It is no secret that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in sugars and starches can whittle your waistline, but research now suggests it may also reduce breakouts. Eat the right foods and you could see a 20 percent improvement in your complexion, says Cheryl Lee Eberting, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Alpine, Utah. Which means that while diet can play a role for some, Eberting says it is not a substitute for a proper skin care regimen or for seeing your dermatologist, who can determine the cause of your acne and prescribe the proper remedies.
So dial your derm and reconfigure your grocery list: Here are the foods researchers believe may help—and hurt—your complexion.
Fill Up On These Foods:
These deep blue berries are one of the best sources of antioxidants, which reduce inflammation, one of the main causes of acne, says Eberting. While bilberries are the gold standard, they can be hard to find. Blueberries are a good and easier-to-find source of antioxidants, says Eberting, though any fruit or vegetable will have some.
"It goes back to the adage, 'Eat your fruits and vegetables and don't eat dessert,'" she says.
Nuts are a rich plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are said to reduce inflammation, says Eberting. Though there are no studies that link omega-3s and acne specifically, theoretically omega-3s may diminish inflammation around the sebaceous glands—which translates to shrinking the pink swelling that surrounds a breakout.
Researchers count fish oil's ability to fight inflammation as the main reason it's been proven to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease, says Eberting. That Herculean capability—attributed to the omega-3 fatty acids in the oil—also means its chances of helping with acne are good, says Eberting. Fatty fish, such as salmon and herring contain the most omega-3s, but taking a fish oil supplement can also help. Just be sure it's free of PCBs and dioxins, which are the contaminants in low-level fish, says Eberting.
Limit These Foods:
Milk and Dairy
Several studies have concluded milk may play a role in acne because of the hormones it contains, says Susan C. Taylor, M.D., a dermatologist in Philadelphia and co-author of "Reader's Digest Guide to Skin Care." The hormones are said to stimulate oil glands, which can lead to pimples. Whole, low-fat and skim versions were all shown to contribute, as were cottage and cream cheeses. Even formulas labeled "free of growth hormones" may contain hormones passed along naturally by the cow.
We're talking the starchy ones such as white bread, potatoes and potato chips, all of which have a high glycemic index, meaning they are likely to cause glucose and insulin levels to spike after eating. What does that mean for your skin? The surge stimulates oil-producing hormones called androgens, which can lead to breakouts. Try replacing the processed carbs with high-protein foods and whole-grain breads, pastas and legumes—which have a low-glycemic index—and you may break out less (study participants did).
Sugary Snacks and Drinks
The same study found that snacks and drinks like cookies, cakes, fruit juices and sodas, which also cause glucose and insulin levels to increase, may influence the development and severity of acne. Some sugars can also lead to hyperinsulinemia, says Eberting, a condition in which the amount of insulin in your blood is higher than is considered normal, and one that is commonly seen in women who have polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal disorder that counts acne as one of its symptoms.
If you have acne rosacea—redness on the cheeks, nose and forehead along with bumps or pimples—certain foods have been shown to worsen it.
"Spicy foods such as Indian foods that are rich in curry or foods with cayenne or hot peppers are triggers for rosacea and should be avoided," says Taylor.
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