Does Sugar Cause Acne?

By Katie Dwaileebe, MScN | Adjunct Nutritionist

There’s no denying that what you put in your body can show up on your skin. I hate to break it to my sweet-tooth readers, but the reality is that sugar is a trigger for acne. However, healing acne involves more than just cutting out sugar. We’ll get to that in a moment. But first, let’s take a look at the link between sugar and acne.

Balance the Hormones to Balance the Skin

You may know that eating sugar and refined carbohydrates (think white foods like white breads, white pastas, pastries, white rice) can cause a spike in blood sugar (also known as blood glucose). This is the sugar rush you feel after impersonating Cookie Monster. When the sugar enters the bloodstream, the pancreas responds by pumping insulin into our blood. Insulin’s job is to get the sugar from our bloodstream into our cells where it can be used as energy.

Insulin is linked to sebum production and stimulates a group of hormones called androgens. Excessive androgen levels can trigger acne by increasing the growth and activity of the sebaceous glands, which produce sebum. More sebum means more risk of clogged pores. Are you still with me? Think of the snowball effect. Sugar causes a cascade of hormonal responses which can in turn can lead to acne.

Studies have shown that diets low in sugar correlated with improvements in acne, decreased inflammation of the skin, reduced sebaceous gland size, improved insulin sensitivity, and decreased androgen hormones.

Sugar, Inflammation, and Acne

Sugar is an inflammatory food and acne is an inflammatory skin condition. Thus, it makes sense that reducing inflammatory foods will reduce inflammation in the body. In addition to decreasing inflammatory foods, you’ll want to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods as well on board to promote healing, such as omega-3 fatty acids. Fresh water fish, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and quality fish oil supplements are all great sources of anti-inflammatory fats to incorporate. You’re not only going to be doing your skin a favor, but your whole body will thank you for it!

Treating Acne Involves More Than Just Cutting Sugar

It is important to note that eliminating sugar will help, but it’s not the entire picture. Acne could be worsened by nutritional deficiencies, so incorporating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, quality proteins and healthy fats into your diet will help fill those gaps and provide your body with lots of skin-loving nutrients.

In addition to incorporating nutrient dense foods, a top-notch skin care routine will take your skin health to new heights. Assembling your skincare team will help combat acne from the outside while a nutritious diet will help combat acne from the inside.