The idea that acne stops when one's teenage years are done is, unfortunately, a myth. About half of adults report having acne, with more women than men dealing with blemishes on a regular basis.
A complicated interplay of environmental and genetic factors fuel adult pimples. Anecdotally, acne sufferers often associate chocolate, fatty foods, and milk with their blemishes — but comprehensive research untangling how nutrition actually influences acne has been relatively thin.
In a recent study conducted on over 20,000 adults, the strongest evidence to date, researchers linked milk, sugary beverages and food, and fatty food to the likelihood of having adult acne.
The team published their findings Wednesday in the journal JAMA Dermatology.
Is there a diet for clear skin? — To explore the relationship between diet and acne, researchers recruited 24,452 French adults and gathered detailed data about their acne status, health status, and dietary patterns.
Participants reported detailed information on what and how they eat or drink via online surveys. These results amounted to 12 different food groups: fruit, vegetables, meats, fish, milk, sugary beverages, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, refined cereals, snacks and fast foods, fatty and sugary products, and deli meats.
Participants also reported their medical histories, lifestyle factors, mental and physical health status, and sociodemographic details.
Consistently, a fatty, sugary diet was associated with the presence of adult acne. Participants with adult acne ate fatty and sugary products (including chocolate), sugary beverages, and milk more frequently than those with clear skin.
The researchers honed in on female participants and replicated the analysis while controlling for hormonal factors. Again, the team linked sugary, fatty, dairy-rich diets with acne.
Why do these foods drive acne? — Overall, this study suggests that the common Western diet, which is rich in animal products, fatty, and sugary foods, is associated with adult acne.
The Western diet may drive acne because it can spike inflammation and oxidative stress, a disturbance in the balance between the production of reactive oxygen species called free radicals and antioxidant defenses. The diet is also associated with an increased level of androgens, which are associated with the production of sebum, an oily, waxy substance produced by the body's sebaceous glands and found on nearly every surface of the body.
On the flip side, a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and fish was associated with decreased odds of current acne.
More research is needed to determine if there's a specific "diet to fight acne." But this study offers hints: stay away from fatty, sugary foods and milk, and go for fruits, vegetables, and fish. These steps may not be the silver bullet for clear skin, but they will likely help keep most blemishes away.
Importance: Acne is a chronic, multifactorial inflammatory disease. The association between consumption of dairy products and fatty and sugary foods and occurrence and progression of acne remains unclear.
Objective: To assess the association between dietary behavior and current acne in adults.
Design, setting, and participants: A cross-sectional study was performed as part of the NutriNet-Santé study, which is an ongoing observational, web-based cohort study that was launched in France in May 2009. The present study was conducted from November 14, 2018, to July 8, 2019. A total of 24 452 participants completed an online self-questionnaire to categorize their acne status: never acne, past acne, or current acne. Associations between dietary behavior (food intake, nutrient intake, and the dietary pattern derived from a principal component analysis) and current or past acne were studied in multinomial logistic regression models adjusted for potential confounding variables (age, sex, physical activity, smoking status, educational level, daily energy intake, number of dietary records completed, and depressive symptoms).
Results: The 24 452 participants (mean [SD] age, 57  years; 18 327 women [75%]) completed at least 3 dietary records. Of these, 11 324 individuals (46%) reported past or current acne. After adjustment, there was a significant association between current acne and the consumption of fatty and sugary products (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 1.54; 95% CI, 1.09-2.16), sugary beverages (aOR, 1.18; 95% CI, 1.01-1.38), and milk (aOR, 1.12; 95% CI, 1.00-1.25). An energy-dense dietary pattern (high consumption of fatty and sugary products) was associated with current acne (aOR, 1.13; 95% CI, 1.05-1.18).
Conclusions and relevance: In this study, consumption of milk, sugary beverages, and fatty and sugary products appeared to be associated with current acne in adults. Further large-scale studies are warranted to investigate more closely the associations between diet and adult acne.