Does sugar cause acne? How food can affect pimples

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I’ll be honest: there are very few things I would do not do in the pursuit of good skin. But one of those few things? Give up all my favorite foods. You just won’t catch me cutting dairy, carbs, or wine out of my life, no matter how clearly and resilient the internet claims it will make my skin—and that’s especially true when it comes to the sugar vs. acne debate .

The idea that sugar can cause acne has been perpetuated for centuries. Painful pimple on the chin? Maybe it was that chocolate cake you ate for dinner. Unexpected escape before your wedding? It could be the increase in soda you drink to get through the stress. The list – and the fear-mongering – goes on.

But it’s not that simple. Yes, sugar can damage your skin, but it’s probably not the cause of your acne as you might think. To help us dispel the myths and determine whether sugar causes acne, we spoke to board-certified dermatologists Brooke JeffyM.D.; Michele FarberM.D.; Naana Bokye, M.D.; And Neil Farnsworth, M.D.; who explained exactly how sugar (and your favorite foods in general) can affect the health of our skin.

Experts in this article

How does your diet affect your skin?

Let’s start by saying: everything you put into your body affects your skin in some way. “The key to healthy skin lies in the health of your gut,” says Dr. Boakye. It may sound a little strange, but there are actually ecosystems in your gut and skin called microbiomes, which are made up of “organisms like bacteria, fungi, and viruses that keep your gut and skin healthy.” If you’ve ever heard of the connection between skin and gut, this is what people are talking about. “The gut microbiome communicates directly with the skin microbiome, so what you consume through your diet plays a key factor in the health of your skin,” says Dr. Boakye.

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For example, if your body doesn’t process gluten super well, eating a baguette can cause system-wide inflammation, including in your skin. Inflamed skin is compromised skin, and compromised skin creates the perfect environment for acne to occur. “Research has shown that if an individual consumes a diet low in fiber, it can worsen a range of inflammatory diseases such as acne, rosacea, psoriasis and eczema,” says Dr. Boakye.

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And if you eat a lot of sugar or dairy (or anything else with a high glycemic index), your insulin – a hormone that helps you process that sugar and convert it into energy – will spike. Hormones, as you may remember from puberty, play a huge role in the health of your skin, and some people are more sensitive to these hormone fluctuations than others. However, that doesn’t mean you should give up the foods you love just in search of better skin, especially since results can’t be guaranteed – which brings us to the big question:

Does sugar cause acne?

“There is no scientific evidence that sugar directly causes acne,” says Dr. Boakye. What is However, it is known that sugar consumption can unintentionally increase the risk of pimples, for a number of indirect reasons. “Sugar increases the amount of inflammation in our bodies in general, including in the skin,” says Dr. Jeffy. This inflammation negatively affects the skin barrier, making us more susceptible to pimples.

Sugar intake also increases insulin, leading to increased oil production in the skin, says Dr. Jeffy. This excess oil then traps dead skin cells in the pores and can lead to inflammation and pimples. So no, sugar doesn’t directly cause acne, but it does create an environment where acne is more likely to occur.

Will Quitting Sugar Cure My Acne?

Quitting sugar can help your skin smallBut overall, acne is multifactorial, so cutting back on sugar and calling it a cure may only be a small part of a multi-step solution. “Hormone-driven changes due to lifestyle, age and diet play a role [in acne]just like the choices we make, like how, when, and what we apply to the skin,” says Dr. Jeffy. If you don’t get enough sleep, are under a lot of stress, are exposed to too many pollutants or allergens, or are genetically are prone to breakouts, cutting back on sugar won’t magically change your acne.

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Plus, sugar is one of life’s many pleasures, so stick with it, especially since “it would be difficult to completely control acne through diet, especially with more moderate to severe breakouts,” says Dr. Farber. Instead, instead of cutting out all sources of sugar and potentially confusing your system, Dr. Farber recommends consulting your dermatologist for the right line of products – both over-the-counter and prescription – to successfully treat your acne the first time.

Are certain types of sugar worse for your skin than others?

If you’re concerned about your sugar intake and how it may affect your skin, it’s important to note that refined sugars are generally thought to be harsher on your skin than natural sugars (think grape soda versus real grapes). “Refined sugars have a high glycemic index, which can lead to elevated insulin levels and trigger the development of acne,” says Dr. Boakye. But again, moderation and balance are key here for the health of your skin (and health in general).

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How can I get rid of a pimple caused by sugar?

Pimples caused by sugar are the same as any other pimple: there is no special pimple that pops up after you save a bag of sour gummies. If you’re dealing with blackheads or whiteheads, you can incorporate exfoliating ingredients like salicylic acid or glycolic acid into your weekly skincare routine, and if you’re dealing with inflammatory acne (the kind that hurts and throbs), you can skip it. hit the drugstore and see your dermatologist for prescription options, says Dr. Farber.

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Last takeaway

Although there is no evidence that sugar can directly cause acne, it can do triggering a hormonal cascade that can create an environment ripe for excess oil and clogged pores. But just quitting sugar won’t magically give you perfectly smooth skin. Acne is multifactorial, so eating everything (dairy, gluten, sugar) in moderation, along with stress management, good sleep, and a solid skin care routine, will bring about the change you can see. Plus, we’d never ask you to give up chocolate croissants entirely; we are not that cruel.

Hero illustration by Janet Mac

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