Beauty Bodycare

6 Foods to Avoid If You’re Acne-Prone

19 March 2019

There are so many reasons why you might have acne-prone skin. It could be genetic, or the result of puberty, medication, stress, lifestyle changes, or going on or off birth control. A poor diet doesn’t cause acne, but it can trigger breakouts or make your acne worse. These foods are some of the biggest culprits…


You probs predicted this one! Sugar is acne’s arch-nemesis, but that doesn’t mean you’ll break out every time you eat a chocolate bar. It comes down to how much of the sweet stuff you eat. Here’s a quick science lesson. Sugar has a high-glycemic index, so it breaks down quickly during digestion and raises your blood sugar levels. As a result, it messes with your hormones and increases inflammation – and guess what? A lot of acne breakouts, like cysts, are a kind of inflammation. If your acne is going crazy, sugar can make it even worse. And just to top it off, sugar dulls your skin and damages collagen. No, thanks!

The solution: Stay away from refined sugar and use natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and stevia. And check out our tips for combating sugar cravings.

Vegetable Oils

This is a pretty broad category that includes canola, corn, sunflower, safflower and soybean oil, plus margarine. These are cheap, processed oils that are made in factories – not in nature. Our bodies don’t know how to break them down, and research shows they can lead to all sorts of issues, including problem skin. Vegetable oils are also high in omega-6 fatty acids. When we eat too many omega-6s instead of omega-3s (found in fish, nuts and avocado), it can inflame the body. And as you now know, inflammation makes acne worse.

The solution: Cook with coconut oil, sesame oil, or extra-virgin olive oil, and drizzle flaxseed oil over salads.

Refined Carbs 

Carbs are one of the essential macronutrients, and we need them for energy. For clear skin, you want to avoid refined or simple carbs. Think white pasta/bread/rice, cereal, chips, and crackers. As delish as these foods are, they’re on the high-glycemic index and have little to no nutritional value (sorry!). They’re processed with sugars and saturated fats, which spike your insulin levels and can cause your complexion to flare up. They also encourage your hormones to secrete excess oil from your skin glands, which can lead to blocked pores and – yep – breakouts.  

The solution: Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives! Eat complex carbs, such as wholegrains (like brown rice and quinoa), sweet potato, and fruit. These are low-GI and won’t send you on a ride on the blood sugar rollercoaster. Our good skin guide has a list of foods to eat for healthy skin, too.  

Whey Protein Powder

Werkin’ on your fitness? That protein shake you’re sipping post-spin class helps your muscles to recover, but it may be hurting your skin. Whey protein is rich in amino acids called leucine and glutamine. These amino acids stimulate the growth of skin cells, and cause the body to produce more insulin than it naturally does. Both of these things are linked to adult acne. Whey is an ingredient in cow’s milk, so if you have issues with dairy, it’s a good idea to avoid it.

The solution: Use a vegan version, like pea or rice protein. They’ll help to repair your muscles and rev up your metabolism, and they’re easier to digest, too.


Do you get deep, painful pimples on your cheeks or chin? And do they pop up at that time of the month, when you’re already feeling crappy? Dairy might be to blame. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, it contains hormones that stimulate the sebum glands in your skin. When those glands are over-stimulated, they produce more oil than they need to and clog your pores. Secondly, cow’s milk is often taken from pregnant cows, so it has a high level of progesterone (a female hormone). This can throw your hormones out of whack and cause – or aggravate – acne. Finally, dairy is high in sugar, which is one of the biggest breakout culprits. A lot of acne-prone people find their skin clears up dramatically when they ditch dairy. Try cutting it out for a few weeks and see what happens.

The solution: Get creative! Stock up on non-dairy options that won’t inflame your skin: nut milk, coconut milk/yoghurt/ice-cream, and cashew cheese. They used to be hippy-dippy, but now you’ll find them in every supermarket.


We’re putting an asterisk here because not all chicken is on the shit list. You’ve probably heard from your mum/PDHPE teacher/the news that chicken is often pumped up with hormones. This makes the chickens bigger and more symmetrical, which is great news for the farmers trying to sell their goods but not so great for our bodies. If you eat a lot of chicken with added hormones, you might find that your hormonal acne gets worse. And if your skin is seriously spotty, consider cutting down on red meat, too. It slows down digestion, and lead to your body pushing out toxins through your skin. Hello, pimples.

The solution: Buy organic chicken when you can, and experiment with going vegetarian a few times a week. While you’re at it, pop a probiotic daily for good gut health!

Words by Katia Iervasi