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Does Food Affect Your Skin Research

Most adults have experienced an occasional blemish or two by the time they hit puberty. Skin blemishes, also known as pimples, blackheads, or acne, are common. Acne is a skin disorder that is a result of your pores becoming clogged with oil (due to excess sebum production), dead skin, and bacteria. Acne occurs most commonly during periods of hormonal imbalance, such as puberty or pregnancy. But for those who suffer from chronic acne, the reasons are less clear. Science has linked chronic acne to inflammation in the body. Other causes for acne may be tied to an imbalance in gut microbiome. Diet, however, is linked to both inflammation and your gut and may play a large role in acne prevention. 

Does What You Eat Affect Your Skin? The Role of Nutrition in Skin Health

Food is essential for every living being. As humans, we use food for energy to complete conscious physical acts (such as walking, talking, and everyday activities) as well as unconscious acts (like breathing, thinking, and skin cell repair). Your body takes nutrients from the foods you eat to keep your body functioning the way it should. Skin is your largest living organ. It’s made of millions of cells that are constantly working to repair and rebuild themselves. When you get a cut, for example, your skin cells are responsible for rebuilding skin tissue to cover and heal your wound. 

To do so properly, your skin cells require certain nutrients. Vitamins A, C, E, and minerals like zinc, selenium, and healthy fats have been shown to be good for skin health.. These nutrients help fight free radicals that damage skin cells, protect against UV rays, aid in skin cell repair, and promote clearer skin. Similarly, certain herbs and ingredients have properties that help to fight inflammation and balance gut microbiomes. Many of these nutrients and ingredients can be obtained from a balanced, healthy diet consisting of plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Food for skin

Nutrients and Foods That Are Good for Your Skin

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is an essential nutrient found in foods such as leafy greens, vegetables, tomatoes, mango, and eggs. Also referred to as retinol, vitamin A is an antioxidant that can help treat acne by acting as a skin exfoliator. Retinol helps to remove oil, dirt, and dead skin cells from your pores. It can also help to reduce acne scarring and the appearance of your pores by stimulating collagen and elastin production (vital skin components). By promoting skin cell turnover, retinol helps to promote a more even skin tone. It also helps to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation, sunspots, and age spots, which may be present with acne. 

Vitamins C and E

Vitamins C and E are both powerful antioxidants that help fight free radicals that cause damage to your skin cells. Skin damage can lead to sagging, wrinkles, and cancer as well as trigger inflammation. Inflammation is what causes the redness associated with acne breakouts. Antioxidants work by neutralizing free radicals to prevent skin damage, thereby reducing redness and inflammation. Vitamin C and E also work together to strengthen cell walls, making skin cells less prone to damage. You can find vitamin C in foods like citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts). Foods that contain vitamin E include almonds, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, and red bell peppers among others. 


Selenium is a mineral found most abundantly in seafood, organ meats, and Brazil nuts. It’s a powerful antioxidant that protects against oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Selenium has been linked to lower rates of skin cancer as well as heart disease. Low levels of selenium, or selenium deficiency, are more present in acne patients. However, increasing selenium intake in one study proved to show improvements in acne patients’ skin after just 12 weeks. 


Turmeric is an orange-yellow spice used often in Asian cuisine. Its main compound is curcumin, which is known for its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  Consuming more turmeric may help to relieve and reduce inflammation associated with acne and poor gut health. 


Acne and your gut health have a surprising connection. Your gut microbiome is made up of bacteria, fungi, and viruses which work together to create an equilibrium. Basically, you have a balance of good and bad microbes that keep each other in check to keep you healthy. An imbalanced gut microbiome that contains worse than good microbes can trigger an inflammatory response that affects your overall health, including your skin health. An imbalanced gut microbiome may be caused by poor diet or certain medication use. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts, or good bacteria, that help to restore a balanced gut microbiome. Examples of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, and fermented foods such as kombucha, kimchi, and pickles. 

