Ask Dr. Dave: Does Eating Junk Food Cause Acne?

Sugary, fatty foods don't do much for your waistline—and they may also wreak havoc on your face.

Does junk food cause acne? Studies show that it does, but can a junk food-free diet prevent acne from starting? (Photo: Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Aug 8, 2012

In my esteemed medical opinion, the worst kind of zit is the big volcano one on the tip of the nose. The most dreadful part might be that you always know when it’s coming.

First, the whole nose has this uncomfortable feeling that you can’t quite place. Next, on the very front of the nose, it begins to really hurt when you touch it. After that, the redness comes and you know you’re in for seven to 10 days of wondering if people are staring at your mysterious eyes or that huge pimple that shines like a beacon.

You head to your local drugstore and buy all the acne soaps off the shelf. After a week of three-a-day face washings, warm compresses and dark lighting, the zit disappears and your mind returns to wondering how synchronized divers earn a living.

MORE: The Diet That Trumps Them All

Some believe that eliminating junk food can prevent, or at least reduce, acne breakouts. Can it be that eating healthier not only improves your weight, self-esteem and sex life, but also helps prevent pimples and the embarrassment of the nose volcano?

The answer to this question is maybe. Numerous studies have linked a Western diet (i.e. junk food) to high prevalence of acne. Specifically, both foods with lots of sugar (those with a high glycemic load) and dairy products might lead to more acne.

Scientists have even figured out the mechanism by which this association may occur: Eating lots of sugar means your body produces more insulin, and more insulin causes your body to release hormones that lead to more androgens, hormones that factor into acne production. Milk from cows actually contains those hormones that lead directly to more androgens.

You probably remember from high school: androgens mean more pimples. That’s why puberty sucks. So what’s with all the maybes, mights and mays? While many retrospective studies have shown an association between a junk food diet and acne, no studies have shown that eating better or differently can prevent acne in the future.

In other words, it’s really cool that we’ve isolated all these hormones and stuff, but so far we haven’t proven that changing your diet improves acne.

MORE: Eating This One Meal Out Could Make You Fat

Eating junk food is bad for you. It also may cause you to have more acne. Do you really need another excuse to eat less of it? For those of us with the occasional forehead zit, it probably has more to do with genetics than diet, so don’t despair. Just blame your parents on your next trip to your local drugstore.

EDITOR’S NOTE: provides news and information about a variety of health topics. Do not use as a substitute for professional healthcare. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified medical care provider for any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Do not disregard the advice of a qualified medical care provider because of something you read on, or any other website. 

Do you have a health or medical question for Dr. Dave? Leave them in the comments.

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