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Does Spicy Food Cause Acne?

‘You are what you eat’ has never made more sense till the effects of spices were studied on acne prone skin. A study conducted by Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal deduced that spicy food can trigger acne breakouts.

A drop of hot sauce can kick start the taste buds but with it brings a side line of acne and a dash of rosacea!

The acidic lycopene in spicy food irritates the skin and alter the PH level which leads to acne break out. They are a ‘trigger factor’. The spices can cause inflammation within the body which in turn results in acne. Let us make one thing clear, spicy food do not cause acne but if one is sensitive to spicy food and have acne prone skin, they may develop break outs along with broken capillaries and hot flushes.

At times, it is how our body reacts to the spice, for example if you are not use to spicy food, after consuming it you may sweat excessively, your system may not be use to the inflammation and acidic PH and cause irritation on your face.

According to Dr. Waldorf, spicy food can dilate blood vessels causing an increase in blood flow at the surface of skin making skin appear reddish in those who are prone to rosacea or going through menopause.

Inflammation is a normal process in which the body tries to combat foreign particles and protect our system. It is a protective mechanism. The issue begins when the system identifies innocuous substance like spicy food and prolongs inflammation in the body which creates a tornado in our system and may appear on skin such as:

  • Acne- Inflammation causes increased production of sebum which clogs pores and that’s when the vicious cycle of acne begins.
  • Broken Capillaries- Inflammation causes capillaries to dilate and repeated episodes of it can cause capillaries to break and appear as flushing, redness, itching and warm upon touch.
  • Rosacea can be a consequence of consuming spicy food.

Should You Stop Eating Spicy Food?

If you are a regular consumer of spicy food and there are no issues with skin, there is nothing to be worried about. In case one is sensitive to spicy food, has acne prone, sensitive skin that is where the challenge lies and in that case it is better to cut down on spicy food or eliminate from diet completely.

As mentioned earlier, hot peppers and other spicy foods cause intense sweating, if one is not use to it and there is an increased release of oil which again aggravates acne. So it is best to keep in mind to be in a cooler environment while consuming spicy food if quitting is not an option.

Side Effects of Spicy Food

Not only the skin, consuming spicy food on a regular basis affects the entire system in many ways such as:

Acid Reflux

The capsaicin in spicy food slow down digestion and the time food remains in the stomach are longer. This means the chances of food returning to esophagus elongates which in turn raises the likelihood of developing gastritis. The patient will experience episodic heart burn, stomach ache and other associated symptoms. When contents move back upward to esophagus from stomach it may also give out bad breath.

Gastritis

The inflammation caused by spicy food can irritate the stomach and cause gastritis where the patient develops acute symptoms of nausea, vomiting and feeling of fullness in the upper abdomen after eating.

Diarrhea

Spicy seasoning is one of the commonest causes of food induced diarrhea. The capsaicin in some spicy food can irritate the stomach or intestine lining and that may have a laxative effect.

Insomnia

Lying down makes heart burn worse as it is easier for the acids to have a retrograde flow back to esophagus and that can lead to a disrupted sleep cycle and insomnia. This is why it is recommended to avoid spicy food at night.

Hoarse Voice

Even though rare, having spicy food can irritate and cause inflammation in the vocal cords and as a result one may have hoarse voice.

8 Foods Which Contribute in the Development of Acne

The association between food and acne has been controversial but in recent studies, it has shown that diet is directly proportional in the development of acne. Certain foods may increase the production of sebum, oil content, keratin and even promote inflammation. Top 8 Foods which aggravate acne are as follows:

Food rich in refined Carbs

Include white bread, pasta made with white flour, soda, sugar infused beverages or dish, crackers etc. One study conducted concluded sugar consumers had a 30% increased chance of developing acne compared to someone who did not consume sugar. It was also found that people who consumed cakes or pastries had a 20% chance of developing acne.

The reasoning behind refined sugar is that it is absorbed in the blood stream faster raising the blood sugar rapidly and to combat high levels of sugar in the blood stream the body increases the insulin level to control the amount sugar and a raised level of insulin aggravates acne. This is because insulin is known to activate androgen hormone and insulin like growth factor which causes the skin cells to grow rapidly and increase sebum production simultaneously. This contributes to the development of acne. Low glycemic diet has shown to be effective in patients with acne.

Dairy Product

Dairy product has been known to contribute to the development of acne. Although research is limited it is important to not neglect the available research done about acne in teenagers and consumption of dairy products. It was noticed that teenagers who consumed acne had a higher probability of developing acne. Cow’s milk increase the level of IGF-1 synthesis in liver which raised insulin levels and that is known to be a contributing factor in developing acne.

Fast Food

Fast food such as burgers, fried chips, nuggets and many more are deep fried in oil. According to studies, consuming fast food on a regular basis increase the likelihood of developing acne by 17% among Chinese teenagers and consuming a high fat diet increased the risk by 43%. Researchers propose fast foods alter hormone levels and gene expression which leads to the risk of acne development.

