Best Foods For Acne


A ‘zit’ here, a pimple there – most of us will have had some experience with the skin condition known as acne. Usually, this is during the teenage years, when 95% of young adults have acne to some degree. This decreases to 3% after the age of 30.1 

Acne most frequently appears on the face, back and chest and can take many forms, such as blackheads, whiteheads, or, in more serious instances, infected pustules or cysts. 

The causes of acne have been widely debated, with diet often being placed in the spotlight as the chief offender. However, there is only limited scientific evidence that our dietary choices significantly affect the likelihood of developing acne, with many notions possibly being exaggerations of the truth to encourage teenagers to have healthier lifestyles.

The biology of acne

Acne happens when tiny skin pores, called hair follicles, get clogged. These follicles have small glands attached to them, known as sebaceous glands, which produce an oily substance called sebum. 

Sebum helps keep both the hair and skin from drying out. In acne, these glands produce too much sebum, mixing with dead skin cells to create a plug in the follicle. 

The increased amounts of sebum may also trigger P. acnes, a naturally occurring bacteria found on everyone’s skin, to proliferate and react causing inflammation and pus production, further plugging the follicle. If the plugged follicle is close to the skin's surface, it forms a whitehead, whereas if it's on the skin's surface, it creates a blackhead.

The normally harmless bacteria present on the skin, P.acnes, can then infect these plugged follicles, leading to different types of lesions such as pimples, nodules, or cysts.

The link between diet and acne

It is worth noting that, currently, the relationship between diet and acne isn’t entirely clear, and scientific evidence to support a causal relationship is limited. Even where research is available, it rarely provides specifics about which foods improve or worsen acne.2 

Nevertheless, some research can suggest certain types of food that can be beneficial, but these often vary from person to person. Research in this area is progressing, and evidence for a link between diet and acne is being uncovered. Therefore, with stronger evidence in the coming years, the list of foods that can improve acne may become more well-defined.

Given the position of current research, it is important not to rely solely on changing your diet to help manage acne. If you are suffering from mild acne, speaking to a local pharmacist is advised, as they can offer different creams or face wash that can help clear your skin.

 In the cases of more serious, chronic acne, speaking to your GP or primary healthcare provider is essential, and you may be prescribed other stronger topical creams, hormonal treatment, or antibiotics to help your condition.3 

Although it is not common for acne to develop into a more serious physical condition, research indicates that people with acne are more likely to suffer from depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety, so it is definitely worth seeking medical attention.4

What does research say about good foods for acne?

Low glycaemic index

The Western diet is characterised by a high glycaemic index, in comparison with some other diets around the world. Some recent studies indicate that adopting a low-glycaemic or low-simple-sugar diet appears promising for helping prevent and treat acne. 

A 2012 study involving Korean patients demonstrated significant acne improvement after following a low-glycemic diet for 10 weeks.5 

Similarly, a 2007 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that a low-glycemic, high-protein diet followed over 12 weeks not only reduced acne conditions in men but also contributed to weight loss.6 

Although additional research is necessary to validate these findings, a diet with a low glycaemic index is one of the most supported dietary recommendations for acne within the scientific literature.

Foods that have a low glycaemic index include:

  • Certain fruits and vegetables
  • Beans, legumes and pulses
  • Wholegrains7

A balanced diet is still important, and having a varied diet is essential for health.

Omega-3 fatty acids

These have been found to decrease levels of one of the main specific hormones implicated in causing an increase in the severity of acne.8 

In one study with 45 subjects, when one group of subjects was put on a high omega-3 diet, and the others were given a diet without the omega-3, it was found that the amount of acne was reduced in the first group.

This was attributed to the impact of omega-3  due to its anti-inflammatory properties, as well as its involvement in controlling hormones regularly associated with acne.9


Zinc has also been highlighted as a potential factor involved in improving acne. A study in 2014 compared the levels of zinc in 100 healthy people with the levels in 100 people with acne. The difference in blood zinc levels was not large, but it was still found that there was a correlation between lower zinc and suffering from the more serious types of acne. 

Although this requires further study, the study still suggested that some individuals may find increasing zinc levels to be beneficial.10

Please note it is important to speak to your doctor before making drastic dietary changes because, usually you should be able to get enough zinc from a typical balanced diet.

