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Will Binge Eating on Fat Tuesday Affect Your Skin?

Happy Mardi Gras, or as our non-French speaking friends would say, Fat Tuesday. Today marks a special time of Carnival where we can eat richer, fattier foods guilt-free. As our office prepared for this special feast, (who's bringing the king cake?) we couldn't help but wonder, "What is this day of unhealthy eating doing to our skin?"

Unless you've been living off the grid since, well, birth, we all pretty much know how eating poorly affects other parts of our body. But since the exact cause of acne is unknown, plenty of myths exist about the relationship between food and breakouts. So we have to ask: Will one day of bad eating and drinking cause us to wake up tomorrow with zits everywhere? According to DermatologistOnCall founder and Chief Medical Officer, Mark P. Seraly, MD, that's not very likely.

We review two of the more common statements made about the acne-food connection:

High-Glycemic Index Foods

The Glycemic Index (GI) is a relative ranking of carbohydrates in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels. High-glycemic index foods are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels. A recent study of 23 Australian males ages 15-25 who followed a strict, low-glycemic load (LGL) diet showed significant improvement in acne severity by adhering to a LGL diet. However, the participants also lost weight, which means the LGL diet may not solely be attributed to the outcome.

Examples of high-glycemic foods include white bread, pretzels, popcorn, saltine crackers, melons and pineapple.

"This study shows that there could be a possible link between high-glycemic index foods and acne worsening," said Dr. Seraly. "However, this should not be interpreted as eating a low-glycemic load diet will treat acne or prevent acne outbreaks. Instead, we could consider following an LCL diet as a complement to proven acne treatments."

Dairy Products

For decades, experts have discussed the possibility that a relationship between dairy consumption and acne may exist; however, evidence to support this theory has been weak. In 2006, a study examined the self-reported food consumption as well as the frequency and amount of pimples experienced by 6,094 girls aged 9 to 15 over three years. The study found positive associations between the prevalence of acne and the intake of total milk, whole milk, low-fat milk and skim milk.

In response, Dr. Seraly said, "there were several flaws in this study, so a definitive relationship between dairy consumption and acne cannot be determined. Since we do know that the benefits of calcium and vitamin D are important to overall health, I would not advise patients to cut out dairy products on their own. They should consult with their doctor to determine dairy's impact on their acne severity first. If it is necessary to reduce dairy consumption, a doctor can suggest safe supplements to receive appropriate levels of calcium and vitamin D."

Our Conclusion

Overall, we have not found any studies that strongly and definitively link diet to acne, but that doesn't mean there isn't a connection. So what should you keep in mind relative to what you eat?

A healthy and balanced diet is important to your overall well-being. Dr. Seraly suggests:

  • Watch your diet for food triggers that may seem to aggravate acne – keep a food journal to help identify these triggers.
  • Keep in mind that it may take months for a diet change to determine if certain foods contribute to your acne.
  • If you already have an acne-treatment routine, don't stop if you change your diet. Your doctor prescribed this treatment based on its proven effectiveness, whereas diet changes are a complement to this.

If you suffer from acne and want to see a board-certified dermatologist, start an online visit now with DermatologistOnCall. Our doctors are standing by to provide a diagnosis, treatment plan and any necessary prescriptions within 24 hours on average.