Can Food Intolerance Cause Acne? What You Should Know

Can food intolerance cause acne

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Food intolerance can indeed trigger acne in some individuals. It causes an inflammatory response in the body, which may lead to acne flare-ups. Identifying and avoiding specific foods that cause intolerance, like dairy products and high glycemic foods, can help in maintaining clear skin.


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Hello, beautiful! Are you wondering can food intolerance cause acne? This question resonates with many health-conscious women seeking clarity on the relationship between their diet and the health of their skin. Below we explore how understanding your reactions to certain foods might be the secret to achieving clearer, more radiant skin.

Food Intolerance and Allergies

When we talk about food intolerance and food allergies, it’s important to distinguish between the two. 

Food Intolerance 

Food intolerance involves difficulty in digesting certain foods, leading to discomfort like bloating or indigestion. Symptoms of food intolerance might not always be severe but can include skin concerns like acne. 

If persistent skin problems are a concern for you, considering a food intolerance test might be beneficial. This test can help pinpoint specific foods your body might be reacting to. It’s important to remember that a particular food causing issues for one person may be harmless to another. Identifying your unique responses is a key step in managing your skin health.

Can food intolerance cause acne - milk

Here is a list of common food intolerances:

  1. Lactose Intolerance: Difficulty in digesting lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products.
  2. Gluten Intolerance: Sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.
  3. Fructose Intolerance: Difficulty in absorbing fructose, a sugar found in fruits, some vegetables, and honey.
  4. Histamine Intolerance: Sensitivity to histamine, which is naturally found in certain foods like aged cheeses, fermented products, and cured meats.
  5. FODMAP Intolerance: Difficulty in digesting certain carbohydrates like fructans and galactooligosaccharides, found in a variety of grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes.
  6. Caffeine Sensitivity: Increased sensitivity to caffeine, leading to symptoms like jitters and insomnia even with small amounts.
  7. Soy Intolerance: Difficulty in digesting soy and soy products.
  8. Food Additive Sensitivity: Reactions to food additives like sulfites, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and artificial colours or flavours.
  9. Corn Intolerance: Difficulty in digesting corn and corn-based products.
  10. Egg Intolerance: Sensitivity to proteins found in eggs, causing digestive issues and other symptoms.

Food Allergies 

In contrast, food allergies activate the immune system, causing reactions that can range from mild to severe.

Pile of unshelled peanuts

Here’s a list of some common food allergies:

  1. Peanut Allergy: Reaction to proteins found in peanuts, often severe.
  2. Tree Nut Allergy: Includes allergies to nuts like almonds, walnuts, and cashews.
  3. Milk Allergy: Allergic reaction to proteins in cow’s milk.
  4. Egg Allergy: Reaction to proteins in eggs, both the white and the yolk.
  5. Soy Allergy: Allergy to soybeans and soy products.
  6. Wheat Allergy: Reaction to proteins found in wheat.
  7. Fish Allergy: Allergic reaction to certain types of fish.
  8. Shellfish Allergy: Includes allergies to crustaceans and mollusks like shrimp, crab, lobster, and clams.
  9. Sesame Allergy: Reaction to sesame seeds and products containing sesame.
  10. Mustard Allergy: Allergy to mustard seeds and mustard products.

Food Intolerance and Acne

Understanding the connection between food intolerance and skin health is key for those dealing with acne. When your body struggles to properly digest certain foods, it can lead to an array of reactions, one of which is inflammation. Inflammation is a crucial factor in acne breakouts.

For instance, dairy products cow’s milk and especially skim milk can trigger acne for those with lactose intolerance or whey protein intolerance. In such cases, the body’s inability to break down lactose effectively can lead to inflammatory responses that may manifest as acne breakouts. Another example is gluten intolerance, where the ingestion of gluten leads to inflammation, potentially exacerbating skin issues like acne.

Unlike allergic reactions that are immediate and immune-based, food intolerances often result in delayed and less severe reactions, but they can still significantly impact skin health. 

Implementing an elimination diet can be a useful strategy. It involves removing suspected intolerances like dairy or gluten from your diet and then gradually reintroducing them to observe any changes in your skin condition. This method can help you pinpoint specific food intolerances contributing to your acne.

By identifying and managing these intolerances, you’re not just addressing digestive discomfort; you’re also taking a proactive step towards reducing inflammation and promoting clearer, healthier skin.

Black bean tacos

Also watch out for…

Leaky gut syndrome and celiac disease can indeed have indirect relationships with acne. Here’s how they might be connected:

  • Leaky Gut Syndrome and Acne:
    • Inflammation: Leaky gut syndrome can lead to systemic inflammation in the body. Since acne is often influenced by inflammatory processes, this increased inflammation can exacerbate or trigger acne breakouts.
    • Immune System Response: The leakage of toxins and undigested food particles into the bloodstream in leaky gut syndrome can trigger an immune response. This immune activity might contribute to skin inflammation and acne development.
    • Nutrient Absorption: Celiac disease affects the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. Deficiencies in certain nutrients, like vitamins A and D, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for skin health, might contribute to acne.
    • Inflammatory Response: Similar to leaky gut, celiac disease involves an inflammatory response to gluten. Chronic inflammation can be a factor in acne development or severity.
  • Common Link – Inflammation:
    • Both conditions are linked by the theme of an inflammatory response, a known factor in acne development. Managing inflammation through diet, lifestyle changes, and appropriate medical treatment can therefore have a positive impact on acne and the health of your skin.