Foods rich in zinc include:

  • Meats
  • Shellfish
  • Dairy foods
  • Bread
  • Most cereals11


Probiotics have been in the central spotlight for some time in many areas of human health due to recent developments and findings in microbiome research. 

The skin microbiome is part of the investigation, as it is C. acnes that becomes exacerbated, thereby causing acne lesions. However, there is also some speculation regarding whether the gut microbiome (what we eat and its dynamics with the resident bacteria in our digestive tract ) also plays a part in our skin’s health. 

One study found that people taking a lactobacillus rhamnosus GG probiotic reduced acne in comparison to a control group taking a  placebo containing no probiotic.12 

However, the number of subjects in this study was very small, and although it could mark the start of some very interesting links between probiotics and skin health, this is still an area of investigation in its infancy and, therefore, not at the stage of producing definite recommendations for shaping our diets with the aim of reducing acne.


The links between diet and acne are uncertain, with limited and inconclusive underpinning scientific evidence. Recent studies suggest potential benefits from adopting a low-glycaemic or low-simple-sugar diet, along with considering supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids and zinc. Probiotics, for gut health, show promise in influencing acne, but further larger-scale research is warranted.

While dietary adjustments may complement acne management, they should not replace standard medical treatment, and consult a healthcare professional, especially for severe cases, remains crucial.


  1. Heng AHS, Chew FT. A systematic review of the epidemiology of acne vulgaris. Sci Rep [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2023 Dec 17]; 10:5754. Available from:
  2. Fiedler F, Stangl GI, Fiedler E, Taube K-M. Acne and Nutrition: A Systematic Review. Acta Dermato-Venereologica 2017;97:7–9. Available from:
  3. Kraft J, Freiman A. Management of acne. CMAJ [Internet]. 2011 [cited 2023 Dec 17]; 183(7):E430–5. Available from:
  4. Consider mental health support for some people with acne, says NICE | News | News. NICE 2021. Available from: (accessed September 14, 2023).
  5. Kwon HH, Yoon JY, Hong JS, Jung JY, Park MS, Suh DH. Clinical and histological effect of a low glycaemic load diet in treatment of acne vulgaris in Korean patients: a randomized, controlled trial. Acta Derm Venereol 2012;92:241–6. Available from:
  6. Smith RN, Mann NJ, Braue A, Mäkeläinen H, Varigos GA. The effect of a high-protein, low glycaemic-load diet versus a conventional, high glycemic-load diet on biochemical parameters associated with acne vulgaris: a randomized, investigator-masked, controlled trial. J Am Acad Dermatol 2007;57:247–56. Available from:
  7. What is the glycaemic index (GI)? NhsUk 2018. Available from: (accessed September 14, 2023).
  8. Logan AC. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Acne. Archives of Dermatology 2003;139:941–2. Available from:
  9. Jung JY, Kwon HH, Hong JS, Yoon JY, Park MS, Jang MY, et al. Effect of Dietary Supplementation with Omega-3 Fatty Acid and Gamma-linolenic Acid on Acne Vulgaris: A Randomised, Double-blind, Controlled Trial. Acta Dermato-Venereologica 2014;94:521–5.Available from:
  10. Rostami Mogaddam M, Safavi Ardabili N, Maleki N, Soflaee M. Correlation between the Severity and Type of Acne Lesions with Serum Zinc Levels in Patients with Acne Vulgaris. Biomed Res Int 2014;2014:474108. Available from:
  11. Vitamins and minerals - Others. NhsUk 2017. Available from (accessed September 14, 2023).
  12. Fabbrocini G, Bertona M, Picazo Ó, Pareja-Galeano H, Monfrecola G, Emanuele E. Supplementation with Lactobacillus rhamnosus SP1 normalises skin expression of genes implicated in insulin signalling and improves adult acne. Benef Microbes 2016;7:625–30. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Olivia Laughton

BSc Microbiology (IND), University of Leeds

Having studied undergraduate Microbiology at University of Leeds, Olivia has a huge interest in all things small. Building on her academic foundation, time spent working in the health communications sector sparked passion for medical writing and education. Bridging the gap between complex science and empowering the every-day individual with health insights is where Olivia’s commitment lies, aiding the navigation to the intricacies of the science and healthcare fields alike. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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