Acne, a common inflammatory condition, has a variety of aggravating factors in people of all ages. While the precise factors that worsen acne are sometimes unknown, there’s a lot of attention being directed towards diet. Gluten, a group of proteins found in wheat and other grains, is one such dietary consideration.

Some people aren’t able to eat gluten due to sensitivity or intolerance. However, there’s no evidence that cutting gluten from your diet will decrease acne breakouts, especially if you don’t have any form of gluten sensitivity.

Keep reading to learn more about gluten and why people blame the protein for acne symptoms.

Gluten is not a single ingredient, but rather a group of proteins that naturally occur in various grains, such as:

  • wheat
  • rye
  • triticale (a rye and wheat mixture)
  • barley

When you think of gluten, breads and pastas often come to mind. Due to its elastic nature, gluten is considered a “glue” that holds these types of foods together. However, gluten (especially from wheat) is found in a variety of other food products, such as soups and salad dressings.

Some grains that are naturally gluten-free, such as rice and oats, can sometimes be contaminated with gluten-containing grains. This is why it’s important to read food labels to make sure a product is indeed free of gluten.

Still, gluten itself isn’t necessarily a health hazard unless you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).

In theory, your intestines help break down gluten, resulting in a product known as gliadin. Due to a number of factors, including a genetic predisposition, your body may then create antibodies to the protein as well as some other proteins in the body. This creates the symptoms associated with celiac disease.

Celiac disease and NCGS have similar symptoms. You may have excessive fatigue, foggy brain, and frequent headaches along with gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Skin rashes may also occur.

Unlike NCGS, celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. When people with celiac disease eat gluten, it can cause damage to the small intestine. It’s estimated that 1 out of 141 people in the United States has celiac disease. The only way to completely avoid symptoms of either celiac disease and NCGS is to avoid all forms of gluten and gluten-containing products.

It’s also possible to have a wheat allergy with or without having celiac disease or NCGS. A wheat allergy may cause gastrointestinal symptoms, as well as skin issues such as rashes and hives. Severe wheat allergies may lead to breathing difficulties and require immediate medical attention.

Despite some of the claims circulating on the internet, going on a gluten-free diet won’t cure your acne. There’s no clinical evidence that gluten triggers acne breakouts. Additionally, research doesn’t support that a gluten-free diet will clear up your acne.

While gluten hasn’t been scientifically linked to acne, other skin conditions may be associated with celiac disease. These include the following conditions:

Alopecia areata

Alopecia areata is a type of autoimmune disorder that causes patchy or widespread hair loss on the head and body. It has been long known that an association between celiac disease and alopecia areata exists.

One study suggests screening children with alopecia areata for celiac disease. However, there’s no data that suggests alopecia areata will improve with a gluten-free diet, even in the presence of celiac disease.

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is an itchy, chronic, inflammatory skin disease mostly seen in children and young adults. It’s related to immune dysfunction and has a genetic basis.

Although eczema has been linked to celiac disease, there’s no strong evidence to suggest a gluten-free diet would help.

Dermatitis herpetiformis

Dermatitis herpetiformis is a blistery rash seen in people with celiac disease who consume gluten. It occurs in about 10 percent of people who have the condition.


Hives are welts that occur for a number of reasons, including from allergic substances such as medications or sometimes from food. There are rare reports of hives (urticaria) being associated with celiac disease. In most cases, it may be more likely that the two are unrelated.


Plaque psoriasis is a disorder related to immune dysfunction. It results in inflammatory pink, silvery, scaly plaques on your skin. Some limited data suggests a gluten-free diet may help people living with psoriasis, especially those with celiac disease, but further studies are needed.

When it comes to skin health, gluten isn’t the only food ingredient of concern. The link between diet and acne has long been debated, often filled with old myths.

What has been established is the possibility that some foods could potentially aggravate your acne.

Among the top foods of concern are:

  • dairy products
  • whey protein supplements
  • high-glycemic foods, such as white potatoes and white rice

It’s difficult to pinpoint which foods may be causing your skin issues. If you think your diet is to blame for acne, it may be helpful to keep a food diary with notes about when you experience breakouts.

You can then share this information with your dermatologist to determine if there are any patterns and subsequent dietary changes that ought to be made.

Unless you have NCGS or celiac disease, going gluten-free won’t likely affect your skin health one way or the other.

Recurring acne issues may be addressed with a dermatologist, especially if over-the-counter topical retinoid, salicylic acid, or benzoyl peroxide-containing products haven’t worked. Your doctor may recommend stronger prescription acne products to help clear up your acne.

It can take several weeks for a new acne treatment plan to work. See your doctor for a follow-up before removing any food groups from your diet.

A gluten-free diet is a necessity for people with celiac disease and NCGS.

While a gluten-free diet is also linked with other anecdotal promises, such as acne treatments and weight loss, there’s not enough evidence to prove that this actually works.

Unless you can’t eat gluten, it’s important to work with your doctor to explore other ways you can treat chronic acne problems. This includes acne medications that are proven to work, along with a healthy lifestyle and a good skin care regimen.