bad? And a glass of juice a day? If your IGF-1 levels are increased does this automatically lead to a zit, and do the levels of IGF-1 build in your body overtime as you keep adding to it and now letting it lower? I just feel like it’s eat a potato or drink some carrot juice, your insulin is spiked and then you get sebum and cell division and a zit.

      • I normally recommend avoiding juices. In my books they are the same as soda. This doesn’t mean that having a glass of juice would automatically cause acne. I just think the ‘juice habit’ overall isn’t very good for you.

        Is a few bananas a day bad? Depends on the context. In the context of overall carb moderated diet, no, it’s not bad at all. But if you eat a lot of white rice, pasta, etc. then a few bananas a day means increase glucose and insulin load in your body.

        do the levels of IGF-1 build in your body overtime as you keep adding to it and now letting it lower?

        This is not how it works. IGF-1 levels do come down as glucose and insulin load in your body decreases. Think of glucose and insulin as artificially pumping IGF-1 levels up. When you reduce that ‘pumping’ then IGF-1 decreases.

        • Idk Seppo, Raw food diet or even high carb high raw diets are just very convincing to me..they make sense but so does 99% of everything you post, lol. I just can’t give up Veganism up, anymore. Especially after watching loads of documentaries such as Earthlings and The China Study.
          I personally eat 10~ bananas a day and a handful of other fruits until 4-7, then finish off with a high carb cooked meal ex; steamed potatoes and root vegetables.

          I mean, check these people out:

          Videos 2, 3, 6 and 8 (top to bottom)

          And finally this one:

          Let me know what you think, Seppo!

          • If you think raw food diet works for you, then by all means keep at it. If you read my about page, you’ll see that it was a disaster for me. I know it makes sense, it did for me at the time I was on it. But a lot of the underlying ‘science’ they talk about is wrong. Fat doesn’t really cause insulin resistance, at least not until it becomes a major part of your diet (40% of total calories and up). I personally do much better with moderate carb, high-protein diet, but that’s just my personal experience and your body may very well do better on high-carb raw food diet.

            As to veganism, I can’t argue with your points. It’s much better for the environment.

            Regarding the videos you posted, I hope you understand why I don’t take those things seriously. Not because I think they are lying, I’m sure they are honest with their results. It’s just that we can’t make any meaningful conclusions based on limited and uncontrolled data.

            While I don’t doubt that raw food helped many people to get clear, you can’t conclude from that that raw food cures acne. It’s possible, I would say even likely, that it was elimination of milk and perhaps grains that caused the improvement. When people start on a raw food diet they usually make tons of changes, and we can’t really say what was it that made the difference. That’s why we need controlled trials.

            Furthermore, there’s a massive selection bias at play here. Because only people who got results with raw food diet post videos. Let’s say that 1000 people try raw food diet, 50 people got fantastic results, 200 got so-so results, and the remainder either saw no results or got worse. However, out of the 50 people 25 got so excited that they post videos to YouTube. So what you are seeing are the very best of the best results, but you never hear from the silent majority. Would you still conclude that raw food diet is such a boon?

            I’m not saying this is the case with raw food diet. I’m just saying this is one of the reasons why you shouldn’t pay too much attention to testimonials and user results. The information they provide is inherently very, very unreliable.

    • You are freaking way too much. And I believe that anxiety that comes through your comment harms your skin way more than sugar ever could.

      But with this sugar thing… does it mean I can NEVER eat sugar again. If I don’t have sugar for months, and then go eat 5 lollipops or some baked potatoes am I going to have an acne flair? I just don’t get how to know that i’m limiting my sugar intake correctly and doing good for my acne.

      No, and I believe this kind of attitude is extremely unhealthy. Sugar is a carbohydrate and in that way no different from many other carbs. Sugar enters the bloodstream faster than many other carbs, and that’s where the problem comes. Because this increase insulin and indirectly also IGF-1 levels that can lead to acne.

      If you were to chart this on a graph were Y-axis shows insulin level and the X-axis is time. In the morning your insulin is at fasting levels, the steady level without food intake. But after you eat carbs insulin levels increase for 3 to 4 hours, imagine how a wave rises from ocean to get an idea of what it looks like. The more carbs you eat, and the higher the GI of those carbs, the higher the peak of the ‘insulin wave’ is, and the more insulin enters your bloodstream.

      This can cause acne, and other health problems, when it happens repeatedly and over a long period of time. What happens when many of your meals contain a lot of sugar or refined carbs. The problem gets worse with insulin resistance, i.e. your body’s ability to deal with carbohydrates goes down. That’s the situation many acne patients find themselves in.

