A young woman looking in the bathroom mirror at her acne.

What Causes Acne?

Acne (a.k.a. zits or pimples), affects over 85 percent of teenagers. They occur when pores, which drain the oil-producing glands in the skin, get blocked. This plug forms whiteheads (if under the skin) or blackheads (if the plug is visible). When the pore gets blocked, it may get infected by skin bacteria, causing the red, inflamed pustular acne.

Acne usually begins along with the increased sex hormone production that accompanies puberty (e.g., DHEA, estrogen and testosterone). These hormones increase the production of skin oils (sebum) and the glands that make them, causing the acne to flare.

High sugar and carbs in the diet can stimulate increased levels of these hormones and increase acne formation. In addition, scratching or irritating a pimple causes it to get inflamed.

General Diet Advice to Heal Acne

People who live in non-industrialized countries with a healthy unprocessed diet simply don't get zits — until they move to the U.S. or Europe!

  • Avoid sugar and high carbohydrate foods
  • A high protein and low sugar diet decreases acne by half after 12 weeks. The good news — chocolate has been shown not to cause acne.
  • Avoid milk and cheese products for 6-10 weeks. This helps in some cases. If it helps after 6 weeks, cut back on milk products.

Recommended Supplements for Acne

It can take 6 weeks to see the benefits of acne treatments.

  • Vitamin A 2,000-4,000 units/day helps dry the skin. Caution: Over 4,000 units a day is bad for bone development (if used long term); over 8,000 units a day can cause birth defects; and over 25,000 units a day can cause liver problems—so higher doses should only be used with the guidance of a health practitioner (beta carotene is OK but does not help the acne). Vitamin A skin creams are safe (e.g., Retin A).
  • Zinc 15-30 mg/day increases the effectiveness of the vitamin A and speeds skin healing.
  • Fish oil is helpful in those with moderate to severe acne, but actually worsens mild acne. Use a supplement that only has the omega 3 you need without the oil.
  • If constipated (less than a daily bowel movement) add fiber to your diet (e.g., vegetables, whole grain cereal low in sugar for breakfast).
  • Chromium, 200-400 mcg/day (optional).
  • Vitamin B6, 50-100 mg/day (optional).
  • Drinking aloe vera juice 4-8 oz a day helps skin healing.


Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, MD

Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is a board certified internist and author of the popular free iPhone application “Cures A-Z,” which was ranked in the top 10 of all health/wellness downloads on iTunes.

Dr. Teitelbaum is the author of the perennial bestseller From Fatigued to Fantastic! (Avery Penguin), which has sold over half a million copies; Pain Free 1-2-3 (McGraw-Hill); Three Steps to Happiness: Healing Through Joy (Deva Press); the Beat Sugar Addiction Now! series (Fair Winds Press);  Real Cause, Real Cure (Rodale Press); The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution (Penguin/Avery); and his latest, The Complete Guide to Beating Sugar Addiction (Fair Winds Press, 2015).