Sugar and Acne

A nice review of the role of diet in the occurrence of acne was recently published by Dr. Elsa Spencer and co-workers from the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, DC. (Ref. 1)
They reported on studies that show the negative interaction between glycemic load, insulin sensitivity, hormone mediators, and acne. It goes something like this - (see the schematic):

The regular consumption of foods with a high glycemic index cause an elevation of insulin levels in the blood. Chocolate and candy, and also foods that contain white flour, and non-diet sodas are just a few examples of high glycemic foods. Apart from insulin resistance (which may result in diabetes), elevated insulin reduces the concentration of SHBG (Sex Hormone Binding Globulin) in the blood. This is a glycoprotein that binds hormones, in particular androgen (male) hormones, and keeps their levels in check. Consequently, if there is less SHBG, the levels of these hormones go up. This, in turn, causes an increase in the production of sebocytes. These are cells that secrete sebum (oil) in the hair follicles. Increased sebum secretion increases the chance for blockage and infection of the follicles which can ultimately lead to acne.


There is more and more evidence that suggests that your diet is an important factor in how much acne you will develop. It is important to treat acne breakouts using a good tea tree oil based product before they have a chance to become more severe and result in acne scars. At the same time, scientific evidence such as presented in this post, suggests that you might want to reduce snacking on chocolate, candy, and other high sugar and high glycemic foods. Chances are good that this will help reduce the number of future outbreaks.

(1) Spencer EH, Ferdowsian HR and Barnard ND (2009) Diet and acne: a review of the evidence. Int J Dermatol 48: 339 – 347