Skip to content

10 Foods Making Your Acne Even Worse

Find yourself breaking out more than a hormonal teenager? It could be what you're eating.

You take excellent care of your skin: You wash it at least twice a day, are careful to remove any makeup before going to bed, and moisturize properly. So why are you breaking out all of a sudden like you're a teenager again?

Your diet could be to blame. Even if you eat a healthy diet, there might be some unknown trigger foods that are causing your breakouts and inflaming your skin. After all, your skin is your largest organ, and what you eat will reflect on the outside of your body as much as the inside.

Here are some of the most common foods that bring on—and exacerbate—breakouts. Cut these out for two weeks to see if your skin clears up. If you don't notice a change, then make sure you see a dermatologist to treat your acne. In the meantime, check out these 22 Dermatologists-Approved Foods for Better Skin.

Skim Milk


Low-fat and fat-free milk can be part of a healthy diet, but not everyone digests dairy well; about 65 percent of adults are lactose intolerant after infancy. Not only is this bad for your GI system, but it can also reflect poorly on your face. The American Academy of Dermatology suggests a link between drinking skim milk and acne. A 2008 study found an association between boys who drink skim milk and the prevalence of having acne. Another 2006 study found that girls who reported consuming milk were more likely to have pimples.

One explanation is that milk is full of growth hormones, which can remain in your body even after pasteurization. These ingested hormones affect the hormones in your body such as insulin, which could result in increased oil production and breakouts. Switch to almond milk or rice milk for a couple of weeks to see if your skin clears up. For our favorite non-dairy milk options, check out the best and worst milk alternatives.

Looking for more helpful tips? Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest food news delivered straight to your inbox.



Inflammation in your body can cause weight gain and possibly lead to a whole host of chronic conditions. It can also result in inflammation of your skin. Sugar is one of the most inflammatory foods, so ingesting too much could lead to breakouts. Not only will you notice a huge impact on the scale when you cut back on sugar, but it could also clear up your skin.

If sugar is inflammatory, then drinking sugar is a surefire way to set your body up for inflammation. Your body absorbs it faster, causing a spike in your blood sugar and an inflammatory response. One of the biggest sugar culprits is soda, which can pack up to 40 grams per 12-ounce serving. It's also high on the glycemic index, which will spike your blood sugar — the American Academy of Dermatology cites a possible relationship between foods high on the glycemic index and acne. Not only is this terrible for your waistline, but it can also wreak havoc on your skin. Do your face (and your belly!) a favor, and switch to unsweetened sparkling water or club soda with a squeeze of fresh fruit.


frozen pizza

Sure, pizza is delicious, but it can be the cause of some nasty breakouts. Not only could the dairy from the cheese disturb your skin, but pizza is high in saturated fat, which is bad for gut health and increases inflammation. A healthy gut can keep inflammation at bay, which researchers say may affect the health of our skin since many troubles like acne, eczema, and psoriasis stem from inflammation.

Egg Whites

Separating egg whites with hands

The idea that egg yolks are bad for your health is a nutrition myth, especially because studies have shown that cholesterol from the yolk won't negatively impact your blood cholesterol. But here's another reason you should eat the whole egg: The yolk is rich in vitamins that are essential for clear skin. When you make an egg white omelet for yourself every morning, you'll be missing out on egg yolks' key regulatory vitamins, including the "beauty vitamin" biotin. This B vitamin is more commonly known to help hair grow and strengthen fingernails, but research has shown it also helps protect skin from acne as well as rashes and dryness. In addition to these beautifying effects, check out these things that happen to your body when you eat eggs.



In the same way that milk can throw off your hormones, so can soy. Soy contains isoflavones, which can act like estrogen in your body. Once your hormones are out of whack, this could result in hormonal breakouts, especially around your mouth and jawline. Most mayo is made with soybean oil, which is also inflammatory. Be sure to read your labels carefully for soy as an ingredient; it's lurking in everything from protein bars to veggie burgers.

White Bread


"Foods such as bagels, oatmeal, pretzels, pasta, and cereal, have been proven to accelerate the skin's aging process and wreak havoc on the skin, causing acne and rosacea," explains Tasneem Bhatia, MD, also known as "Dr.Taz," a weight-loss expert. "Even the self-proclaimed 'healthy' cereals with whole grains, which are lower in glycemic index, can be stocked full of wrinkle-inducing glucose."

Swapping white bread for the whole-grain variety could help clear up your skin. Besides being void of any health-boosting nutrients, the white stuff has a high glycemic load, which means it impacts blood sugar and insulin levels more so than foods that rank lower on the glycemic index, like whole grains. During a 10-week Korean study of subjects with mild to moderate acne, researchers found that those placed on a low-glycemic diet decreased the severity of their acne more so than subjects on a high-glycemic diet.

Fast Food

fast food hamburger

Not only is fast food inflammatory, it's also void of any beneficial nutrients, including omega-3s. "Omega-3s may reduce the presence of acne and other skin conditions as well," explains Kathy Siegel, RD, CDN, who notes that research has shown an increase in dietary essential fatty acids can also prevent both chronological and sun-damaged induced signs of aging.

Opt for fatty fish instead, such as sardines. They are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, making them great fish for reducing inflammation and even acne, says Marie Jhin, MD, certified board dermatologist and author of Asian Beauty Secrets. "Furthermore, omega-3 fatty acids have mood-regulating benefits, which can help with the stress component of having acne. Acne sufferers should consume four to five servings of oily fish per week in order to treat the condition."

Too Much Meat

sliced steak topped with compound butter

Beauty may only be skin deep, but it reflects how happy our digestive situation is, says Susan Tucker, holistic nutritionist and founder of Green Beat Life. She claims that plant eaters have a certain glow. "Many find that their acne, rosacea or eczema clears up when they give up meat," she says, adding that the antioxidants, fiber, and minerals in a plant-based diet help the system to detoxify daily, contributing to healthier skin.



Alcohol is another inflammation trigger and the consumption of it can show up on your skin. Drinking too much alcohol is also linked to poor zinc absorption, and excessive alcohol use can put people at risk for developing zinc deficiency. On the flip side, zinc may help fight acne says Dr. Kaleroy Papantoniou, a cosmetic dermatologist.

To get your daily fill of zinc opt for oysters says registered dietitian Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, and founder of the F-Factor Diet. "Just two oysters will put you over the recommended daily amount of zinc, which, if you're concerned about acne or aging, you should be eating," she explains. "Zinc deficiency is a known cause of acne and zinc helps protect collagen and elastin proteins, which keep your skin young and resilient."

Energy Drinks


Not only are energy drinks chock-full of inflammatory and glycemic index-loading sugar, but they could be loaded with skin-irritating B vitamins. "Those with a history of acne are more prone, but I've seen vitamin Bs causing acne in those without a history, too," Miami dermatologist Dr. Leslie Baumann told Well+Good. Specifically, vitamin B6 and B12 which can show up in your multivitamins and vitamin-infused energy drinks such as Red Bull.

"If you notice any acne flare-ups that coincide with supplements or energy drinks, stop taking them and see if your skin clears up. Give it about a month," she adds. If you need something to supercharge your mind without the acne-causing sugar and B-vitamins, give these best energy drinks a shot.

Filed Under