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Clearing the Confusion: Teenage Acne Diet Do’s and Don’ts

A photo of a girl popping her pimple with text that reads "Clearing the Confusion: Teenage Acne Diet Do's and Don'ts"
“Clearing the Confusion: Teenage Acne Diet Do’s and Don’ts” was written by Sophia Martella and reviewed/edited by Rivah Goldstein MScFN, RD and Jackie Silver MHSc, RD
Medical Disclaimer: The information in this article is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be personalized medical or nutrition advice. For a plan tailored to your needs, please consult with a Registered Dietitian or qualified healthcare professional.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links with which I may earn a small commission but at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links help bloggers like me to provide you with free content. All opinions expressed here are genuine. 
Last updated: September 7, 2023

Discover the hidden connection between teenage acne and your diet in our blog post! Learn the truth about the impact of sugar and dairy on teenage acne and the powerful role of food in  promoting healthy, glowing skin.

Teenage Acne Diet

The teenage years are a time of growth and development, where our bodies are constantly changing and our hormones are fluctuating. In this blog post, our focus is on the relationship between the teenage acne diet and its impact on overall skin health. 

Are there specific foods that can trigger or worsen acne? Are there foods that can help improve skin health and keep acne at bay? We will explore these questions and more as we delve into the fascinating world of teenage acne and its dietary influences.

Please note that it is always best to see a dermatologist for how to care for your acne. While diet may play a role, there are many other factors involved and diet does not replace medical care for acne. 

A teenage boy is looking at his acne in the mirror - teenage acne diet

What is acne?

Before we narrow down our discussion on teenage acne, let’s first have a clear understanding of acne. Acne is an inflammatory response that occurs when facial pores get blocked by dirt and bacteria.

The most common forms of acne include blackheads, characterized by clogged pores appearing as black dots on the skin, and whiteheads, which remain below the skin’s surface and present as white dots. Also, there are pimples that can begin to form as larger, raised white bumps on the skin.

More severe acne can become cystic acne. Yes, it sounds as painful as it actually is! Cystic acne are pimples formed deeper under the skin and can be very painful and irritating. 

The bottom line is that acne is primarily defined by clogged pores. So now you may be wondering, how do those stubborn pimples form in the first place? We will explore the causes of acne below, as well as the role of a teenage acne diet.

3 types of acne - blackheads, whiteheads, cystic acne - teenage acne diet

What can cause acne?

While we may be quick to blame our skincare routine, the reality is that acne can be influenced by many factors beyond what meets the eye. In fact, it does not always disappear as we age. Although this blog will focus on teenage acne, it’s important to understand the entire picture first! 

  1. HormonesHormones are chemical messengers of the body. They regulate processes by telling our bodies what to do and when to do it. If our hormone levels are not balanced (which is common in the teenage years), our bodies may overproduce oil, leading to more breakouts.
  2. Genetics – If our family members had acne, this can influence our chances of getting acne and the severity of it.
  3. Medications – Certain medications can impact our hormones and potentially lead to acne. More specifically, these medications can influence the production of androgens (which are male sex hormones, such as testosterone. Note that all sexes produce androgens but males produce higher levels). High levels of androgens can increase oil production on our skin leading to acne.
  4. Age – Typically, acne is most common in teens but can occur in all ages.
  5. Diet – Finally, the main topic of discussion in this blog post is diet. Studies have shown a link between highly processed foods, dairy, sugar, and acne.
A girl with red acne spots is eating something - teenage acne diet

What is teenage acne?

As previously mentioned, acne can be a major part of growing up. As children enter the puberty stage and transition to become teenagers, their hormones will fluctuate a lot. The scientific name for it is “Acne Vulgaris”, but we can just call it acne because that is a mouthful to pronounce!

Generally, teenage acne can start anywhere between the ages 10-13 years old and can continue afterwards into young adulthood. For the majority of people, teenage acne occurs during this time. However, keep in mind that this is just a general statement and acne can start or stop at any point in life. 

Teenage acne diet: How does diet play a role in teenage acne?

Hormones may not be the only culprit in causing teenage acne! In fact, the teenage acne diet can have a great influence on skin health. 

