Can Your Diet Make Acne Worse?

Nutritionist and #theburnoutbabe—Bri Clancy Olins—gives us the lowdown on whether what you eat is causing your skin to break out.

This is something that has been debated for decades, and the short answer really is… YES!

You are what you eat

In amongst a whirlwind of skincare products, antibiotics, and other medications, what is often neglected by mainstream healthcare is the diet.

Of course, every body is different, and causes may vary from age group to age group. Sometimes acne may be part of a bigger picture, including conditions such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

Inflammation is the cause

Below are a couple of foods or food groups that have been found to make acne worse. Some people may be heavily affected by all of these or only a few, but the general crux of acne is inflammation.

Let’s meet our main contenders


Studies have shown that people diagnosed with Coeliac disease—or those who have a gluten sensitivity—may experience acne or skin rashes along with their other symptoms if they eat gluten.

For others, it’s not necessarily the gluten itself that causes an acne flare up, but the contribution to systemic inflammation that may make the situation worse.


High GI-load diets have been identified as a contributing factor to acne outbreaks. This group doesn’t just include sweets, but also foods like white rice, potato, white bread, and some fruits.


This one is still under scrutiny, as some studies have found weaker links between dairy and acne outbreaks; but the general consensus is that once dairy is removed, acne improves.

It remains to be seen whether it is the protein in dairy products that can cause acne to flare up, or if it’s the higher consumption of fat-free or reduced-fat dairy that has an effect. Taking the fat out of dairy tips the macro-nutrient balance and effectively turns dairy into a high GI food!

Other foods

Depending on the person, other foods may also have a causative effect on acne. These might include grains, nightshades (tomatoes, white potato, chilli, capsicum, eggplant, etc), and even peanuts.

My go-tos for acne

Back to basics

When treating a client for acne, I’ll often take the diet right back to basics through either a Low Reactive Diet or an Anti-Inflammatory Diet. These both work quickly to reduce inflammation in the body so we can begin to build from the ground up.

Increasing the amount of green leafies, rainbows of vegetables, turmeric, oily fish, and zinc-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds; while eliminating inflammatory foods such as the ones we talked about above (i.e. gluten, sugar, dairy, nightshades) will usually give amazing results within weeks.


Personalised supplement regimes are also an important aspect of treating acne with nutrition – especially with a good quality, high-dose zinc supplement and probiotic.

Manuka honey

Another novel treatment I’ve experimented with is using a good quality manuka honey on affected skin as an overnight mask. Manuka honey is anti-microbial and anti-oxidant rich, working to reduce redness, kill any offensive bacteria that may be contributing to the flare up, and nourishing and healing the skin.

Book online with Bri

Click here to book in for your tailored skin-health plan and take your acne from woe to glow!

Yours in health! Bri x