Newsflash: Junk food causes acne

Mmmmmmm… looks good right?


I’m afraid today’s post is all about ramming home the point that you cannot expect to have clear skin and eat all the junk food you want, because for most acne-prone people junk food causes acne.

Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not in a bad mood, I’m simply trying to be encouraging. In the way that Sergeant Hartman “encouraged” Private Pyle over those obstacles in Full Metal Jacket.

If you’re already eating a very low carb diet then feel free to skip this post entirely.  If you’re not eating a low carb diet, read on for some shock tactics.

Because you see, I’ve received a couple of email messages lately from guys which go something like this (and I’m paraphrasing here, for effect)


“Dear Chris,

I’m 22 and I’ve tried literally everything to get rid of my acne and I’m depressed because it won’t clear up.

I have tried taking zinc and the other supplements you take, I have tried not washing my skin or using salicylic acid products, I have altered my shaving technique and I sleep well and exercise.

The only thing I haven’t tried is eating your ketogenic diet because I’ve read elsewhere that diet doesn’t have any effect on acne. Besides, I really enjoy eating pizzas and beer and coke and I don’t think I could give that up. 

What else can I try? Did I mention I’ve tried everything and it hasn’t worked and I’m depressed?

Thanks in advance,

Gomer Pyle

P.S. I love your blog and truly believe it’s the most fantastic acne blog on earth”


OK, so that’s not copied word-for-word. I have embellished a couple of sentences here and there.

But you get the idea – these are the guys who want to have their cake and quite literally eat it.

Three things that annoy me about this sort of email are:

  • Don’t say that you’ve tried everything to clear your acne and then say you haven’t tried the main thing, diet just because it’s the hard part
  • Anybody who tells me they “can’t give up eating junk food” gets a withering look/response, because they’re being pathetic. Our grandfathers won wars by surviving on meat, eggs, vegetables and lard.
  • And I will not take seriously anybody who is willing to trade the breathless relief of that first life-altering day when you wake up acne free, for the momentary satisfaction you get from eating a deep fried jelly donut

Here’s a staggering piece of information for you – junk food causes acne.

The hardest part about clearing your acne is making sacrifices

If clearing acne were as simple as chowing down a few pills each morning, or splashing your face with a cleanser each night, then no-one would have acne.

The fact that diet, carbohydrates and Glycemic Index have all been ignored for far too long in dermatology circles – and the fact these factors continue to be ignored by the more pharmaceutical-sales-minded dermatologists today – does not help.

But it’s a scientific fact that insulin leads to acne in acne prone individuals, and that high-GI carbs like sugar and refined wheat products lead to a spike in insulin.

So logically, to reduce insulin’s acne-causing effects you will have to reduce your carbohydrate consumption down to as low as you practically can. For me, this means below 50g per day and ideally around 30g per day.

When I eat like this (and take some targeted supplements) I don’t get acne. At all.

If it doesn’t come from an animal (excluding milk) and it’s not either a true vegetable, an oil or a nut, it doesn’t feature in my diet.

And this is not easy.

Despite feeling invincible, with near 100% energy levels all day every day, this relatively strict diet is still very hard to maintain in the modern world.

Starchy and sugary carbs (I’m not talking about the carbs you get from fibrous vegetables here) are in so many staple foods these days. Bread, pasta, rice, every breakfast cereal, potatoes, cakes, biscuits, oatmeal – you name it, I don’t eat it.

It has to be strict, or it doesn’t work.

My skin is completely blemish free. I also take several supplements and take care not to use any irritating acne products, but diet truly is at least 80% of the reason my skin stays clear.

Sorry to be a bore, but I will say this again before I back it up with a half-decent scientific study and a couple of graphs I made myself.

  • You cannot expect to get clear skin if you eat a lot of junk food.
  • If you seriously want clear skin you must sacrifice this non-nutritional slop and eat a good, clean, low carb diet.


If you discover after a couple of weeks that your acne is getting better eating a ketogenic diet, as it did for me, then this will have to become part of your life for the foreseeable future.

