For many years doctors and dermatologists have debated whether diet can improve or indeed make acne symptoms worse.

Although diet does not in fact cause acne and it will not cure acne, it may however assist in limiting breakouts or improving symptoms. The chemicals released from eating some foods may influence factors which cause acne, exacerbate acne or trigger acne.

Often people believe that acne is caused by diet and if they eat too much sugary/greasy foods they are more likely to have pimples. Although these foods won’t cause acne they certainly will inhibit you from consuming a balanced and healthy diet.

Listed below are certain foods and supplements which may help or cause problems for someone who suffers with acne.

While it may make common sense, based on the hormones present in milk, it may be that dairy products could affect acne. Studies remain inconclusive and evidence of an association between dairy and acne is sparse.

Chocolate is another often-debated perceived ‘problem’ for acne sufferers. But, while there may or may not be a correlation between chocolate and acne, singling out any food as an acne villain is likely to be a wild goose chase. The combined stress involved in nervously avoiding chocolate and other "bad" foods may itself lead to stress-induced acne.

Most people living in modernised societies take in far more Omega-6 fats (found in grains, vegetable oils, nuts, and poultry) than they do Omega-3 fats (found in fish and fish oils, grass fed meat, hemp and seeds such as flax seeds and chia seeds).

Omega-3 also helps keep insulin-like growth factor levels in check, which can avoid the skin overproducing skin cells and skin oil, preventing breakouts.

Eating a more balanced ratio of these two fats can help adjust the inflammation in the human body, and, since acne is an inflammatory disease, it makes sense that adding anything healthy to your diet that can reduce inflammation would also help reduce acne.

Acne is partly an inflammatory disease. The inflammatory process is what causes acne affected pores to become characteristically inflamed and red. Antioxidants in the body help resolve this inflammatory response.

Eating a diet rich in colourful fruits and vegetables will help your overall health and may or may not help reduce the inflammation inherent in the acne process.

Here is a list of vitamins, minerals and supplements that can help acne sufferers and are found in specific foods.

Vitamin A: one of the main triggers in acne is hormonal imbalance. Vitamin A maintains healthy skin and helps keep your hormones balanced. Try to eat fresh fruit and vegetables especially carrots, broccoli, spinach, kale, peaches, apricots and mango which contain natural vitamin A.

Zinc: stands alone as having the most evidence pointing toward a beneficial effect on acne, however moderate that effect may be. It helps regulate and balance hormone activity, helps heal acne sores and acts as an immune booster which fights bacteria. Zinc can be found in star fruit, brewer’s yeast, whole grains, Brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds.

Vitamin B6: helps promote healthy skin and maintain a healthy immune system. A deficiency may cause a break-out of acne symptoms.

The Department of Health advises that you should be able to get all the vitamin B6 you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. Beneficial foods include potatoes, bananas, beans, seeds, nuts, red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, spinach, wholegrain bread and fortified cereals.

Chromium: a mineral which helps to regulate blood sugar, it is thought to influence how the hormone insulin behaves in the body. Many acne sufferers are already familiar with the cycle - inflamed skin is unhealthy skin, which triggers your body’s production of lubricants (sebum) to sooth the skin, which in turn clogs the pores.

Chromium steps in to break that cycle and individuals who began taking chromium supplements have noticed a marked decrease in not just their acne, but also in the rapid – and unhealthy – fluctuation of their blood sugar levels.

It has also been proven that chromium works to alleviate skin of rashes and other irritations if taken in recommended daily doses.

You should be able to get all the chromium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet that includes:

Meat, fruit, lentils, broccoli, potatoes and spices

wholegrains, such as in wholemeal bread and whole oats

Selenium: helps the immune system work properly, as well as in reproduction. It also helps prevent damage to cells and tissues, reducing persistent acne and reduce scarring. Selenium can be found in Brazil nuts, tuna and cod.

You should be able to get enough selenium by eating a balanced diet that includes meat, fish or nuts. If you take selenium supplements, it's important not to take too much as this could be harmful.

It is advisable to restrict your intake of carbohydrates and dairy products as they can cause your body to create more insulin contributing to sebum production which in turn can cause acne break-outs. Reducing your daily dairy intake may help ease acne symptoms.

By including some vitamin rich foods in your daily/balanced diet together with the right supplements, your acne can be improved. It is also advisable to drink plenty of water.

Seeking advice from either your dietician or doctor with regards to your diet may help you determine which foods are more beneficial in helping you manage and treat your acne. If considered necessary, they will be able to recommend the maximum amount of supplements to be taken, as too high a dose can be harmful.

Sources used in writing this article are available on request

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence-based articles are certified by the Information Standard and our sources are available on request. The content is not, though, written by medical professionals and should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands, or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 30 April 2018

Next review: 30 April 2021