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Home / Acne / Foods to avoid for clear skin

Foods to avoid for clear skin

Learn about acne-causing foods and food that help to keep your skin clear

Acne is a common skin condition that affects almost all of us at some point in our lives.

It usually happens during our teenage years, due to changes in hormones that take place in puberty.

However, diet can also have a major effect on our skin - especially in relation to adult acne.

Keep reading to find out which foods can contribute to acne, and which will help to leave you with a clear complexion.

What are the worst foods for your skin?

The following list showcases certain food types or food groups that have been linked with causing acne:

High-glycemic foods

According to one study Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source about the effects of diet on acne, there was evidence to show that a diet packed with high-glycemic foods could increase your number of spots and blemishes

A display of pastries, biscuits, and other refined carbohydrates

Foods that are ‘high-glycemic’ tend to raise your blood sugar very quickly.

They are mostly simple carbohydrates, which contain lots of sugar. Some examples include:

  • white bread
  • sugary drinks
  • white rice
  • sugary cereals
  • pastries
  • desserts
  • crisps
  • french fries

High-glycemic foods can also be highly processed, like fast food and ready meals.

When your blood sugar levels increase suddenly, it causes inflammation within the body. This can cause you to produce more sebum (an oily substance that is responsible for acne).

Eating a diet high in refined sugar could cause you to have oilier skin and therefore, have more breakouts.

Highly processed meats

Meats that are highly processed and high in fat could also be responsible for causing your acne. Examples include:

  • bacon
  • ham
  • salami
  • sausages
  • corned beef
  • hot dogs

These types of meats can stimulate hormones in your body to produce more sebum, which clog the pores and cause acne flare-ups.

A platter of sausages, hams, and other processed meats

Processed meats also contain high levels of sodium (salt) and nitrates.

  • Too much sodium can dehydrate the skin and cause premature ageing (as it causes damage to the collagen).
  • Nitrates can cause inflammation of the skin.

Cutting your intake of fatty meats is also necessary for a healthy diet, and can reduce your risk of developing certain cancers in the long term.


Drinking alcohol is known to cause dehydration, which can negatively impact your skin by causing wrinkles and early ageing. But is it also responsible for acne?

Four pints of beer on a wooden board

Alcoholic beverages might not be a direct cause of acne, but they can indirectly affect your skin and make your breakouts worse.

Firstly, alcohol affects hormone levels. Changes in your hormones often lead to more oil production in the skin, which worsens acne.

Alcohol also affects your immune system, making it weaker. This makes it harder for your body to destroy any acne-causing bacteria that comes into contact with your skin.

Cow’s milk and other dairy products

Last on the list is dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, and cream.

Different dairy products displayed on a table with wooden spoons

Some individuals have found that cutting out dairy, particularly cow’s milk, led to huge improvements in their acne.

One study Trusted source American Academy of Dermatology Professional Organization Dermatology Go to source (taken on nearly 50,000 women) found that:

Women who drank more than 2 glasses of milk per day were 44% more likely to have acne, compared with women who drank less milk.

Whilst there isn’t any scientific evidence to prove that milk is a direct cause of acne, it is possible that it could leave you with clogged pores and spots due to hormone changes, or an increase in insulin levels.

What are the best foods for your skin?

Whilst some foods can negatively impact your skin, others can help. In fact, changing your diet could be one of the best acne treatments out there, especially for adult acne.

The following foods could help you achieve healthier, clearer skin:

Low-glycemic foods

In the same way that high-glycemic foods can cause acne, low-glycemic foods can improve acne.

A platter of healthy foods with a sign reading ‘low glycemic index’

Some examples include:

  • oats
  • whole grain pasta or rice
  • fruits
  • beans
  • pulses (such as lentils)
  • nuts
  • non-starchy vegetables
  • eggs

By eating plenty of fruit and veg, and other foods with a low-glycemic index, you will likely minimise breakouts and increase your chances of clearer skin.

Fatty fish

Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel are packed full of healthy fats and omega-3s, which are greatly beneficial for your skin.

Fish, eggs, almonds, and other healthy foods with a sign reading ‘OMEGA 3’

These healthy fats can:

  • regulate your skin’s production of oil and sebum, which is likely to reduce spots from forming
  • aid in hydrating the skin
  • help to reduce signs of ageing
  • soften the skin and reduce dry, cracked skin
  • soothe skin irritation

Adding two portions of oily fish to your diet per week is likely to improve your skin’s complexion, and improve acne.

Vitamin C and E

Some vitamins play a key role in helping us achieve clear, glowing skin. Increasing your intake of vitamin C and E are most likely to do this.

Almonds scattered across a wooden table

Foods containing vitamin C or E include the following:

Vitamin C Vitamin E
  • blackcurrants
  • blueberries
  • broccoli
  • oranges
  • papaya
  • sweet potato
  • strawberries
  • almonds
  • avocados
  • hazelnuts
  • sunflower seeds
  • pine nuts
  • pumpkin seeds
  • peanuts

Vitamin C helps boost your immune system, making you less prone to acne caused by bacteria. It also promotes radiant skin and helps to heal your blemished or damaged skin.

Vitamin E protects your skin cells from getting damaged. It also creates a natural barrier on the skin’s surface that locks in moisture. This helps to create and maintain a glowing complexion.

Soya products

Soya products like soya milk, tofu, and tempeh, contain antioxidants called isoflavones.

A bowl of tofu with some soya beans

These provide anti-ageing protection, limiting your chances of wrinkles and fine lines caused by sun exposure. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, which could improve acne breakouts.

Soya products also contain naturally occurring compounds called phytoestrogens. These resemble the hormone oestrogen.

Phytoestrogens have a beneficial effect on our health, giving you more reason to include them in your diet. For example, they have been linked Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source with reducing menopausal symptoms as well as lowering your risks of developing certain cancers.

The importance of diet

The foods you eat can have a major effect on your skin, as well as your overall health.

By opting to avoid acne-causing foods, you could lower your chances of developing health problems later on in life. You might also lose weight, or reduce your blood pressure.


Which foods could lower your blood pressure?

  Click here

Main takeaways

To summarise, if you want clearer skin you should avoid certain foods and eat more of others:

Foods to avoid Foods you should eat
  • White bread/rice
  • Fast food
  • Processed meats
  • Alcohol
  • Dairy products
  • Fruit and veg
  • Wholegrains
  • Fatty fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Soya

Overall, a balanced diet containing mostly low glycemic foods will benefit both your skin and your health in the long term.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 15-05-2024

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