Why Carbs In Your Diet Can Give You Acne


You’ve probably heard about it, but why can carbohydrates in your diet cause acne? It’s actually high glycemic index foods that cause acne, and I’m going to explain how they cause acne, teach you what those foods are, and give you tips for an acne-fighting diet!

Foods that cause acne – Refined carbohydrates

Scientists have found that people who eat a lot of highly refined carbohydrates are more likely to get acne. Our modern western diet is packed with highly refined carbohydrates – including the foods pictured above! These are obvious, but highly refined carbohydrates are also found in cookies, chips, white bread, crackers, granola, candy bars, pasta, pizza, white rice, hamburger buns, etc. Western teenagers and adults eat many of these foods. You would expect acne to be common – and it is!


Foods with a high glycemic index have been linked to acne.

It’s the high glycemic index foods that seem to trigger acne.

Highly refined carbohydrates have a high glycemic index.

Reduce high glycemic index foods and your acne should improve. To understand this you need to know the following:

  • what the “glycemic index” is,
  • how the glycemic index differs from carbohydrates,
  • what effects high glycemic foods have on your body’s insulin levels and why it matters at the level of your pores when it comes to acne (yes, that’s a lot of science, but it’s important to understanding the link between carbs and acne) .

Which foods with a high glycemic index can cause acne?

Put simply, a food’s glycemic index measures the food’s ability to rapidly raise your blood sugar, which in turn tells your body to produce insulin:

  • Foods with a higher glycemic index raise your blood sugar faster than foods with the same amount of carbohydrates but a lower glycemic index.

  • Refined carbohydrate foods have a higher glycemic index than complex/unrefined carbohydrate foods and raise your blood sugar faster (because you digest them faster). For example, white flour bread raises your blood sugar faster than whole grain bread, the same goes for white rice compared to brown rice. Fruit juice raises your blood sugar faster than a piece of fruit.
  • When your blood sugar rises rapidly, your body responds by producing lots of insulin, which lowers your blood sugar by sending the sugar to your cells for storage. It is this high blood sugar/high insulin situation that is linked to acne!

High glycemic foods cause hormone changes at the level of your pores that lead to acne.

When your body has to produce tons of insulin from eating tons of refined carbohydrates (white flour, sugary foods, etc.), complex things are happening to your hormones — including hormones that act on your pores. These hormones are your androgens (like testosterone) and “insulin-like growth factors.” They cause your pores to form blackheads and secrete more oil. They even change what’s in your skin oil, causing it to “pimple” more.

Basically, all acne is hormonal acne because acne starts with hormone activity at the pore level. Your diet can initiate hormone activity.

Carbohydrates cause acne dermatologist explains why

Basically, eating refined carbs will cause your hormones to go haywire, your pores to go haywire, and you’ll get breakouts.


Dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, MD

Frankly, it’s an amazing example of how complex the body is. Who but a scientist could uncover the connection between eating a donut, increasing testosterone levels, and a growth factor, the end result of which is causing your skin to develop blackheads and pimples?

The bottom line on carbs and acne:

Modern teenagers and many adults eat a lot of highly refined carbohydrates with high glycemic loads – and this causes acne.


What is the Best Low Glycemic Diet to Cure Acne?

Acne-fighting diet tips from a dermatologist

Eat foods with a lower glycemic index value:

  • Eat complex carbohydrates such as whole grains (whole wheat flour instead of white rice, brown rice instead of white rice, etc.)
  • Choose sweets made with honey or agave, which have lower glycemic index scores than refined white sugar
  • Instead of fruit juice and sugary fruit drinks, grab a piece of refreshingly fresh fruit
  • Instead of sugary soft drinks, drink water or sparkling mineral water
  • Fuel up on veggies — all day and all you want because they have really low glycemic index scores
  • Eat moderate amounts of healthy protein, including fish, lean meats, tofu, eggs, and some dairy

diet for acne


Good guidelines for healthy eating, including recipes, are included in my free Basic Mediterranean Diet Guide e-book.

3 simple tips for a low glycemic diet to fight acne

  1. To help you transition to a lower glycemic diet, there are websites that list the glycemic levels of foods.
  2. For a step-by-step guide, you can use the South Beach Diet, which is easy to follow. I’ve done the South Beach Diet before and found it balanced and healthy as long as I ate lots of vegetables. It’s a classic example of a low glycemic index diet and the book is easy to read.
  3. Finally, there are apps for your smartphone that show you the glycemic value of food.

If you’ve been eating a “normal” American diet, then eating more vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains will likely help your acne. The added bonus is that these are great foods for your overall health, and I bet they make you feel great too!

The best skincare routine to fight acne

As you fine-tune your diet, be sure to use proven non-prescription acne medications integrated into a skincare routine that fights acne and skin dryness and protects against scars and brown spots caused by acne.

The ultimate dermatologist's acne solution skin care kit

I created mine Ultimate acne solution kit with a skincare routine that’s as effective as a visit to a dermatologist. The key to this routine is that I personally

  • combined ingredients that address the root causes of blackheads and pimples in the pore,
  • contains an acne-friendly moisturizer with soothing aloe and glycerin to combat dryness without leaving skin feeling heavy,
  • recommended an acne-friendly sunscreen (mentioned on the kit page) to complete your routine.

I made you look like you just had a visit to the dermatologist, only without the visit!

This skincare routine is made with the most proven medicinal ingredients to treat acne—and it will improve your acne, too.

So….. which snack should you choose to prevent acne????

high glycemic foods that cause acne Foods that cure acne

Please note that scientists are just beginning to understand the link between high glycemic index foods and acne. I expect that we will receive even more recommendations in the years to come.


Whitney P. Bowe, MD et. Al. Diet and Acne, J of the Am Acad Dermatol 2010;63:124-41

Photo attributions:

Qfamily Greencolander s58

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