Worst Foods For The Skin

  • Nadza Dzindo BSc Biomolecular Engineering, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany

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The skin acts as a barrier to protect the body from bacterial invasion and other potentially harmful environmental threats. Furthermore, healthy skin reduces water loss, maintains adequate temperature regulation, and aids in abrasion resistance. Thus, maintaining the skin healthy is essential for overall well-being. However, skincare is more than just what you put on your skin; it is also about what you put in your body. This article will explore the impact of diet on the skin, and discuss how certain foods such as white bread, pasta, candy, etc. can negatively affect skin health.    

High Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates

Sugars and refined grain products such as white bread, pizza dough, pasta, pastries, white flour, white rice, sweet desserts, and many kinds of breakfast cereal are examples of “bad” or simple carbs stripped of all bran, fibre, and nutrients. According to two studies, people with acne consume more sugar and refined carbs (such as bread, cereal, pasta, rice, and pastries) than people without acne.1 

When you consume sugar and refined carbohydrates, your blood sugar spikes, causing your body to secrete insulin to bring it back down. Insulin can also stimulate your hormones, causing the body to produce more oil, which can clog your follicles and lead to the development of acne. Moreover, all of this insulin might make you feel hungry quickly after eating, typically seeking more sugary carbs. This can lead to overeating, weight gain, and, eventually, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes

The effect of sugars and refined carbohydrates on ageing skin is mediated by a process known as glycation. Glycation is a natural process that occurs in the body and on the skin.  During this process, glucose forms permanent links (also known as covalent cross-linking) between collagen fibres in the skin. Sugar in the bloodstream binds to proteins, resulting in the formation of damaging free radicals known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs harm the proteins around them as they accumulate (the more sugar you eat, the more AGEs develop).2

AGEs cause collagen and elastin to become stiff, dry, and brittle, robbing them of their strength and spring. Collagen and elastin are the proteins most prone to degradation because they function as the building blocks for the structure of the skin. These proteins maintain skin firmness and elasticity, as well as the plump and bouncy appearance of a healthy and youthful face. Additionally, AGEs deactivate the body's natural antioxidant enzymes and the skin becomes more prone to free radical damage caused by environmental irritants such as smog, blue light, and UV radiation.

Below are some symptoms on the face that indicate sugar is causing the skin to age:

  • skin's surface appears hard and shiny
  • Discolouration and hyperpigmentation of the skin
  • The skin around the cheekbones is sagging
  • Deep, crosshatch lines form along the upper lip
  • deep cracks, particularly along the laugh line area

Dairy Products

As dairy products are difficult to digest and mucous-forming, a large number of people are lactose intolerant.  After consuming milk products, our bodies start to digest the protein and transform it into substances analogous to insulin hormones. When you combine it with sugary and refined foods, your body will produce even more insulin as it tries to regulate the sugar levels. As previously described, inflammation brought on by a high insulin level might harm your health and have an impact on your skin.3

Severe acne may be associated with elevated blood levels of the hormone known as IGF-1. IGF-1 and adrenal gland interaction alters hormone levels and aids in the development of acne. This hormone is present in milk and other dairy products, which could account for the probable association between dairy consumption and acne.4

Additionally, dairy is thought to contribute to higher levels of androgen. This increases the production of excess sebum, which can result in acne breakouts.5

Trans Fats and Fried Foods

Trans-fatty acids, also known as trans fats, are a type of unsaturated fat. There are two types of trans fats: natural (found in some animal products) and artificial (found in hydrogenated vegetable oils), which have detrimental effects on health. 

Some foods containing trans fats are listed below:

  • Fried Foods - Depending on the type of oil used to cook them, fried foods like fish sticks, mozzarella sticks, and french fries
  • Margarine - Although margarine is occasionally promoted as a healthier substitute for butter, some varieties can have up to two grams of trans fat per tablespoon.
  • Commercial baked goods, such as cakes, cookies and pies
  • Non-Dairy Coffee Creamer - Trans fat-containing oils are commonly used in non-dairy coffee creamers. Thus, be sure to check the ingredient list to see the sort of oil it contains.

Consuming trans fatty acids causes the body to produce more interleukin 6, an indicator of inflammation that is connected to ageing. The breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin, which causes early ageing and the appearance of wrinkles, may also be facilitated by a diet rich in unhealthy fats. Additionally, deep-fried and fried foods, even those manufactured with vegetable oils, might damage immune system function and harm cell respiration.

Excessive Caffeine and Alcohol

Excessive caffeine consumption dehydrates the skin. Additionally, the veins at the surface of the skin won't provide as many antioxidants and nutrients to support collagen formation since caffeine can make blood vessels tighten. Moreover, excessive caffeine consumption might interfere with sleep and lead to many skin problems, such as dullness, inflammation, and impaired skin barrier function. Also, lack of sleep may impact hormone control and aggravate acne symptoms. As a stimulant, caffeine can make people more stressed by causing the release of stress hormones like cortisol. Acne may occur as a result of increased sebum production brought on by elevated cortisol levels.

Acetaldehyde, a byproduct of the body's alcohol metabolism, is harmful to human tissues and the skin (causing both to lose moisture). For this reason, the morning after a binge, your skin could feel arid and harsh. Skin that is regularly dehydrated has little resilience, firmness, or elasticity, which makes it more prone to wrinkles. Furthermore, alcohol promotes the production of histamine, which enlarges blood vessels and causes skin to become red. When accumulated over several years, this inflammation and redness can become lifelong.

