A diet high in glycemic index foods and dairy products is now linked to acne, according to a new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The study also suggests using medical nutrition therapy (MNT) as a form of acne treatment. The findings support rising evidence of a link between diet and acne.

Over 17 million people in the United States have acne, which generally occurs during their teen and young adult years. Acne can affect quality of life and lead to:

Because of these unfavorable consequences associated with the skin condition, treatment for acne is crucial.

Previous studies have always associated diet to this common skin condition. Since the 1800s, research pinpointed chocolate, sugar, and fat as diet factors contributing to acne. However, starting in the 1960s, studies began disassociating diet from acne.

Jennifer Burris, MS, RD, of the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New York University said:

“This change occurred largely because of the results of two important research studies that are repeatedly cited in the literature and popular culture as evidence to refute the association between diet and acne. More recently, dermatologists and registered dietitians have revisited the diet-acne relationship and become increasingly interested in the role of medical nutritional therapy in acne treatment.”

The researchers, led by Burris, conducted a literature review to examine evidence for the link between acne and diet during three time periods: early history, the rise of diet-acne myth, and recent studies.

The investigators took information from studies between 1960 and 2012 that examined acne and diet. The study factors that were analyzed were:

  • design
  • participants
  • reference
  • intervention method
  • results and conclusions
  • primary outcome
  • covariate considerations
  • limitations

The study showed that a high glycemic index/glycemic load diet and high dairy intake are the primary factors in establishing the association between acne and diet.

The authors pointed out that although previous studies have suggested that diet does not cause acne, it could influence it or make it worse.

They recommend that dietitians and dermatologists work together to design and conduct effective research addressing this topic.

Burris concluded:

“This research is necessary to fully elucidate preliminary results, determine the proposed underlying mechanisms linking diet and acne, and develop potential dietary interventions for acne treatment. The medical community should not dismiss the possibility of diet therapy as an adjunct treatment for acne. At this time, the best approach is to address each acne patient individually, carefully considering the possibility of dietary counseling.”

One study carried in 2007 found that diets that contain low glycemic loads improve insulin sensitivity and clear up acne. Suggesting that diet does, in fact, have an impact on acne.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald