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Nutrition to combat Acne

4 min read

Acne is a very common condition in Westernised nations, those affected tend to be adolescents and young adults. Acne has a significant influence on quality of life, contributing to social withdrawal, anxiety, and depression. This makes treatment essential. 

Nutrition therapy is not a new idea

Nutrition therapy as a potential treatment for acne is not a new concept, although the literature examining diet and acne during the past 100 years is mixed. Since the late 1800s, research has linked diet to acne, identifying chocolate, sugar, and fat as the main culprits. During the 1960s, however, the diet-acne connection fell out of favour, with studies tending to disassociate diet from the development of acne. This is in large part to do with two particular research studies that were repeatedly referenced in literature and popular culture. However in recent years, dermatologists and registered dietitians have revisited the idea and have become increasingly interested in the role of nutrition therapy in acne treatment.

Although the total number of studies conducted within the past 40 years is relatively small, the growing body of evidence suggests a relationship between diet and acne. 

Diets with a high glycemic index and frequent dairy consumption are leading factors

New York University's Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, conducted a literature review to evaluate evidence for the diet-acne connection during three specific time periods: early history, the rise of the diet-acne myth, and recent research. Reviewing information from studies between 1960 and 2012 that investigated diet and acne, investigators put together data for a number of studies and concluded that a high glycemic index diet and frequent dairy consumption are the leading factors in establishing the link between diet and acne. The glycemic load of food is a number that estimates how much the food will raise a person's blood glucose level after eating it. They also comment that although research results from studies conducted over the last decade do not demonstrate that diet causes acne, it may influence or make it worse. The study team recommends that the medical community should not dismiss the possibility of diet therapy as a supplementary treatment for acne and that the best approach is to address each acne sufferer individually, carefully considering the possibility of dietary counselling.

The role of vitamins & minerals

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is an antioxidant that belongs to the group of compounds called retinoids. The active form of vitamin A is known as retinol. It is essential to the normal shedding of dead skin cells that build up inside the pore - this build up and excess production of skin cells is one of the main causes of acne. In other words Vitamin A works by preventing the build up that would have otherwise caused a clogged pore. Additionally, the antioxidant properties of vitamin A act as an anti-inflammatory for the skin and help to calm swollen, red and sore acne breakouts.

It is recommended that if you have inflammatory acne on your face and/or body you should be eating foods high in vitamin A such as and supplementing with 10,000 iu’s of vitamin A per day.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) is an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish and seafood, particularly oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and anchovies. 

Inflammation is at the root cause of acne therefore an anti-inflammatory supplement is key to treating acne. The inflammation process is triggered at a systemic level and then, with many other factors, causes acne at skin level. 

Omega-3 fatty acids work to clear acne by inhibiting two inflammatory chemicals that are responsible for acne breakouts, they are called PGE2 and LTB4. Research shows that people consuming diets higher in omega-3 fatty acids, such as in Japan, the coastal regions of North Carolina and Papua New Guinea all have a low rate of acne.

It is recommended that if you have inflammatory acne on the face and/or body you should be eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and supplementing with 2 grams (2,000 mg) of EPA omega-3′s per day.

Vitamin E

This is another essential vitamin for skin care, known for its antioxidant effects, it helps the skin fight against free radicals. It also enhances tissue repair and healing. Vitamin E is found in peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, and broccoli, or take 400 IU daily of Vitamin E to treat acne.

B Vitamins

Vitamin B2 is may be beneficial for decreasing stress, and stress can make acne worse. Foods that are high in B2 include leafy, green vegetables, meat, milk, eggs, whole grains and fish. All the B vitamins play a role in maintaining healthy skin, taking a quality B-complex may help maintain a vibrant skin tone.


Zinc is a mineral that is responsible for contributing to a considerable number of functions within the body including growth and development, brain function, reproduction and immune function.

Zinc also has many important functions for acne clearing. Firstly, zinc helps with the metabolism of omega-3 fatty acids. Secondly, zinc is an important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory for the skin. Thirdly, zinc helps break down substance P, the nerve chemical that causes sebum production when the body is stressed. Fourthly, zinc is responsible for transporting Vitamin A, an anti-acne nutrient, from the liver. Recent studies have shown that people with acne have low levels of zinc in their system.

Approximately 30 mg per day is a recommended therapeutic dose of zinc for acne sufferers.


Chromium helps fight acne by reducing the rate of skin infection. Many people are chromium deficient as the form of chromium found in foods is easily destroyed during processing. Furthermore, eating excessive sugar depletes your body's level of this important mineral. Supplemental chromium in the form of chromium picolinate produces best results. 

The recommended dosage to help clear acne is 150 mcg of chromium per day.


Magnesium helps to keep your hormones in balance, reducing the impact of your body's hormonal cycles on acne outbreaks. Selenium and magnesium are two trace elements that are low or lacking in many diets, so ensure your supplements have both of these minerals.

There is no substitute for a good diet full of fresh vegetables and fruit, high quality meats and grains, and enough good fat. This is the first step to getting rid of acne and preventing it however choosing the minerals and vitamins for acne explained above is a wise move in light of the poor quality of food available today.

A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.