Peace For All

July 7, 2006

Treating Your Acne: Part 1 – Diet Modification

Filed under: acne, health — Devlin Bentley @ 8:11 am

Welcome to the first part in my series on how to treat your acne.Today, I will write about one of the most hotly debated topics in acne treatment: diet modification.

For a long time I refused to believe that diet could have an affect on my skin. All the information out there about diet and acne was based on old wives tales, rumors, and gossip. Not exactly a sound basis to make a decision, especially if that decision involved giving up chocolate or some other food that I like!

Suffice to say, this article would not exist if I had not found some evidence that diet and nutrition can, and should, make up part of an acne treatment plan.

As I mentioned in Part 0, even after having found a reliable topical treatment, I was still having seemingly random breakouts. Having a naturally logical mind, I proceeded to diagnose the problem step by step; by analyzing everything that was occurring and changing, and by assuming nothing was as I thought it was. In the end, after trying all sorts of bizarre solutions, I finally found a single correlating factor between my acne breakouts and my activities throughout the day.Honey Covered Oats.

If I eat a bowl of honey covered oats, almost any cereal that has the word “oats” and the word “honey” on it, I have a breakout. Within an hour of eating a bowl of such cereal, whiteheads start to form on my face. They form so fast I can feel them rising up from my skin.

Testing my hypothesis was quite simple. Buy a box of such cereal. Eat a bowl, note the formation of new white heads that very day.

Wait a few days until my topical treatments have removed the white heads. Note the lack of any new white heads in the intervening time frame. Eat a bowl, note new white heads.

Unfortunately I did not have the time during the school year to save the various boxes that I tried out to find exactly what ingredient was causing the problem, but I did notice that this occurred even when eating “all natural” (not labeled organic though) brands that contained relatively few ingredients in comparison to the big name cerals, which tend to include oats, honey, and a dozen or more other chemicals.

The cereal also effected Rosia (readers of my other blogs will know her) in a similar way, though not as dramatically.

Eating whole grain bread did not have this effect, nor did other source of oats. Indeed, I ate a plethora of oatmeal with no problems at all.

The problem here is, every person’s body chemistry is different. I know that you have likely heard that a thousand times before, but it is true. Until our knowledge of human biochemistry far exceeds its present level, the only testing we have available is empirical.

Here are the steps you can take to help determine how both your nutritional habits and daily routine are affecting your acne.

  1. Maintain a constant routine for at least 5 days. Take a shower every day, use the same shampoo and conditioner every day, at the very least eat an identical breakfast, and lunch, and avoid all snacks and desserts (you never know what is really in your snack or dessert, fast food and sweets have many additives in them). If you put any makeup on, apply equal amounts of the same brand each day. The key here is consistency.
    • You are trying to establish what is known as a “baseline” of your acne’s growth. You will use this baseline during the next few weeks to see what activities help improve your skin in comparison to this baseline. If you don’t actually measure and write down what your acne does during a typical week, you cannot really tell if your acne is improving, since any comparisons would be based upon memory. “Oh I think my acne is better this week…” By taking this first step, you can be certain when your acne is getting better!
  2. Write down whatever you decide your routine is. Include a list of all products you put on your face, how and when you wash your hair, basically anything that goes into your mouth, gets on your hair, or touches your face should be noted and written down!
  3. Take note of how many new blemishes appear during each day of this week. Take a look at your face periodically in the mirror and note any oddities, and the rate of growth of any blemishes.
  4. At the end of the week, party! You just went 5 days without eating any candy! Ok kidding, but you likely saved some cash by not snacking!
  5. Now live a “normal” week in your life. Write down what you eat each morning, what shampoo and conditioner you use in the shower, what you eat for breakfast every morning, what makeup you use (if any), any any other product that goes on your face. Also if you eat some snack or junk food, write it down.
    • I know all of this writing sounds like a pain, I am telling you to write stuff down because it WORKS. If you try to use your memory, you will forget if you “really” used some product on some day, and you will have to test it again to see what effect it has, and you have at that point wasted a whole day. A day wasted is a day that you could have been free of acne!
  6. Each day during this normal week, take note of your acne. Once again, look in the mirror now and then throughout the days and note the appearance of any new blemishes. Also observe the rate of growth of blemishes.
  7. Compare your notes from your baseline week to your notes from your “normal” week. Hopefully the results are different, if your acne was increasing in severity during both weeks, you want to try and create another baseline week using even more controlled conditions. I will talk more about how to reduce the effects of your environment on your acne in later posts.
  8. If your acne did change, make a list of what you did differently between your baseline week and your normal week. So for instance if on your “baseline” week you
  9. Now, you are going to select one item from this list and consider it a “variable”. You will NOT do whatever this item is, if it is eating snickers, you won’t eat snickers. You WILL do everything else that is on the list, every day. (to a reasonable extent!) The other items are considered “constants” or “controls”
  10. Avoiding your “variable” action every day for an entire week, note the results.
  11. If your acne gets even a little bit better, congratulations, you have found (at least one!) environmental cause of your acne!
  12. Most likely you will not be so lucky, and you will return the “variable” to the list of items and choose another item from the list to be the “variable”. Keep going through your list until you do have success.
  13. There are likely multiple items that are contributing to your acne, so pay close attention. If you drink a cup of hot cocoa with marshmellow swirls in it, and eat candy bars, and your acne happens to be sensitive to sugar, both those foods are going to be messing you up!
  14. If success eludes you, try to figure out if you have missed elements from your list, did you really capture your daily routine in detail?

