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Top 7 Food That Causes Acne Breakouts; It’s Sad But It’s The Hard Truth

27 Apr 2021 - By Rachel Lee

Ever had a pimple pop up on your face after a decadent meal? Acne does not discriminate and it can flare up when least expected but did you know that some foods could increase the chances of acne breakouts? Here’s 7 foods to avoid if you are acne prone.


Let’s face it. We all thought our acne woes would be over once we got past puberty only to discover adult acne, body acne and... just shoot me now! Caused by inflamed pores clogged by excess sebum, dead skin cells and other impurities left behind by perspiration, it is unsurprising that here in the sweltering Singapore weather, many of us still struggle with acne in one form or another well into adulthood.

According to Professor Maurice Van Steensel, Research Director at the Skin Research Institute Singapore,  over 12% of women over the age of 35 continue to struggle with acne. While generally not dangerous to our health, acne can be an embarrassing problem that can affect our self esteem and social life and while genetics and environment are major contributory factors, lifestyle such as diet can also increase the risks of acne breakouts. Here are 7 types of food that you might want to avoid if you are prone to acne outbreaks.


01 Fast Food

Top 7 Food That Causes Acne Breakouts; It's Sad But It's The Hard Truth

I’m sure the first thing that comes to mind is fast food! The juicy but oily fried chicken, greasy hamburgers and cheesy pizzas that your mom would frown upon and tell you to stop eating! Although some might say, fast food doesn’t cause acne breakouts. Well, it does, and it gets worse as far as your skin is concerned.

Most types of fast food are highly processed and if you eat it too often, it will show up on your skin. Due to the high levels of refined carbs, fast food often contains a higher sugar content but a lower nutritional value. The spike in blood sugar and insulin from refined carbs can cause inflammation and increased sebum production, leading to a higher risk of acne.

It has high sodium and salt content too, which also causes the dulling and dehydration of your skin. The high carbohydrate content makes it just as bad for wrinkles and not to mention, your health! So although fast food can often be irresistible (especially the fries from “M”, my fave), too much of it can be poison for your skin.


02 Milk

Top 7 Food That Causes Acne Breakouts; It's Sad But It's The Hard Truth

Any milk from a cow can cause acne breakouts. Although milk has a relatively  low glycemic index, it is high in bovine growth hormones that are fat-soluble, contributing to your acne.

This hormonal surge, mainly caused by consuming too much milk, can lead to excessive sebum production.

Many studies have identified whey and casein, the proteins in milk that stimulate growth and hormones in calves, as the main culprits. When digested, they release a hormone called IGF-1 that’s similar to insulin and can trigger breakouts. Sometimes the hormones in milk can also confuse our body’s endocrine system and signal breakouts.

Lactose, a natural sugar found in milk can also be difficult to breakdown by our body and if you are one of the 65 percent of people who have some degree of lactose intolerance, then your acne breakout could be caused by that sensitivity or an allergic reaction. So the next time you’re ordering your latte or cappuccino, consider opting for a vegan option like soy or almond milk.


03 Coffee, Our Essential :(

Top 7 Food That Causes Acne Breakouts; It's Sad But It's The Hard Truth

Before you go ahead and order that Java Chip frappuccino or White Chocolate Mocha, know the sacrifice that you're making. Not only are you sacrificing 8-9 bucks on a drink when you can get an entire meal at a hawker centre, but you’re also risking the chance of an acne breakout. 

“Caffeine, sugar, and refined carbs cause a spike in cortisol in the body. Cortisol is the stress hormone, and it’s what your body releases when it’s stressed out. This spike can cause breakouts due to overproduction in oil," according to celebrity esthetician Shani Darden.

So if you’re burning the midnight oil all stressed out at meeting your deadline at work, maybe skip the black coffee.

Rule of thumb: If it tastes sweet like heaven, it will most likely affect your body like hell. That’s not all. Not only does our favourite drink of the day cause harm to our skin, but the cakes and desserts cause acne too.


04 Pastries & Desserts

Top 7 Food That Causes Acne Breakouts; It's Sad But It's The Hard Truth

Do you go cafe hopping along Tiong Bahru during the weekends or catch up with the girls after work? Cute pastries and desserts don’t just taste heavenly and look Insta-worthy they could also be the cause of those recent tiny red bumps on your cheeks and chin. I wish it were a lie but it’s unfortunately true.

