Are you experiencing hormonal acne and wondering if your diet is flaring up your skin?

Though hormonal acne is often worsened at ovulation (mid-cycle), premenstrually or during your period, it can still be exacerbated by certain foods in your diet.

That is because these foods that I discuss below, have been shown to drive up hormones such as oestrogen, exacerbating a hormonal imbalance. I’ve seen this time and time again not only in my patients but also in my own personal experience with mild hormonal breakouts in my early 30’s.

In this article, I discuss the biggest food triggers to hormonal acne, how it’s worsening your skin, and the type of diet that I recommend for those with hormonal acne.

How Your Diet Can Affect Your Hormonal Acne

1. Refined Sugar

Women with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) who commonly have hormonal associated acne, are much more sensitive to the effects of refined sugar and foods that have a high glycemic index such as chocolate, cakes, biscuits, white potato, white rice and white pasta. These types of foods can increase the production of insulin, a hormone that is released to help shuttle excess sugar from the bloodstream into your cells.

The downside of constantly elevated insulin levels is that it can also increase the production of testosterone. Women with PCOS already have elevated levels of testosterone which will be exacerbated with high sugar/carbohydrate intake. This then leads to excess sebum production, oilier skin, clogged pores, inflammation and more breakouts, particularly cystic acne.

Steering clear of these types of foods and opting for a lower sugar, lower carbohydrate diet is essential to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, particularly for women with chronic acne worsened by PCOS.


If you suffer with PCOS induced acne, high sugar and refined carbohydrates will impact your skin and worsen oilness, clogged pores and cystic acne.

2. Coffee

When it comes to coffee and caffeine, you can sit in either two categories. You can either be a slow metaboliser of caffeine or a fast metaboliser of caffeine, one of these can make you more susceptible to the negative impacts of caffeine on your skin and acne.

If you are a slow metaboliser of caffeine like myself, you may feel more jittery, wired, anxious and even experience heart palpitations when consuming even a weak or mid-strength coffee. What this means is that the caffeine has put you into a stressed state, revving up your nervous system and increasing cortisol, a stress hormone.

Elevated levels of cortisol increases the release of glucose or sugar into the bloodstream, to get your body ready to fight or flight (that is to either fight the danger now that you are in a stress response or to fuel your muscles to run away). If you aren’t doing either of these, blood sugar will stay elevated in your bloodstream for a longer period of time which can have a negative impact on your hormones and skin long term.

Again higher cortisol levels and higher blood sugar levels can stimulate the ovaries to make more testosterone. This can then lead to oilier skin and painful cystic acne, particularly along the jawline or cheeks.


Minimising coffee consumption for many women can have a profound impact on minimising new breakouts, especially if you are a slow metaboliser depicted by other symptoms such as feeling jittery or more anxious with caffeine.

3. Low Fibre Intake

Eating enough fibre in your diet is essential to help metabolise and process oestrogen through the digestive system. I have found that women who experience acne and constant breakouts often have elevated levels of oestrogen re-circulating in their body leading to hormonal acne.

One of the first steps to get oestrogen down is through eating adequate amounts of fibre per day, aiming for 25 g for women.

Eating 25 g of fibre per day for women has been shown to reduce oestrogen levels in the blood and urine by altering the pH of the bowel, affecting the good bugs that live there.

These good bugs influence an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase. They reduce this enzyme which means you have less re-circulation of oestrogen re-entering the bloodstream. This is exactly what we want, we want you eliminating the excess oestrogen not recirculating it around and around your body.

Beta-glucuronidase is an enzyme that can be measured on a Complete Microbiome Mapping, a functional medicine test that I commonly use in practice and is just one parameter to help piece together your individual jigsaw puzzle.


Aiming for 25g of fibre per day is essential to help process excess oestrogen associated with hormonal acne.

If you’re unsure if you have elevated oestrogen, it may be worth undertaking a Saliva Hormone Test during your Naturopathic consultation. 

4. Dairy

The literature has shown that cow’s milk (skim or whole milk) as well as ice-cream, can increase the prevalence and severity of your acne (1).

Drinking cow’s milk or eating other sources of dairy products (excluding cheese) has been shown to trigger an increase in insulin and IGF-1 (insulin growth factor 1). This is similar to what naturally occurs during puberty.

This then stimulates androgen production via the adrenal glands, ovaries or testes.

Increased androgen production leads to something called lipogenesis in the sebaceous glands. This is just a fancy way to say it increases oil production. (2)

To reduce your breakouts, it’s important to inhibit the production of IGF-1 which will stop the acne cascade.

The key to reducing your cow’s milk consumption is to always have alternatives you can switch to. This will make the transition so much easier! Don’t just rely on willpower or self control to overcome those dairy cravings (even if clear skin is all the motivation that you need.).


Cow’s milk and dairy products increase the hormone IGF-1 that stimulates oil production that leads to breakouts.

So what is the ideal diet for hormonal acne?

Eating for healthy skin does not need to be complicated of intensely restrictive. Yes it’s important to note the types of foods that can trigger acne and remove them from your diet until your acne is under control. But your diet itself does not need to be vegan, paleo or drastic to see a benefit in your skin.

As refined carbohydrates and a high sugar diet has been shown to increase inflammation and drive acne, a diet for hormonal acne would look very close to a healthy, whole food diet consisting of the following.

  • Eating a palm size portion of protein at each main meal
  • Opting for whole grains such as brown/black/red rice, 100% rye bread, quinoa, buckwheat, spelt, or pulse pasta
  • Eating 2 handfuls of vegetables at lunch and dinner (variety is key!)
  • Eating wild caught fish three times a week (high in omega 3 and reduce inflammation in the skin)
  • Drinking filtered water at 0.03 L x your body weight per day (with an additional 1 litre with exercise)


When it comes to hormonal breakouts, understanding your food triggers is really important in treating your underlying hormonal concerns that are driving your breakouts to begin with. A diet for healthy hormonal balance is always something I discuss with all of my clients who are experiencing acne.

Though diet plays an important role it isn’t a silver bullet. Addressing all areas of health based on clear functional medicine testing to find what hormone is out of balance for you as an individual will help to fast track your results.

To learn more about the testing I use for hormonal acne, click here.