The Surprising Link Between Your Diet and Acne

Updated May 17, 2014.

For years, the common belief was diet had absolutely no effect on acne. But some researchers are revisiting this idea.

A study completed by the Australia’s RMIT University and Royal Melbourne Hospital Department of Dermatology set out to find how certain carbohydrates affect acne development. Associate Professor Neil Mann, from RMIT University’s School of Applied Sciences, led the research team which spent more than two years studying metabolic changes in glucose and insulin levels due to diet and the resulting changes on the skin.

Researchers believe carbohydrates with a high glycemic index, which cause glucose and insulin levels to spike, may influence the development and severity of acne. Conversely, a diet high in protein and carbohydrates with a low glycemic index seemed to improve acne breakouts.

Forty-three males, between the ages of 15 and 25, were divided into two groups. One group was given foods with a low glycemic index, such as whole grain breads and pasta, legumes, as well as high protein foods. The second group was fed a more “typical” teenage diet consisting of white bread, potatoes, and sugary drinks and snacks.

After 12 weeks, those in the high protein-low glycemic index group showed a fifty percent reduction of acne. The results seem to suggest a possible link between diet and acne development.

What This Means to You
The results of the study are intriguing, as it challenges the long-held beliefs regarding diet and acne. Interesting as the results are, they are preliminary and more research needs to be done. It is far from definitive proof.

Many others in the field don’t believe diet plays a role in acne development whatsoever.

So, is diet alone going to clear your acne? Probably not. However, a healthy diet will certainly improve your overall health. Instead of highly processed foods, try incorporating more whole grains (such as whole wheat bread, wheat pastas, brown rice, oatmeal, etc.) into your diet, as well as plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit, and lean protein. Limit the amount of soda, sugary snacks, and other “junk foods” whenever possible. You have nothing to lose, and a healthy body to gain.


Smith R., Mann N., Braue A., Mäkeläinen H., Varigos G. “A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2007); 86: 107-115.

Smith R., Mann N., Braue A., Mäkeläinen H., Varigos G. “The effect of a high-protein, low glycemic-load diet versus a conventional, high glycemic-load diet on biochemical parameters associated with acne vulgaris: A randomized, investigator-masked, controlled trial.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (2007); 57 (2): 247-256.