✓ Evidence Based

11 Top Foods That Can Cause Acne

Acne is a widely common inflammatory skin disease that affects many across the globe (8). While it is common to reach for the next best facewash or prescription, there are other simple and fast solutions, too.

Breakouts can result from many lifestyle factors including lack of exercise (1), chronic stress (2), hormonal imbalances (3), and much more (9).

One lifestyle factor that can often be overlooked is diet. Dietary choices can make or break your acne significantly. Eating a balanced diet is important to keep skin healthy and glowing (10), (17), (29).

Acne has many different levels of severity, too. While some may have an unruly zit occasionally, others suffer from chronic acne in the form of cysts, blackheads, and more (11).

If you cannot access acne medication, there is hope, and it can be extremely simple. You can start a food elimination diet to see what foods drive your acne. While there are many common foods, everyone is different.

Tip: Lack of exercise, chronic stress, hormonal imbalances, and what you eat are often causes of chronic acne. A food elimination diet may be helpful for improving acne.

Foods that Cause Acne

Do you think your diet might be causing your acne? Check out the food list below to see if there is something you can stop eating to find the culprit of your acne today.

1. Dairy

The hormones in dairy can be a huge underlying reason for skin issues such as acne. It is important to understand that not all dairy may be the culprit for everyone (12), (13), (14).

Cow’s milk dairy is high in two types of casein, one of which is difficult for many to digest. When you cannot digest foods properly, your skin can suffer. An imbalance in the gut microbiome can throw off skin health and cause other inflammatory issues (12).

But goat and sheep milk products may be the secret to better skin health and fewer breakouts. Goat milk has a much either to digest form of casein, or they can even help to improve skin health (4). That is because goat milk is higher in short-chain fatty acids, and it is high in vitamin A, which plays an essential role in skin health (5).

Tip: Cow’s milk contains two types of casein that are hard to digest for some. Poor absorption can lead to inflamed skin. Swap cow’s milk with goat or sheep milk which is easier to digest to see if this helps improve your acne.

2. White Bread

White bread breaks down in the body as simple sugars, so the excess amount and even just some can lead to acne (6).

Instead of choosing white bread, opt for whole grains to improve your overall health and skin. Whole grain bread can be a healthy part of a balanced diet.

Whole grain bread breaks down differently in the body than white bread (15). Change up your diet on occasion to include some of the whole grains and see how you feel. Make the switch the whole grain bread and see if you see an improvement in your skin.

Tip: Swap white bread with whole grain bread if you have chronic acne. White bread is broken down into excess simple sugars, which can cause inflammation. Whole grains are loaded with fiber and more complex sugars, making them an optimal choice.

3. Desserts

Desserts are the go-to at most coffee shops, and one of the most common items to snack on, especially in America.

But desserts are full of not only full of carbohydrates, simple sugars, additives, and usually dairy, they are also high in unhealthy fats (16), (17), (18). An excess amount of unhealthy fats can throw off the balance of omega 3 and omega 6s in the body. It is necessary to have the right balance to restore and maintain skin health.

Adding in some healthier dessert options can help to ween off the common desserts you are used to like healthier muffins, and even pastries. You can make healthier desserts with coconut or almond flour, non-dairy milk, and stevia to avoid breakouts, too.

Tip: If you have chronic acne skip the sugary, high fat desserts and opt for a bowl of fresh berries, whole grain muffins, or other healthier dessert items made with less sugar and fat.

4. Fried Foods

Fried foods are full of unhealthy fats, oils, and sometimes excess sugar. All of these can contribute to acne and other skin issues (18).

Try to keep fried foods to a minimum in your diet, or work to cut them out completely. When you have a craving for fried foods, it could mean you are craving more nutrients in your diet. Instead, make sure you are getting a healthy balanced diet every day.

Limit fried foods like French fries, mozzarella sticks, and any other foods that come fried or deep-fried.

Tip: Unhealthy fats and oils can increase inflammation and chronic acne risk. If you currently eat a lot of fried foods, reduce it significantly, or swap it with baked or roasted options instead.

5. Processed Foods

Processed foods like packaged, fast food, canned, or boxed foods can lead to worse skin health and acne (17). If you do choose canned or boxed foods, be sure they are not too high in sodium, sugar, and BPA free.

Boxed foods are plentiful in all grocery stores, but there are some better options out there. Make sure to read the ingredients thoroughly, and see if you recognize all of them, first.

Limiting processed foods can help to see a change in overall skin health (17). Instead, add more nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables. Cutting out processed foods can help to ward off acne and improve skin health overall (19).

