This just in: Diet and acne are connected (at least for today), and it’s bagels, not french fries, that are giving you zits. Apparently scientists are now convinced that foods high in empty carbs (think bread, candy, soda–anything sugary) are connected to breakouts, because of a hormonal reaction that occurs when your blood sugar spikes. Aaaaand, cue smug reactions from paleo diet fans.
NPR reports that a “growing body of evidence” points to a connection between high glycemic foods–basically, anything that’s high in sugar, or carbohydrates that your body can quickly turn into sugar–and acne. Nutrition researcher Jennifer Burris analyzed 27 studies that explored connection between diet and acne; her takeaway was that there’s good evidence that a low-glycemic diet could reduce acne breakouts and relieve inflammation. Burris explained the supposed reasoning to NPR:
So what explains this connection? Researchers say foods that spike blood sugar can also increase hormones. The hormones can stimulate oil production, which in turn, can trigger acne. “It’s like a domino effect,” says Burris.
Similar logic is provided by several “skin diet” books, and it’s one of many reasons that proponents of high-protein diets use to justify cutting out carbs. But before you rush to the store and buy up every paleo diet cookbook in sight, it’s worth mentioning that even the researchers who wrote the paper admit that there are several factors responsible for causing and aggravating acne.
When I was a teenager, magazine articles about the connection between diet and acne were everywhere: They almost always warned that eating fatty foods like french fries and chocolate would aggravate breakouts and contribute to my growing need for Clean&Clear. Since then, the idea that our faces are what we eat has happily been up for debate: Some experts say there’s no clear connection, others insist that certain foods (like dairy) can seriously aggravate acne-prone skin. And still others have built their entire celebrity–and diet books–on the idea that what you eat (see: Kimberly Snyder and Dr. Jessica Wu).
Now, cutting back on sugar and empty carbs, and even sticking to a low-glycemic diet is probably a good idea for many people, whether or not they struggle with acne. But just don’t go crazy pushing your diet to extremes: After all, stress is one of the major factors behind acne, too.