Salicylic acid: presentation and uses for the skin
Dr Marc-André Doré
What foods can cause acne? Can changes to your diet help acne? The answer is more complicated than a direct link between certain foods and breakouts. But some foods have long been accused of causing worsening acne.
Sugar, dairy, soy, and even some complex B vitamins top the list. But is there definitive evidence that they cause or exacerbate acne?
Scientists believe that the root of these issues likely has more to do with glycemic content. That means blood sugar spikes from high-glycemic foods are the real issue.
Let’s start by defining high-glycemic foods. These are foods that raise your blood sugar quickly. They include sugary drinks, white bread, fries, and potato chips.
A low-glycemic diet avoids spikes in blood sugar and insulin. It can even help those at risk of developing diabetes or heart disease. Low-glycemic foods include beans, non-starchy vegetables, tropical fruits, steel-cut oats, and brown rice. These foods are filling and don’t cause your blood sugar to rise too quickly.
Researchers around the world have conducted small studies monitoring people with acne as they adopt low-glycemic diets. A weight-loss study in the US incidentally found that most participants reported fewer breakouts when they consumed low-glycemic foods.
Another study discovered that dairy milk might increase the likeliness of acne. But dairy products as a whole haven’t been linked to breakouts. Again, it’s important to note that the existing studies are small and therefore don’t give us enough evidence.
The heart of the issue is the link between blood sugar spikes and inflammation (which dairy and sugar are often singled out for). This inflammation can then cause excess sebum production, which leads to clogged pores and breakouts.
As you can see, the connection between the food you eat and your skin is far from simple cause and effect.
What about supplements? They’re all the rage on fitness and wellness social media. But can supplements cause you to break out?
Let’s take a look at complex B vitamins. You’ve probably heard of vitamin B7 or biotin. It’s popular for its hair, skin, and nails benefits.
It’s important to note that there isn’t much evidence linking biotin to acne. But there might be something to B7’s link to pantothenic acid or vitamin B5.
Biotin may cause your body to absorb less vitamin B5, which plays a major role in your skin barrier. So too much B7 just might leave your skin more susceptible to acne.
Vitamin B12 is something our body needs to produce red blood cells. In 2015, one study found that injectable B12 can affect the metabolism of acne-causing bacteria living on the skin. Another study linked oral B12 to inflammation and P.acnes—bacteria known for causing acne—since it can change the metabolism of bacteria living on your skin.
There are two different types of B12: methylcobalamin and cyanocobalamin (the synthetic form). If you’re worried about breakouts or already have acne-prone skin, stick to the synthetic form. Most importantly, consult your doctor before starting a supplement that your body might not need or respond well to.
If you find that certain foods or supplements appear to affect your skin, try eliminating them for a while. Just remember that a change in your diet alone won’t cure your acne. Instead, focus on:
Keeping inflammation down
Consuming nutritious low-glycemic foods when you can
Using gentle products designed for acne-prone skin consistently
We tend to see acne as a part of being a teen or adolescent. But acne can also appear later in life. Regardless of your age, here’s how to recognize when it might be time to consult with a dermatologist:
Over-the-counter treatments are ineffective.
Your pimples are cystic and/or painful.
Your breakouts are affecting your mental health.
A dermatologist can assess the type of acne you’re dealing with. They’ll also be able to prescribe medication (including retinoids and antibiotics) if needed.
Looking to learn more?
Dr Marc-André Doré
Dr. Marc-André Doré
Dr. Marc-André Doré