What to Eat and Avoid for Clear Skin

What to Eat and Avoid for Clear Skin

January 19, 2023

Eating healthy foods in the right amounts can help prevent unintentional weight gain and keep the organs functioning well, including the skin.

Consuming certain types of food may help keep the skin clear. Some foods have properties that reduce inflammation and may help lessen the appearance of acne.

However, acne can be due to several factors, some unrelated to diet. If a person experiences acne, they may wish to speak with a doctor or dermatologist to find the right solution for them.

This article explores foods to avoid, foods to eat, and other remedies for acne.

Food to avoid for clearer skin

If a person has concerns about acne or simply wants to make sure they are eating a diet for healthy skin, they may consider eating less of the following foods.

Milk and dairy products

Limited research suggests that milk and dairy products might contribute to skin conditions, such as acne, in some people.

A 2016 review suggests a link between high blood levels of the hormone IGF-1 and acne severity. IGF-1 interacts with adrenal glands, affecting hormones in a way that contributes to acne. Since milk and other dairy products contain this hormone, it may explain a possible link between dairy consumption and acne.

In addition to IGF-1’s impact on hormones related to acne production, other hormones present in milk and dairy products may affect acne both positively and negatively. The hormone estrogen, for example, may actually reduce acne.

Some studies in girls and boys have shown that consuming dairy products, especially skim milk, was associated with having more acne. This may be due to reduced amounts of estrogen in skim milk compared to whole milk.

Other components of milk products may also influence acne. For example, according to an older study, dairy contains the amino acid leucine, which promotes the production of sebum in skin cells.

Foods with a high glycemic index

Research shows that diets with a high glycemic index (GI) may contribute to acne.

Foods with a high GI raise blood sugar — and therefore insulin levels — faster than foods with a lower GI.

Eating a diet with a high GI causes the body to produce more insulin. When the body has excess insulin, it stimulates the production of androgen hormones and sebum in the skin, which can lead to acne.

Western diets tend to include foods with a high GI, including:

  • refined grains
  • sugary cereals
  • chips
  • cookies
  • white bread
  • alcohol
  • sugary beverages
  • foods with added sugars

It is unlikely that any single food on this list can cause acne if a person eats them in moderation. However, following a diet consistently high in many of these foods may play a contributing role in developing acne.

Does chocolate cause acne?

Anecdotally, many people believe that eating chocolate promotes acne.

However, a 2016 review suggests there is no clear evidence between chocolate consumption and the amount of acne a person has. While some people experience significant amounts of acne after eating this food, others do not.

Studies on whether chocolate causes acne are inconclusive. If there is a link, it may be due to the milk and sugar content in some types of chocolate.

Foods that may help with clear skin

To keep the skin at its healthiest and help reduce acne, consider increasing consumption of the following foods.

Fatty fish

Fatty fish is a source of omega-3 fats, an essential part of the diet with several well-documented positive health effects.

A 2020 review found that consuming omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fatty fish, helped manage inflammatory skin conditions, including:

  • psoriasis
  • dermatitis
  • acne
  • skin ulcers

Additionally, including omega-3s in the diet reduces the likelihood of developing skin cancer and may also decrease the effect certain drugs have on the skin.


Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables have positive effects on skin health. A 2019 study notes that they contain sulforaphane, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Sulforaphane may also help prevent premature skin aging by stimulating several protective processes in skin cells and promoting stem cell renewal.

There is not much evidence on the direct effects of broccoli on acne. However, one review article found this vegetable and several other plant foods contained low amounts of leucine, an amino acid involved in sebum production.

When the skin produces too much sebum, it may lead to acne.


Soy may have beneficial effects on the skin.

An older study asked people to consume 160 milligrams of a compound from soybeans called isoflavone every day for 12 weeks. The research found participants receiving the isoflavone had significantly decreased acne lesions, or pimples, after treatment compared with the placebo group.

The treatment group also had decreased androgen hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) levels, which is related to testosterone.

High levels of DHT and testosterone play a role in increasing acne development, according to an older 2009 paper. However, researchers believe the hormone estrogen decreases sebum production, in part by inhibiting testosterone.

The isoflavones in soy are structurally similar to estrogen and can bind to estrogen receptors in the body. This may explain the link between soy intake and estrogen-related health outcomes, including skin elasticity, pigmentation, and vascularity.

There is some evidence that consuming soy products may reduce wrinkles and increase the amount of collagen that the body produces, which in turn promotes skin integrity.

Red grapes

Red grapes and red wine contain the compound resveratrol, which may have several health benefits.

One older in vitro study on the bacteria that cause acne found that resveratrol was somewhat toxic to acne bacteria and worked to inhibit them over the long term. The researchers recommended more studies to investigate resveratrol further as a potential therapy for acne.

A 2020 study found that resveratrol may beneficially affect the skin in several other ways.

This substance may protect the skin by helping it stay moisturized and preventing it from losing heat.

Additionally, resveratrol may protect against UV damage. This may help protect against premature aging and other signs of sun damage, such as wrinkles and liver spots.

Resveratrol also has an antioxidant effect that may help prevent skin aging, reduce the appearance of acne, and the development of skin disorders. This includes skin cancers, such as melanoma.

However, it is important to note that when a person consumes resveratrol from dietary sources, they may not see any meaningful effect as the concentration of resveratrol would be too low.

Other remedies for acne

While consuming a healthy diet is an important part of keeping the skin clear, there are other ways to help treat acne.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommend the following steps:

  • Use any acne products for at least 4 weeks. Some people may only experience clear skin after 2–3 months of treatment.
  • If there is no improvement in acne, use specific acne products that contain benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, or salicylic acid.
  • Follow the directions for acne products, either from the label or from a dermatologist or doctor.
  • Wash the face right after waking up, before going to sleep, or after sweating.
  • Never scrub the affected skin.
  • Use skin care products that are known not to cause acne, are oil-free, and are noncomedogenic, meaning they do not lead to blocked pores.
  • Do not touch, pick, or pop acne.
  • Apply acne products to the whole face, not just blemish-prone areas.
  • Frequently wash pillowcases and other items that come into contact with the skin.
  • Make an appointment with a dermatologist.


Acne is the result of complex processes in the body.

Certain foods may help keep the skin clear, while other foods may worsen existing acne.

People with concerns about their acne could try to limit foods with a high GI and possibly skim milk, as these products may exacerbate the condition.

While there is no firm evidence that eating chocolate causes acne, scientists need to perform more research in this area.

Several food items may help promote healthy skin. Eating foods that contain omega-3 fats, cruciferous vegetables, soy, and red grapes may help reduce acne, prevent skin aging, and reduce UV damage.

People can also follow simple skincare tips to reduce the severity of their acne.

It is important to note that some causes of acne may not be related to diet. Therefore, a person may not be able to clear up their acne with diet alone.

If an individual has severe acne or acne that does not respond to home treatments, they may wish to consult with a doctor or dermatologist.

Source: Medical News Today  

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