Changes in Diet Can Improve Acne

An array of healthy foods.
An array of healthy foods.
Dietary interventions cannot only improve acne but have the opportunity to improve overall health.

The standard Western diet high in refined carbohydrates and meat protein can result in the overexpression of mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1), a kinase associated with increased acne development and aggravation, according to a study data published in Dermatologic Therapy. According to the authors of this paper, additional evidence supports the role of high-glycemic load diets on acne development, which further establishes the link between diet and acne.

Primary metabolic and dietary factors associated with mTORC1 activation include glucose, insulin, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), and the amino acid leucine. The standard American diet is typically rich in high-glycemic foods, including refined carbohydrates and sugar, which adds to the growing hypothesis that mTORC1 activation may be contributing to acne at a higher rate in the Western world. Considering that cases of acne appear to be higher in these regions, previous and ongoing research continues to study the role of the kinase in patients with the disease, the investigators noted.

Other dietary factors may be a cause of concern in regard to acne development and/or aggravation. Evidence points to components in dairy – including estrogens and androgens, 5-α-reduced steroids, glucocorticoids, and IGF-1 – which may impact the pilosebaceous unit in the skin. In addition, skim milk and factors involved in its processing may play a role in comedogenicity and acne development. A synthetic analog of vitamin D may also be associated with mTOR signaling, and high-fiber diets have also been shown to result in improvements in skin health in some studies.

According to the authors of this paper, the visible signs of acne can be an indicator of increased mTORC1 activity and a possible predictor of future metabolic diseases, including obesity and insulin resistance. The authors concluded that reducing “over-stimulated mTORC1 signaling through diet might have beneficial effects not only on acne, but it may also prevent the development of more serious, chronic diseases of civilization.” Dietary intervention, they argue, would include decreasing total energy intake via reduction of sugar, dairy protein, and foods high in leucine.


Clatici VG, Voicu C, Barinova E, Lupu M, Tatu AL. Butterfly effect and acne – the role of diet [published online June 15, 2020]. Dermatol Ther. doi: 10.1111/dth.13832