A Dermatologist on the Worst Foods for Your Skin

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

If you are what you eat, one of the first places to see the result of what you’re putting in your stomach is on your skin. Unfortunately, there’s not much clear scientific evidence on what foods will make your skin perfect, but doctors and researchers sure know plenty on what will cause problems. 

We asked Johns Hopkins Hospital dermatologist Dr. Crystal Aguh about the foods that are the absolute worst for your skin.

White flour and white sugar

Virtually everything delicious made with white flour and/or sugar is referred to as a “high glycemic index food.” When you eat this stuff, all that sugar enters your blood (the faster the rise in blood sugar, the higher the glycemic index of the food) and causes a crazy reaction that comes out on your skin.

“Once your blood sugar rises, your body starts to produce insulin to counteract that rise,” Dr. Aguh explains. “Insulin signals your body to start releasing chemicals that cause inflammation.” So what’s that got to do with your skin? Duh: That red pimple is inflamed. 

 And we’re not even going into the roles of these foods in obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, all of which will make you one sick person with horrible skin. It’s also suspected that glucose and fructose may be bad for collagen and elastin, which are you want to preserve to avoid wrinkles.


The highest concentration of pimples on your face probably happened when you were a teen, and it was because your hormones were bouncing off the walls. You may be past those years, but milk -- which contains natural hormones from cows and sometimes added ones, like rbGH -- can actually do a number on your own hormones, too. 

“It’s really male hormones in our bodies that drive acne, whether you’re a man or a woman,” says Dr. Aguh. Thanks, guys!  The hormones in milk can boost the action of the male hormones, which make your oil glands shift into higher gear, leading to clogged pores. Milk can also screw up another hormone in your body, triggering an inflammatory reaction that gives you a case of the pizza face.

Soda and fries

Contrary to popular belief, the oil from the fryer doesn't immediately get excreted as pore-clogging oil on your skin. Biology isn't quite that simple, but as Dr. Aguh points out, “Fried foods and soda are also foods that would have a high glycemic index.” 


You knew this was coming -- what is it with the best things in life causing so many problems? Sadly, your skin is more than 60% water, and alcohol is pretty darn dehydrating, so that’s going to cause some imbalance. Granted, Dr. Aguh says, “There’s not really convincing evidence that drinking more water makes your skin glow or healthier,” but depleting your body of water definitely won't do it either. 

Packaged foods

Along with those cookies, chips, and frozen meals, you’re swallowing artificial additives and preservatives, not to mention lots of salt and sugar. And none of these make your skin happy. All over the world, people are eating food that comes out of a factory, and scientists had to go pretty far to find out what would happen if we didn’t. “There is actually a population in Papua New Guinea that eats really minimally processed foods,” Dr. Aguh says. “And in that population, acne is nonexistent.” 

As in, literally no one has acne. Researchers traveled to Kitava, the tiny island where these people live, to figure out just how unprocessed their diets are and what they look like, and concluded that the junk we love isn’t doing our skin any good.

So the recipe for perfect, youthful skin is simple: avoid alcohol, sugar, dairy, processed foods, and packaged goods, and you’ll be set for life! Actually, that old, wise, grizzled looks may be more appealing.

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Marina Komarovsky is a freelance writer for Thrillist, and now she kinda wants to check out the Kitava Islands. For more on nutrition, check out her tweets @MariKomarovsky.