Also, read – Mindful Eating: An Effective Nutritional and Weight Management Strategy

Healthy Fats

Fatty fish such as tuna and mackerel and plant foods like avocados, nuts, and seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are healthy fats that your body needs to build cell walls. Fats are responsible for keeping your skin firm, moist, and flexible. Dry and wrinkled skin could be a sign of too little fat in your diet. Additionally, omega-3s can help prevent or reduce the severity of acne. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation, thus reducing the inflammatory response associated with acne. Some studies have shown that supplementing with omega-3s may help decrease acne lesions. Adding more healthy fats into your diet will keep your skin more supple and may promote clearer skin. 

Skin Nutrition: What Foods Should You Avoid for Clearer Skin?

It’s common knowledge that the Western diet is one of the unhealthiest on the planet. The rates of obesity in the US in 2017 were nearly half the adult population. Along with obesity, numerous diseases have been attributed to poor diet and lack of exercise. What you eat impacts your health as well as your skin. One research study looked at the prevalence of acne in Western cultures versus non-Western civilization. 

They found that in non-Western cultures, the rates of acne were considerably lower. While other factors may be at play, one major difference between cultures is diet. In cultures with none to very little acne, diets were rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and low in fat. They also consumed very little to no dairy, coffee, alcohol, oil, sugar, gluten, and refined grains. Based on the findings, it’s clear that diet very likely impacts skin health and the occurrence of acne. Below are examples of foods that may contribute to acne and other skin health conditions. 

Refined Grains and Sugars

Research shows that people who consume high amounts of refined carbohydrates are more likely to have acne than those who consume very little. It’s also been shown that people who frequently consume added sugars have a 30% higher risk of developing acne. Refined grains and sugars include foods such as pastries, desserts, certain cereals, breads, crackers, many junk food snacks, sodas, pastas made from white flour, and sweeteners like sugar and syrup. Refined carbs and sugar spike insulin levels in the bloodstream influence hormones to produce more sebum which can trigger acne breakouts. 

Fast Food

Fast food is a staple of Western diets and is high in refined carbohydrates and sugars. It’s also high in fat, particularly trans fats and omega-6 fats. High fat diets have been associated with a 43% increased risk of developing acne. And regularly consuming fast food increases your risk of developing acne by 17%. Omega-6 fats have been shown to increase inflammation and acne. They are found in foods like feedlot meat and vegetable oils, both frequently present in fast food. 


Multiple studies have linked milk and dairy consumption to acne in teenagers and young adults, though the reasons are still unclear. Some theories suggest it may be because milk increases insulin levels. Another possible reason may be because of the amino acids in cow’s milk that stimulate the production of  IGF-1 (a hormone that manages the effects of growth hormone), which has been linked to the occurrence of acne. 

Foods You’re Sensitive To

Food sensitivity is caused by your immune system mistakenly thinking certain foods are a threat. The resulting reaction promotes an inflammatory response throughout your body. Since acne is considered an inflammatory disease, frequently consuming foods you’re allergic or sensitive to may contribute to acne development. To determine what foods you’re sensitive to, you should practice an elimination diet or talk to a nutritionist or allergist. 

Also, read – Foods That Boost Serotonin and Dopamine

Can Weight Loss Cause Acne?

An unsuspecting factor that may contribute to acne development is weight loss. Weight loss, or more specifically rapid weight loss, can create hormonal changes in your body which result in acne. Additionally, weight loss achieved by restrictive fad diets that lack essential vitamins and nutrients can contribute to poor skin health. However, acne caused by weight loss is more likely to be temporary. Once your hormones and diet adjust, you will be at less risk for acne. For best results, aim to lose weight at a moderate pace by practicing clean eating and regular workouts. 


While there are many contributing factors to skin health, it’s clear that diet most certainly plays a major role. You are what you eat, essentially. Foods that are bad for your health may also be bad for your skin. However, by reducing your intake of junk food and eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, you can reduce your risk of acne and other skin health problems. 

Whitney Holcombe is a freelance writer with a passion for health and fitness. She’s a published author and former health and fitness guest blogger for Whitney has years of experience writing about health related topics as well as firsthand experience in weight loss. She’s a firm advocate of a balanced diet and exercise for leading a healthy lifestyle.