About 50 million Americans are affected by acne, according to data from the American Academy of Dermatology, but even though it’s extremely common, if you have acne, it’s easy to feel like you’re all alone. That’s because acne doesn’t just cause physical symptoms — it causes emotional symptoms, too, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and decreased quality of life.
Fortunately, acne treatments have improved over the years, helping decrease both the number and severity of breakouts. Ongoing medical treatment is essential for managing acne, but lifestyle habits are also important, including your diet.
As a leading provider of state-of-the-art acne treatments in Salem, Virginia, Michele Meinhart, FNP, helps patients at Starkey Medical Esthetics learn steps they can take to support their acne treatment and minimize their symptoms. Here’s how your diet could be affecting your acne breakouts.
A brief primer on acne
Acne happens when inflammation occurs inside your hair follicles. Typically, it all starts when a hair follicle is blocked or plugged by oily debris. When the follicle is blocked, bacteria that are normally present on your skin begin to multiply inside the follicle. Protected by the oily plug, bacteria populations feed on the excess oil and other debris and multiply rapidly.
When your body senses an infection beginning, it triggers an inflammatory process aimed at destroying the bacteria. Inflammation results in the red, pus-filled pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads that form the visible signs of acne.
Breakouts tend to happen more frequently during puberty, when fluctuations in hormones cause an increase in oil production and, therefore, an increase in blocked follicles. However, acne isn’t just a “teen disease” — millions of adults are also affected by acne.
Diet and acne
The link between diet and acne has been the subject of much research and debate. Today, the best evidence points to a link between high-glycemic diets and an increase in acne symptoms. High-glycemic diets are diets high in sugars — not just the processed sugars we think of in candy and other sweets, but natural types of sugars, as well.
Researchers aren’t sure why high-glycemic foods are associated with an increase in breakouts, but they think it probably has to do with the way the body handles an overload of sugars. Sugars can promote inflammation inside your body — inflammation you can’t see. When the inflammatory process increases, one way your body responds is to produce more sebum or skin oils, which, in turn, leads to more breakouts.
Some studies have also found a possible link between cow’s milk and acne breakouts. Here, the theory is that hormones in cow’s milk could be playing a role in inflammation and acne symptoms. Interestingly, although data suggests a role for milk, there is no data to suggest that yogurt or cheese increases breakouts.
Focus on whole foods
So what changes can you make in your diet to help reduce your risk of breakouts? Limiting or avoiding cow’s milk — particularly skim — is one step you could try. But to date, the strongest evidence seems to point to lowering your intake of foods with high glycemic levels.
Ideally, you should focus more on low-glycemic foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains like oats, bulgur, or barley. You can find more information about low-glycemic diets here and here. Note that this type of eating plan is recommended for people with diabetes who need to keep their sugar intakes under control, and it’s also associated with weight loss.
Many foods — especially processed and convenience foods — are linked with inflammation. Limiting or avoiding these foods may also help. You can find out more information about anti-inflammatory foods here — the good news: Most of these foods are also on the low-glycemic food list, which makes meal planning a lot easier.
Get help for your acne
Acne can have a devastating effect on your life, but with a custom acne management plan, you can reduce your breakouts and enjoy a clearer complexion. To learn how we can help, call 540-389-0909, or book an appointment online at Starkey Medical Esthetics today.