Whey Protein Powder

Whey protein powder is a popular supplement in western diet. It is rich in amino acids such as leucine and glutamine which causes the skin to grow rapidly, produce more insulin and increasing severity of acne.

Lean Meat and Animal Protein

Lean Meat and Animal Protein cause acne but the reasoning is still unknown by researchers. Many say it may be due to the hormones injected in farm animals. The acne associated with meat is seen along the jaw line, cheeks and neck.

Chocolate

Chocolate has been found to aggravate acne. In a study it was seen that those who consume 100% cocoa did not show a significant rise in acne but dairy chocolates which contain milk and sugar demonstrated a rise in acne in patients. However the research is limited.

Omega 6 Fatty Acids

Omega 6 fatty acids are known to be pro inflammatory and are associated with the development of acne but again the research is limited. Salmon fish is an example of omega 6 fatty acid.

Salt

Salt dehydrates the body as it draws the water out and eliminates it. This causes the skin to be dry and the skin will make an attempt to combat it by producing more oil which increases the chance of a break out.

Do Spicy Food Cause Weight gain or Loss?

According to nutritionist Emma Derbyshire, capsaicinoids in chilies help to lose weight by increasing metabolism hence burning more calories and the capsaicin reduces the desire to eat more which could also contribute to the reason for weight loss. However the data provided is yet to be researched further.

Does milk cause Acne?

According to researchers, dairy farmed cows are injected with various artificial hormones that may affect humans if they consume milk from the farmed cows. Consuming milk from a cow, going through pregnancy can disrupt the hormonal balance in humans which can cause acne. Milk is known to stimulate oil glands and increase production of sebum which contributes to acne formation. Many patients have stated that their acne was better after eliminating dairy from their diet.

What Foods Prevent Acne?

Complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, whole wheat bread, brown rice, fruits and vegetables (not in juice form) help keep acne at bay.  Quinoa is also a healthy alternative to white rice for those who can’t go without it.

Vitamin A, E & D

A study has found vitamin A; E and D help reduce acne. Vitamin A can be found in feta cheese, butter, carrot, etc. Vitamin E can be found in broccoli, almonds and peanuts. The most natural source for vitamin D is sunlight. Other sources of vitamin D include tuna and mackerel. Supplements for vitamin A and D should be taken under a doctor’s supervision.

Pro-Biotic

Pro-biotic such as yoghurt and buttermilk helps keep a healthy gut hence reducing inflammation and reducing the chances of developing acne.

Turmeric

Turmeric is a natural anti inflammatory compound which contains curcumin. It is an antioxidant which reduces inflammation, acne causing bacteria, regulates blood pressure and is a reserve of health benefits since the prehistoric era.

Zinc

Zinc supplements have demonstrated better effectiveness than clindamycin or erythromycin and are recommended for acne patients as it is a natural anti-inflammatory and combats acne causing bacteria. Foods such as oyster, pumpkin seeds, kidney beans contain zinc.

Adequate Hydration

Adequate hydration is essential for clear and an acne free skin in order to eliminate toxins and restore the water lost from the body.

Summary: Consuming food which reduce inflammation or do not aggravate it are recommended for patients with acne.

How to Prevent Acne Caused by Spicy Food?

One has to recognize what sort of food aggravates their acne. It is not necessary the triggers are same for all acne patients. Each case has its unique trigger factors. For example one may have an acne breakout after consuming dark chocolate on a regular basis while others may not.

It is important to consume small portions of spicy food, if the body is not use to spices. If possible, it is important to eliminate spicy food from the diet in order to aggravate acne condition.

‘Clean’ eating can help prevent acne which not only involves limiting the ‘spicometer’ and maintaining a balanced diet. A low glycemic diet is recommended in acne patients and according to studies the development of acne has drastically reduced among those who followed a low glycemic diet.

Other than diet, It has various factors such as managing daily stress, having a balanced diet and proper hydration to drain out the toxins and replenish the cells. Most importantly if one has recognized that spicy food make acne worse, it is best to avoid it.

Conclusion

It is best to remember the fact that our skin is a reflection of the quality of our diet and the internal environment of the body. However Acne is an inflammatory condition and spicy food such as chilies contain substances which increase inflammation in the body contributing to the development of acne. Spicy food may not be a direct cause of acne but may aggravate pre-existing acne or act as a trigger factor in an acne prone skin causing multiple flare ups and break outs.

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  5. Do Acne Scars Go Away?

Reference:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2836431/
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/chemistry/lycopene

Hi this is Dr. Rimita Farid. I have completed my MBBS from MAHSA University in Kuala Lampur , Malaysia and currently a registered doctor in Bangladesh. I am training in Dermatology and Venerology and writing for me has been a hobby, even before i decided to be a doctor. I believe our lives are getting stressful with every moment and i believe writing is the solution to all our problems. The power of pen and paper is highly underestimated by many, and i am blessed that i realized how stimulating writing can be for my well being. Hope my articles are relatable and can reach as many readers as possible.