Research shows that sugar consumption can be related to some skin conditions.

It is common for teens age 13-19 to experience ‘Pimples’ or Acne Vulgaris, affecting 80-90% of this population – fortunately, it often resolves after the hormones of puberty settle down.  In our society we are now seeing more severe scarring forms, more adult acne or Acne Congoblata and Rosacea –  these are all forms of inflamed red infected thickened skin which persist past these teen years into adult life.

In the clinic my patients want to know why? – “Is it chocolate, fatty takeaway, milk, make-up or soap?”  All common concerns and all likely to have a small contributing part to play, but after research and observing the most effecting change, it seems the direct consumption of a high quantity of processed sugar driving the insulin pathway leads to higher persistent inflammation.

‘Acne is reported to be less common in people that have a diet with lower glycemic index, eg natives from Kitava and Papua New Guinea, the Ache people of Paraguay, Inuits and rural residents of Kenya, Zambia and Bantu. These people tend to become sexually mature at a later age than in the cities where higher glycemic index foods are consumed.”  (2) Early puberty is associated with earlier onset and more severe acne that tends to peak at the time of full maturity (age 16 to 18).

Sugar Consumption and the Effect on Skin Conditions

Four causes of acne:

  1. Inflammation
  2. A defect in cell production
  3. Increased oil gland activity
  4. Increased bacteria

Three effects of treatments like Isoretinoid or Roacutane:

  1. Anti-inflammatory
  2. Reduce oil production
  3. Reduces bacteria

What is inflammation?  It is a two step process which increases blood supply to an area of tissue – the skin in this case –  causing redness. Secondly, surrounding chemicals cause vessels to become leaky and allow fluid to escape into the tissue which results in swelling. Redness, heat, impaired function and pain are all associated with inflammation.  It is a protective process driven by the surrounding messengers. With an environment of poor quality fat and high insulin created from excess sugar consumption, this process is activated.

Glucocorticosteroid therapy is another treatment which is effective in acne – it works by affecting carbohydrate and protein metabolism to reduce inflammation.  This has greater side effect than benefits in most cases. is an excellent free open source of medical information about the skin.

Here are some references relevant to inflammation, insulin, high glycemic foods and acne.


  1. Bhate K, Williams HC. Epidemiology of acne vulgaris. Br J Dermatol. 2013 Mar;168(3):474-85. doi: 10.1111/bjd.12149. Review. PubMed PMID: 23210645.
  2. Tanghetti EA. The Role of Inflammation in the Pathology of Acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2013 Sep;6(9):27-35. Review. PubMed PMID: 24062871; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3780801.
  3. Kumari R, Thappa DM. Role of insulin resistance and diet in acne. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2013 May-Jun;79(3):291-9. doi: 10.4103/0378-6323.110753. Review. PubMed PMID: 23619434.
  4. Burris J, Rietkerk W, Woolf K. Acne: the role of medical nutrition therapy. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013 Mar;113(3):416-30. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.11.016. Review. PubMed PMID: 23438493.