The relationship between spicy food and acne is a controversial one, to say the least as people have long been arguing whether certain hot foods can exacerbate the inflammatory condition or even cause it in the first place.
It doesn’t happen to everyone, but for some people, spicy food can cause acne flare-ups. This may be connected to the biological response known as vasodilation which is a temporary enlargement of the capillaries that make the skin appear redder and more inflamed.
Vasodilation is known to happen when you are ingesting warm or spicy food.
However, even despite several studies being conducted on whether spicy food causes acne or not, we still don’t have a definite answer.
Some people experience breakouts right after eating spicy foods and others can eat all the spicy food in this world and have skin as clear as glass.
In this article, I will go in-depth on how did we get to the conclusion that spicy food can cause acne flare-ups, and try and set the record straight once and for all.
Can Spicy Food Aggravate Acne?
Yes and no. But the answer is, as always, slightly more nuanced than that. It is certainly correct that spicy food can aggravate acne for some people.
But if this is the only correct answer, how do you explain when spicy food doesn’t cause or aggravate acne for others?
Mainly, acne is caused by:
- Overproduction of facial oil. This fatty substance, known as sebum, begins by blocking your pores.
- Abnormal skin cell shedding. The skin cells in your pores stick together, further contributing to those blockages.
- Inflammation. The immune response is what turns a simple blockage into a painful pimple. Inflammation can arise from too much sebum and too many skin cells but, confusingly, it can also cause too much sebum and too many skin cells.
- Microbial imbalance. Too much of one type of bacteria living on the skin (or not enough of another) can exacerbate the inflammatory response.
So, to treat acne, you need to use products or ingredients that have been backed by research and evidence to work on soothing inflammation and clearing out the pores.
This research usually involves a “gold-standard” trial where one randomly assigned group of people receives said product and another randomly assigned group receives a placebo product.
Neither the people giving the product nor the people receiving it know which product is the real deal and the placebo. This is done to reduce the risk of bias.
After a set time period, differences are observed or measured between the two groups. If the group receiving the product has improved more than the group receiving the placebo, the product is deemed effective.
But what does this have to do with spicy food and acne? Well, as you see, the gold-standard trial works very well when you are testing a product. You’re changing one thing and expecting a result.
But how do you conduct a “gold-standard” trial with spicy food? You would have to hold a clinical trial for years and submit a large group of people with acne to a strict diet that can potentially keep aggravating their issues.
It would be both slow and unethical, too, but it is mainly super unrealistic.
Therefore, the studies done with spicy food, salty foods, sugary foods, high GI foods, etc., usually end up resulting in very minimal differences, often offering unclear results of whether or not said foods can cause or aggravate acne.
Food affects lots of body systems at once. Whereas products are designed to work quickly and give a specific result, food is slow and cumulative.
It could be spicy food wasn’t causing any skin issues for someone but it started doing so when they entered puberty, which is often connected with overactive hormones and excess sebum production.
This means that spicy food may or may not be causing the problem. Some people can eat spicy foods without experiencing skin issues while others need to be more careful about what they eat.
It’s similar to weight gain. If you have a slow metabolism and it’s relatively easy for you to gain weight – you need to eat less food compared to someone who has a fast metabolism if you are aiming to maintain a specific weight.
We are not all the same and we should learn how to listen to our body so that we can nourish it better and achieve the physical state that we are most comfortable to be in.
Spicy food has been linked to acne before but several studies, including a major one done on both spicy and salty food that consisted of 400 people – had an unclear result that said: “there was no correlation detected between the foods and the severity of the condition”.
This study is a little flawed, in my opinion, because it’s not listed how long did the trial take, what were the participants given to eat, and how exactly were they monitored. So, I choose to take it with a grain of salt.
But what does all this tell us?
This tells us that certain foods may very well be acne triggers for some people but not for others. It doesn’t mean the food should be demonized or completely avoided out of fear it will cause you acne.
You should be mindful of trigger foods and consume them in moderation.
Consuming something in moderation and completely staying away from it are two different things.
At the end of the day, having a good overall diet and an excellent skincare routine that works for your skin type and skin concerns are more important for clear and healthy skin.
Feel free to enjoy the foods you like but be mindful about triggers and don’t keep assaulting your body with foods that are causing you inflammation just because you don’t want to exercise self-control.
Food and Acne FAQs
Below, I am going to answer a couple of Google’s most frequently asked questions regarding food and acne:
Does Greasy Food Cause Acne?
Pretty much like spicy food, the connection between greasy food and acne is nuanced. Greasy food can cause acne for some people, however, it doesn’t mean that it will necessarily do that to everyone.
However, having a diet that consists of entirely greasy food is by default unhealthy. It can lead to many known health conditions such as high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, and even diabetes.
What Other Foods Cause Acne?
Typically foods that have a high glycemic index (GI) have been mostly linked to being the cause behind acne due to triggering insulin which then stimulates the sebaceous glands to produce more and more oil that clogs your pores.
Foods that contain high glycemic index (GI) are typically sugary foods such as:
- soft drinks
- sugary foods
- sauces such as BBQ and ketchup
- salad dressings
Additionally, here’s a list of 60+ foods and their glycemic index that you can check out for more specific information.
Thanks for stopping by! My name is Simone and I am a certified skin specialist. I created this website to teach my readers how to take great care of their skin and I also like to occasionally share my honest opinions on skincare products I’ve tried. You can learn more about me here.