Diet to Heal Acne; Dermatologist’s Advice

Diet to heal acne

Use a diet to heal acne as a powerful way to control your acne skin problem. There is ever mounting scientific evidence that what you eat affects your acne.

Knowing what to eat and what foods to avoid is an important way to cure acne once and for all; let your daily diet help get rid of pimples, whether your acne is mild or severe. 

The Diet and Acne Connection

The connection between diet and acne has been controversial since the 1960s. I first wrote this article in 2010 and doctors were still arguing over it. Thankfully, scientific studies done since then are finally starting to give us answers.

Diet to Heal Acne

People with acne have always looked to their diet for answers, it's the doctors that have lagged behind! Yep, I said it. As a dermatologist with a unique and long-term interest in diet and health dating back to the mid-1970s, I've kept my eye on this area of medical study and we are finally making advances. - Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey

People with acne always struggle to figure out which foods worsen their acne, and doctors haven't been able to give them any guidance until now.

Does diet really make acne worse?

Yes, it does.

Foods that worsen acne include:

  1. High glycemic foods (sugary foods and foods that raise your blood sugar fast like junk foods)
  2. Dairy
  3. Fatty foods made with 'bad' fats
  4. Some forms of chocolate (I suspect it will be the dairy and sugar in chocolate)

Foods that help clear acne include:

  1. Veggies and fruits eaten in abundance
  2. 'Good' fats such as omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, flax seeds/oil, chia seeds, soy foods, walnuts, avocadoes, canola oil, green leafy veggies)
  3. Vitamin, antioxidant and mineral rich foods 
  4. Fiber rich foods

Can specific foods make your acne worse?

Yes. Over my 35 years in dermatology, patients have often told me that certain foods cause their acne to flare up. It makes sense that foods play a role in acne but it's hard to figure this out because your pimples can take weeks, or even months, to worsen or improve after you make changes in your diet. Knowing what sort of diet you should be eating, and what foods you should be avoiding will help you keep your skin as clear as possible.

A diet to heal acne is a healthy diet

Do you notice that many of the dietary recommendations to help clear your acne are also really healthy for your overall body, so you will also feel better and be healthier all around. Most of the studies examining the acne and diet connection have been done on teenage acne, but I expect the information also applies to adult acne.

Years ago, when one of the first scientific papers came out reviewing all of the acne and diet data in the Journal of the American Academy Of Dermatology I used the information to develop the Acne Diet Guidelines that I've used for years in my dermatology practice. Subsequent studies support these Acne Diet recommendations. 

Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey's Diet to Heal Acne

1. Avoid eating and drinking a lot of high carb/high glycemic index foods

Examples include refined white flour baked goods such as bread, cookies and pastries. High sugar empty calorie 'junk' foods and sugar filled drinks are very high glycemic. Fried chips and fries also raise blood sugar quickly. Fruit juices with added sugar are high glycemic. It's best to eat fresh whole fruit which is lower glycemic because it takes longer to digest, is accompanied by fiber and is thus slower at raising blood sugar.

2. Eat and drink dairy products in moderation only.

Minimize fatty dairy products like ice cream and cheese, instead switch to using only moderate amounts of cultured whole milk dairy products with natural probiotics like yogurt and kefir . It's important to note that the fat in dairy is not the problem, it's the dairy itself but the fat is a separate problem, in my opinion. The bottom line is to cut down on dairy and use it only in moderation.


3. Eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids

These are really healthy foods and include salmon, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, spinach and other leafy greens, soy based foods, canola oil, avocadoes etc.)

4. Eat tons of fresh fruits and veggies

These provide the acne fighting ingredients you want in your diet including antioxidants, zinc, selenium, vitamin A and fiber, all of which appear to help acne.

What about vitamin supplements versus a healthy diet for acne control?

I firmly advocate diet over supplements. Some of the nutrients I just listed above are dangerous if taken as supplements because they're easy to overdose on; don't use supplements to compensate for a poor diet. That said, zinc supplements have been shown to help acne. Know that the healthy diet I just described will provide significant amounts of zinc. 

So, should you eat that yummy hamburger in the photo if you want to heal acne?  NO! It has a high carb bun, full fat cheese, lots of 'bad' fats, no fiber and no antioxidants!  It's a 'treat' if you must, but it should not form the basis of your diet if you want to help your complexion resist acne. We now know that acne, like so many other health problems, is fueled or controlled by diet.

While you are working to clear your acne with acne-healing foods, don't forget to use an acne healing skin care routine that treats acne. I have three important acne skin care kits developed from my 35 years of dermatology experience.

Ultimate Acne Skin Care Kit


Medicated ingredients in the right concentrations and combination to target all aspects of facial acne. I combine:

  • medicated salicylic acid to clear blackheads,
  • benzoyl peroxide to kill the acne causing bacteria,
  • glycolic acid to brighten the complexion and fade acne scars, and
  • an acne-friendly moisturizer to fight skin dryness.

Pityrosporum Folliculitis Fungal Acne Treatment Kit

treatment for fungal acne worsened by diet

Many people with facial acne also have an overgrowth of the Pityrosporum skin yeast germ that plays a role in 'fungal' acne. I address that organism with my PF kit where I combine the Ultimate Acne Kit with Calming Zinc (which contains the full 2% pyrithione zinc to discourage the yeast) and the right SPF to help prevent dark acne hyperpigmentation marks caused by this yeast. 

Back Chest and Body Acne Kit


Strong medicated cleansers are the best way to treat acne on the non-facial skin. This kit uses the highest concentrations of medicated pyrithione zinc and benzoyl peroxide to address both Pityrosporum Folliculitis and acne vulgaris. 

Can't believe the difference.
After a couple of weeks of using the zinc soap at night and benzoyl peroxide wash in the morning, my back and chest were completely clear - which has never happened in my entire life. And a few months later, they are STILL completely clear. I can finally wear tank tops again. My skin is soft and smooth, and my husband comments on it all the time. He can't believe the difference. So glad I found your website. Thank you so much. Jennifer B  

The bottom line with acne treatment:

Treat your acne from the inside out and the outside in to finally take control of this frustrating skin problem. These diet tips and skin care routines are built from my 35 years in dermatology and 45 years as a scientist. They work!


Whitney P. Bowe, MD et. al. Diet and acne. J Am Acad Dermatol 2010;63:124-41.