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What Are the Best Foods for People with Acne?

People with Acne-Prone Skin Might Benefit from Eating Low-Glycemic Foods, and Foods High in Antioxidants, Zinc, and Omega-3s

By: Dan Kern, Acne.org Founder & CSO
Last updated: June 20, 2019

The Essential Information

No one knows for sure whether diet impacts acne, or to what degree. Until we have better research, everything regarding diet and acne is still unclear. However, we do have some initial evidence that points towards the possibility that certain foods might be better for acne than others. The foods that are likely best for acne include:

  • Whole vegetables and fruits - high in antioxidants that could help tamp down the inflammation of acne.
  • Fish - high in omega-3 fats that could also help tamp down the inflammation of acne as well as help heal the skin.

And if there were one food that we could say is the best, it would be...drumroll please...:

  • Oysters - high in omega-3 fats, and also by far the highest food in zinc (zinc deficiency has been shown to be correlated with acne).

The Science

The dermatological community still does not know whether diet impacts acne. However, some initial studies have shown that certain foods might possibly be better for acne than others. These foods include:

  • Low-glycemic foods
  • High-antioxidant foods
  • Foods high in zinc
  • Foods rich in omega-3 fats

Low-glycemic Foods

Low Glycemic Foods

The glycemic load is a measurement scientists use to determine whether a food will cause an increase in the amount of sugar in your blood. High-glycemic load foods cause a lot of sugar in the blood, while low-glycemic load foods cause a small amount of sugar in the blood.

Scientists that have studied the glycemic load and acne have found that people who eat a lot of high-glycemic load foods may develop more acne. However, these studies only examined a small number of people, and used surveys, which are considered an imperfect tool, so more research is needed to confirm this finding.1 But, if it is indeed true that high-glycemic load foods lead to more acne, then it is likely that low-glycemic load foods are preferred.

Some examples of low glycemic load foods that are possibly good for acne include:

  • Whole fruits
  • Whole vegetables
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Beans/legumes
  • Eggs
  • Meat & fish
  • Oils

Foods High in Antioxidants

Foods High in Antioxidants

Antioxidants are vitamins and minerals that protect the body from inflammation by preventing toxic chemicals, called reactive oxygen species (ROS), from forming in the body. By preventing the formation of ROS, antioxidants can lower inflammation. Since acne is an inflammatory disease, reducing inflammation might help reduce acne symptoms.

This means that foods high in antioxidants might possibly be good for acne because they help to reduce inflammation.2

Foods high in antioxidants include:

  • Whole fruits
  • Whole vegetables
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Certain meats like beef and chicken liver

Oysters High in Zinc

Foods High in Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that is essential for human health. In terms of acne, zinc has a positive effect on acne, and both topical and oral medications containing zinc can somewhat improve acne. Researchers believe that zinc works to reduce acne in three ways:

  1. Reducing inflammation
  2. Killing off acne bacteria
  3. Decreasing androgen hormones, which are acne-associated hormones found in both men and women

Since zinc might have a positive effect on acne, it is possible that eating foods high in zinc may also lead to a decrease in acne.3

Oysters contain much more zinc than any other food. In fact, eating 3 ounces of oysters (6 medium-size oysters) contains 493% of the recommended daily allowance of zinc.

But, oysters aren't the only foods that contain zinc. Other zinc-containing foods include beef and crab, but they contain a much smaller amount of zinc compared to oysters. So, if you want to eat foods that contain the highest amount of zinc, oysters are the way to go!

Foods High in Omega-3 Fats

Foods High in Omega-3s fats

Omega-3s are a special type of fat called a polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). PUFAs have several important functions in the body, but when it comes to acne, PUFAs are important because they can lower inflammation. Since acne is an inflammatory disease, anything that can lower inflammation might also possibly help to decrease acne.

Since omega-3s decrease inflammation, it is possible that eating more omega-3s might possibly help improve acne.4

The main source of omega-3s is from fish. The fish with the highest amount of omega-3s include:

  • Atlantic herring
  • Atlantic salmon
  • Sardines
  • Rainbow trout
  • Mackerel
  • Halibut
  • Tuna
  • Oysters

However, eating fish every day is usually not feasible for most people. This is where fish oil pills come in. Fish oil pills contain a high amount of omega-3s, so taking up to 6 fish oil pills per day (or up to 3 "concentrated" fish oil pills) will help increase the amount of omega-3s in your diet.

Takeaway

When it comes to acne, just like with other diseases, not surprisingly it is best to "eat healthy." That means eating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, and filling your diet with low glycemic foods like fish, nuts, eggs, and beans. It also means cutting down on high glycemic foods like sugar, soda, white bread, and processed food. Don't stress yourself out about your diet too much, but try to eat healthy when you can, and just for fun, add in some oysters whenever you can for an extra dose of zinc.

References:

  1. Smith RN, Mann NJ, Braue A, Makelainen H, Varigos GA. "A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: A randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007; 86(1): 107-115
  2. Briganti, S. & Picardo, M. Antioxidant activity, lipid peroxidation and skin diseases. What's new. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol 17, 663 - 669 (2003).
  3. Gupta, M., Mahajan, V. K., Mehta, K. S. & Chauhan, P. S. Zinc therapy in dermatology: a review. Dermatol. Res. Pract. 2014, 1 - 11 (2014).
  4. Rubin MG, Kim K, and Logan AC. "Acne vulgaris, mental health and omega-3 fatty acids: a report of cases." Lipids in Health and Disease. 2008; 7: 36.
  5. Pasiakos SM, et al. "Appetite and endocrine regulators of energy balance after 2 days of energy restriction: insulin, leptine, ghrelin, and DHEA-S." Obesity. 2011; 19: 1124-1130.

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