Acne is a skin problem that can cause several types of bumps to form on the surface of the skin. These bumps can form anywhere on the body but are most common on the:

  • face
  • neck
  • back
  • shoulders

Acne is often triggered by hormonal changes in the body, so it’s most common in older children and teenagers going through puberty.

Acne will slowly go away without treatment, but sometimes just when it starts to go away, more appears. Serious cases of acne may not usually be physically harmful, but they are associated with a higher risk of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, social phobias, and low self-esteem.

Depending on its severity, you may choose no treatment, over-the-counter treatment, or prescription acne medications to deal with your acne.

To understand how acne develops, it can help to understand more about the skin: The skin’s surface is covered in small holes that connect to oil glands, or sebaceous glands, beneath the skin.

These holes are called pores. The oil glands produce an oily liquid called sebum. Your oil glands send sebum up to the skin’s surface through a thin channel called a follicle.

The oil gets rid of dead skin cells by carrying them through the follicle up to the surface of the skin. A thin piece of hair also grows up through the follicle.

Acne occurs when the skin’s pores clog up with dead skin cells, excess oil, and sometimes bacteria. During puberty, hormones often cause oil glands to produce excess oil, which increases acne risks.

There are two main types of acne:

  • A whitehead, commonly known as a pimple, is a pore that gets clogged and closes but sticks out of the skin. These appear as hard, whitish bumps.
  • A blackhead is a pore that gets clogged but stays open. These appear as tiny dark spots on the skin’s surface.

Other types of acne include pustules and papules.

One thing that can affect your skin is diet. Certain foods raise your blood sugar more quickly than others.

When your blood sugar rises quickly, it causes the body to release insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a hormone that manages the effects of growth. Having excess IGF-1 in your blood can cause your oil glands to produce more sebum, increasing your risks of acne and inflammation.

Some foods that trigger spikes in blood sugar include:

  • pasta
  • white rice
  • white bread
  • sugar

These foods are considered “high-glycemic” carbohydrates. That means they’re made of simple sugars.

Chocolate is also believed to worsen acne, but there isn’t enough high-quality research available to confirm this.

Other researchers have studied the connections between a so-called “Western diet” or “standard American diet” and acne. This kind of diet is based heavily on:

These kinds of foods have been found to stimulate the production of hormones that can cause excess oil to be created and secreted by oil glands.

They’ve also found that a Western diet is linked to greater inflammation, which can also contribute to acne problems.

Eating low-glycemic foods made of complex carbohydrates may reduce your risk of developing acne. Complex carbohydrates are found in the following foods:

  • whole grains
  • legumes
  • unprocessed fruits and vegetables

Foods containing the following ingredients are also thought to be beneficial for the skin:

Some skin-friendly food choices include:

  • yellow and orange fruits and vegetables such as carrots, apricots, and sweet potatoes
  • spinach and other dark green and leafy vegetables
  • tomatoes
  • blueberries
  • whole-wheat bread
  • brown rice
  • quinoa
  • turkey
  • pumpkin seeds
  • beans, peas, and lentils
  • salmon, mackerel, and other kinds of fatty fish
  • nuts

Everyone’s body is different, and some people find that they get more acne when they eat certain foods. Under your doctor’s supervision, it can be helpful to experiment with your diet to see what works best for you.

Always take into account any food allergies or sensitivities you may have when planning your diet.

Low-glycemic diets

Several recent studies suggest that following a low-glycemic diet, or one that is low in simple sugars, can prevent and improve acne. Researchers in a 2012 study of Korean patients found that following a low-glycemic diet for 10 weeks can lead to significant improvements in acne.

In a 2007 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, researchers found that following a low-glycemic, high-protein diet for 12 weeks improved acne in men, and also led to weight loss. More current studies are needed to confirm these findings.

Zinc

Studies also suggest that eating foods rich in zinc may be useful in preventing and treating acne. Foods that are rich in zinc include:

  • pumpkin seeds
  • cashews
  • beef
  • turkey
  • quinoa
  • lentils
  • seafood such as oysters and crab

In one study published in the BioMed Research International Journal, researchers looked at the relationship between the levels of zinc in the blood and acne severity. Zinc is a dietary mineral important in skin development as well as regulating metabolism and hormone levels.

The researchers found that low levels of zinc were linked to more severe cases of acne. They suggest increasing the amount of zinc in the diet to treat people with severe cases of acne.

Vitamins A and E

In a study published in the Journal of Cutaneous and Ocular Toxicology, researchers found that low levels of vitamins A and E also seem to be linked to severe cases of acne.

They suggest that people may be able to lessen the severity of their acne by increasing their intake of foods containing these vitamins. Talk to your doctor before taking vitamin A supplements. Vitamin A toxicity can cause permanent damage to your major organs.

Antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3s are a type of fat found in certain plants and animal-protein sources, such as fish and eggs. Antioxidants are chemicals that neutralize damaging toxins in the body. Together, omega-3s and antioxidants are thought to reduce inflammation.

Studies largely support the connection between an increase in consumption of omega-3s and antioxidants and a decrease in acne.

Studies in 2012 and 2014 found that people who took a daily omega-3 and antioxidant supplement were able to both reduce their acne and improve their mental health. Overall, more research is needed.

Some studies suggest certain foods can help get rid of acne and improve skin health, but there is no definitive food “cure.” Before modifying your diet, it’s important to talk to your doctor to make sure any changes you make won’t harm your health.

The best diet advice in dealing with acne appears to be eating a wholesome, balanced diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy protein sources, and whole grains.