Sweets do not cause acne, and nor do any other foods in your diet. However, some foods may trigger a sequence of reactions in your body that can make your acne worse. While conventional medicine maintains that diet has no effect on acne, doctors have found that food can be a significant factor for some people, according to naturopath Mark Stengler and his co-authors in “Prescription for Drug Alternatives.”
Hormones and Acne
One of the primary causes of acne is excess oil production. When oil, dead skin cells and bacteria become clogged in canals that transport oil to the surface of your skin, inflammation sets in and pimples erupt. The Western diet, which is typically high in refined carbohydrates — such as sugar — boosts levels of the hormone insulin, which triggers overproduction of oil and inflammation.
Effects of Sweets
Your body converts all carbohydrates into glucose, so when you eat sweets that are rich in sugar, your blood glucose levels rise. In turn, your pancreas produces insulin to move glucose from blood into cells in the liver and muscle where it can be stored or used as energy. Unlike whole grains, refined carbohydrates such as sugar cause insulin levels to spike. The longer these levels stay high, the more you likely you are to experience excess oil production and inflammation.
When the levels of insulin in your body are higher than normal, it’s referred to as hyperinsulinemia. In a study published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” in July 2007, researchers found that participants on a low-glycemic diet experienced improvements in total acne lesions, the severity of their breakouts and insulin sensitivity. The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology also points out that women who are overweight often have high insulin levels. Once their insulin levels become lower, their acne often improves.
Limiting Sweets in Your Diet
If you’re concerned that sweets are making your acne worse, limit them as much as possible. Try natural sweeteners such as stevia in your tea or beverages. If you have a chocolate habit, try chocolates made for diabetics instead of the sugary varieties. Also, extend your efforts to all refined carbohydrates, not just sweets. For instance, choose whole-grain products over those made from white flour. It can take several weeks or months to notice any improvements in acne when you alter your diet.
- “Prescription for Drug Alternatives”; Mark Stengler, N.D. et al.; 2008
- Mark’s Daily Apple: The Definitive Guide to Insulin, Blood Sugar & Type 2 Diabetes (and You’ll Understand It)
- “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition”; A Low-Glycemic-Load Diet Improves Symptoms In Acne Vulgaris Patients: A Randomized Controlled Trial; Robyn N. Smith et al.; July 2007