Fatty and sugary foods, milk linked to adult acne

There may be even more reasons to follow a balanced diet with a new study finding sugary beverages, fatty and sugary products, and milk may be associated with adult acne.

Arguably one of the most controversial areas of acne, advice regarding the role of diet has changed several times over the decades.  Now, a published French study of 24,452 people has identified three potential dietary triggers for adult acne.

Study participants were divided into three groups based on their acne status – ‘never’ had acne, ‘past’ acne or ‘current’ acne – and were aged 25 years and over. The majority of those with ‘current’ acne were aged 25-39 with the majority unsure if diet was a factor in their acne.

According to this study, the prevalence of acne in adults older than 25 years is approximately 50%. 

Dermatologist and All About Acne member, Dr Brian De’Ambrosis said globally, there is an increasing prevalence of adult acne which predominantly affects women.

The study found a fatty, energy-rich diet was consistently associated with adult acne.  This supports the belief that a ‘western diet’ is linked to acne and that a low Glycaemic Index (GI) diet may be helpful if you have acne.

People with current acne consumed significantly more milk, sugary beverages, milk chocolate, snacks and fast foods, and fatty and sugary products.  They also had significantly less meat, fish, vegetables, fruit and dark chocolate.

Once other factors were considered it was only milk, sugary beverages and consuming a portion of fatty and sugary products that were independently linked with current acne.

“The general health benefits of following a balanced diet are well known.  However, diet alone is usually not enough to clear acne in most people; it’s diet, other lifestyle factors such as stress and medication, especially if you have severe cystic acne,” explained Dr De’Ambrosis.

“That said, I also tell my patients if they notice their acne flares after eating certain foods, then it’s best to avoid those foods!”

Dr De’Ambrosis cautions against avoiding dairy completely.

“Calcium and Vitamin D are important in the diet, especially in teens and young adults,” he said.

“It’s all about balance.  So have dairy in reduced amounts, but stick to regular options rather than low-fat which has been shown to have a stronger link to acne, and if you like chocolate, choose dark rather than milk.”

While these results are certainly interesting, this is one study and the authors state the need for further large-scale studies to investigate the link between diet and acne.

Reference: Association between adult acne and dietary behaviors. JAMA Dermatol.  doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2020.1602

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The All About Acne team – the authors of this site – are a group of medically-trained skin experts from across Australia who have an interest in acne management. Our experienced team of leading dermatologists guarantees the information on this website is independent and based on the highest quality research available.