It’s important to note that while these relationships exist, they don’t necessarily mean that leaky gut syndrome or celiac disease will always cause acne. The connection is complex and varies from person to person. For those with either condition experiencing acne, it might be helpful to consult with a healthcare provider to explore the potential link and appropriate treatments.

Confirm Your Food Intolerance

To get a clearer picture of what might be affecting your skin, considering a blood test can be helpful. These tests can identify allergic reactions and intolerances you might not be aware of. For instance, products containing whey protein can sometimes lead to adult acne. 

MIcroscope for confirming food intolerance

These tests can help you identify specific foods that may also be contributing to your skin issues. Armed with this knowledge, you can make informed decisions about your diet and skincare, leading to better management of your skin health.

Going Plant-Based for Acne

Shifting to a healthy diet, particularly a plant-based one, can be transformative for your skin, especially if you’re dealing with acne. A plant-based diet typically excludes fast food, milk products, and high glycemic foods, all of which play a significant role in skin health.

Hormonal Balance and Plant-Based Diet

One of the key benefits of a plant-based diet is its ability to regulate hormone levels. Many animal-based products contain growth hormones, which can disrupt your body’s natural hormonal balance. These hormonal changes can exacerbate skin conditions like acne. By eliminating these products, you’re reducing your exposure to external hormones, thereby helping to maintain a more natural hormonal equilibrium.

Can food intolerance cause acne - hormonal imbalance

Blood Sugar Levels and Acne

High glycemic foods, such as processed sugars and refined carbohydrates, cause spikes in your body’s blood sugar level. These spikes can lead to increased insulin levels, which are closely tied to hormonal imbalances. Foods with a high glycemic index prompt the body to produce more insulin and androgens, hormones that can stimulate excess sebum production and the development of acne. A plant-based diet, rich in low glycemic index foods, helps maintain steady blood sugar levels, thus reducing these hormonal fluctuations.

Managing Food Intolerances and Inflammation

A plant-based diet can also help your body better manage food intolerances and reduce inflammation. Many common food intolerances, like lactose or whey protein intolerance, are linked to animal products. By adopting a plant-based diet, you’re avoiding these common irritants. Moreover, plant-based diets are rich in key nutrients and antioxidants which play a significant role in combating inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is a known contributor to acne, and by reducing it through diet, you’re directly impacting the health and clarity of your skin.

Conclusion: Can food intolerance cause acne?

In summary, understanding the link between food intolerance and skin issues is key for those seeking clearer skin. By identifying and managing your body’s response to specific foods, you can significantly impact the health of your skin. Whether it’s through an elimination diet, a healthy diet, or medical tests like a blood test, gaining insight into your food sensitivities is a vital step. So, to answer the question, “Can food intolerance cause acne?” yes, it certainly can, and being mindful of this can lead you to a more attractive and enjoyable life, both inside and out.

FAQ: Can food intolerance cause acne?

What does food intolerance acne look like?

Food intolerance acne typically appears as inflamed, red, and sometimes painful breakouts. These can occur in areas like the face, chest, and back. Unlike typical acne, these breakouts may correlate with consuming certain foods that your body struggles to process.

Can food intolerance cause skin problems?

Yes, food intolerance can cause skin problems. When your body cannot properly digest certain foods, it may trigger an inflammatory response, leading to skin issues like acne, rashes, or eczema.

What foods cause acne breakouts?

Common foods that can cause acne breakouts include dairy products, high glycemic foods like white bread and sugary snacks, and certain fast foods. These foods can increase insulin levels and inflammation in the body, contributing to acne development.

What does inflammatory acne look like?

Inflammatory acne is characterised by swollen, red lesions that may be tender to the touch. These can include papules (small, red bumps), pustules (pus-filled lesions), and sometimes cysts, which are deep, painful, and can cause scarring.

Can dairy intolerance cause acne?

Yes, dairy intolerance can cause acne in some individuals. Dairy products can stimulate excess sebum production and inflammation, leading to clogged pores and acne breakouts.

What foods help clear acne?

Foods that can help clear acne include those rich in omega-3 fatty acids like fish and flaxseeds, antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables, and foods high in zinc, like nuts and whole grains. A diet low in processed sugar and dairy can also be beneficial for clearer skin.


Vasam M, Korutla S, Bohara RA. Acne vulgaris: A review of the pathophysiology, treatment, and recent nanotechnology based advances. Biochem Biophys Rep. 2023;36:101578. Published 2023 Nov 23. doi:10.1016/j.bbrep.2023.101578

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