There is conflicting evidence regarding acne and its relationship to diet. There are studies that show a direct relationship between  acne, sugar, and dairy. However, you may also see some studies argue there is not enough evidence yet to directly relate the two. So it can be hard  to know what is true. Let’s break down the evidence regarding two main researched teenage acne diet influences: dairy and sugar.

Teenage Acne Diet: Dairy 

A large study looked at the dairy intake of over 47000 female high school students. The study concluded that the presence of acne increased in girls when milk was consumed. Another review indicated that children and young adults eating dairy products were more likely to develop acne when compared to those that did not consume dairy. 

Dairy foods - cheese, milk, etc... - teenage acne diet

You may still be a little unclear if you should avoid dairy or not. As mentioned before, acne may appear when our hormone levels are out of balance. Dairy products, such as milk, contain hormones like androgens which MAY disrupt our body’s hormonal balance over time, driving an acne breakout.

Please note that the research is not saying that dairy causes acne. It shows a relationship between the two but does not prove causation. There are many other factors involved.

When deciding if dairy is the source of your acne, it’s best to start by eliminating dairy products and see if it reduces the inflammation on your skin. If you notice a difference, then dairy might just be contributing to your acne. 

It is also important to note that dairy products are high in calcium, which is critical for teenage growth, development, and bone health. If you plan to eliminate dairy from your diet, please ensure you are consuming adequate amounts of calcium through non-dairy sources such as calcium-fortified non-dairy milk, sardines, or almonds.

Teenage Acne Diet: Sugar 

Sugar and acne is a topic you may have already been aware of through social media. Before we discover if sugar intake is related to acne, we need to establish a few more science terms. 

Let’s break this down… insulin is a hormone that regulates our blood sugar levels. When we eat refined sugar foods (such as candy, cakes, cookies), insulin along with another hormone called “IGF-1” levels increase to help our tissues absorb sugar and remove it from our bloodstream. With the increase of insulin and IGF-1 hormones, our body makes more androgens (male sex hormones) which can lead to acne breakouts. 

A graphic showing the connection between sugar and acne - teenage acne diet

Essentially, when we eat sugar, certain hormones in our body become elevated to absorb the sugar. When these special hormones are elevated, our body makes more androgens. 

As we discussed earlier, androgen production can lead to higher oil production in our skin which can lead to acne breakouts. 

You can apply the same elimination method here for deciding if sugar is a driving force behind your acne.

Please note that we believe ALL foods fit into a healthy lifestyle, including sugar, and we do not believe in villainizing any specific food.

Teenage Acne Diet: Foods to Reduce Acne!

Now that we know how acne can develop, let’s take a look at some foods to ADD to your meals and snacks to help promote skin health! 

So with that being said, let’s take a look…

High fibre-foods. Studies have shown that higher fiber diets may improve acne, however it is unclear exactly how this works. Fiber’s ability to control blood sugar may have an influence on acne. As we know, insulin (a hormone our bodies produce to digest sugar) increases with a high blood sugar which is a driving factor of acne. 

High fiber foods - broccoli, citrus, nuts, etc... - teenage acne diet

Here are some ideas of how to incorporate fiber into a teenage acne diet:

  1. Oatmeal with berries
  2. Apples and almond butter
  3. Carrots and hummus
  4. Kale chips
  5. Ground Flaxseeds– can add to food like pancakes  and banana bread to increase fibre content.You can also add 1-2 tbsp of flax meal to yogurt, smoothies, oatmeal, or cereal.
  6. Chia pudding  
  7. Stuffed sweet potatoes with quinoa
  8. High fiber cereal with milk (dairy or nondairy)
  9. Consume more beans and legumes, such as lentils or chickpeas

Omega-3 fatty acids. These foods contain anti-inflammatory properties that can help keep acne at bay and lower the IGF-1 hormones mentioned earlier! By lowering the IGF, less androgens are produced resulting in potentially less frequent acne breakouts.  

Foods rich in omega-3 - salmon, avocado, etc... - teenage acne diet

How you can incorporate foods with omega-3 fats into a teenage acne diet:

  1. Salmon
  2. Tuna
  3. Ground Flaxseeds or chia seeds
  4. Walnuts (can be used on salads as a topping or eaten by themselves!)

