The ultimate list of foods that cause acne

The ultimate list of foods that cause acne

Do you ever get the feeling that something you ate made your acne worse, but can’t really put your finger on what it was? And why is it that doing more research leaves you even more confused?

There’s a really simple explanation behind this: what causes acne is completely unique to every individual. That’s why this article covers just about every food known to be associated with acne, categorized by its effect on your skin and acne

So grab yourself a cup of coffee (oops, make that green tea) and sit tight.

Top 10 Foods That Cause Acne

  1. Alcohol
  2. Dairy (i.e. milk, cheese, yogurt)
  3. Sugar (i.e. candy, donuts, cake, sodas)
  4. Caffeine (i.e. coffee, energy drinks)
  5. Hormone disruptors (i.e. soybeans and soy products)
  6. High FODMAP foods (i.e. garlic, onion, apple, asparagus)
  7. Histamine-rich foods (i.e. fermented foods, meat, shellfish)
  8. Histamine-releasing foods (i.e. chocolate, food dyes, and other additives)
  9. Pro-inflammatory foods (i.e. artificial food additives, trans fats)
  10. Food allergens (i.e. milk, egg, soybeans, peanuts)

Looking at the list, you might wonder if you now have to avoid almost every food group to get rid of your acne. Luckily, that’s not the case. The foods you should avoid depend largely on your acne type. So don’t worry – it’s highly unlikely that you need to avoid all of them.

Foods That Cause Hormonal Disruption

Hormonal imbalance is one of the main reasons behind acne. Hormones play a crucial role in both sebum and skin cell production, both of which are directly linked to acne development. While there are many hormones involved, the major acne hormones are androgen, insulin, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), and growth hormones.

Foods that cause hormonal disruption can make your acne worse. Such foods include dairy, refined sugars, and phytoestrogens (plant-derived xenoestrogens).

For this reason, make sure to limit your consumption of:

  • Milk and milk products
  • Carbs, that cause a rapid spike in your blood sugar levels (i.e. white flour, white rice, sodas, sugar-sweetened beverages, and cane sugar)
  • Phytoestrogen-containing food (i.e. soybeans and soy products)

Phytoestrogens can block the conversion of androgen into estrogen, reducing your estrogen levels. It is well established that lower estrogen levels in females can result in higher free testosterone levels, which can in turn be problematic for women with acne.

Foods That Cause Gut Problems

A number of different plant-derived foods can cause gut problems. Among them are the high FODMAP foods, which are often considered healthy and receive little or no blame at all.

However, these foods are not totally guilt-free. Some can irritate the intestinal linings and cause gas, bloating, diarrhea, and even loose stools. All these gut problems might in turn contribute to acne aggravation.

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, And Polyols, all of which are short-chain carbohydrates that the small intestine cannot absorb efficiently. People who are sensitive to FODMAP can show any of the above-mentioned symptoms if they consume high FODMAP foods, either in large quantities or for extended periods of time.

The biggest offenders in this category are:

  • Wheat
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Apple
  • Asparagus
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Baked beans
  • Soybeans (also a major source of phytoestrogens!)

Foods That Affect Histamine

Histamine is the major chemical associated with allergies, inflammation, stomach acid production, and communication in the brain. Histamine intolerance occurs when your body produces too much histamine.

The link between histamine intolerance and acne is not very clear. What we currently know is that histamine has a close link with many skin conditions like itching and eczema. Most notably, itching is a common problem among people who have acne.

If your skin feels itchy or you suspect histamine intolerance otherwise, make sure to limit or avoid the following histamine-rich foods:

  • Alcohol or fermented beverages
  • Fermented foods and dairy products (i.e. yogurt, sauerkraut)
  • Citrus fruits
  • Dried fruits
  • Avocados
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Nuts (specifically walnuts, cashews, and peanuts)
  • Processed or smoked meats
  • Shellfish
  • Aged cheese

You may also want to limit the consumption of foods that promote histamine release such as:

  • Alcohol
  • Bananas
  • Tomatoes
  • Wheat germ
  • Beans
  • Papaya
  • Chocolate
  • Food dyes and other additives

Certain foods can interfere with the metabolism of histamine by blocking an enzyme called Diamine Oxidase (DAO). These include:

  • Alcohol
  • Sports drinks

Foods That Cause Inflammation

For years, scientists have believed that acne occurs when the immune system launches an attack against the acne-causing bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes. Newer studies suggest, that inflammation occurs right from the start of the lesion development and continues until a nodule is formed.

This makes inflammation one of the major processes associated with every stage of acne development. For this reason, it is important to also recognize foods that may promote inflammation.

The major inflammation-causing foods include:

  • Simple sugars (including sweetened beverages)
  • Artificial food additives
  • Trans fats
  • Refined flour

Less commonly, caffeine may also aid inflammation. However, you should note that caffeine can be both promote and suppress inflammation, depending on your physiology.

Common Food Allergens

Many Americans are allergic to at least one food product. Though usually mild and non-serious, some food allergies can be life-threatening. Food allergens can also stimulate your immune cells, promote inflammation, and aggravate your acne.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has categorized 8 major food allergens:

  1. Milk
  2. Eggs
  3. Fish (i.e. bass, flounder, cod)
  4. Crustacean shellfish (i.e. crab, lobster, shrimp)
  5. Tree nuts (i.e. almonds, walnuts, pecans)
  6. Peanuts
  7. Wheat
  8. Soybeans

Alcohol and Alcoholic Beverages

How could we forget the most damaging ingredient for acne and skin health? Not to mention that Americans are now drinking more alcohol than ever.

Alcohol aggravates acne in every possible way. The effects of alcohol on your body include increased oxidative stress and inflammation, hormonal disruption, impaired liver function, and even immune suppression. In addition, the dehydrating effects of alcohol can promote sebum production and increase the risk of acne breakouts.

Certain alcoholic beverages that contain high amounts of congeners such as dark liquor and beer may cause more skin problems than clear liquor such as vodka.

Take-Away Message

Dietary habits have a profound effect on our health, and acne is no exception. Foods that promote inflammation and trigger abnormal immune responses are the major culprits when it comes to acne aggravation.

Even though our list covers many types of food, a vast majority of people do not have to avoid everything on this list. Try to focus your attention on the food groups related to your acne type. If you are not yet familiar with the different types of acne, you can read about them in our post here and complete a quick quiz to discover your acne type.

That being said, you should always keep an eye on what you eat. Recognize any foods known to worsen your acne and try to avoid it. If necessary, you can also find a suitable alternative so that you won’t lack any of the essential nutrients in your diet. Good luck finding your way in the dietary jungle!

About Me

Shailesh (B. Pharm) is a registered pharmacist and the main researcher at Acne Einstein. He enjoys digging into latest findings of research and ensures that our research and articles are up-to-date.


2 thoughts on “The ultimate list of foods that cause acne”

  1. Great post.
    Would Avocado oil produce same histamine release as an actual avaocado or would that be okay?

    nb I got this article emailed to me. I hadn’t had an email from you for a long while. I’d assumed i had dropped off it even though I recall replying to you to be kept on your list. I don’t know if this is your first email in a while or whether there are gremlins at work. Thought I’d let you know.

    • I don’t know what about avocado triggers the histamine reaction, so can’t say if it also applies to avocado oil. I haven’t emailed anything in almost two years as the site has been in a bit of hibernation mode. Things will pick up again from now on.

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