Your Favorite Carbs Could Be Causing Breakouts

Do you eat ice cream, cookies, chocolate, or crackers more often than not? As it turns out, this habit might be the culprit behind your breakouts. A large-scale study suggests that high-fat and high-sugar foods, animal products, and other staples of the Western diet may trigger acne, according to JAMA Dermatology. One theory is that simple carbs and dairy foods can disrupt hormone levels, increasing oxidative stress and inflammation.

Acne is an inflammatory disorder, regardless of its cause, explains a 2013 review featured in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. As the researchers note, every stage of acne development has an inflammatory component, even in the absence of Propionibacterium acnes, the microbe responsible for breakouts. This inflammation may be due to increased sebaceous gland activity or other causes, such as the presence of certain neuropeptides in oil glands.

While it's possible to effectively treat adult acne, it may take some trial and error to figure out what works for you. But, as the saying goes, prevention is better than cure, and you might be able to get rid of breakouts by cutting back on carbs. 

The unexpected link between simple carbs, acne, and skin health

Chocolate and other sugary foods are often blamed for breakouts, but the truth is that no single food will cause acne. However, certain foods — especially those rich in simple carbs — may contribute to its onset, notes Clinical Correlations. For example, a cohort study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology suggests that pastries, sweets, and junk food can increase the risk of acne. Researchers also found that teens with healthier eating habits were less likely to develop this skin disorder.

Several other studies had similar findings, says the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD). High glycemic foods, such as those containing sugar and simple carbs, trigger inflammation, which may increase sebum production. Excess sebum can clog your pores, leading to breakouts. What's more, excess sugar may also worsen psoriasis, rosacea, or other skin disorders and speed up aging, according to dermatologists Debra Jaliman and Donna Hart (via Insider).

Simply put, chocolate and other foods can give you bad skin. While not everyone will get breakouts after eating candy or fries, limiting these foods "may lead to fewer pimples," notes the AAD. For example, in one study conducted on 2,258 people, 87% saw major improvements in skin appearance after cutting back on simple carbs to lose weight. In another study, patients who switched to a low-glycemic diet showed a significant reduction in acne lesions within 10 weeks, reports the AAD. 

What can you eat on a low-glycemic diet?

As you probably know, not all carbs are created equal. Sweets, white bread, soda, and other foods or beverages rich in simple carbs can skyrocket blood sugar levels. Whole foods like brown rice, vegetables, legumes, and unrefined grains boast complex carbs, leading to a gradual increase in blood glucose. The glycemic index (GI) measures the impact of carbs on blood sugar levels. The higher this number, the faster your blood glucose will rise after eating a given food.

"You actually measure how your body responds to a cup of orange juice versus how it reacts to other food items: a banana, 25 grams of candy, or 25 grams of whole-grain bread," endocrinologist Dr. Alexander Williams told the Cleveland Clinic. He also explained that low-glycemic diets include foods with a GI of 50 or less, such as vegetables, legumes, dark chocolate, nuts, and some fruits. You may also eat carb-free foods like meat, fish, or poultry, which have a negligible impact on blood sugar, notes Diabetes Canada.

All in all, there's no need to stop eating carbs to prevent acne. You just need to limit simple carbs, including sugars, and fill up on whole foods. For example, unrefined grains have lower GI values than breakfast cereals. Likewise, rye bread and whole pasta will increase your blood sugar at a slower rate than white bread or refined pasta. And if you have a sweet tooth, opt for dark chocolate, berries, peanut butter, or citrus fruits.