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Foods That Make Acne Flare Up

author image R. Y. Langham, Ph.D.
R. Y. Langham served as a senior writer for "The Herald" magazine from 1996-99. Langham holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Fisk University, a Master of Science in marriage and family therapy from Trevecca Nazarene University and a Ph.D in family psychology from Capella University. Dr. R.Y. Langham published her first psychological thriller in September 2011. It can be purchased on, Barnes& and
Foods That Make Acne Flare Up
Shellfish, such as shrimp, can cause an acne flare-up. Photo Credit: cobraphoto/iStock/Getty Images

About 45 million Americans suffer from acne each year, according to Tim Mitchell and Allison Dudley, authors of the book “Acne: The At Your Fingertips Guide.” Acne is a common skin condition, characterized by red, scaly skin, nodules, pimples, whiteheads, pinheads, blackheads and cysts. When bacteria, oil and dead skin cells accumulate on the surface of your skin, it can block your skin pores and trigger an acne flare. While the exact cause varies from person to person, oil, inflammation, blocked pores and bacteria may contribute to its development. It is important to avoid certain foods because they can irritate your skin and cause an acne flare-up.

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Spicy Foods

If you have acne, limit or avoid spicy foods because they can cause your acne to flare up. Mitchell and Dudley report that foods loaded with garlic, peppers, onions, chilies and hot sauces can raise your body’s temperature, inflame your skin and exacerbate your symptoms.

Fatty Foods

A diet high in saturated and partially hydrogenated fats can cause your face to break out. According to Swami Sadashiva Tirtha, author of the book “Ayurveda Encyclopedia: Natural Secrets to Healing, Prevention, & Longevity,” saturated and partially hydrogenated fats can inflame your skin, clog your pores, encourage cyst formation and increase acne symptoms, such as skin redness, inflammation and swelling. Foods rich in saturated fats include beef, veal, lamb, pork, butter, cream, whole milk and cheeses, while foods loaded with partially hydrogenated fats include packaged cookies, fries, fried chicken, fish sticks, chips and crackers.

Refined Sugar

Avoid acne breakouts by reducing or avoiding foods produced with refined sugar. According to Tirtha, sugary foods such as white bread, white flour, baked goods, candies, cookies, ice cream, muffins and doughnuts can raise your blood sugar, disrupt your hormone levels, irritate and inflame your skin and worsen acne symptoms.


If you are prone to acne, avoid shellfish because it can cause your acne to flare up. Shellfish, such as shrimp, lobster, crab, crayfish, mussel and clams, contain large amounts of iodine, a trace mineral often associated with acne breakouts. High iodine levels can inflame your skin, clog your pores and cause the appearance of red splotchy skin, according to Judith Brown, author of the book “Every Woman's Guide to Nutrition.” Other foods rich in iodine include cheese, milk, idolized salt, kelp, boiled eggs, fish sticks, cod, cooked navy beans, skinless baked potatoes and baked turkey breasts.

Processed Foods

Limit or avoid processed foods if you are prone to acne breakouts because these foods can worsen your condition.Lendon Smith, Lynne Paige Walker and Ellen Brown, authors of the book “Nature's Pharmacy for Children: Drug-Free Alternatives for More Than 200 Childhood Ailments,” report that processed foods, such as microwave dinners, cookies, chips, deli meats, frozen fish sticks, pot pies and frozen pizzas, are loaded with preservatives and additives that can accumulate in your body, block your pores, inflame your skin and increase your risk for an acne flare-up.

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  • “Acne: The At Your Fingertips Guide”; Tim Mitchell and Allison Dudley; 2002
  • “Ayurveda Encyclopedia: Natural Secrets to Healing, Prevention, and Longevity”; Swami Sadashiva Tirtha; 2007
  • “Burgerstein's Handbook of Nutrition: Micronutrients in the Prevention and Therapy of Disease”; Michael Zimmerman; 2001
  • “Nature's Pharmacy for Children: Drug-Free Alternatives for More Than 200 Childhood Ailments”; Lendon H. Smith, Lynne Paige Walker and Ellen H. Brown; 2002
  • “Every Woman's Guide to Nutrition”; Judith E. Brown; 1990
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