At a Glance: Foods and Acne

Chocolate may have gotten an undeserved bad rap when it comes to acne.
Chocolate may have gotten an undeserved bad rap when it comes to acne.

Indulging in chocolate does not cause your face to break out.

Surprised? You aren't alone. And don't point your finger at junk food or greasy foods, either.

Here's what we know about food and acne:

There are a few forms of acne, from mild pustules on the surface of the skin to pimples and deep cysts, and they are all caused by the same basic problem: Your skin will break out when your hair follicles become clogged with your own oil secretions and dead skin cells -- and bacteria is to blame, too.

The most common spots for breakouts are your face, your neck, chest, back and shoulders. Those locations are not coincidental -- those are the spots on your body that have the most sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands produce oil (called sebum) to keep your skin healthy. They help keep your hair and your skin moisturized and give your skin a protective layer against your environment. But hormonal changes, your genes and, for some people, skin friction may put a wrench in the works -- when too much sebum is produced and too many dead skin cells collect, the pairing can make a sticky plug that blocks a pore, and a blocked pore looks like a good home to bacteria. This combination leads to inflammation, and this is the recipe for acne.

Currently, there is no research that clearly indicates what you eat will lead to acne, although there may be some associations between food and pimples that need more study. One potential trouble-maker is milk, although it's unclear whether breakouts are related to hormones in our milk (remember, we know that hormonal changes cause breakouts) or something else. Another hypothesis is that the Western diet, which is a diet where refined carbohydrates and processed foods are well-represented and fresh fruits and vegetables are not, may be another potential trouble-maker. When you eat refined and processed foods, your body has to work harder to produce and maintain the correct levels of glucose, which can lead to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance increases the risk of inflammation in the body, and may possibly play a role in how your body makes sebum.

But just as current research doesn't find that what you eat causes acne, it also hasn't yet concluded that what you eat can prevent it, either. Some studies have found that eating healthy, fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables high in vitamin A and beta-carotene (including carrots, cantaloupe, kale and spinach among others) may help keep your skin healthy, but just like whether milk causes acne, the verdict is still out.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Food Does Not Cause Acne." (Sept. 27, 2009)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Acne." April 30, 2008 (Sept. 27, 2009)
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Facing Facts About Acne." Aug. 21, 2009 (Sept. 27, 2009)
  • WebMD. "10 Tips for Preventing Acne." (Sept. 27, 2009)
  • WebMD. "Acne Causes." (Sept. 27, 2009)