3 Tips to Clear up Acne (Hint: It's Your Diet!)

diet tips to clear up acne

Diet tips to clear up acne are something new that dermatologists are finally talking about. Knowing what to eat and what foods to avoid gives you a greater ability to gain control over acne. The fact is that some of the basic building blocks of our modern diet give you zits. Doctors and scientists are just starting to unravel the complicated biochemical and hormonal cascade that goes from what you just ate to the zit you wake up with tomorrow morning.

diet tips to clear up acne from the dermatologist

We don't know everything about diet and acne yet, but we do know that tweaking your diet WILL help control this complex pimple-forming cascadeIt means there is hope and that what you eat is really important if you have acne. - Dr. Cynthia Bailey, Dermatologist and Skin Wellness Expert

People who have acne want to do everything to stop the unfair complexion misadventure, so I'm going to give you what you need to change in your diet to help stop your skin from getting zits.

Here’s the diet tips to clear up acne that I give my dermatology patients who are suffering from acne:

1. Avoid High-Carb Foods to Improve Acne

avoid high glycemic foods to fight acne

This includes: white flour, sugary "junk" foods, and sugar-filled drinks and juices. Highly refined high-carb foods have a high glycemic index (meaning a lot of quick sugar), which is linked to acne. If you cut down on high glycemic foods, your acne should improve.

What does the glycemic index of foods mean?

In simple terms: the glycemic index measures a food's ability to quickly increase your blood sugar. A fast rise in your blood sugar from high glycemic foods tells your body to make insulin.

How does high glycemic food cause acne?

  • When your body has to produce a lot of insulin because you ate a lot of refined carbs (white flour, sugary foods, etc.), then complex things happen with your hormones, including hormones that affect your pores.
  • These hormones are your androgens (like testosterone) and "insulin-like growth factor." They cause your pores to make blackheads and secrete more oil. They even change what’s in your skin oil, making it more "pimple forming."

The bottom line for sugary high glycemic foods and acne:

Basically, eating refined carbs causes your hormones and pores to go crazy, which causes you to get zits. Stop the cascade by passing on the sugary foods and refined carbs, a.k.a. junk foods.

2. Limit Dairy Products to Improve Acne

Switch from fatty dairy products (e.g., ice cream and cheese) to a moderate amount of whole milk dairy products. Even better is to eat these dairy products when they contain natural probiotics (e.g., yogurt and kefir) so you get the benefit of those too. Reasons that might explain milk’s role in acne include:

  • dairy foods and acne diet
    Milk contains substances that your body converts to testosterone (that same hormone mentioned above and that affects your pores, causing oil production and acne).
  • Milk stimulates your body to produce a natural chemical called insulin-like growth factor (IGF, mentioned above too). This IGF increases your body's own natural testosterone hormones. It also increases how these hormones affect your pores, causing even more oil production and possibly more pimples and blackheads.

It’s important to know that skim milk products seem to be the worst for acne! We don't know why.

The bottom line with the link between diary and acne:

Know that all cow dairy milk products may play a role regardless of whether they're made from whole milk, low fat milk or skim milk.

3. Eat Less Meat and Animal-Based Foods/Eat More Plant-Based Foods to Improve Acne

plant based acne diet

Eating less meat and more plant foods help you to flip an important fatty acid ratio in your body. It's the ratio of omega 6s to omega 3s. The traditional high animal food western diet has a high ratio of omega 6s to 3s. A plant-based diet has more 3s to 6s and that ratio helps to fight acne.  Reasons this might impact your acne include:

  • Omega 6s fuels inflammation (like, really big pimples). You get loads of omega 6 fatty acids in meats and other animal-based foods.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids quiet inflammation. You get tons of those in things like walnuts, flax seeds, spinach, and salmon.

The bottom line with animal versus plant-based foods and acne:

Inflammatory fatty acids in animal foods may worsen acne pimples. 

Will changing your diet help acne?

Diet is an important factor in causing acne. Make these dietary changes and watch the driving force behind your acne slowly lose steam.  It won't happen overnight, but your skin will look better and you will feel better too.

Treat your acne with the right skin care while you wait for the good changes you are making in your diet to impact your skin. - Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey

What's the fastest Complete Skin Care Routine to fight acne?  

In my dermatology practice I combine benzoyl peroxide (kills the acne causing bacteria) with salicylic acid and glycolic acid (to penetrate oily pores and fight blackheads). I always recommend a good face moisturizer to fight dryness and irritation. I also recommend a broad spectrum oil free sunscreen to prevent acne scar hyperpigmentation.

Ultimate Acne Solutions Kit

I rely on my Ultimate Acne Solutions Kit with medicated cleansers and treatment lotion that include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and glycolic acid.

I'm just getting back into using Dr. Bailey's products as they had been the best for my skin. Back when I was in high school this kit was great! It helped me control acne when nothing else seemed to work, short of some serious prescription drugs. Using this kit felt like the killer combo and I'm grateful it was there. Thanks, Dr. Bailey! - Jeff

best sunscreen for acne and oily skinI use my Sheer Strength Pure Physical Sunscreens for the highest quality UV protection that fights hyperpigmentation of acne lesions.

People who wanted a product that helps hide complexion flaws, absorbs excess oil and blends nicely into all skin tones use my Sheer Strength Pure Physical Matte Tinted SPF 30+ Sunscreen Creme. The tinting blends into all skin tones and is invisible.  

How do Dermatologist's Treat Acne with Skin Care?

Daytime acne skin care routine AM Skin Care Routine 

 best cleansers for acnebest treatment products for acneCLEANSE and CORRECT with the Acne Treatment Cleanser followed by the Benzoyl Peroxide Lotion 


best moisturizer for acne prone skin

HYDRATE where dry with the Daily Cream 


best sunscreen for acne prone skin

PROTECT with one of the Sheer Strength Sunscreens 


 nighttime acne skin care treatment PM Skin Care Routine

CLEANSE, CORRECT and HYDRATE as above. No need for sunscreen after sundown! 

best skin care routine to clear acne


Shop the Ultimate Acne Solutions Kit - proven dermatologist's clinical acne treatment backed by science.