No matter what your age, acne is always embarrassing. Whether you’re getting ready for a night out with friends, taking family pictures or dressing up for that hot date – it’s the last thing you want to see when you look in the mirror.

Unfortunately, breakouts can rear their ugly head no matter who you are. So what causes these embarrassing zits and breakouts?

Your Skin and the Holistic Approach

If we view the body from a holistic perspective, acne can be an indication that things on the inside are out of balance. Whether it’s hormonal imbalance, toxicity or digestive issues, the human body is very smart. And sometimes it will use the skin (since it is the largest organ) to detox and/or express what is happening within.

The Link Between Food and Acne

Although many people don’t want to believe it (I didn’t when I first started researching natural and organic skin care), what you eat can play a major role in your skin and how it appears. It’s true that certain foods that cause acne can increase the frequency of your breakouts.

In fact, there’s a lot of research that shows a link between your diet and skin behavior. According to Dr. Whitey Bowe, Medical Director at Advanced Dermatology, diet is an important part of achieving clear skin (well, duh!). Eating right and avoiding foods that cause acne can help you fight chronic acne (the kind that never seems to go away) as well as the occasional blemish (like those zits that pop up every now and then).

With that in mind, here are the leading food offenders that you must keep away from your plate if you want to have a gorgeous, glowing complexion.

Note: Food and beverages that are generally considered to be highly nutritious and healthy may not be all that great for clearing up your acne.

Foods that Cause Acne

1) Sushi

If you are a sushi-lover, don’t cry. There is no reason to be disappointed yet. According to Jolene Hart, not all types of Sushi are acne-causing culprits. But there are some types that you should avoid including the California rolls.

Those have white rice which has a high glycemic index, while crab meat and soy sauce are often tainted with gluten. These are huge contributors to cellular inflammation and can promote acne and aggravate breakouts. The nori sheets that contain iodine can pose a threat, as it is capable of triggering acne too.

If you cannot part ways with Sushi, the best alternative is to go for sashimi with brown rice.

2) Chocolate

16 foods that cause acne

Chocolate always finds itself at the receiving end whenever there is a debate on foods that cause acne. Dr. Ava Shamban, a popular dermatologist in California, believes that chocolate doesn’t literally cause breakouts.

Truth be told, there is little to no evidence that any fatty food, including chocolate, literally causes acne. However, she insists that high-fat or high-sugar diet can promote the production of sebum and maximize the inflammatory response within the body, leading to more zits and breakouts.

That means, although there is no conclusive evidence that foods containing high content of fat or sugar can directly cause acne, there is a definite connection between over-intake of fatty and sugary foods and breakouts. Individuals who have more fat and sugar content in their diets are more prone to breakouts than the ones with diets rich with fresh fruit and vegetables.

3) Milk

As I have mentioned above, even the best of body-friendly foods may turn out to be skin damagers. Milk (especially the skim) has a tendency to enter into our bloodstream, affect insulin, promote inflammation and increase oil production.

Not to mention, that dairy in general can promote mucous secretion in the gut as well as inflammation. Digestive health is very closely tied to your skin’s appearance – most especially the skin in the forehead and chin region. If you struggle with breakouts in those areas then you likely need digestive support.

Cutting out dairy from your diet for a limited time (say 2 to 4 weeks) to see if your skin starts to clear is a good idea. At the very minimum, organic milk is the better option (in comparison to conventional) because it does not have added hormones which can also cause hormone disruption and hormone related breakouts.

4) Coffee

I know – if you’re a coffee lover you’re just shaking your head right now.  Sadly, this energizing drink is also one of the foods that cause acne. Coffee beans contain an organic acid content that increases cortisol levels. Cortisol is popularly called the ‘stress hormone’ that acts like androgen promoting inflammation and sebaceous glands.

Consider replacing coffee with tea, a better and healthier option any day. I love Teecino – this brand of tea has the flavors and aroma of coffee without the caffeine jolt and acne inducing properties.

