Can allergies cause acne?
This is a topic that many people are curious about, as the connection between the two is not always clear.
But before we dive into the details, let’s first define what we mean by “food allergies” and “intolerances.”
Food allergies defined
Food allergies refer to an immune response that occurs when the body mistakes a specific food protein as harmful.
Common food allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, milk, and eggs.
Symptoms of a food allergy can range from mild (such as hives or itching) to severe (such as anaphylaxis).
Food Sensitivities defined
On the other hand, food sensitivity refers to difficulty digesting certain foods, often due to a lack of a specific enzyme needed to break down the food.
Lactose intolerance, for example, is a common food intolerance where the body cannot properly digest lactose, a sugar found in milk.
Symptoms of food intolerance can include gas, bloating, and stomach cramps.
Now, you may be wondering how these two things could possibly be related to acne vulgaris.
After all, acne is a skin condition, while food allergies and intolerances are related to the digestive system, right?
Well, that’s where it gets interesting.
Some studies have suggested that there may be a link between certain food allergies and intolerances and the development of acne.
However, the evidence is not yet strong enough to make a definitive conclusion.
But it’s definitely worth exploring further.
In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at the studies that have investigated the relationship between food allergies/intolerances and acne, and explore the possible mechanisms by which these things may be connected.
Top common food allergens and intolerances that can worsen acne
Clinical studies have suggested that there may be a link between dairy intake and the development of acne.
This is thought to be due to the hormones and other growth factors found in milk.
Some researchers have also suggested that dairy products stimulate the body to make insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which has been linked to acne in women.
Next, let’s talk about gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.
It has been suggested that gluten may contribute to acne through the activation of the immune system and inflammation.
However, it’s important to note that gluten intolerance, or celiac disease, is a different condition than acne, and not all individuals with acne have gluten intolerance.
High-glycemic Index Foods
High-glycemic-index foods such as white bread, sugary cereals, and candy are known to spike blood sugar levels, leading to the production of more sebum and inflammation. Some researchers have suggested that these foods may contribute to acne by increasing insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) levels.
Examples of high-glycemic foods are:
- Processed snacks like pretzels and corn chips, candy, saltines, pastry snacks, etc
- Sugar-containing beverages of any kind, including beverage sweeteners with high-fructose corn syrup
- White bread or anything that contains refined white flour
- Fried battered foods, French fries, etc
- Mashed potatoes
- Hot dogs, Cheeseburgers, etc
- Pizza (especially frozen ones)
Omega-6 fatty acids
Foods high in omega-6 fatty and low in Omega-3 fatty acids may also contribute to acne breakouts.
Omega-6 fatty acid is a precursor to several highly potent pro-inflammatory mediators in the body.
This imbalance then tips the balance and moves the body into a more pro-inflammatory state.
This inflammation is directly responsible for plugging up those sebaceous glands and hair follicles and worsening acne.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found in vegetable oils, such as soybean, safflower, flaxseed, canola, and sunflower oil, and most processed foods while Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, flaxseed, and chia seeds.
Fast foods contain high amounts of unhealthy saturated fats, pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, and sugars.
All of these unhealthy ingredients can contribute to the development of and worsening of acne.
So, as tasty as those McDonald’s custom-order triple-patty bacon-topped cheeseburgers are (I’m guilty!), opting for a grilled chicken salad (without the heavy, high-calorie dressing!) may be a better option!
Processed deli meats high in sodium, preservatives, food additives, and saturated fats, such as pepperoni, salami, sausage, etc, are common causes of chronic inflammation and the overproduction of sebum, which leads to acne vulgaris.
Certain foods may disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut, which in turn may contribute to the development of acne.
The gut microbiome is known to play a role in overall health, and some studies have suggested that a diet high in sugar and processed foods may disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut.
Tied closely to this notion is that chronic stress can also contribute to acne.
We will know the saying, “we hold our stress in our gut.” There is actually some evidence to this statement.
The gut-brain axis plays a prominent role in how stress is carried throughout the body. You can read more about it here.
On a more positive note, some studies have found that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and fish may benefit acne-prone skin.
Diagnosis and Treatment
So, you suspect that your acne may be related to a food allergy or intolerance. What should you do next?
The first step is to see a healthcare professional. They will be able to help you determine if your acne is related to a food allergy or intolerance and, if so, which food(s) may be causing the problem.
One way to determine if your acne is related to a food allergy or intolerance is to keep a food diary.
This involves keeping track of everything you eat and drink, as well as any symptoms you experience.
This can help you identify patterns and connections between what you eat and any changes in your skin.
Your doctor may also order a food intolerance test to determine if your food intake is the culprit.
If you’d rather order a food intolerance yourself quickly without waiting for a doctor’s appointment, you can do so here.
Another way is to do an elimination diet, in which you eliminate certain foods from your diet for a period of time and then gradually reintroduce them, one particular food at a time, to see if any cause an allergic reaction or worsening of your acne.
Once you have determined that your acne is related to a food allergy or intolerance, the next step is to remove the offending food(s) from your diet.
This can help to improve your acne and reduce any symptoms associated with the allergy or intolerance. In fact, this is the best treatment for you, in my opinion.
It’s worth noting that removing certain foods from your diet may require a proper nutrition plan to ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs.
A dietitian or nutritionist can help you ensure that you still get the right balance of nutrients in your diet.
This is especially important because they will be able to consider any existing health condition you have and make a plan for you accordingly.
In addition to removing the offending food(s) from your diet, your healthcare professional may also recommend other treatments for your acne, such as topical creams or oral medications.
Medications to treat acne
Several different types of medications can be used to treat acne, including:
Topical medications: These are applied directly to the skin and include products such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and retinoids.
Oral antibiotics: These are taken by mouth and can help to reduce inflammation and the number of bacteria on the skin. Examples include tetracycline, doxycycline, and minocycline.
Hormonal therapy: For women, hormonal therapy can be used to regulate hormone levels that can contribute to acne. This may include birth control pills or spironolactone.
Oral Isotretinoin: This is a synthetic vitamin A-derived prescription medication that is taken orally and can be very effective in treating severe or persistent acne. However, it can have serious side effects and is typically only prescribed as a last resort.
Your dermatologist will determine the best course of treatment for your specific case of acne.
It’s also important to use the appropriate skincare products and maintain a good skincare routine, such as cleansing, exfoliating and moisturizing to keep your skin healthy.
It’s important to keep in mind that every individual is different, and what works for one person may not work for another.
It’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment of both food allergies and intolerance and acne.
- While there is currently not enough concrete evidence to make a definitive conclusion, some studies have suggested that certain food allergies and intolerances may contribute to the development of acne
- It’s important to understand the difference between food allergies and intolerances and to be aware of the common food allergens and intolerances that have been investigated in relation to acne. These include dairy, gluten, high glycemic foods, and a diet high in Omega-6 fatty acids and low in Omega-3 fatty acids
- If you suspect your acne may be related to food sensitivities or allergies, the first step is to see a healthcare professional
- They will be able to help you determine the root cause and which food(s) may be causing the problem
- Once you have determined that your acne is related to a food allergy or intolerance, the next step is to remove the offending food(s) from your diet. This can help to improve your acne and reduce any symptoms associated with the allergy or intolerance
- In addition to removing the offending food(s) from your diet, your healthcare professional may also recommend other treatments, such as topical creams or oral medications, and maintaining a good skincare routine
- It’s important to keep in mind that every individual is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. That’s why it’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment of both food allergies and intolerance and acne