Diet and Acne: What is the Evidence?

Posted on 21 Mar 2011 01:28

Acne sufferers have been reporting an association between specific food intake and acne outbreaks for many years. For instance, many many people have claimed that chocolate consumption either exacerbated or caused acne outbreaks. In fact, that chocolate causes acne was once accepted as fact by the lay public. Fatty foods are also frequently implicated. Milk and dairy products have been long associated with acne as well. However most studies have failed to find a correlation between diet and acne and it was long concluded that genetic predisposition and hormonal factors played the largest role.

According to a review of the literature published in the International Journal of Dermatology, newer studies performed since 2007 have begun to show otherwise. The authors, Elsa H. Spencer, Hope R. Ferdowsian, and Neal D. Barnard conducted a review of the relationship between diet and acne. Selecting 28 studies, the authors concluded that there is an association between diet quality and acne outbreaks. However only a few of these studies were controlled clinical trials. Properly performed randomized clinical trials are needed to actually test the efficacy of different dietary protocols, and indeed, to show direct evidence of the effect of diet on acne. Controls must be included for other factors including environmental stressors, acne medications, age, pubertal stage, and age at menarche, according to the authors.


The authors claim that prior to 2005 few quality studies were available to elucidate the association between diet and acne. An article published in 2004 by Parker Magin, eta al., "A systematic review of the evidence for ‘myths and misconceptions’ in acne management: diet, face-washing and sunlight" backs up this assertion, stating that studies had often been of small sample size, uncontrolled, and nonblinded. In the dermatological world, it has long been held as a myth that diet, along with face washing and sunlight exposure, influenced acne outbreaks. But clearly there has been little direct evidence to show that these factors are or are not important.

To understand the role of diet in acne, we must first understand the major underlying causes of acne, and then understand the effects of food on those underlying antecedents and triggers. For more information on the potentials for dietary influence on acne, see Advancing Medicine with Food and Nutrients

See also Sports Induced Acne from Helmets, Pads, and Other Gear.


Spencer, Elsa H., Hope R. Ferdowsian, and Neal D. Barnard. "Diet and Acne: a Review of the Evidence." International Journal of Dermatology 48.4 (2009): 339-47. Wiley Online Library. Web. 20 Mar. 2011. <>.

Magin, P. "A Systematic Review of the Evidence for 'myths and Misconceptions' in Acne Management: Diet, Face-washing and Sunlight." Family Practice 22.1 (2004): 62-70. <>

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