      This doesn’t mean you have to avoid all sugar all the time. It just means eating less sugar, and carbs by extension, to reduce the insulin load on your body. After a while of carb moderation insulin resistance usually gets better, meaning your body’s ability to deal with carbs improves.

      Makes sense?

      What you want is moderate sugar and carb intake. There’s no need to completely eliminate them.

  16. Now you told us about your ”mono” fruit diet and how much problems it caused you. How many fruits would you recommend eat per day?

    • I don’t think it makes sense to separate fruits from other carbohydrate foods. Body processes them the same way. So rather than tell you how many fruits to eat per day, I think it’s better to focus on overall carbohydrate intake (and keep it somewhere between 30 and 50% of total calories) and eat as many fruits as you want within that.

      • I ate about… 3 buiscuits of chocolate cookies and 2 small snicker bars.. And honestly, I’ve done worse without getting a imple but there is always that ”Uh.. What if I get a pimple” Is there a way to minimize the damage done to your skin after eating sweets? You said in another post to lower the carbohydrate intake for the day.. Anything else?

        • I would be more concerned about long-term carb intake than daily intake. Keeping your overall intake in 30 to 40% of total calories ensures that occasionally indulging in sweets won’t harm your skin. I’m not aware of anything that would prevent absorption of carbs or negate their effect on the body.

          The best thing to do is not to worry about it too much. Stressing causes more harm than the sweets themselves.

  17. Hi Seppo,
    Just wondering if you had any thoughts related to this: I tend to have a high insulin level but low blood sugar level. This was never discussed with me by my regular physician but I recently started seeing a naturopathic dr. She ran a food allergy test and the results suggested I am allergic to dairy, eggs, gluten and scored very high on cane sugar. So I have been eliminating these foods from my diet for the last 5 weeks and have not seen a significant improvement in my skin. Could the high insulin/low blood sugar be the problem?

    • Sorry to say but.. You’re going to get a long rant reply by seppo when you mentioned Naturopathics doctors..

    • Do you mean a food intolerance / sensitivity test or a food allergy test?
      If you were allergic to these foods I think you’d know it without a test – as allergic responses are fairly quick and strong.
      As far as I’m aware there are no reliable food sensitivity tests – there are some really bad ones that involve supposed ‘conductivity’ through the body which are complete rubbish.
      You can get blood IgG tests that claim to indicate sensitivity – but – there’s no evidence that cutting out foods for which you have high IgG responses has a positive effect.

      An extract from a UK allergy advice site:

      Should I still take a test for food intolerance?
      No, do not be tempted to do this. Recent NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) guidelines recommend AGAINST tests such as IgG testing, Vega testing, hair analysis and kinesiology because the results are unreliable and not based on sound thorough scientific evidence.

      So I’m not surprised you haven’t seen a benefit. Also, when people cut out foods they sometimes replace them with higher GI/higher sugar foods – which would raise your blood sugar level.

    • As Bob mentioned above, the food allergy and sensitivity tests used by naturopaths, chiropractors and other alt-med practitioners are almost always unreliable. In studies they have been shown to be no better than random chance at diagnosing food allergies or sensitivities. So I wouldn’t use those tests to conclude that you have problems with those foods.

      If you indeed do have high insulin and low blood sugar level, then that could contribute to acne. But I would get the diagnosis confirmed by a real doctor before taking any action. If for no other reason than such a condition can potentially be very dangerous. If there’s a problem with the feedback loop between blood glucose and insulin then that could put you in risk of hypoglycaemia, which in bad cases can be deadly.

      • I got a referral from my doctor to a specialist who then sent me further to a laberatory to get a blood sample and an urine sample.. I’m not sure what to expect to be honest. It’s better than a vega testing but still, I’ll ask them to perform a skin prick test on me later on.

        • If you got a referral from a real doctor to a real allergy specialist then I would trust them. It’s unlikely you or I know better than those guys.

  18. I thought I am OK with eating a bit of sugar (because I am) but then I went on a trip to Japan for a week and had too many rice cakes and they turned out to be much sweeter than I expected. Often rice cakes would be what I eat for lunch. Well, one or two rice cakes wouldn’t be so bad especially since they are gluten free but eating so many of them sometimes instead of having a real meal just made my skin pay for it (and I’m not even so much into sweet things, just had nothing else to eat). I’m not sure but I think it also affected my mood and I had some meltdowns and headaches and I was supposed to be on holiday! Moving a lot and enjoying time with my friends didn’t seem to counter the effects of sugar. Eating some sweet stuff every now and then doesn’t have this effect though. I sometimes prepare a sweet meal by melting sugar and adding sesame – it’s a safe treat to have from time to time and it helps with going to the toilet but eating many rice cakes for days in a row… Well, not a good idea.

