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Whoa—These Foods Could Be Causing Your Oily Skin

It’s no secret that good skin starts from within. What you eat has a massive effect on not only your weight, health and overall mood, as well as your skin, hair and nails. As the old adage goes, “When you’re healthy on the inside, it shows on the outside.” Whilst it’s totally normal to have oily skin, if you’re producing excess oil that’s leading to breakouts, it might be worth looking to your diet. Why? Certain foods can trigger oil production and lead to excess sebum being produced, which in turn can cause breakouts. You might’ve tried every acne-busting, salicylic-packed serum out there, but if you’re eating foods that are exacerbating your oily skin, it’ll be hard to get a handle on things with skincare alone. So we spoke to some of the UK’s best nutritionists and dermatologists to find out once and for all which foods cause oily skin.


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“Consuming excess salt can cause dehydration, water retention, swelling and eye bags,” says Patricia Boland. “It can also lead to an increase in oil levels as the skin tries to combat the dehydration caused by salt.” Limit your salt intake by steering clear of processed foods that often contain high levels of salt, and avoid adding extra salt to your food.

Meet the Expert

  • Patricia Boland is a dermatologist and Vice President of Research and Development at Colorescience UK. She has nearly two decades of experience in the beauty and cosmetic industry. 
  • Jenna Hope is a registered nutrition consultant. Her clients include individuals and leading brands, such as ASOS, Google, and Soho House.

Red Meat

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“Red meat (such as sausages, beef, lamb and bacon) can be high in saturated fats, which can increase inflammation in the skin. This excess inflammation can cause excess oil to be produced,” warns Boland.

“Try limiting your saturated fat intake by switching some of your red meat consumption to poultry or fish,” suggests Jenna Hope.


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“Research has shown foods high in sugar increase the production of IGF-1, a peptide hormone that stimulates growth but can also cause an overproduction of sebum, aka excess oil,” says Hope. Try switching your sugary 4 p.m. snack for an apple and peanut butter or oatcakes and guacamole.

Refined Carbohydrates

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“Foods high in refined carbohydrates (aka white bread, white pasta, white rice) can also increase the production of IGF-1, which can cause an overproduction of sebum,” says Hope. An easy change to make is to switch your white refined grains to the less refined varieties (e.g., brown pasta and brown rice).


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“I always tell clients not to overdo their dairy intake, but because high-quality dairy products are associated with other health benefits, I’d always suggest limiting refined carbohydrates before dairy,” suggests Hope. “Stick to whole milk (some research suggests skimmed milk might have a greater effect on IGF-1), and always opt for organic where possible.”

Of course, it’s worth noting that you don’t need to completely cut out these food groups to combat your oily skin. Try limiting one at a time and seeing whether you notice a difference in your skin.

Jenna Hope's 3 Top Tips for Improving Skin Health

Stay hydrated. This helps the skin to remove waste products and maintain its moisture.

Eat a wide range of fruit and vegetables, as they’re a great source of antioxidants, which help to remove free radicals and inflammation that can lead to redness and acne.

Up your oily fish intake. Aim for two portions a week to increase suppleness and contribute to reduced inflammation.

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