Acne and Nutrition

Apr 14 / CATEGORY: Nutrition

Acne and Nutrition

Welcome to a special guest post by UF student Elena Smith,
a graduate student and dietetic intern in Nutritional Sciences.


Do you have acne? Have you ever wondered whether the food you eat is related to your acne? Below are a few common statements about acne and diet, and their respective summaries of the research that has been conducted for each.

1. “Dairy causes acne”

There is conflicting evidence on whether dairy causes acne or not.1,2,3 There are many factors to consider when drawing a conclusion on whether dairy will influence acne severity. Dairy is only one component of the diet. Someone with acne should also consider multiple aspects of one’s lifestyle including: overall diet pattern, e.g. eating more whole foods over processed foods, is the face touched often with unwashed hands, is the pillow case laundered adequately, is sufficient water consumed, etc. Until more convincing research is published, consuming dairy may or may not be acne provoking. However if an individual decides to avoid or limit dairy, they should still consume a fortified dairy alternative with added amounts of vitamin D and calcium like cashew, almond, or oat milk, or consume foods packed with calcium (i.e. almonds, kale, broccoli, salmon, etc.) to ensure nutritional adequacy.

2. “Red meat causes acne”

To date there has not been an exact causal association found between red meat and acne. Though, there has been research conducted on whether the Western diet is correlated with acne or not. The Western diet includes large amounts of red meat, dairy products, refined grains, and sugar. Some scientific evidence has suggested that the Western diet positively correlates to acne, along with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.4 If an individual decides to not consume red meat, be sure to eat enough other protein sources such as chicken, turkey, salmon, beans, nuts, and/or lentils to meet adequate protein needs.

3. “Eating a low glycemic load diet will help minimize acne”

Researchers (including registered dietitians and dermatologists) have been working to identify if a low glycemic load diet would help reduce acne in individuals.5,6,7 New research suggests that a low glycemic load diet may possibly induce lower circulating insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-1 levels (IGF-1 a growth hormone), which could possibly decrease acne severity. Intervention studies suggest that hyperinsulinemia (from a high glycemic load diet) could induce higher circulating IGF-1 levels and play a role in the increase of acne severity.8,9 At this time research is not conclusive and more evidence is needed to conclude that a lower glycemic load diet can reduce acne.


Regardless of the food, it’s hard to pinpoint what specifically will trigger acne. Eating one single food or removing one single food from your diet will likely not alleviate your acne,10 but rather multiple factors would affect one being prone to acne such as genetics, your overall eating pattern, sleep pattern, hygiene, etc. More quality research is needed to evaluate the relationship between diet and acne.


1. Eat enough colorful fruits and vegetables
MyPlate recommends about 1 ½ – 2 cups of fruit per day and 2 – 3 cups of vegetables per day. Add a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.

2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Regardless of whether someone has acne or not, your body will thank you for drinking enough water.

3. Sleep
During college, it may seem hard to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night, but important processes happen in your body while you sleep. Try getting more sleep and note any changes to your skin condition.

5. Taking time for yourself, and with others!
If you’re a college student, try setting up college as a 9-5pm job, then after 5pm set that time aside to invite a friend over for dinner, call a family member, play some pick-up soccer, and/or go to the gym!

6. Visit a dermatologist
It may be time for you to see a dermatologist for an expert opinion.

-Elena Smith
Elena is a UF graduate student in Nutritional Sciences with a focus on nutrition education. “I have struggled with acne, and still struggle with it at times, but I am thankful for my dermatologist who has helped me along the way.”

For more information on nutrition services at UF RecSports, visit our website and check out the services offered by our licensed and registered dietitian nutritionist, Jessie.

1. Aghasi M, Golzarand M, Shab-Bidar S, Aminianfar A, Omidian M, Taheri F. Dairy intake and acne development: A meta-analysis of observational studies. Clin Nutr. 2018.
2. Dai R, Hua W, Chen W, Xiong L, Li L. The effect of milk consumption on acne: a meta-analysis of observational studies. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2018;32(12):2244-2253.
3. Juhl CR, Bergholdt HKM, Miller IM, Jemec GBE, Kanters JK, Ellervik C. Dairy Intake and Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of 78,529 Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults. Nutrients. 2018;10(8).
4. Clatici VG, Voicu C, Voaides C, Roseanu A, Icriverzi M, et al. Diseases of Civilization – Cancer, Diabetes, Obesity and Acne – the Implication of Milk, IGF-1 and mTORC1. Maedica (Buchar). 2018 Dec;13(4):273-281. doi: 10.26574/maedica.2018.13.4.273.
5. Burris J, Rietkerk W, Woolf K. Acne: The Role of Medical Nutrition Therapy. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013 Mar;113(3):416-30. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.11.016.
6. Burris J, Shikany J, Rietkerk W, Woolf K. A Low Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Diet Decreases Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 among Adults with Moderate and Severe Acne:
A Short-Duration, 2-Week Randomized Controlled Trial. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2018 Oct;118(10):1874-1885. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2018.02.009. Epub 2018 Apr 22.
7. Burris J, Rietkerk W, Shikany JM, Woolf K. Differences in Dietary Glycemic Load and Hormones in New York City Adults with No and Moderate/Severe Acne. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2017 Sep;117(9):1375-1383. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2017.03.024. Epub 2017 Jun 9.
8. Brand-Miller JC, Liu V, Petocz P, Baxter RC. The glycemic index of foods influences the postprandial insulin-like growth factor-binding protein responses in lean young subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82(2): 350-354.
9. Runchey SS, Pollak MN, Valsta LM, et al. Glycemic load effect on fasting and post-prandial serum glucose, insulin, IGF-1 and IGFBP-3 in a randomized, controlled feeding study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012;66(10):1146-1152.
10. Morze J, Przybylowicz KE, Danielewicz A, and Obara-Golebiowska. Diet in Acne Vulgaris: Open or Solved Problem? Iran J Public Health. 2017 Mar; 46(3): 428–430.