Tip: Many processed foods can be made homemade, such as pre-made pancake, muffin, or oatmeal mixes. Do your best to make processed or boxed foods from scratch to help reduce additive intake that may worsen chronic acne.

6. Cereal

Although cereal is normally a boxed food as well, it is another food that can contribute to acne and skin issues (6).

Most cereal comes with a ton of added sugar, refined carbohydrates, and unnecessary additives (6). There are some cereals that contain less sugar and carbohydrates that would make a good switch.

Try to find a healthier granola or cereal option that does not have a high amount of carbohydrates and sugar to benefit from a different breakfast that will not cause breakouts.

Tip: Swap sugary cereal for some oatmeal topped with berries and sliced almonds, or make your own granola using rolled oats, olive oil, vanilla, honey, nuts, and cinnamon.

7. Corn Syrup

Corn syrup is in many processed foods, candy, jarred foods, and much more. High fructose corn syrup is another harmful additive that can make skin issues like acne much worse (16).

High fructose corn syrup and corn syrup are equally as bad for health and acne because they both can contribute to chronic health issues, more inflammation in the body, and skin issues (20).

They can also contribute to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes (21), high triglycerides (22), and even metabolic syndrome (20).

Tip: Read the food label and opt for foods without high fructose corn syrup, or any ingredient with corn syrup in the name.

8. Sweeteners

All sweeteners can lead to skin issues, even if they are healthier options. Sweeteners like cane sugar, maple syrup, honey, or agave can lead to more acne, but only when in excess (6).

Using a little bit of these healthier sweeteners instead of refined sugar is the better option but overdoing any of these sweeteners can cause more acne. That is because any type of excess sugar from sweeteners leads to higher blood sugar (6).

If you use these healthier sweeteners as your sugar alternatives, just make sure you don’t use too much.

Tip: Excess sugar intake can worsen chronic acne. Sweeten foods naturally with berries, citrus fruits, or a little bit of maple syrup, honey, or agave.

9. Corn

Corn a common food allergy or sensitivity for many, so it can lead to breakouts like acne, too (23).

Corn is a grain that can be a common culprit for acne because it can also throw off the omega 3 to 6 ratio in the body (24), (25). That ratio is important for whole-body healing.

Make sure to eat plenty of foods high in essential omega 3 fatty acids, especially if you eat corn regularly. If you suffer from acne, try an elimination diet with corn, and see if it helps.

Tip: Corn is a common food allergy and sensitivity for many, including those with acne. Corn is in a lot of foods, so be sure to read the food label to ensure it is free of any corn ingredients.

10. Certain Oils

Sunflower, corn, soybean, and cottonseed oils are another way to throw off the balance of omega 3 essential fatty acids and omega 6 in the body (24), (25), (26).

Although these oils are high in omega 6 fatty acids, that does not necessarily mean they are all bad for you. Some can tolerate sunflower and soybean oil sometimes, but it is best to choose healthier oils instead.

Try to use olive oil for low-heat cooking and drizzles, and avocado oil or coconut oil for high-heat cooking.

Tip: Choose healthier oils such as olive, avocado, peanut, or coconut oils instead. Use olive oil for light sautéing or a fresh salad dressing, and cook more with avocado, coconut, or peanut oils.

11. Processed Soy

While soy foods are not always the cause of acne, they can negatively affect a wide variety of people, but mostly in excess. Soy is an extremely common allergen that many are not aware of (27).

Everyone’s bodies are different in how they process soy, so while some may benefit from tofu, others may have a hard time with soy-based meat alternatives. Excess soy can interact with hormones in the body for some, leading to hormonal acne (7), (28). But it is different for everyone.

Unprocessed soybeans are one of the healthiest forms of soy as they contain essential amino acids. They can be a part of a healthy balanced diet. But if you think you may have an aversion to the, you can try an elimination diet to make sure.

Tip: Unprocessed soybeans is generally a healthy opti0n, but may worsen acne for some. Eliminate it from your diet to see if it may be causing chronic acne. Soy-based foods can interact with hormones in the body, which may worsen acne.


The next time you suffer from an acne flareup, reach for the foods that can help you prevent them, instead.

Try to cut out foods that are high in unnecessary fats, processed additives, and excess sugars (29).

If you already suffer from acne, take a careful look at your diet because trying another facewash.

When you have the proper nutrition with many essential nutrients for skin health like zinc, iodine, vitamin A, and more, you can prevent acne more often (30), (31).

It is important to feed your gut microbiome a healthy balanced diet to promote skin health, disease prevention, and chronic inflammation (32).