Processed and High-Sodium Foods

A diet high in salt could cause the body to retain water, which makes you look and feel puffy. Your skin may appear puffy or bloated as a result. The thin and sensitive skin surrounding the eyes makes them particularly vulnerable to this effect. Eating too much salt might result in puffiness or under-eye bags.

Even though salt contributes to water retention, your kidneys may respond differently. When you consume salty meals but do not drink enough water, your kidneys' imbalanced filtering system will pull from the water supply that has been stored in your body to make up for it, leaving your body with less water. This results in skin that looks dry and damaged.

Furthermore, studies have revealed a link between telomere shortening and a high-salt diet. Telomeres are essentially the caps at the ends of chromosomes that aid in protecting cells from harm. Telomeres generally shorten over time, but some things, like consuming a lot of salt, smoking, not exercising, being stressed out, and being overweight, might speed up the process. Telomere length has been linked to both the ageing process and a higher risk of disease.6

Common processed foods with high sodium content include:

  • Processed cheese
  • Frozen shrimps
  • Smoked, cured, salted or canned meat, fish or poultry including bacon, cold cuts, ham, frankfurters, sausage, sardines, caviar and anchovies
  • Frozen breaded meats and dinners, such as burritos and pizza
  • Salted nuts
  • Commercially prepared pasta and tomato sauces and salsa
  • Instant pudding
  • Salad dressing
  • Pickles

Artificial Additives and Preservatives

Numerous foods are coloured, flavoured, and preserved using thousands of different ingredients. Food additives typically make up a very small portion of foods, but a few of them have been linked to a variety of negative effects on the skin. The most important skin symptoms caused by food additives and preservatives are urticaria, angioneurotic oedema, and contact urticaria. Particularly tartrazine, new coccine, and sunset yellow are azo dyes that have been known to be precipitating factors in chronic urticaria.7

A large variety of processed goods, including processed meats, canned fish dips, and marinades, are prevented from deteriorating using preservatives. The commonly used preservatives benzoates (210-213), nitrates (249-252), and sulphites (220-225 and 228) all have the potential to be problematic. Ingestion of parabens, including propylparaben (216) and methylparaben (218), which are also used in a variety of food products, may result in an allergic reaction.7

Allergenic Foods

Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE)8 reports that more than 170 foods have been linked to allergic reactions, but the "Big Nine" are responsible for the vast majority of cases:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
  • Crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp)
  • Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Soybeans
  • Sesame

A person may experience food allergies to several different foods at once, and frequently particular foods aggravate preexisting allergies. For example, the caffeine in coffee can both create food intolerance and exacerbate food allergies.9

Skin Manifestation includes:

  • Urticaria
  • Oral allergy syndrome
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Atopic dermatitis


Knowing what foods might influence your skin is of great importance for maintaining general well-being. Consuming too much sugar, processed food, dairy, food with a high glycemic index, and alcohol can harm the skin and cause a variety of skin problems. If you believe your dietary choices are leading to flare-ups or acne, it is best to consult your trusted dermatologist or a nutritionist.


  1. Does sugar cause acne? How food affects your skin [Internet]. Now Patient. [cited 2023 Sep 17]. Available from: https://nowpatient.com/blog/does-sugar-cause-acne-how-food-affects-your-skin 
  2. Danby FW. Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation. Clinics in Dermatology [Internet]. 2010 Jul;28(4):409–11. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0738081X10000428
  3. Bartley J, McGlashan SR. Does milk increase mucus production? Medical Hypotheses. 2010 Apr;74(4):732–4. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19932941/
  4. Kucharska A, Szmurło A, Sińska B. Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris. Advances in Dermatology and Allergology [Internet]. 2016;2(33):81–6. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4884775/#__ffn_sectitle
  5. clceditor. How Does Your Diet Affect Your Skin? [Internet]. Cutis Laser Clinics Singapore. 2021 [cited 2023 Sep 18]. Available from: https://www.cutislaserclinics.com/blog/how-does-your-diet-affect-your-skin/
  6. Shammas, Masood A. Telomeres, lifestyle, cancer, and aging. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care 14(1):p 28-34, 2011 Jan. | DOI: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e32834121b1. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3370421/
  7. Hannuksela M, Haahtela T. Hypersensitivity reactions to food additives. Allergy [Internet]. 1987 Nov 1;42(8):561–75. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3322083
  8. FARE. Facts and Statistics [Internet]. Food Allergy Research & Education. 2022. Available from: https://www.foodallergy.org/resources/facts-and-statistics
  9. Food allergies and skin manifestations [Internet]. Welcome to Renewderm. [cited 2023 Sep 18]. Available from: https://www.drshehnazarsiwala.in/food-allergies-and-skin-manifestations/

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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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Nadza Dzindo

BSc Biomolecular Engineering, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany

MSc Genetics and Bioengineering, International Burch University, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Nadža is a Biomolecular Engineering graduate with a special interest in red biotechnology and science communication. She has over one year of experience in the healthcare industry working as a Medical Information Associate and communicating accurate medical and scientific information to both members of the public and healthcare professionals. Her goal is to convey accurate, factual, and understandable information to various audiences, whilst further developing her research and writing skills.

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