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Adult Acne is a Real Thing: Foods to Avoid for Clearer Skin

mature skinOne positive thing about aging is not having to worry about acne breakouts, right? If only this were the case! The truth is, it is quite common for acne to persist in adults well into their 30s, 40s and even 50s. Indeed, adult acne is a real thing and tends to pop up at the most inconvenient time (job interview tomorrow?). What you eat affects your overall health and body function so it seems reasonable that diet might also impact breakouts, in particular avoiding certain foods.

Adult Acne is a Real Thing

Generally, the same factors that contributed to your teenage acne are the same as adult acne: excess oil production, clogged pores, inflammation and bacteria. With age, women can experience fluctuating hormones around their menstrual cycle, pregnancy, peri-menopause and menopause which increases the amount of oil production, resulting in acne. It can also be triggered by new medication, stress, genetics and yes, diet. Despite many years of debate, recent research is determining that what you eat plays a significant role in your health, weight, and skin. Studies are showing that changing some of your dietary habits can significantly improve acne. (x) Eating the right foods will help balance hormones and reduce inflammation in the body.

Foods to Avoid for Clearer Skin

Klear Acne MoisturizerIf you suffer from adult acne and have tried everything, you might want to look into these foods and see if avoiding some of them (or all?) to see if your skin begins to clear up.

Convenient and Fast Food

In this fast-paced world, there are so many convenient and fast-food stimulants to grab on the go, usually last minute when you’re just oh-so-hungry, running the kids to soccer or in need of an energy boost. Unfortunately, these processed foods are a major contributor to breakouts. They usually consist of high-glycemic foods, which your body quickly converts to sugar and raises your blood sugar. A 2007 study found that diets that contained low-glycemic foods not only improved insulin sensitivity but it cleared up acne as well.

Some high glycemic index foods to avoid:

  • Breads, buns
  • White rice & pasta
  • Potatoes: mashed, french fries
  • Chips
  • Bakery goods: cakes, cookies, treats

A French cross-sectional study of 24,000 people found sugar, fatty foods and dairy to increase the risk of with acne in adults. (1)


Sugar and fast food go hand in hand. Your body breaks down refined sugar into glucose then releases into the bloodstream very quickly. When your insulin levels spike to bring down the sugar, it sends off an inflammatory response throughout your body. This can cause bacteria to multiply, contributing to more breakouts. It can also affect the hormones that increase oil production in skin, which can clog pores and cause acne.

Some sugar offenders:

  • Soda
  • Candy
  • Jam
  • Ketchup
  • Ice cream

Acne affects 5.6 million Canadians, nearly 20 per cent of the population. Acne affects about 90 per cent of adolescents, and 20-30 per cent of adults ages 20 to 40.  – Canadian Dermatology Association


There is some research that suggests a link between dairy consumption and the development of acne but there isn’t enough concrete evidence to say if you need to ditch dairy or not. Some evidence suggests a link between the two but many of the studies focussed on teenage acne, when acne is most common. You might have stumbled across some skincare bloggers that have “stopped dairy for three months” and published how it cleared their skin. Not all experts agree; some healthcare providers believe it could be the synthetic hormones given to cows that passes through to milk while others suggest it’s just the sugar content in the milk itself.

“Dairy has its own innate hormones, estrogens, progesterones, likely even some testosterone (as even human females produce some testosterone) that is likely exacerbating our own endogenous hormones and increasing the likelihood of a breakout.” – Healthline

It is a good idea to start a food diary to track your breakouts and how much milk you’ve had during that time. This might give you an idea if there might be links and if you need to avoid dairy.


Ok, wasn’t this old wives’ tale debunked a long time ago? There has been an age-old belief that chocolate is a possible culprit of acne. So mucho, that in 1969, researchers began studying extensively to find out! Unfortunately, research has resulted in many inconsistencies and contradictions.


Ok, so let’s think about this: chocolate usually contains sugar (acne culprit #1) and also contains milk (acne culprit #2). So, it seems reasonable that chocolate could impact the skin. One 2016 study took the sugar and dairy out of the equation and concluded that chocolate (99% cacao dark chocolate to be exact) might worsen acne, showing a link between the two. (5) Another study held at University of Virginia found a statistically significant increase in a group within only 48 hours of eating chocolate! Sorry, Chocolate Lovers.

Contradicting Studies?

Milk chocolate contains whey, a milk-derived protein. Intake of whey protein has been associated with increased levels of acne. – Healthline

Other studies, however, including a 2012 study, have found no link between chocolate and acne. So, it remains a little blurry and confusing if chocolate exacerbates acne.

Although adult acne can affect both men and women, far more women suffer from adult acne, though men tend to have more severe cases of it. (6)

Adult Acne is on the Rise

“The American Academy of Dermatology states that the rates of acne in adults are increasing; information presented at AAD’s annual meeting in 2012 found that acne affects more than 50% of women between the ages of 20 and 29, and more than 25% of women between the ages of 40 and 49.” (15)

Why there is a lack on consensus on some food items, the same ‘culprits’ seem to pop up time and time again. It might be worthwhile to remove from diet if you suffer from persistent adult acne.


mature woman





  1. Association Between Adult Acne and Dietary Behaviors: Findings From the NutriNet-Santé Prospective Cohort Study. Deschasaux et al.

2. Does diet really matter when it comes to adult acne? Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Medical School.

3. Acne. Canadian Dermatology Association.

4. Adult Acne Is Real: Here Are the Foods That Can Cause It. Healthline.

5. Dark chocolate exacerbates acne. S. VongraviopapP. Asawanonda

6. Adult Acne in Women: What’s Triggering Your Breakouts? Houston Methodist Learning Medicine on Health.

7. 14 Powerful Home Remedies for Acne in 2022. Healthline.

8. Medical News Today.

9. Glycemic Index Food List for Fast Foods. Livestrong.

10. Chocolate Consumption May Make Acne Vulgaris Worse. American Family Physician.

11. Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Study Assessing the Effect of Chocolate Consumption in Subjects with a History of Acne Vulgaris. C. Caperton et al.

12. High glycemic load diet, milk and ice cream consumption are related to acne vulgaris in Malaysian young adults: a case control study. Noor Hasnani Ismail et al.

13. Consumption of dairy in teenagers with and without acne. LaRosa et al.

14. I Gave Up Dairy—And My Adult Acne Vanished in Under a Month.

15. Adult Acne Is On The Rise — & It Goes Way Beyond Surface Level. Krause. Refinery 29