Antioxidant-rich foods. These foods contain anti-inflammatory properties protecting our skin cells from damage. Impurities from the environment, food or air can lead to acne breakouts. Antioxidant-rich food aims to remove these impurities from the skin which may result in clearer skin. 

Antioxidant-rich foods - walnuts, kale, etc... - teenage acne diet
  1. Almonds, peanuts and brazil nuts have high levels of Vitamin E and selenium which are antioxidants
  2. Vegetables and fruits like broccoli, spinach, artichokes, squash, collard greens, kale, berries
  3. Green teas such as matcha or spearmint tea

Zinc. Did you know that scientists have done a lot of research on zinc to treat acne? Zinc can help with inflammation and fighting bacteria, which are both important for reducing acne.

Foods high in zinc - shellfish, spinach, etc.. - teenage acne diet

Here are some ways to incorporate zinc into a teenage acne diet: 

  1. Kidney bean salad
  2. Garlic shrimp
  3. Shellfish 
  4. Spinach (can be added to smoothies, pasta dishes, stir-fry’s)
  5. Oysters
  6. Sprinkle hemp seeds or pumpkin seeds on soups, salads or oatmeals
  7. Add legumes (such as chickpeas or lentils) to salads
  8. Eggs

Bottom Line

In the journey towards achieving clearer skin, understanding the connection between our diet and acne can be a powerful tool, especially in the context of the teenage acne diet. By making informed choices and being mindful of the impact certain foods may have on our skin, we can take steps to minimize breakouts and promote healthier skin.

It’s essential to remember that everyone’s body reacts differently, so consider these suggestions as a starting  point to guide you towards clearer skin. If any of these ideas piqued your interest, consider implementing them one at a time, starting slowly to make the changes easier to stick to.

Please note that dietary changes alone is likely not the magical cure for acne, as other factors like genetics and hormonal fluctuations also play significant roles. However, adopting a balanced and wholesome diet can contribute positively to our overall skin health.

A girl with clear skin has her eyes closed and is touching her skin with her hands

Eating foods high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and zinc can help support your skin and nourish your body. So, if you are looking to improve your skin, give these dietary suggestions a shot and see how they work for you! 

If you’d like to learn more about nutrition for acne, check out The Acne Dietitian and The Acne Nutritionist blogs for tons of evidence-based information.

Conclusion

Thank you for joining us with our discussion on teenage acne diet do’s and don’ts. We hope you learned some valuable information suitable to you or your teenagers. 

What foods have helped your acne? Comment below. 

Looking for more science-based blog posts?

Check out:

References 

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Sophia Martella

About Sophia

Hello! I’m Sophia, a passionate and enthusiastic Food & Nutrition Master’s student. I have recently completed my undergraduate degree with a Bachelor of Science in Food & Nutrition. When I’m not immersed in my studies, you can often find me in the kitchen baking cakes or crafting homemade pasta. I believe that a balanced lifestyle is key, one that embraces both the indulgence of eating cake and pasta, as well as incorporating nutrient-rich foods. Through this blog, I aim to share my knowledge and discoveries in nutrition, empowering others to make informed choices and embrace a balanced approach to food and life.

About Jackie

Jackie is a Toronto-based Registered Dietitian whose mission is to empower and support the neurodivergent and physically disabled communities through nutrition. Jackie runs a virtual private practice and blog which has simple recipes and health information tailored to these communities. She loves cooking, exercising, traveling, journaling, and spending time with family and friends.

Check out her full bio here →

Rivah is wearing a striped shirt and a blazer, smiling

About Rivah

Hello! I’m Rivah, a registered dietitian passionate about helping teens and adults with neurodivergence and mental health conditions. Additionally, I support individuals with chronic disease management, plant-based diets, and mindful eating. My counseling approach is weight inclusive, client-centered, and evidence-based where we create realistic nutrition goals, prioritizing physical, mental, and emotional health.  In my free time, I enjoy reading, cooking, and outdoor activities.

Check out her full bio here →

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