10 Foods That Cause Acne — and What to Eat Instead

Yes, greasy food can make you break out, but what else? We've got the list to watch our for.

a model with clear skin laughing and framing their face with their hands
Photo: NickyLloyd/Getty

What you eat doesn't just affect your health, it can also impact your skin — for better or worse. Learn what foods cause acne, and what you could put on your plate instead.

01 of 11

Foods That Cause Acne

Person eating a slice of pizza while working on their computer overhead shot

It's no surprise that a healthy diet has a positive impact on your entire body — but don't forget, that includes your skin. "In the last decade there's been a lot of convincing scientific research confirming a link between what you eat and how your skin behaves," explains Whitney Bowe, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.

While Dr. Bowe is quick to note that dietary changes alone won't clear up your skin, diet is an essential component in a holistic acne treatment plan, particularly if topicals alone don't seem to be doing the trick. Just be patient: "It takes one to three months for the effects of any changes in your diet to show up on your skin," she says.

One good place to start? Nixing these 10 common drinks and foods that can cause acne. Whether you're dealing with chronic acne or just an occasional blemish, avoiding these when possible could help minimize your breakouts.

02 of 11

Dried Fruit

dried fruits such as raisins, apricots, and cranberries

Fruit loses some of its health power when you dry it. "Dried fruit is a refined carbohydrate that is high on the glycemic index," notes Dr. Bowe. "It causes a dramatic spike in blood sugar and a subsequent rise in insulin levels. This leads to a cascade of hormones that can increase oil production and trigger breakouts," she explains. Any kind of white bread, pasta, crackers, or cereal all fall into the category of food that causes acne, as well.

Whenever possible, opt for fresh fruit and swap the white versions of your favorite carbs for whole-grain varieties.

03 of 11

Skim Milk

a model eating granola with milk

Research has found that those who regularly consume milk are four times more likely to have acne than those who don't. Previous studies suggested it may be the hormones in dairy that are the culprit, but more recent research shows that milk proteins such as whey are also to blame. "The exact process is still unknown, but the thought is that when they bind to receptors in the digestive tract, they signal certain molecules that trigger breakouts," explains Dr. Bowe. When companies remove the fat from whole milk, they add more of these proteins to make the milk thicker and taste less watery, she adds.

Instead? Choose non-dairy milk substitutes such as rice, almond, coconut, or oat milk next time you're perusing the dairy aisle.

04 of 11

Whey Protein Powder

a pair of hands holding a container of chocolate whey protein powder

Remember how whey is the potential reason behind milk causing acne? Well, your whey protein powder is just a pure and concentrated form of whey, making it especially problematic.

Vegan or pea protein powders are a better option for your post-workout smoothie. And be sure to scan the ingredients on your favorite snack or meal replacement bar, too, as whey protein is a common additive in these as well, says Dr. Bowe.

05 of 11

Trans Fats

a plate of fries

These bad fats typically come from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, a food that causes acne and a common ingredient in many processed foods ranging from cookies to chips to cake mix. Be sure to check the ingredients on anything pre-packaged to ensure that you're steering clear of trans fats. "Just as they can lead to clogged arteries in the heart, trans fats also cause blockages in the tiny blood vessels in the skin," says Dr. Bowe. Not to mention they trigger inflammation, which can exacerbate acne flares. (Dealing with chronic inflammation? Here an anti-inflammatory diet plan to consider.)

Don't eliminate all fat though; polyunsaturated, omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly beneficial for healthy skin. Flaxseed oil, walnuts, and chia seeds are all good sources.

06 of 11


a plate of oysters

Some shellfish that cause acne include shrimp and lobster, both of which are high in iodine, says Jolene Hart, certified health coach. While the essential mineral is beneficial for your overall skin health, it can trigger breakouts in some people with sensitivities to high amounts.

Satisfy your seafood craving with fish high in good-for-your-skin omega-3 fatty acids instead, such as wild salmon.

07 of 11

Milk Chocolate

broken pieces of chocolate, presumably milk chocolate

Sad but true: Creamy milk chocolate is among the list of foods that cause acne. In fact, this sweet includes a trifecta of some of the most common acne triggers: refined sugar, dairy, and often trans fats, says Dr. Bowe.

But that doesn't mean you can't give in to your sweet tooth! Just opt for dark chocolate made with at least 70 percent cocoa to save your skin (and get an added antioxidant boost).

08 of 11

Some Sushi

multiple pieces of sushi

"Not all sushi has the same acne-causing potential, but there are some serious skin pitfalls to watch out for if you're a sushi lover," cautions Hart. Definitely steer clear of California rolls: White rice has a high glycemic index, while imitation crab meat contains gluten (as does soy sauce) — a common cause of inflammation which can trigger or aggravate breakouts, she says. And nori sheets contain iodine, which, as mentioned, can also trigger acne in some people. When in doubt, order sashimi with brown rice.

09 of 11


halved grapefruits and oranges with two glasses of juice

Bottled juice, even the fresh-pressed kind, can be a major breakout trigger. "Juice, especially if it's mostly fruit, is high in sugar with no fiber," says Hart. "Sipped on its own, it causes a spike in your blood sugar that leads to increased sebum production and inflammation," she explains.

Avoid this food that causes acne, and eat whole fruit or pick veggie-based juices instead.

10 of 11

Non-Organic Meat

two pieces of meat on a wood cutting board

It's not the meat itself that's a problem, but rather the fact that poultry, beef, and pork can contain high levels of antibiotics, fed to the animals to keep them healthy. "Long-term, continual exposure to antibiotics can lead to resistance and disrupt the fine balance between the good and bad bacteria in our body," explains Dr. Bowe. And while you may think of bacteria primarily as it pertains to your digestive system, there are also a ton of good bacteria on your skin, she adds.

Choose organic or antibiotic-free meat whenever possible, and consider incorporating sources of probiotics (such as fermented foods and yogurt) to help boost the levels of good bacteria both in and on your body.

11 of 11

Alcoholic Cocktails

multiple glasses of alcoholic cocktails garnished with mint and grapefruit

Margaritas, mojitos, and other mixed drinks are loaded with sugar (hello, inflammation and blood sugar spikes!), and alcohol is a diuretic that can dehydrate the skin. "When the skin is dry, it can't exfoliate properly and pores get clogged, leading to breakouts," says Dr. Bowe.

If you do want to imbibe in an adult beverage, a glass of red wine is your best bet. "It contains the antioxidant resveratrol, and studies have shown that antioxidants are very beneficial for acne-prone skin," explains Dr. Bowe.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles