Acne and Diet: What You Need to Know

By Elizabeth Leppart, MS, LN
January 16, 2023

What does your diet have to do with acne? Everything. Many of our clients who list acne as a health concern say their breakouts started around puberty and have lasted into adulthood. Often when clients come to us, they’ve already tried an excess of expensive topical treatments with little to no success. The acne and skin-care markets are full of products that claim to remove excess oil and deep clean every pore. However, topical treatments aren’t a simple solution because acne and other skin conditions are usually stemming from the inside out. These products work to mask symptoms rather than heal the problem at the source.

The food we put into our body can greatly affect the health of our skin. It is our largest organ, after all! If you’ve never tried cleaning up your diet to clear up your skin, here’s an invitation to try it. 

For many of our clients, and for myself, good nutrition has been the solution to overcoming acne and improving my skin’s appearance. 

So my question to you is: Does acne plague you or anyone you know? If so, read on to discover the nutritional connection.

Ditch the Dairy

dairy-free.jpgAlthough it’s been touted as an essential food group, milk and other dairy products can wreak havoc on the skin, a fact I wish I had known earlier because I drank a glass of milk with each and every meal. Milk contains growth hormones, such as insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which can be lead to acne breakouts.¹ In addition to the hormonal imbalance, the milk protein casein is difficult to digest and can aggravate skin. Skim milk in particular has been found to be even more problematic. It can cause the body to produce more insulin and insulin-like growth factor resulting in breakouts. Try eliminating dairy products for four to six weeks to see if this makes a difference for you.

Cut the Sugar and Processed Carbs

sugar-free.jpgThe typical American diet of soda, bagels, cereal, crackers, French fries and pasta can set us up for skin problems. All of these foods are loaded with sugar and ingredients that lead to high blood sugar levels and high insulin levels. This means that eating processed carbohydrates causes the body to secrete the hormone insulin. High insulin levels affect skin very much like the growth hormones found in milk and lead to clogged and irritated pores.² I’ve since changed my eating habits to whole, real foods, but even nowadays when I choose to eat something sugary, I break out within a couple hours and my face feels greasy. It’s amazing to witness the immediate correlation to sugar and is a great reminder of why I mostly stick to real foods. Give this experiment a try and cut out those processed carbs and added sugars.

Consider Your Hormones

hormones.jpgWhen I suffered from acne in my teens and twenties, it was cyclical as a symptom of PMS. If you are menstruating and notice that breakouts happen around that time of the month, especially along the jaw line, it is likely hormonal. We have many resources to explore on hormone balance and estrogen dominance to help you put those pieces together, which we’ve linked a couple at the bottom of this article to get you started. One essential, but often overlooked, key to hormone balance is regular bowel movements. We store excess estrogen in our stool to be eliminated. These estrogens actually reabsorb back into our bloodstream if not eliminated through regular bowel movements, often presenting themselves as acne as they try to excrete themselves through the skin. This was a big cause of my acne as a young adult, and once I was able to improve my bowel regularity through diet and lifestyle changes, my skin naturally cleared up and I wasn’t fighting cyclical acne month to month.

To get 1:1 support with hormones and acne, schedule a customized nutrition counseling appointment with a dietitian or nutritionist.

Schedule Here

Support Your Skin with Key Supplements

As nutritionists and dietitians who work with people of all ages, we understand that acne can be embarrassing and affects your confidence. Let me share five supplements that can be particularly beneficial in addition to a healthy diet:

  • Omega-6 GLA: This essential fatty acid helps hydrate your skin and reduce irritation. It also plays a role in hormone balance if you are dealing with cyclical acne.
  • Omega-3: This essential fatty acid reduces inflammation and helps with skin problems from acne to rosacea.
  • Zinc: A deficiency in this important mineral may actually show up as acne. Zinc supports skin health by fighting infections and controlling skin oil production.
  • Bifidobacteria: This beneficial bacteria supports digestion and detoxification. You may be surprised to learn that an unhealthy digestive system can result in acne.
  • Collagen: This important building block makes up all of our tissues, the largest one being skin. Mixing a scoop of this in your daily beverage of choice, hot or cold, will give you that extra support for generating healthy skin.  

Start Seeing Changes for Yourself!

By removing dairy and refined, ultra-processed carbs from my diet, and supplementing with key nutrients, I am happy to look in the mirror and see clear, healthy-looking skin. If you are struggling with acne, I know how you feel. I also know there is hope to get better! Try some of these strategies for yourself and see how your skin improves. If you continue to have acne, there may be other contributing factors that can be addressed nutritionally one-on-one and you can click here to learn more about setting up an appointment.



1. Cappel M, Mauger D, Thiboutot D (2005). "Correlation between serum levels of insulin-like growth factor 1, dehydroepiandosterone sulfate, and dihydrotestosterone and acne lesion counts in adult women." Arch Dermatol 2005 Mar: 141(3):333-8
2. Berra B, Rizzo AM (2009) "Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load: New Evidence for a Link with Acne." J Am Coll Nutr August 2009 vol. 28 no. 4 Supplement 1 4505-4545


*Results described are not typical and will vary for each individual.

For more information on hormones, check out these resources:

For more information on skin health, check out these resources:


*Results described are not typical and will vary for each individual.

About the author

Elizabeth is a licensed nutritionist Nutritional Weight & Wellness. Elizabeth knows the power of nutrition first hand. Having battled chronic digestive issues and a poor relationship with food throughout her life, she understands the frustration of searching for answers to feeling better. Through practicing a whole-foods based, balanced diet, Elizabeth was able to transform her relationship with food to one of nourishment and fulfillment, instead of deprivation and feeling drained.

View all posts by Elizabeth Leppart, MS, LN

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