Does Sugar Cause Acne?


Let’s talk about sugar and acne. While sugar scrubs are commonly used to exfoliate the surface of your skin, regularly ingesting sugar may have a very different effect on your acne.

Have you ever noticed that your skin breakouts get worse after a few days of indulging in desserts? Though people with acne suspect that sugar is a trigger for breakouts, decreasing sugar intake is not a common treatment recommendation for acne.

Scientists are finally learning more about the relationship between sugar and acne . Although the current research is somewhat inconsistent, there’s evidence that high intakes of sugar and refined carbohydrates may trigger or exacerbate breakouts. Let’s find out why.

Related Reading: Is Dairy Causing your Breakouts?


Most of the better quality studies on sugar and acne examined the effects of eating a high glycemic index diet on acne development and severity. The Glycemic Index (GI) measures how much a specific food increases your blood sugar. Consuming high GI foods can cause significant increases in your blood sugar.

The GI is not used often since it doesn’t take serving sizes or nutritional benefits of various carbohydrates into account. Conversely, Glycemic Load (GL) measures how certain foods impact blood sugar based on standard serving sizes of specific foods. Foods that score high on the GL also significantly increase your blood sugar compared to low-GL foods.

Here are some examples of high-GL foods:

  • Products made with white flour (breads, bagels, pastas, desserts)
  • Soda
  • Juice
  • Desserts and candy
  • Sugar
  • Sweetened cereals
  • White rice
  • Dried fruits

The stronger studies on this topic suggest that a high-GL diet (high in refined carbohydrates and sugar-containing foods) may increase the development and severity of acne. In one study, research participants decreased total and inflammatory acne lesions after 12-weeks on a low-GL diet compared to participants following a high-GL diet. What’s more, another study found that research participants following a low-GL diet had lower levels of sebum (oil secretions) production in their skin. Excess sebum production is a known risk factor for acne development. 


The body rapidly digests and absorbs sugar and refined carbohydrates. This results in a drastic increase in blood sugar (also known as glucose). Elevated blood glucose triggers a reactive and exaggerated release of the hormone insulin into your blood stream. High levels of insulin in the blood trigger the release of growth hormones that increase sebum production, unregulated cellular growth, and androgen production. Cue the pimples.


Decreasing your intake of high glycemic load foods, like sugar and refined carbohydrates, is a promising strategy for preventing and treating acne. The research on this topic has not yet defined how much sugar/refined carbohydrate intake is necessary to influence acne development. Additionally, decreasing your intake of these foods can have tremendous benefits for overall health even if you don’t notice a substantial difference in your skin (although I have found that most people do).

Recommended Reading: Acne: The Role of Medical Nutrition Therapy

Have you noticed any difference in your skin when you eliminate sugar? Share your own nutrition secrets for healthy skin in the comments section!

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