10 Foods That Cause Acne and Why

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

01 of 11

Foods That Cause Acne

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It's no surprise that a healthy diet has a positive impact on your entire body, but don't forget that includes your skin. When it comes to the role diet plays in acne, the old adage "you are what you eat" holds especially true. "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., associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center.

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 trigger drinks and foods that cause acne. Whether you're dealing with chronic acne or just an occasional blemish, avoiding them can help clear up your complexion.

02 of 11

Dried Fruit

Dried Fruit
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Fruit loses some of its health power when you dry it. "Dried fruit a refined carbohydrate that is high on the glycemic index," explains 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." Any kind of white bread, pasta, crackers, or cereal all fall into the category of food that causes acne. (

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

03 of 11

Skim Milk

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Previous 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 the latest research shows that milk proteins, whey, and casein 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, they add more of these proteins to make the milk thicker and taste less watery, she adds.

Choose non-dairy milk substitutes, such as rice, almond, or coconut milk to avoid this food that causes acne.

04 of 11

Whey Protein Powder

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Whey protein powder is especially problematic since it's in a pure and concentrated form of whey, which as noted before, has been found to cause acne. 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

Trans Fats
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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 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.

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

Shellfish

Shellfish
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Some shellfish that causes acne include shrimp and lobster, both of which are high in iodine, says Jolene Hart, certified health coach and author of Eat Pretty: Nutrition for Beauty Inside and Out. 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

Milk Chocolate
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Sadly, it's 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. Plus, you'll an antioxidant boost.

08 of 11

Sushi

Sushi
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"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 even the nori sheets pose a problem; they contain iodine, which, as mentioned, can also trigger acne in some people. When in doubt, order sashimi with brown rice.

09 of 11

Juice

Juice
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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," explains Hart. "Sipped on its own it causes a spike in your blood sugar that leads to increased sebum production and inflammation."

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

10 of 11

Non-Organic Meat

Non-Organic Meat
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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 our skin, she adds.

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

11 of 11

Alcoholic Cocktails

Alcoholic Cocktails
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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," she explains.

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