Update on Diet and Acne

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AAD Guidelines

In their public forum, the AAD has advised that a low-glycemic diet may reduce the number of lesions in acne patients and highlighted data from around the world that support the concept that a high-glycemic diet and dairy are correlated with acne severity. They stated that consumption of milk—whole, low fat, and skim—may be linked to an increase in acne breakouts but that no studies have found that products made from milk, such as yogurt or cheese, lead to more breakouts.25

Other Considerations

Acne can be a serious quality-of-life issue with considerable psychological distress, physical morbidity, and social prejudice.9 Consequently, acne patients may be more willing to accept nonprofessional treatment advice, and there is no shortage of non–health care “experts” willing to provide an array of unfounded and fantastical advice. Dietary recommendations found online range from specific “miracle” foods to the more data-driven suggestions to “avoid dairy” or “eat low GI foods.” An important study recently published in Cutis concluded that most of the information found online regarding diet and acne is unfounded and/or misleading.26A quick perusal of results from a Google search conducted on May 28, 2019, using the terms diet and acne included claims such as “salty and oily foods cause acne,” as well as lists provided by so-called experts of “superfoods” that supposedly cure or fight acne, including coconut and olive oil, avocados, oranges, lemons, and kiwis. Problems can arise when this advice is taken seriously.

Two additional reasons for recommending that acne patients consider dietary modification are not directly related to the disease: (1) the general health benefits of a lower GI/GL diet, and (2) the potential for decreasing the use of antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem across medicine, and dermatologists prescribe more antibiotics per provider than any other specialty.17 Dietary modification, where appropriate, could provide an approach to limiting the use of antibiotics in acne.

Final Thoughts

When advising acne patients, dermatologists can refer to the Table for general guidelines that incorporate the most current data-driven information on the relationship between diet and acne. Dietary modification, of course, will not work for all but can be safely recommended in cases of mild to moderate acne.

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