Acne tends to affect teenagers far more than adults. About 85 percent of the 40 to 50 million Americans who have acne are teenagers, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Anyone can get pimples, and adults often suffer from them. But there's medical evidence that acne might be linked to insulin resistance, the academy says.
The overproduction of sebum, the oil that lubricates the skin, can lead to acne. Hormones drive production of sebum, and hormonal fluctuations and surges can lead to too much sebum. The sebum then combines with shedding skin cells to form thick plugs that clog the skin's pores and hair follicles. And oily skin provides a good environment for bacteria to thrive, which then leads to inflammation, along with pimples.
A diet high in refined carbohydrates, such as the typical Western diet, can lead to insulin resistance, a condition in which the body must produce more insulin than normal to maintain blood sugar levels. Researchers have speculated that insulin resistance can lead to more sebum production than normal and to additional inflammation--both of which contribute to acne.
If insulin resistance can cause acne, then a diet low in refined carbohydrates and high in fresh vegetables, fruits and lean meats should keep acne at bay. Several small studies have indicated this approach could be helpful, according to the academy of dermatology. But more research is necessary to determine the role diet can play in curbing acne.
There is one known link between acne and insulin resistance: Acne often appears as a symptom in women who have polycystic ovary syndrome. These women almost always also have insulin resistance. Symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome include irregular or missed periods, infertility, weight gain, increased "male-pattern" hair growth on the face and chest and pelvic pain, along with acne.
If you've developed acne and you're also overweight, you might want to consider getting checked by your doctor to determine if you also have insulin resistance, and if you do, what you can do about it. In addition, if you're a woman who has developed acne and other symptoms that might indicate polycystic ovary syndrome, you also should consider making an appointment with your physician.