Why Carbs In Your Diet Can Give You Acne

do carbs cause acne

You have probably heard about it, but why can carbs in your diet give you acne? It's actually high glycemic foods that cause acne and I'm going to explain how they cause acne, teach you to know which foods these are, and give you tips for an acne-fighting diet!

Foods that Cause Acne - Refined Carbs

Scientists have found that people who eat lots of highly refined carbs are more likely to get acne.  Our modern western diet is loaded with highly refined carbs - including those foods in the image above! Those are obvious, but highly refined carbs are also found in cookies, chips, white bread, crackers, cereals, candy bars, pasta, pizza, white rice, hamburger buns etc.  Western teens and adults eat a lot of these foods. You would expect acne to be common - and it is!

High Glycemic Index Foods are Linked to Acne.

It's the high glycemic foods that appear to trigger acne.

Highly refined carbs have a high glycemic index.

Cut down on high glycemic foods and your acne should improve. To understand this, you need to know:

  • what the ‘glycemic index’ is,
  • how the glycemic index differs from carbohydrates,
  • what effect high glycemic foods have on your body's insulin levels and why that matters at the level of your pores when it comes to acne (yes this is a lot of science, but it's important for understanding the carb/acne connection).

What are high glycemic index foods that can cause acne?

In simple terms, the glycemic index of a food measures the food's ability to quickly increase your blood sugar, which in turn tells your body to make insulin:

  • what are high glycemic foods that cause acne
    Foods with a higher glycemic index number increase your blood sugar faster than foods with the same amount of carbohydrates but a lower glycemic index number.
  • Refined carbohydrate foods have a higher glycemic index number than complex/non-refined 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 is true for white rice versus brown rice.  Fruit juice raises your blood sugar faster than a piece of fruit.
  • When your blood sugar rises fast, your body responds by producing a lot of insulin, which lowers your blood sugar by sending the sugar into your cells for storage.  It's this high blood sugar/ high insulin situation that's 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 because you ate tons of refined carbs (white flour, sugary foods etc.) then complex things happen with your hormones - including hormones that act on 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'. 

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

do carbs cause acne dermatologist explains why

Basically, eating refined carbs causes your hormones to go crazy, your pores go crazy and you get zits.

Dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, MD

Frankly, it’s an amazing example of how complex the body is. Who but a scientist could unravel the connection between you eating a doughnut, increasing testosterone and a growth factor, the end result of which is your skin forming blackheads and pimples?

The bottom line about carbs and acne:

Modern teens, and many adults, eat a lot of highly refined/ high glycemic load carbs -and this causes acne.

What is the best low glycemic diet to heal acne?

acne fighting diet tips from dermatologist

Eat foods with a lower glycemic index value:

  • Eat complex carbs like whole grains (whole wheat flour instead of white, brown rice instead of white etc.)
  • Choose sweets with honey or agave, which have lower glycemic index values than refined white sugar
  • Grab a piece of refreshing fresh fruit, instead of fruit juice and sugary fruit drinks
  • Drink water or sparkling mineral water instead of sugary soft drinks
  • Fill up on veggies-all day and all that you want, because they have really low glycemic index values
  • Eat moderate amounts of healthy protein including fish, lean meats, tofu, eggs and some dairy
acne fighting diet

Good guidelines for a healthy diet, including recipes, are included in my free e-Book for an Alkaline Mediterranean Diet Guide.

3 easy tips to eat a low glycemic diet to fight acne

  1. To help you convert to a lower glycemic diet, there are websites that list the glycemic values of foods.
  2. For a more step-by-step guide you could use The South Beach Diet, which is easy to follow.  I've done The South Beach Diet before, and I found it balanced and healthy, so long as I ate a lot of veggies when I was on it. It's a classic example of a low glycemic diet and the book is an easy read. 
  3. Lastly, there are apps for your smart phone that give you the glycemic value of foods.

If you've been eating a 'normal' American diet, then starting to eat more veggies, fruit, lean protein and whole grains will probably help your acne. The added bonus is that these are great foods for your overall health and I'll bet you feel great too!

Best skin care routine to fight acne

While you are tuning up your diet, be sure to use proven non-prescription acne medicines built into a skin care routine that fights acne, skin dryness, and protects from scars and brown marks caused by acne.  

dermatologist's ultimate acne solutions skin care kit

I've created my Ultimate Acne Solutions Kit with a skin care routine that's like a trip to the dermatologist when it comes to effectiveness. The key to this routine is that I've personally,

  • combined ingredients that address the causes of blackheads and pimples inside the pore,
  • included an acne-friendly moisturizer made with soothing aloe and glycerin to help fight dryness without leaving a heavy feel on your skin,
  • recommended an acne-friendly sunscreen (mentioned on the Kit page) to complete your routine.
I've set you up just like you've had a trip to the dermatologist, minus the trip! 

This skin care routine is built from the best proven medicated ingredients to treat acne - and it will improve your acne too.

So..... which snack food should you chose to help prevent acne????

     unhealthy snack food if you have acne OR acne healing snack food


Please note that scientists are just beginning to understand the connection between high glycemic foods and acne.  I expect we'll be getting even more recommendations in the coming years.


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