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Six Foods That Can Cause Acne

Sugar and its negative effects on acne

Many factors contribute to acne breakouts, including sebum (oil) production, acne-causing bacteria, hormonal fluctuations, blocked pores, and inflammation. However, recent studies show that diet can significantly affect skin clarity and health. If trying to control breakouts, consider doing it from the inside out. Here are the top five food groups you should avoid on a journey to clearer skin.

1. Dairy products

Most animals, dairy cows, in particular, are often treated with artificial hormones to increase milk production. When their milk is consumed, it’s suggested that the synthetic hormones can throw off insulin levels in the body, affecting blood sugar levels and creating spikes in hormones that can cause acne. Another theory is that the proteins found in animal milk aggravate acne-causing hormones because we cannot properly break down and digest them as humans.

Great dairy alternatives: Almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, and rice milk.

2. Soy products

Soy products such as tofu, soy milk, and soy protein contain high levels of phytoestrogens (naturally occurring compounds found in plants) that can affect our body’s natural estrogen receptors. In excess, soy can lead to decreased estrogen levels and increased levels of androgens (male hormones), which can impact the formation of acne by causing our glands to produce more pore-clogging sebum.

Soy has also been shown to cause inflammation and inhibit the absorption of vital vitamins and minerals, contributing to breakouts.

Great soy alternatives: Fermented chickpeas, mushrooms, fresh lima beans, coconut milk, hemp milk.

Infographic of foods that are bad for your acne

3. Refined grains

People who consume high amounts of refined carbohydrates tend to have more prominent skin conditions such as acne. Refined carbs include white bread, pasta made with white flour, and white rice. These foods have a high glycemic index and quickly spike blood sugar levels; this leads to increased androgen and sebum production, contributing to acne flare-ups.

Great refined grains alternatives: Quinoa, millet, oats, barley, farro, and bulgur.

4. Sugar

Studies have shown that people who consume added sugars regularly have a 30% more risk of developing acne. This is because sugar causes insulin spikes and makes skin cells grow more quickly, boosting sebum production and causing breakouts.

Great sugar alternatives: pure maple syrup, raw honey, Stevia.

5. Fast food

Acne is strongly connected with a “Western-style” diet rich in fat and unhealthy calories. Fast foods like burgers, hot dogs, french fries, pizza, and soda may increase the risk of acne due to their effect on the body. These unhealthy foods are high in sodium and may increase inflammation and cause excess oil and acne-causing bacteria on the skin.

Great fast food alternatives: meal-prepping healthier options from home, such as whole-grain bowls, salads, smoothies, and vegetable stir-fries.

6. Seaweed (algae), Kelp

Seaweed (algae) is a common trigger for acne breakouts, especially around the mouth. The cause is most probably the high Iodine content in seaweed. Iodine is an essential mineral we all need in small amounts for normal thyroid function. That said, the excess of Iodine that gets to the sebaceous glands is believed to irritate and clog the skin oil glands, which can trigger more acne breakouts. Acne can flare up when too much Kelp or other Iodine-rich foods are consumed.


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