Generations of teenie boppers have been told that eating chocolate causes breakouts, and greasy foods like pizza results in “pizza face.” Acne — that oh-so loveable inflammatory skin condition that gives us clogged pores, blackheads, and pimples — is never funAcne vulgaris; Cystic acne; Pimples; Zits. Last reviewed: November 22, 2011. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.. We’re stepping in to investigate if what we eat really leads to bad skin — and how we can help fight that prepubescent nightmare.
What Makes Acne Worse
Some foods can aggravate acne, but the main offenders are high in carbs or excessively greasy. Here’s the breakdown of why a loaf of white bread or a basket of wings could lead to a zit disaster.
High Glycemic Index Foods The Glycemic Index is a ranking of carbs (from 0 to 100) based on how much they raise blood sugar levels when we eat them. Foods with values below 55 are considered “low-GI,” while those above 70 are considered “high-GI”Insulin resistance: definition and consequences. Lebovitz, H.E., State University of New York Health Science Center at Brooklyn, USA.. High GI foods (like doughnuts, white bread, or pretzels) spike blood sugar levels because the body digests them very quickly. This can increase acne flare-ups because spiked insulin levels increase the body’s inflammatory reactions, which — surprise, surprise — can mean acne inflammationsDoes diet really affect acne? Ferdowsian, H.R., Levin, S. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Washington, DC, USA. Skin Therapy Letter, 2010 Mar;15(3):1-2, 5.Over-stimulation of insulin/IGF-1 signaling by western diet may promote diseases of civilization: lessons learnt from laron syndrome. Melnik, B.C., John, S.M., Schmitz, G. Department of Dermatology, Environmental Medicine and Health Theory, University of Osnabruck, Sedanstrasse, Osnabruck, Germany. Nutrition & Metabolism (London), 2011 Jun 24;8:41..
Greasy Foods While eating certain foods can affect our skin from the inside out, greasy food causes problems from the second it touches our lips. French fries and a cheddar-smothered burger can create acne when the grease from that delicious meal touches our skin, causing pimplesNeglected aspects in the management of acne. Gordon, B. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 1885;78 Suppl 10:10-4..
But if sticking to a set diet with a fancy name sounds daunting, we looked into what specific foods we should eat to zap zits, and why.
Vitamin A Foods like carrots and spinach are a good source of vitamin A, which prevents the overproduction of cells in the skin’s outer layer (read: there are fewer dead cells hanging around to clog pores). Not a fan of spinach or carrots? Try other vitamin A stars like pumpkin, sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, and cantaloupeDoes the plasma level of vitamins A and E affect acne condition? El-Akawi, Z., Abdel-Latif, N., Abdul-Razzak, K. Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Jordan University of Science and Technology, School of Medicine, Irbid, Jordan. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, 2006 May;31(3):430-4..
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, walnuts, and flax seed may help keep inflammation under control (which can show through as red, painful bumps on our skin)Acne vulgaris, mental health and omega-3 fatty acids: a report of cases. Rubin, M.G., Kim, K., Logan, A.C. Lasky Skin Clinic, 153 Lasky Drive, Suite 1, Beverly Hills, CA. Lipids in Health and Disease, 2008 Oct 13;7:36.Acne: inflammation. Farrar, M.D., Ingham, E. Skin Research Centre, Division of Microbiology, School of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK. Clinical Dermatology, 2004 Sep-Oct;22(5):380-4..
Vitamin E Foods containing lots of vitamin E, like pine nuts and sunflower seeds, play an important role in preventing acne development. Many studies have found that levels of vitamin E were significantly lower in patients with acne. Plus, the vitamin can help heal acne-scarred skinDoes the plasma level of vitamins A and E affect acne condition? El-Akawi, Z., Abdel-Latif, N., Abdul-Razzak, K. Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Jordan University of Science and Technology, School of Medicine, Irbid, Jordan. Clinical Experimental Dermatology, 2006 May;31(3):430-4..
Vitamin B5 Vitamin B5 (and other B vitamins) promotes, among other things, healthy skin and hair. In one small study, a large dose of vitamin B5 supplements cured cases of acne. Why, you ask? Vitamin B5 has been shown to decrease oil production on skin and reduces the size of poresPantothenic acid deficiency as the pathogenesis of acne vulgaris. Leung, L.H., Department of General Surgery, Hong Kong Central Hospital, Hong Kong. Medical Hypotheses, 1995 Jun;44(6):490-2..
Selenium Whole grains (like quinoa and brown rice) and aromatic vegetables (like onion and garlic) are rich in selenium, which helps preserve skin’s elasticity. But that’s not all — selenium can also reduce inflammatory damage to the skin. A small study found that taking selenium supplements improved the skin of patients with severe acneErythrocyte glutathione peroxidase activity in acne vulgaris and the effect of selenium and vitamin E treatment. Michaelsson, G., Edqvist, L.E. Acta Dermato-Venereologica, 1984;64(1):9-14.The glutathione peroxidases. Arthur, J.R., Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 2000 Dec; 57(13-14):1825-35..