And it’s the hardest lifestyle change to make.

But if you experience the same acne-relieving effects I do, eating like this becomes the easiest thing in the world.

Yes, you can’t eat burgers and pastries, but how many of you with acne right now would give up such small, temporary luxuries for a life with clear skin?

I mean, imagine the feeling of tucking into a packet of potato chips. Feel good?

Probably, yeah.

Now imagine the feeling of looking to the mirror that first time you don’t have a single acne blemish.

Your face is transformed and after years of dissatisfaction – even hatred – of your own appearance, you can confidently look at yourself and think… yeah, I look good.

How will you feel? Ecstatic?  Total, liberating, life-saving relief?

The feelings of satisfaction are not even close to comparable, believe me.

But some of you will be either unwilling to try this healthier lifestyle, or are confused about the science behind it.

And if you’re one of those people whose lifestyle choices involve frequenting the golden arches or tucking into a super-king-size 18 inch pizza because you “can’t be bothered to cook” then here’s some scientific proof that junk food causes acne; or more simply put, here’s how your laziness and lack of nutritional discipline may be directly behind your breakouts.

Conscientious objectors to the diet-acne connection please prepare to bend over and admit you were as wrong as wrong can be.

Ramming the point home with a scientific study

The statement that “diet has been shown not to correlate with acne” is written about five million times on the internet, but repeating something often enough still doesn’t make it true.

Any decent acne nerd, including myself, will tell you that this claim is based on just two totally flawed studies from 1969 and 1971.

Before these studies came along (and every dermatologist and pharmaceutical manufacturer in the world seized on them to prove that their product was the only way anyone would ever get clear) diet was generally accepted as an exacerbating factor in acne patients.

The (correct) belief that diet and acne are connected goes as far back as the late 1800s and as recent as the 1960s, when the offending studies were published. Better studies as long ago as 1931 theorize that acne patients have a problem with blood sugar, just like I do now.

The two problem studies are as follows:

  • In 1969, Fullerton et al. gave 65 people either a chocolate bar, or a bar made with just fat and sugar. They concluded that there was no difference between the severity of the acne outbreaks in the two groups, and thus that chocolate did not cause acne. (???)
  • In 1971, a researcher called P.C. Anderson gave 27 people either chocolate, milk, cola or peanuts when he found no significant change in their acne after just seven days, concluded that diet in general has no effect on acne. (????????????????!!!!!!!!!)

Clearly, anyone who has eyes and a functioning brain can see that these two studies are totally scientifically useless.

And yet diet is not taken seriously in so many acne forums and by so many acne sufferers, simply because these pathetic individuals don’t want to give up eating slop.

This 2013 study by Drs Burris, Rietkerk and Woolf questioned 248 people about their diets and their acne. While this study design is less than ideal (since it relies on the responses of people being accurate), the above data illustrates the authors’ main findings:

  • those with moderate to severe acne consumed, on average, four times as much sugar as those with no acne or mild acne
  • those with moderate to severe acne ate over three times as much transfat as those with no or mild acne


It is very, very likely that junk food causes acne and so you must try to eat a healthy, low sugar, low carb diet if you want clear skin.

The authors also found a correlation between milk intake and acne, which I’ve posted about before here.

Now, before you shout at me, I know that correlation doesn’t equal causation and plenty of non-acne prone types can munch junk food till the cows come home. But in genetically acne prone individuals the evidence is pretty damning.

And I know for a lot of people diet doesn’t get them 100% clear. Those people who eat a healthy low carb diet and still have acne.

That sucks, but it doesn’t mean that abandoning the healthy low carb diet is the way to go! It just means that if you are genetically predisposed to acne, you must address other potential causative factors as well – supplements, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, exercise, hydration, and so on until you find the magic combination which reduces and eliminates your acne.

Follow the Theory of Marginal Gains!

Whichever way you slice this, junk food causes acne and no amount of excuses will change that.

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