Of course if all else fails, it may be that other treatments are needed for your acne, and that your diet or daily activities are not having an effect upon your acne one way or the other. In that case, tune back in later for more information on acne treatment.

Disclaimer: I am NOT a doctor. In fact I am a computer scientist. My only qualification to be giving out medical advice is that I am (or at least I believe I am!) rather intelligent. Being that this does not count for much please use common sense when following the above instructions, or anything else that I say. Don’t let “eat 15 cookies” be a control that you do every day! Or if you do eat that many cookies, realize that I am NOT responsible for the end effect. If they are good cookies though, send me a few. 🙂

Rev3 – Formatting
Rev2 – Moved this to a new post, factored out personal history to a new post.
Rev1 – Cleaned up grammer and stupid spelling errors. Snakes -> Snacks.


  1. Another really nice, great and original comment.

    Comment by prudents — September 30, 2006 @ 11:56 am

  2. i, too, have undergone this method. i found sunflower seeds originally on my own — because i rarely bought a bag, but when i did, i ate the entire thing.. and suffered. i then furthered it to include most all nuts (starting with peanut butter), and then milk.. and cheese (sadly). anyway, my hypothesis is that saturated fat seems to be a trigger for my acne. i spent a month avoiding saturated fat, only furthering my theory. since.. i’ve gone back to pizza. i highly doubt i finally found the sole cause of my acne — but every bit helps. also, i highly suggest’s forums. i’m about to embark on TCA cross for my scarring, thanks to those forums!

    Comment by nevesis — November 9, 2006 @ 11:55 pm

  3. Great post, I found this searching for oats and acne, every time I eat a bowl of porridge I seem to break out, you’ve pretty much confirmed what I believed.

    Thanks again


    Comment by Paul — November 19, 2006 @ 3:19 pm

  4. You seriously believe honey covered oats is a cause for your acne? It sounds kind of silly to me. However it would be quite easy for you to prove your theory. Just take a pic of your face, buy a box of honey covered oats, eat as much of it as possible, wait two days and take another pic. If your theory is correct, the acne should be much worse on the second picture.

    I’ve never seen anyone with a “foodstuff $X causes my acne” theory do such an experiment. Likely because such an experiment would prove their theory wrong.

    But if you do it, you definitely would make a big splash in the dermatology world where the honey covered oats and ance correlation is totally unheard of.

    Comment by Björn — July 20, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

    • I have done this in the past, not willing to do it again. 🙂 Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures.

      Comment by Devlin Bentley — May 17, 2010 @ 10:02 am

  5. Just because you eat oats doesn’t mean it gives EVERYONE acne, you must have allergies. I applied warm oatmeal on my face once, and my acne was gone the next day.

    Comment by Anonymous — August 3, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

  6. Stumbled across this because I recently started to breakout and the only thing I have significantly changed to my diet is that I started eating porridge for breakfast instead of “Special K”. I don’t drink milk; I use almond milk. I am going to go back to cereal and hopefully will see an improvement.

    Comment by Jill — February 20, 2015 @ 4:11 am

  7. it is obviously the milk that is the issue, which is why eating bread does not cause you to breakout. IT IS THE MILLLKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! NO DAIRY = LESS BREAKOUTS

    Comment by federico — June 30, 2016 @ 10:03 am

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