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Got Acne? Avoid these foods.

Pimples. Acne. It happens to the best of us. In fact, acne is the most common skin disease in the US and affects 80% of the population at some point in life according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

What causes acne? Acne is directly attributed to the rise of androgen hormone levels. As androgen levels rise, the sebaceous glands sitting directly underneath the skin enlarge and produce increased levels of oil, also known as sebum. The buildup of dead skin cells, bacteria, and dried sebum that blocks the hair follicles in the skin causes acne.

What triggers the acne? Hormonal changes that increase androgen hormone levels. Puberty as well as diet and environment (exposure to hormone-disrupting toxins) can cause the increase. Lastly, stress increases the hormone cortisol, which can act as an androgen, stimulating the sebaceous glands.

There are several foods that have been identified to contribute to acne but I believe these two are the biggest offenders that teens overconsume.

Sugar (and refined carbohydrates)


With an increase in blood sugar comes an increase of insulin. Increased insulin boosts sebum production that causes acne. Foods to steer clear of include:

  • Bread, Baguettes, Bagels, etc.
  • Pasta, Rice
  • Soda, Fruit Juices and other sugar-laden beverages
  • Yogurts (most brands contain so much added sugar!)
  • Candy and Chocolate
  • Fast Foods (high in refined carbs and sugar)
  • Packaged foods (tend to be high in added sugars)

It’s recommended that we consume no more than 9 teaspoons of sugar for men and 6 teaspoons of sugar for women. Yet, the average American teen consumes 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day!! It’s not hard to do given that added sugar is hiding in 74% of packaged foods. Learn how to spot added sugars. There are at least 61 different names for sugar. You can find all the names here:


Need something sweet now and then, bake something at home where you can control the sugar content and type of sugars added. Choose low-glycemic like coconut palm sugar, stevia or natural sugars like honey and molasses.

Cow’s Milk

Recent research suggests that drinking cow’s milk (whole, low-fat, and skim) may be linked to an increase in acne breakouts. It causes spikes in growth hormones that affect sebaceous glands size and increase the risk of breakouts. The good news is that while cow’s milk may increase the risk of developing acne, no studies have found that products made from milk, such as yogurt or cheese, lead to more breakouts. Just make sure the yogurt you purchase doesn’t have a lot of added sugar.


If you are craving milk, there are plenty of dairy alternatives like almond milk, coconut milk, etc. Personally, I love oat milk! Again, make sure you look at the food label and choose a brand without a ton of added sugar.

Come back next week to read about top foods for great skin!

xo, Delaney


American Academy of Dermatology

MSD Manual:

Pub Med:,,

Sugar Science at UCSF:

American Heart Association: