The Acne Elimination Diet

Most of us have experienced acne at some time in our lives, most likely during the teenage years, but often afterward, particularly during PMS or other stressful times in our lives. While acne may be common, that doesn’t mean it is welcome. Few people are comfortable in their own skin when they have flare-ups. While there are many factors at work, including stress and hormone imbalances, the adage, “you are what you eat” certainly applies if you want to reduce the amount of acne you experience or the frequency of flare-ups. That’s because there are research-proven ways to get acne under control.

Most people don’t realize that there are research-proven dietary links to acne, but there are. According to a study published in the journal Advances in Dermatology and Allergology, researchers found a link between acne and dairy product consumption as well as foods with a high glycemic index (GI). The study also explored the possibility that chocolate may cause acne flare-ups.

The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels. Foods high in sugar and low in fiber tend to have high GIs while those low in sugar and high in fiber tend to have low GIs.

Ditch the Dairy

The researchers believe that milk and other dairy products stimulate a compound known as insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which tend to be high during puberty thanks to the influence of growth hormone. It is a protein made by the body which acts similarly to insulin and stimulates the growth of some types of cells. In addition to being linked in this study to increased rates of acne, the National Cancer Institute links excessively high amounts of IGF-1 to increased rates of several types of cancer.

There are IGF-1 receptors in the skin, which could partially explain the potential link between dairy product consumption and acne. Additionally, it stimulates the adrenal glands (two triangular-shaped glands that sit atop the kidneys), the ovaries and testes, which in turn increase the availability of a group of hormones known as androgens, or sometimes called “male hormones” although they are present in both men and women. The hormone surge may also be a reason for the increase in acne since the increased androgen-acne link is scientifically well-established.

So, if you’re suffering from acne, you may want to ditch the dairy, which includes: milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt and other foods made with dairy and milk powder. “But where will you get your calcium?”—that’s the question I have most frequently heard during my more than 25 years as a nutritionist when I tell people to eliminate dairy products. And, the answer is simple: from almost every plant-based food out there. But, here are some of the plant-based foods highest in calcium: legumes, broccoli, collards, butternut squash, organic tofu (choose only certified organic products since soybeans are heavily genetically-modified) and figs (not too many since they are high in sugar).

Chocolate or Not to Chocolate?

While some research links chocolate consumption to acne, others do not. But, the studies rarely explore different types of chocolate or recognize that there is great variation between types of chocolate. For example, milk chocolate may be an acne aggravator due to its milk powder content, while dark chocolate with high percentages of cocoa often do not. The studies rarely explore the fat, sugar or additive content as factors for acne, so it is difficult to say whether dark chocolate devoid of dairy products, palm fat and low in sugar, would aggravate acne. But, milk chocolate may.

High Glycemic Foods

The researchers found a link between high glycemic foods and acne. The foods with the highest glycemic indices include: white bread and white baked goods, candies and other sweets, sweetened breakfast cereals, instant cereals like oatmeal and grits, white flour or white rice pastas, sweetened beverages like juices and coffees made with sweetened syrups, pineapples, white potatoes, pumpkins, melons, white rice and popcorn.

Instead, choose legumes, whole grains and vegetables as the focal points of your meals.

Foods Rich in Omega 3s

Foods rich in Omega 3s are well known to reduce inflammation. These foods include: raw, unsalted walnuts, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, hempseeds and hempseed oil, leafy greens, and wild salmon and other fatty fish.

Avoiding dairy and high glycemic foods that may be linked to acne and increasing your intake of low glycemic foods, plant-based foods high in calcium, and those rich in Omega 3s, may be helpful in reducing acne breakouts.

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Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-newsletter World’s Healthiest News, the Cultured Cook, co-founder of BestPlaceinCanada, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: Be Your Own Herbalist: Essential Herbs for Health, Beauty, & Cooking.  Follow her work.



Val P
Val P2 months ago


Alexandra Richards
Alexandra R4 months ago

Thank you.

Chad A
Chad Anderson4 months ago

Thank you.

Ruth S
Ruth S4 months ago


Bill E
Bill Eagle4 months ago

Good suggestions.. But there are some of us that just have an abundance of natural oils and no matter what we eat, won't change things one bit. I have had problems since I was a teen and still suffer them in my late 70's.

Linda Wallace
Linda Wallace4 months ago

Thank you.

hELEN h4 months ago


Danny C
Danny C4 months ago

I never knew that dairy products contribute to acne. Thank you for sharing this information. :-)

Danuta W
Danuta W4 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Peggy B
Peggy B4 months ago