Best Foods for Clear Skin

If you’ve been looking for a natural remedy for clear skin, look no further than your kitchen. Long suspected and recently proven, the foods we eat affect the appearance of our skin. Many healthy choices like fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains can contribute to clear, glowing skin. Foods rich in sugar and fats can do just the opposite, leading to increased oil production and acne. 

Woman preparing healthy food in her kitchen

Westend61 / Getty Images

Foods To Eat

The foods that promote clear skin will probably come as no surprise. They are loaded with healthy nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants, and probiotics. Consuming healthy foods like fresh vegetables and lean proteins allows our bodies to function at their best, and their benefits also show up on our skin. 

Low-Glycemic Foods 

Low-glycemic foods contribute to clear skin because of the way our bodies break them down. The glycemic index is used to measure how much a particular food increases your blood sugar level. Low-glycemic foods only have a minor effect on blood sugar. 

When your blood sugar spikes after eating a high-glycemic food, your body responds with increased inflammation and sebum production in the skin. Both inflammation and excess sebum can lead to breakouts. A U.S. study found that 87% of 2,258 participants noticed less acne after starting a low-glycemic index diet, and 91% of them said they needed less acne medication. 

Examples of low-glycemic foods include:

  • Some fruits, including apples, banana, blueberries, cherries and oranges
  • Vegetables, such as carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers
  • Whole grains
  • Beans, like kidney beans and lentils

Probiotic Foods

Probiotics have been linked to clearer skin because of their effect on our gut and skin microbiomes. Acne and skin irritation can be caused by bacteria on skin-clogging pores. Probiotics help to regulate the bacteria in our bodies, preventing overgrowth. 

A study found that incorporating oral probiotics into acne treatment can be helpful for achieving clearer skin. Probiotics are available as supplements or in certain foods.

Foods rich in probiotics include:

  • Fermented foods like miso, kimchi, and some cheeses
  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Kombucha 

Omega-3 Healthy Fats 

Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, may contribute to clearer skin. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to decrease inflammation in the body, and this can help reduce acne. A 2008 study found that taking a daily omega-3 supplement led to an overall decrease in acne and skin inflammation. The study also found that patients who took omega-3 fatty acid supplements noted an improved mood and sense of well-being after two months.

Omega-3-rich foods to start incorporating include:

  • Fish, including mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies
  • Oysters
  • Flax seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts 
  • Soybeans 

Lean Protein

Switching to a diet rich in lean proteins may promote clear skin because of its hormonal effects in the body. A study found that eating a high-protein, low-glycemic-load diet significantly reduced signs of acne. Researchers believed this was due to the fact that study participants showed decreases in both androgens and growth hormones after implementing the new diet. High levels of these hormones are associated with an increased risk for acne. Study participants also lost weight during the study, which may have contributed to skin benefits as well.

Lean proteins to add to your diet include:

  • Chicken breast
  • White meat turkey
  • Whitefish
  • Beans and lentils
  • Egg whites 

Plants

You just can’t eat too many plants, especially if you’re after clearer skin. The fiber and polyphenols in plants improve gut health and lead to lower levels of inflammation in the body. Because inflammation can lead to an increase in the hormones that worsen acne, eating plants reduces breakouts and improves the look and feel of the skin.

Powerhouse plants to start adding to your diet for clearer skin include:

  • Greens and vegetables
  • Quinoa 
  • Beans and lentils
  • Oats
  • Chia seeds 

Foods To Avoid

As you start incorporating more skin health-boosting foods into your diet, you should avoid foods that make your skin more prone to breakouts as well. Foods rich in sugar and saturated fats contribute to inflammation in the body. Increased inflammation can lead to an increase in the hormones that lead to acne. 

Milk

The relationship between low-fat dairy and acne is still being studied, but there seems to be a link between the two. Studies show that drinking cow’s milk is associated with more breakouts. One study found that women who drank two glasses of milk per day were 44% more likely to experience acne. It’s possible that the hormones in milk lead to inflammation in the body.

When our skin is inflamed, the pores can become clogged, which leads to acne. Other types of dairy, like yogurt and cheese, have not been linked to an increased risk of acne, however. The fat content of cow’s milk does not appear to make a difference in how it affects the skin.

Saturated Fats

Eating a diet rich in saturated fats from meat and dairy is associated with increased production of androgens and growth hormones. These are the hormones that are known to increase sebum production in the skin and lead to clogged pores and acne.

Aim to limit the following saturated fats in your diet:

  • Red meat like beef and pork
  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Hydrogenated oils 

Sugar

Here’s another reason to cut out sugar from your diet: It can lead to dull skin and wrinkles over time. Sugar contributes to inflammation and the breakdown of collagen, which is a protein in the skin that helps it look more youthful. A lack of collagen leads to sagging skin and eventually wrinkles. 

Speaking of sugar, chocolate can also contribute to acne. A study found that boys and men who were prone to acne reported more lesions and breakouts when eating chocolate compared with a group abstaining from chocolate.

For clearer skin, try limiting the following sugary foods:

  • Sweets and candies
  • Processed foods
  • Soda  

Food: It’s Personal

The link between food and skin is not fully understood, and it’s important to note that food and nutrients affect each of us differently. For example, your skin may react to milk while others' skin does not. Pay attention to changes in your skin and see if you can pinpoint any foods that may be causing issues for you. Your dermatologist can be helpful in problem-solving and developing a clear skin eating plan tailored to your needs. 

A Word From Verywell

While your diet may be contributing to some of your skin issues, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. The rules for a healthy body and healthy skin are not that different: Opt for nutritious and unprocessed foods that are low in fats and sugar. If you’re interested in changing the way you eat to get clearer skin, reach for nutritious snacks like chopped vegetables, oatmeal with berries and probiotic-rich yogurt while cutting back on sugar. It's important for you to stay away from foods that may contribute to acne at the same time. Talk with your dermatologist if you need help developing an eating plan for clear skin.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Can the right diet get rid of acne?

  2. UW Health. Acne and Your Diet: How the Glycemic Index Affects the Skin. Updated September 11, 2015.

  3. Goodarzi A, Mozafarpoor S, Bodaghabadi M, Mohamadi M. The potential of probiotics for treating acne vulgaris: A review of literature on acne and microbiota. Dermatol Ther. 2020 May;33(3):e13279. doi: 10.1111/dth.13279

  4. Rubin MG, Kim K, Logan AC. Acne vulgaris, mental health and omega-3 fatty acids: a report of cases. Lipids Health Dis. 2008 Oct 13;7:36. doi: 10.1186/1476-511X-7-36.

  5. Smith RN, Mann NJ, Braue A, Mäkeläinen H, Varigos GA. The effect of a high-protein, low glycemic-load diet versus a conventional, high glycemic-load diet on biochemical parameters associated with acne vulgaris: a randomized, investigator-masked, controlled trial. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007 Aug;57(2):247-56. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2007.01.046

  6. Clark AK, Haas KN, Sivamani RK. Edible Plants and Their Influence on the Gut Microbiome and Acne. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 May 17;18(5):1070. doi: 10.3390/ijms18051070.

  7. Cleveland Clinic. Want Healthy Skin? LImit These 5 Foods. Updated December 22, 2020.

  8. Caperton C, Block S, Viera M, Keri J, Berman B. Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Study Assessing the Effect of Chocolate Consumption in Subjects with a History of Acne Vulgaris. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014 May;7(5):19-23.