A moment on your lips, forever on your hips. Pastries and desserts are low in nutritional value and high in sugar and calories. According to a study, consuming a diet rich in sugar and fats, aka the definition of desserts, was found to be positively correlated with acne.  So all those cute little tarts, macaroons, donuts and tea cakes could be that sugar coated, flowery path to your next acne breakout.


05 Chocolate

Top 7 Food That Causes Acne Breakouts; It's Sad But It's The Hard Truth

Chocolate, our dear childhood best friend, the one constant companion always there for us regardless if we were down or happy. But those famous chocolate brands loved by Singaporeans, like those in the golden or purple packaging (if you know, you know), might be the cause of those unsightly blemishes.

For those who like dark, and I mean dark, chocolate, you’re in luck! The blemishes are not caused by cacao but by the dairy and high sugar content in most white and milk chocolates.. In actual fact, cacao helps to clear your skin due to the vitamins A, C, E and zinc and ironically is beneficial to your skin. So there is some good news there.

Next time, avoid milk or white chocolate, which has ingredients that are most likely the cause of your acne inflammation and agitation. Better still opt for dark chocolate or even cacao nibs to get your chocolate fix and my condolences to those with a milk chocolate obsession.


06 Banana

Top 7 Food That Causes Acne Breakouts; It's Sad But It's The Hard Truth

“Bananas? That’s bananas!” I know, you’re probably thinking, “But aren’t bananas supposed to be healthy?” Yes, bananas do have many health benefits but if you have oily and acne prone skin then you might want to give that morning banana smoothie a miss. 

While they are high in skin healthy nutrients like potassium and manganese, they are also very high in sugar which is what makes them so ideal in the mornings or as a snack. Bananas contain a lot of natural quick release sugar that causes a spike resulting in your skin producing more oil that can exacerbate an already bad acne problem.

In fact, bananas scored a whopping 62 (out of 100) on Harvard’s glycemic index chart! One of the highest-ranking fruits on it. But you don’t have to beat yourself up for loving bananas, we love them too! If you are struggling with regular acne breakouts then try substituting bananas with some other fruit.


07 Alcohol

Top 7 Food That Causes Acne Breakouts; It's Sad But It's The Hard Truth

Really who doesn’t enjoy a little tipple from time to time but if you start binging, there are serious skin consequences that you should know about. High levels of alcohol in your system could increase hormone levels that lead to excessive sebum production. One of the main causes of clogged pores and painful pimple breakouts.

Furthermore, these increases could create imbalances in estrogen levels that can increase  the frequency and severity of your next acne breakout! Binge drinking also wreaks havoc on your immune system, which is supposed to help fight off any bacterial infections including those that cause painful pimples.

If you’re one of those who lives a little on the wild side then you might also be no stranger to waking up dehydrated after a late night with gaps in your memory and a faceful of messy makeup - totally bad for your skin. This makes excessive alcohol consumption one of the leading causes of acne - and bad life decisions. So remember the next time you reach for the bottle to drink in moderation.


Is Life Still Worth Living?

Completely cutting out all those delicious comfort foods and drinks might be a little extreme and totally impractical but if you do struggle with regular acne outbreaks regardless of how well you take care of your skin, then you might want to have a look at your diet and see if some minor adjustments might make a difference.

Foods with dairy and high sugar content such as processed foods and desserts have a tendency to cause spikes in your body’s sugar level and hormonal imbalances that might be the reason for a persistent acne problem. A slight adjustment or moderation in your diet might just be what’s needed to get your acne woes under control.

Of course, it’s okay to give yourself a little treat from time to time but moderation - as in everything else in life - is key to maintaining a healthy balance diet that’s not just good for your skin but for your overall health and well being. Afterall, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing!

About the writer
Rachel Lee

Rachel spent five ascetic years as a vegetarian before discovering spicy chicken wings are, in fact, a delicacy. She’s also a bit of a snob about fancy whiskey. Rachel writes early in the morning, then spends the rest of the day trying to impress her Maine Coon.

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