  19. After moving to the US from Europe I immediately got really bad acne. I used to have some before, but not in such a large scale. It has now been around 7 months and only by changing my diet (less sweets, sodas, and other foods with a lot of sugar) it is better. However trying to quit sugar is really hard, it is addicting! I am pretty excited going back to Europe again and continue with my normal, more healthier lifestyle.

  20. Thanks for the great article! Nice to have all the research ‘distilled’ and in an easy to read format!

  21. Hello, I don’t eat that much of sugary food but I get pimples on my head which sometimes causing headache as well. I only take two tsp of sugar for my coffee in the morning and two for the tea in the evening. I don’t eat ice cream or cakes and if I eat I get a lot. I eat lot of fruits especially banan and apple ever day and I eat lot for vegies as well. I drink plenty of water. I don’t drink/smoke. I am 60 year old and I still get lot of pimples on my head? Could you please kindly advise.

    • Most research into acne talks about GI, but you are correct that it would be better to talk about glycemic load. That said, in practice there’s not much difference between the two.

  22. Seppo thanks for this great article. I’ve always had my suspicion about sugar and its link to acne. You nailed it.

  23. Maybe a dumb question. I don’t eat desserts and try to avoid a lot of high glycemic foods as much as I can but had a question about regular sugar vs artificial sugars. I’ve been using Splenda for a few years and in the last month or so switched over to Truvia thinking both of these may not be the best things to put in my coffee from reading many articles how bad both of these sweeteners are. I’ve even read that instead of putting these artificial sweeteners just put a packet of real pure cane sugar which has a total of 4 grams of sugar and 4 grams of carbohydrates in it. I know that probably none of these are good but wouldn’t a packet of sugar in your coffee be better than the other two artificial sugars? Not sure what else I would want to put in my coffee that wouldn’t be harmful or cause acne.

    • First of all, it’s the dose that makes the ‘poison’. Putting a little bit of sugar into your coffee isn’t a problem and it’s going to cause acne.

      As far as I know, non-caloric sweeteners – whether natural like stevia or artificial like aspartame – are perfectly safe to consume. The net is full of scaremongering about artificial sweeteners, but that’s driven more by ideology than science and evidence. The mentality is that they are artificial, and therefore, by definition, very bad for you.

      To answer your question, feel free to put whatever you want into your coffee. Dose makes the poison.

  24. Great post.

    Really well written, well researched and informative.

    Thank you so much. You are a STAR!

    I have a rather silly question but would welcome your expert opinion.

    I suck a number of boiled sweets (hard sugar candy), maybe 5/6 at night. A well known brand is Werthers Originals. It’s a bad habit as it rots teeth but can this adversely affect ones skin and gut etc?

    And should one look out for sugar free sweets, which seems a contradiction in terms and whether in your opinion ‘sugar free’ foodstuffs are what they say they are?

    Many thanks

    • If you don’t eat a lot of sugar or refined carbs otherwise, I doubt that a few candies will cause acne. It depends on how much sugar they have and how much you can tolerate. Sugar-free candies etc. should be safer for acne since they don’t increase insulin levels.

  25. Hi Seppo

    Many thanks for your prompt response. It’s appreciated!

    It’s been well documented that sugar, carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, potatoes, are ideally avoided or at least reduced in one’s diet, but can you suggest a substitute for bread. This seems to be a staple diet for most and I’m getting confused with various products claiming wheat or gluten free. There are alternatives such as rye bread, Ryvita, crackers etc. but I’m not sure if one is replacing one ‘bad’ foodstuff with another?

    Bread has a lot to answer for in terms of peoples ills and I guess it has a lot to do on how it’s made (with or without bleach!) but would welcome any ideas you might have in terms of bread substitute that is gentle on stomach AND skin?

    Thank you.

  26. Holy smokes, I know I’m late to the party, but so so grateful to come across this article. I gravitate towards sweets in times of stress, but always assumed my breakouts and increased joint pain were linked to the that… didn’t even consider my sugar habit. Very belated thank you for the well researched article

  27. Finally! Evidence for the fact that sugar makes me break out! I’ve been telling my dermatologists this for 45 years but they always told me it’s impossible! Thank you!

  28. this is really a miserable post 🙁
    I’ve realised when I fast from sugars I end up with very clear skin… this time, I decided to fast from dairy and didn’t see much changes in my skin… I guess me and sugar are love from one side 🙁

    PS: Thanks very informative 🙂

Comments are closed.