5) Secretly Sweet Smoothies

It is estimated that a majority of Americans consume approximately twenty-two teaspoons of sugar every day. This is three times more than the recommended amount. Most sugar intake comes from hidden sugars. And smoothies are one of the biggest perpetrators. The problem is smoothies do not contain the natural sugar that you find in fruits.

Bottled smoothies that you purchase from the market and even drive through smoothie stores may contain frozen yogurt, juice and sometimes sherbet; all these are packed with added sugar.

If you absolutely cannot live without smoothies, make them at home with healthy and nutritious ingredients like frozen berries and coconut or almond milk. Nut milks and frozen berries contain no added sugar, but tons of fiber and antioxidants to support your body and skin.  This way, you can ensure that you are protected from the sugar bomb.

To get more greens in your smoothie, try our Organic Immunity Greens powder.

6)  The so-called healthy cereals

cereal - one of the 16 foods that cause acne

Do you often get fooled by the “natural” packaging that you see on the foods in the store? It makes sense that whole grains are healthy since you see that promoted everywhere.

In reality, wheat and specifically the protein gluten that is found in wheat products, is damaging to the digestive system. Not only can it create microlesions in the gut, but it’s just so hard for the body to digest. It compromises digestive function and this is a one of the main contributing factors to breakouts that beauty companies will never tell you.

Plus, cereals are highly refined and high in sugar and that’s not a great combination for clear, glowing skin.

7) Dried Fruits

Fresh fruits are great for your health, but dried fruits can be a problem – especially if you over consume. The latter contain refined carbohydrates that have a high glycemic index. They can cause a significant spike in blood sugar levels which in turn increases insulin levels.

These changes can trigger oil production, thereby increasing breakouts.  Stay away from any kind of wheat based pasta, white bread, crackers and cereals as they are the worst foods that cause acne. They all have similar effects and can harm your skin. Wherever possible, stay away from refined carbs as much as you can.

8) Chips

Acne & Breakouts Chips

Most chips are loaded with bad fats and promote inflammation and oxidative stress that also cause damage to DNA and collagen. Collagen is what keeps your skin looking youthful as you age. According to a study by the Journal of Drugs (2014), refined carbs are often found to be the primary culprits in the case of adult acne, wrinkles, age spots and fine lines.

If you want to snack on some chips, do so sparingly and reach for a bag of coconut chips,  like these instead of conventional chips that are full of bad fats.

To up your collagen intake, try our Beauty Collagen Complex powder.

10)  Sodas and Juices              

It’s a well-known fact that packaged juices and sodas are nothing more than sugar-delivery trucks. But did you know that it’s the absence of fiber that makes them the worst contenders among foods that cause acne?

Fiber is a must-have nutrient for preventing blood sugar spikes; without it, you may experience premature aging with your skin. When you drink your sugar, wrinkles will soon follow – and so will extra pounds.

To get more water in easily, try our Hydration Superfood Energy powder.

11)  Shellfish

Seafood lovers with acne breakouts – there’s more bad news for you. You must ‘say no’ to lobster and shrimp; these two types of seafood contain high content of iodine. The mineral iodine is certainly beneficial for your skin and overall health. But, it can also cause breakouts on individuals who are sensitive to it or simply take too much of it.

Try satisfying your craving for seafood with healthier options like fish.  Wild Salmon, thanks to its omega-3 fatty acid content, is a wonderful option for your skin.

12)  Alcohol-rich Cocktails

Acne & Breakouts Cocktails

Mojitos, margaritas and most other cocktails out there are all packed with sugar (remember blood sugar spikes and inflammation promote breakouts and the breakdown of collagen through a process called AGEs).

Adding insult to injury, alcohol, a diuretic can dehydrate your skin. If your skin is dry, the pH will be out of balance. This can cause overproduction of sebum, the pores get clogged and more breakouts occur.

Of all the foods that can cause acne, alcohol is kind of a double whammy because of all of its other negative health effects. Hard liquor is just bad for your skin long term.

