Foods to Avoid for Cystic Acne

A close-up of a soft pretzel.
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For years, dermatologists asserted that diet had no influence on acne vulgaris, known simply as acne. However, recent research suggests certain foods may trigger or worsen this skin condition. Talk to your dermatologist about dietary changes that may help if you have cystic acne -- a severe form. Diet alone is no substitute for proven medical regimens, but it can complement your current acne treatment.

High-Glycemic Foods Contribute to Acne

The Journal of Drugs and Dermatology published a study in April 2014 that evaluated potential dietary factors that may contribute to acne. Researchers examined studies published from 2009 to 2013 and concluded that high-glycemic carbohydrates are the main dietary culprit. The glycemic index is used to measure how dramatically carbohydrate foods raise blood sugar. The study authors recommended that dermatologists encourage acne patients to limit their intake of high-GI foods.

Low-Glycemic Diet Improves Acne

A study published in 2007 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition experimented with a low-glycemic diet in male acne patients ages 15 to 25. The diet consisted of 25 percent protein and 45 percent from low-glycemic carbohydrates. After 12 weeks, researchers found that the diet resulted in a reduction in acne lesions, improved insulin sensitivity and weight loss. In the future, researchers need to test whether the decreased weight and improved insulin sensitivity contributed to the acne improvement as well.

Avoiding High-Glycemic Foods

The glycemic index assigns a number from 0 to 100 to carbohydrate-containing foods based on the impact they have on blood glucose. High-glycemic foods have a score of 70 to 100. Work with your physician to come up with a low-glycemic meal plan to try for a few weeks to see if your acne improves. You'll avoid high-glycemicI foods such as white potatoes, instant oatmeal, white rice, pizza, pretzels, cookies, cakes, waffles and other refined carbohydrates. Instead, you'll eat low-glycemic foods like bran cereal, brown rice, old-fashioned oatmeal, beans, multigrain bread and nonstarchy vegetables like artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant and leafy greens.

Certain dairy foods are also linked to acne, according to a study published in the August 2012 edition of the journal BMC Dematology. Researchers conducted a case-controlled study among a small group of acne patients. The volunteers recorded their food intake and had their acne severity evaluated. Researchers discovered a positive link between the amount of milk and ice cream consumed and acne severity. Because dairy is a good source of calcium and vitamin D, you must get these nutrients from nondairy sources if you choose to avoid dairy. Your doctor may recommend supplementing. Low-glycemic, nondairy sources of vitamin D are tuna, salmon, swordfish, sardines, eggs and whole-grain fortified breakfast cereals. You can get calcium from soy milk, tofu, salmon, sardines and leafy greens like kale, turnip greens and bok choi.