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Skin Health and Diet: Are Fatty Foods the Enemy?

Michele Emery, DNP

Medically reviewed by Michele Emery, DNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 6/10/2019

Today, we're going to explore the link between skin health and diet. If you close your eyes and think about the holiday season, one of the first things that you envision is a table filled with delicious food: Turkeys, hams, mashed potatoes and an array of sugary pies and cakes.

Though all of this is quite alluring, fatty foods have serious consequences for your health that have been documented over and over again.

Too much fatty and sugary foods have been shown to lead to things like weight gain, diabetes, high cholesterol and serious cardiovascular issues like heart disease.But some consequences are a bit ambiguous. We've heard

for years that fatty fried foods can clog your pores and sweets like chocolate can cause acne, but what do experts say?

Is There a Link Between Skin Health and Diet?

There isn’t a scientific consensus when it comes to what kind of impact food has on your skin. However, some research suggests that there’s a grain of truth to these old wives' tales about how fatty food can lead to acne.

The medical community has disavowed the chocolate myth. But studies have shown that there is a correlation between sugary treats and acne. Why? Dermatologist Dr. Valori Treloar says that when you eat these foods, “Your body responds by cranking out more insulin, which increases the production of skin oils and contributes to the clogging of follicles.”

Sweets are an obvious example of this, but when you dig into the science, it turns out that other foods also lead to an increase in insulin and skin oils.

You might assume that oily foods like french fries can lead to oily skin. But it isn’t so simple. In addition to sweet treats, you should be worried about food containing highly processed white flour.

These foods are referred to as “high glycemic index” foods and are packed with “empty carbs,” which are harmful to your skin. The glycemic index is a scale that measures how a food will affect blood sugar levels. Foods that are high on the index have a bigger effect on blood sugar.

For a study conducted by New York University, nutrition researcher Jennifer Burris reviewed more than 2 dozen other studies looking into the relationship between diets and skin. Within the studies in which participants started eating “low glycemic diets,” they saw a decreased amount of acne.

Similarly to sweets, foods with a lot of processed white flour lead to an increase for blood sugar which subsequently results in more hormones that increase oil in your skin. Some typical highly glycemic foods include:

  • White bread

  • White rice

  • Pasta

You should consult with a nutritionist to determine which foods are highly glycemic because it could vary based on how you’re preparing your meals.

There also seems to be a correlation between dairy and acne. According to Dr. Daniel J. Aires, a researcher and dermatologist at the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, low-fat dairy might actually be causing an increase in hormones that lead to oily skin. He tells his patients to eat regular cheese and milk, rather than the low-fat alternatives.

Although you should be careful about what you eat, there are also plenty of foods that are good for your skin. Is there an ideal diet for treating acne?

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Best Foods for Clear Skin

Trying to highlight the best foods for clear skin is difficult because everyone has different reactions to food. However, experts generally agree that diets that prioritize fruits and vegetables can reduce acne. There will never be an ideal, magical diet that can solve acne.

But you can incorporate certain foods that can help. In a 2014 article for , nutritionist Alex Caspero recommended foods that have Omega 3-fatty acids. Omega 3-fatty acids can reduce inflammation and work as natural moisturizers, making them potentially fantastic for your skin. Foods containing this fatty-acid include:

  • Salmon

  • Walnuts

  • Chia seeds

  • Spinach

  • Mackerel

  • Soybeans

  • Canola Oil

  • Brussel Sprouts

  • Cauliflower

  • Kale

Other dietary tips and foods for healthy skin complexion include eating those rich in Vitamin E, Vitamin C and omega-6 fats.

How to Treat Acne with Medicine

Regardless of whether you have acne or glowing skin, there’s nothing wrong with being a bit more mindful about how the food you consume impacts your body. Being aware of foods for healthy skin complexion is a thing. During the holiday season, it’s totally fine to treat yourself with some of your favorite foods.

You should indulge and eat that extra slice of ham or slice of pecan pie. Why not? This only happens a few times a year at most. Just know that these foods are best enjoyed on occasion, and if you’re prone to acne, you might notice some negative effects.

If you’re experiencing acne and none of the above remedies work for you, you should consult with your dermatologist. They can prescribe medications like tretinoin—a Vitamin A derivative that helps increase the growth of skin cells and subsequently replenish the skin.

Though it might take a while for it to fully work, thanks to the "tretinoin purge," there’s a wide body of evidence that it can successfully treat acne. If you want to learn more about it, check out our Tretinoin 101 guide.

Are you interested in more lifestyle tips? Check out our blog. If you want to know what hims products can help your skin, take a look at our store.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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