If you want to have a drink, red wine should be your best alternative. Time and again, red wine has proven itself as an anti-aging drink. Because it contains resveratrol it’s friendly for most skin types, including acne prone skin.  

If hard liquor is what you’re after, the best choice is Grey Goose Vodka. Have a glass of water between each cocktail to stay hydrated and reduce the amount of alcohol intake.

13)  Bad Fats

The world would have been a better place without bad fats like canola oil – one of the most common ingredients in processed foods including cakes, cookies and chips. Do not forget to check the ingredients printed on food packages – even the ones labeled “natural” and “organic.”  

You might be surprised by what makes it’s way into those bags. Processed foods like these can block tiny blood vessels present in the skin, just like they clog arteries in the heart. When blood circulation in your (facial) skin becomes stagnant, say hello to dark circles. Some women experience dark circles under the eyes due to blood pooling in that area causing the appearance of a “shadow” or darkness under the eyes.

And if that’s not enough these bad fats and processed foods also cause inflammation, exacerbating acne flares.

But you don’t need to steer clear of all foods that contain fat. Omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats are great for your skin. Chia seeds, walnuts, avocados and flaxseed oil are all skin-saving foods.

14)  Non-organic meat

Meat, by itself, is not a problem. It’s mostly conventional beef we’re talking about. Conventional beef contains a large quantity of antibiotics and hormones that are usually fed to the cattle. By continuously exposing ourselves to antibiotics, we make way for resistance and spoil the balance of good bacteria and bad bacteria inside our body. There are tons of good bacteria that work on our skin to keep it healthy.

Eat only organic or at the bare minimum antibiotic and hormone-free meat whenever you can. Supplement it with probiotics and fermented foods to increase good bacteria inside your body and on the skin as well. Remember, your digestive health is very closely linked to your skin.

15)  Peanuts

Peanuts are surely the most surprising inclusion among foods that cause acne. Peanuts can worsen your breakout, thanks to an androgen it contains, by increasing the production of sebum. Peanuts are believed to make your face oilier. People who consume an excess of peanut butter are known to have more acne concerns than those that don’t.

Other nuts like cashews and almonds are acne-safe and are better alternatives to peanuts. They have no connection with androgen.

16)  Pizza

Acne & Breakouts Pizza

Even though there is no direct connection between pizzas and pimples, there is enough evidence showing that acne can occur because of hormonal responses. When oils, debris and cells work together to arrest sebaceous glands (which has a direct link to the skin), they can block soft pores, promote inflammation and cause pimples.

It is also clear that a dairy-rich diet can trigger acne in some people. I hate to admit it, but I’m one of those people. My skin (really my body) just doesn’t like dairy and when I eat it, I always pay for it with a nice zit in the upper right area of my forehead.

If you’re wondering if you might be prone to dairy sensitivity, there’s an easy method to find out. Simply, cut down cheese, milk, pizza and all the other dairy foods you may be eating for the next 2 to 4 weeks (minimum). If you find that the frequency or severity of your breakouts has reduced, it’s pretty clear that your dairy intake is the cause of this skin condition. A healthy diet in conjunction with a natural skincare routine will really help reduce breakouts and acne. Check out this article on How to Find the Best Moisturizer for Acne.

Obviously, there are many other factors that cause breakouts. But a healthy and balanced diet can help you keep that acne at bay, besides all the other benefits.

Are there specific foods that you’ve noticed that promote acne for you? If so, let me know in the comments below!


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  1. Sunflower seeds!!! I noticed a while ago that peanuts broke me out, but sunflower seeds do too.

    1. It’s so good that you notice what creates breakouts for you! I feel like that’s the ideal situation – to understand what works for you and your body. We have done functional health testing for years and one of my favorites is always the food sensitivities test. It basically shows the ideal diet for you based on a blood analysis. Because of that test, I’ve also become very aware of what foods align with me and which ones don’t. Good for you for having the intuition to stay in tune with your body!