Does diet really matter when it comes to adult acne? – Harvard Health Blog

When I was a teenager, the advice I received on acne was clear and consistent:

  • Avoid fatty foods and chocolate as they trigger rashes and worsen existing acne
  • Wash your face often
  • Try an over-the-counter topical remedy like those containing benzoyl peroxide (Clearasil) or salicylic acid (Stridex).

By the time I got to med school, the message had changed. I learned that the link between diet and acne is considered a myth and that what we eat has little to do with improving or worsening acne.

But a new study has once again turned the situation around. This suggests that the diet could be contributing to acne – at least in adults.

Why does acne develop?

For many – including me – thinking about teenage acne is a painful exercise. But it’s worth understanding why acne develops in the first place.

It is believed that acne develops due to a combination of factors: too much oil production in the skin, clogged skin pores, bacteria in the skin, and inflammation. Hormonal changes – which occur during puberty or with a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome – and the menstrual cycle can have a big impact on acne because they affect the production of sebum in the skin. Some medications can cause acne (especially steroids and lithium), and hair products, makeup, and other products we put on our skin can help clog pores. Genetic factors, pollution, smoking, and stress have also been suggested as causes or contributors to acne.

And then there is the possibility that food matters. Certain foods can promote inflammation throughout the body, and it is possible that this can trigger acne breakouts. Plus, diet can affect hormones which, in turn, could make acne worse. For example, milk and foods high in sugar can cause insulin levels to rise, altering other hormones that can affect the skin. Some research has linked milk and whey protein to acne.

Despite these possible links between diet and acne, there is no consensus that changing your diet is an effective way to fight acne.

Acne in adults: it’s just

A new study, published in the medical journal JAMA Dermatology, compared the results of 24-hour dietary surveys of over 24,000 adults (mean age 57) who reported having acne now, having it in the past but not currently, or not having it. never had. Researchers have found a correlation between the odds of having current acne and the consumption of

  • foods high in fat (including milk and meat)
  • sugary foods and drinks
  • a diet rich in a combination of foods high in fat and sugar. Compared to those who never had acne, respondents with current acne were 54% more likely to consume this type of diet.

A higher consumption of foods high in fat and sugar was associated with a higher incidence of current acne. For example, compared to those who had no history of acne, those who had acne at the time of the survey were 76% more likely to report drinking at least five glasses of milk the day before, plus twice as likely to report having consumed at least one. five servings of high-sugar drinks the night before and eight times more likely to report consuming “a full meal of fatty and sugary products” the day before.

Fast food and snack foods were linked to past (rather than current) acne. What about chocolate? Neither dark chocolate nor milk chocolate was associated with past or current acne.

There are reasons to interpret these results with caution. Food records can be faulty. For example, a person with acne who strongly believes that a diet affects the health of their skin may be more likely than others to remember and report certain items in their diet (such as fatty or sugary foods) than those who are more skeptical of a link. Such recall bias can affect the results of a study like this. And many of those who have reported having acne in adults have been self-diagnosed; some of these diagnoses may not be accurate. Other factors – called confounding factors – could be at play and lead to misleading conclusions. For example, people who drink more milk may also (by chance) live in more polluted areas, and it is pollution, not milk, that explains the results.

Finally, studies like this can only detect an association, not a causality. This means that while people with acne in adults tend to consume more fatty and sugary foods, the study cannot prove that their diet caused adult acne. He also could not determine whether a change in the diet would reduce the incidence or severity of acne.

The bottom line

As our understanding of acne continues to evolve, we may eventually have clearer guidelines on the best diets to prevent or treat it. For now, whether you are a teenager or an adult, chances are there is no single diet that guarantees fair skin. So enjoy your favorite dishes in moderation. And if you find that some of them are making your skin worse, you will need to decide if they are worth it.

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Jothi Venkat

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