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Does Eating Greasy Food Cause Acne Breakout?

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What we eat has a direct impact on our health. It affects the structure and function of your body. While we may not know every last detail of the nutritional components of the food you eat, it is our sole responsibility to read our food labels and choose our food wisely. As consumers, we are often confused by complex food labels which makes it difficult for people to eat healthy. In particular, people often blame greasy food for causing acne breakout. But, does eating greasy food really cause acne breakout?
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What is acne?

Acne is a common skin condition that affects millions of people globally. It occurs when hair follicles are clogged with dead skin cells and sebum. In less serious cases, these clogs often appear in the form of whiteheads and blackheads.

When bacteria get into the clogged pore, infection occurs, producing raised lumps beneath the surface of the skin. If the bacteria get into the deeper layers of the skin, painful cystic lesions may develop.

Relationship between greasy food and acne

A survey carried out by the American Acne & Rosacea Society showed that 51 percent of Americans believe that acne is caused by consuming too much greasy food. The same survey carried out in other countries have surprisingly similar results.

The development of acne is caused by hyperactivity of the sebaceous glands that secrete an oily substance called sebum. When pores are clogged with dead skin cells and bacteria, coupled with the overproduction of sebum, inflammation can occur, causing pimples and skin lesions to form.

In addition, fluctuation of hormones in the body also contribute to acne breakout. The culprit of hormonal acne is caused by levels of testosterone and other androgens.

There is currently no evidence to support the connection between greasy food and acne. According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, there is no scientific proof that eating greasy food worsens acne breakout.

People who are prone to acne can heave a sigh of relief and continue to eat fried food to their heart’s content.

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Controlling acne breakout with better food choices

Acne vulgaris is a multifactorial skin disease. This means that it can be caused by several factors that may contribute to the formation of acne. In particular, effects of dietary factors on acne vulgaris is a widely discussed topic.

Milk sold in stores is rich in placenta-derived progesterone and other precursors of dihydrotestosterone. Milk also contains steroids, which are precursors of dihydrotestosterone. These compounds are thought to contribute to formation of hormonal acne as they work by stimulating production of sebum.

In 2005, a study was carried out with about 50,000 women to examine the connection between diary consumption and acne. In the study, the author found that acne was positively associated with acne breakout, particularly skim milk. It was further established that skim milk may cause increased comedogenesis because of the increased bioactivity of the binding proteins in the milk and the addition of whey protein to maintain proper consistency of skin milk.

Other than dairy products, recent studies have also found that the main culprit behind acne breakout is the increased level of Glycemic Index (GI) in your blood. A diet with food high in GI will lead to an increase in levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).

A study published in 2014 suggest that IGF-1 may increase the production of sebum and exacerbate the condition of acne. In the same study, the theory was tested via randomized controlled trials and it found that people given a 10-week glycemic load diet saw significant improvement of acne due to the decreased inflammation and reduced size of sebaceous glands.

Tips for keeping acne at bay

It helps to know what you can do to prevent your acne from flaring up. American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests that avoiding high GI foods is more effective at curbing acne than abstaining from dairy products.

The GI index is a scale from 1-100. The lower the score, the lower the GI. To put things in perspective, the GI score for glucose and white bread is 100. Foods are generally categorised into:

  • Low-GI food have score under 55
  • Medium-GI food have score between 55 and 70
  • High-GI food have score above 70

Examples of food with high GI are:

  • High carbohydrate foods such as white breads, white rice, white noodles, brown rice
  • Sweet fruits such as melons, pumpkin, potatoes
  • Breakfast cereals such as cornflakes, instant oat porridge, rice porridge

Examples of food with low GI are:

  • Barley, rolled oats
  • Butter bean, chickpeas, carrots, lentils
  • Non-starchy vegetables
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Milk
  • Meats, eggs, seafood
  • Nuts, olive oil
  • Fish such as salmon, sardine, mackerel

Although milk is classified as a low-GI food, it may contribute to the occurrence of acne because it disrupts the hormone levels which may in turn cause hormonal acne to flare up.

While there is little evidence to substantiate claims that certain foods can help fight acne, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve acne.

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An anti-acne diet or doctor treatment?

Watching your food intake is only part of a broader, holistic approach of managing acne. It can be difficult to control the food intake and to know which food to eat and avoid. Furthermore, a diet that may work for one person may not work for another.

People who suffer from moderate to severe acne should consult a doctor for an appropriate course of treatment. Your doctor may recommend carbon laser peel or chemical peel as part of in-clinic acne treatment. Topical medication containing retinoids may be given as washes, solutions, lotions, gels or creams. In more severe cases, a course of antibiotics may be required.

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