Dermatologists Share The 1 Food They Never (Or Rarely) Eat

Certain foods (and entire food groups) can cause inflammation that triggers skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, rosacea and eczema.
You may be surprised to find out which of the ingredients in this sandwich can cause inflammation.
Maren Caruso via Getty Images
You may be surprised to find out which of the ingredients in this sandwich can cause inflammation.

If you’re like me, you grew up hearing all kinds of questionable advice about what you should and shouldn’t eat if you want clear, glowing skin. The “chocolate causes acne” myth is one that is oft-repeated, but blessedly, it’s been found to be more urban legend than empirically proven fact.

When it comes to the human body, few things are as simple as “X causes Y” — cutting out or adding any given food is unlikely to be the magic bullet for beautiful skin. But there are some links between diet and skin health that are backed by reliable evidence.

“Patients commonly ask about dietary modifications to help improve their skin or control certain skin diseases,” said Dr. Tiffany J Libby, a Rhode Island-based board-certified dermatologist. “The short answer is that diet can absolutely affect your skin, and we are learning more about the responsible pathways for how it does so.”

As a result, there are some foods you’re not likely to catch certain dermatologists eating for lunch. We spoke to several skin docs about the foods they do and don’t eat for the sake of their skin. Keep in mind that there’s no one-size-fits-all prescription for skin health, but keep reading for guidelines these dermatologists use in their own lives.


Today’s milk moustache could be tomorrow’s breakout. Several of the doctors we spoke to say they severely limit their intake of dairy products, if not cut them out altogether.

“Dairy products, especially high-fat milk, and cheese, contain hormones that can trigger acne in some people,” said Dr. Yoram Harth, a board-certified dermatologist. “Milk contains an androgen precursor that can increase oil production and clog pores, while cheese contains a high amount of saturated fat, leading to inflammation in the body and skin.”

There is actually a pretty substantial body of research that links acne and dairy consumption, especially milk itself — whole, low-fat and skim milk included. Researchers haven’t figured out why, exactly, but some hypothesise that the protein whey is to blame. If you struggle with breakouts, you might want to consider cutting back on (or eliminating) milk and other dairy-based foods.

Fried foods

It probably doesn’t come as much of a shock to hear that many dermatologists advise to stay away from oily, fried foods like doughnuts, fried chicken and french fries.

“Fried foods are often high in unhealthy fats, particularly trans fats and saturated fats,” said Dr. Asmi Sanghvi, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. She mentioned, first and foremost, that these kinds of fats can impact your overall health ― but the effects might show up on your skin, too.

“From a skin health perspective, research has shown that diets high in unhealthy fats may contribute to inflammation in the body, including the skin,” Sanghvi said. “Inflammation is a common factor in many skin conditions, including acne, psoriasis and eczema. A diet high in unhealthy fats may also contribute to the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin, leading to premature aging and the development of wrinkles.”

Fizzy drinks

This one isn’t terribly surprising, but several of the doctors we interviewed specifically called out fizzy drinks as something they never or rarely consume. The primary reason for that, Sanghvi said, is the high sugar content present in most fizzy drinks.

The sugar in this drink, like the other foods on this list, can cause inflammation that can trigger skin conditions.
Boy_Anupong via Getty Images
The sugar in this drink, like the other foods on this list, can cause inflammation that can trigger skin conditions.

“Consuming large amounts of sugar can lead to increased inflammation throughout the body, which can exacerbate skin conditions such as acne, rosacea and eczema,” Sanghvi said. “Sugar can damage collagen and elastin fibres in the skin, which can contribute to wrinkles and premature aging.”

Sanghvi said sugar-free fizzy drinks aren’t a good alternative, because ”artificial sweeteners interfere with the body’s normal signals that control hunger and satiety,” increasing the risk that you might consume more sugar. She recommends skipping stevia, aspartame, sucralose and sugar alcohols like xylitol and maltitol in favour of natural sweeteners like monk fruit, honey or maple syrup.

Of course, anything that’s high in sugar can cause inflammation and contribute to signs of aging, not just soda. But, if you’re a big soda drinker, the beverages contain something else you should watch out for.

“Many sodas contain caffeine, which can dehydrate the body and leave the skin looking dry and dull,” Sanghvi said. “Dehydration can also lead to an impaired skin barrier, which can make the skin more susceptible to environmental damage and skin irritations.”

Sanghvi advises people to skip sugary drinks, including soda, as much as possible and hydrate with water instead.

Refined carbohydrates (pasta, bread)

Almost every doctor we spoke to mentioned that they try to limit their consumption of refined carbs like pasta, bread and white rice. Libby pointed out that these foods, like sugary drinks and desserts, have a high glycemic index.

“High glycemic index [foods] (i.e., white rice, white bread, sugary beverages, etc.) and dairy are examples of proposed dietary triggers for acne,” Libby said.

High glycemic index foods are ones the body is able to break down quickly, which can lead to spikes in blood glucose. There is some evidence linking low glycemic diets to reductions in acne; the American Academy of Dermatology Association notes that studies have not yet proved a causal relationship between high glycemic diets and acne, but there may be a link. Doctors and researchers hypothesize that high glycemic foods can cause inflammation as well as increased production of sebum (an oil produced by your skin).

“I, and I don’t think I’m alone, love my pastas, but try to eat them in moderation as these certainly fall in the high glycemic index chart for foods,” Libby said. “I try to look for foods that fall lower on the glycemic index (< 55) such as most fruits and vegetables, beans, minimally processed grains, pasta, low-fat dairy foods and nuts.”

Cured and processed neats

Dr. Roberta Del Campo, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist, pinpointed cured and processed meats as a group of foods that she avoids. Cured and processed meats, like hot dogs, sausages, bacon, pepperoni and salami, are frequently red-flagged by medical professionals because they’re linked to serious illnesses like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and several different cancers. If that weren’t reason enough to skip sausages, Del Campo says the nitrates in cured and processed meats can have a negative effect on skin health, as well.

“I avoid eating foods that are high in nitrates such as bacon, ham and hot dogs,” she said. “Nitrates are known to increase inflammation throughout the body. Skin is our biggest organ and inflammation can wreak havoc on it.”

Inflammation is the body’s natural immune response to injury or infection, and depending on the cause, it can manifest in the form of swelling, pain, fatigue or even psoriasis. The direct relationship between cured meats and skin health hasn’t been extensively studied in clinical settings, but knowing what effects they can have on overall health, there’s good reason to be wary.

Fermented foods, citrus and spinach (for some people)

If you have a skin condition that causes itching, like eczema or rosacea, some seemingly innocuous foods could be contributing to your symptoms. Fermented foods like kimchi and kombucha, citrus fruits, and even eggplant and spinach are all nutritionally rich foods, but they’re also high in histamines — the compound that’s activated in your body when you’re having an allergic reaction.

Typically, the body breaks down histamines with an enzyme called diamine oxidase, but if you’re taking in histamines faster than your body can break them down, it may exacerbate preexisting skin conditions. Dr. Dejarra Sims, a San Diego-based board-certified dermatologist, explained what some of her patients experience.

“Upon eating citrus they will have increased or new pimples, increased itching with hives and eczema, and increased redness and flushing with rosacea,” she said. For those who do have this sensitivity, “most will know immediately once I teach them to start paying attention to their diet and see a resolution of symptoms within one to two hours after eating.”

For most people, however, histamine-rich foods won’t have any effect, in which case you can eat all the oranges and kimchi your heart desires.

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