Diet is often overlooked as a contributor to skin health; the adage “you are what you eat” rings especially true regarding skin sensitivity. Everyone who suffers from hypersensitive skin understands how terrifying it is.
About half of the population has hypersensitive skin. (1) The good news is research suggests that food is medicine for skin health, and a healthy diet can significantly impact the condition of the skin.
However, there are also foods that should be avoided by people suffering from skin problems such as dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Eliminating these common food triggers may be necessary to support and maintain clear skin.
This article will present evidence linking food intake and skin inflammation.
How Diet Affects Sensitive Skin
Recent work by the Sensitive Skin Special Interest Group (SIG) of the International Forum for the Study of Itch (IFSI) has resulted in the following definition of sensitive skin:
“If there is unpleasant sensation such as stinging, burning, pain, pruritus, and tingling sensations in response to any stimulant that normally should not cause such sensations. The skin can appear normal or be accompanied by swelling. Sensitive skin can affect all body locations, especially the face.”
Also, likely related to culturally higher exposure to spicy food, Asians in one San Francisco study showed greater skin reactivity to spicy food than Caucasians. (2)
Modifiable risk factors for chronic diseases caused by systemic inflammation include nutrition, weight, alcohol consumption, and physical activity, among others.
Inflammatory markers which can cause sensitive skin are reduced when we consume a diet high in fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids, while other factors, such as saturated fat and sodium, have been linked to inflammation. (3)
Foods to Avoid If You Have Sensitive Skin
Certain foods cause urticaria (hives), a type of rash. (4) If you have sensitive skin, you may find relief by avoiding these foods.
Protein and vitamins abound in soy foods, (5) making them nutritious options.
In a study published in 2017, the study participants with atopic dermatitis (a condition that causes dry, itchy, and inflamed skin) reported severe worsening of their condition, including pruritus (itching) and a rash on their arms and trunks, 6 hours after consuming a first soy dose.
Researchers concluded it was a positive reaction, and the test was stopped early due to the severe pruritus and exacerbation of atopic dermatitis.
Scientists advise avoiding all forms of soy in the diet. Food allergies to soy proteins in processed products have been linked to atopic dermatitis, (6) a chronic, intermittent inflammatory skin disease.
Soy is found and consumed in various forms, such as soy oil, soy flour, soy milk, soy drinks, and soy flakes. (7)
The protein content of gluten is the highest of any grain. It occurs naturally in related species such as wheat, barley, rye, and oat. (8)
Researchers found that eating gluten-containing products triggered inflammation in the small intestine. (9)(10) Many studies have been conducted to better understand the connection between gluten and skin problems.
One study followed 302 people diagnosed with psoriasis. Thirty patients who had increased serum levels of the gluten protein gliadin were able to see significant improvement in their symptoms after switching to a gluten-free diet. (11)
Sweets, cookies, sodas, and sugary coffee drinks all fall into the category of sugary foods. Inflammation can develop as a result of sugar’s effects on insulin.
First, sugar makes your skin even oilier and more prone to breakouts. When you eat sugar, your body responds by secreting insulin, which controls your blood sugar. (12)
Since refined sugar is metabolized so rapidly, a lot of insulin needs to be secreted to get all that sugar into your cells as fast as it is being broken down. This insulin surge leads to the overproduction of oil, which triggers a chain reaction of blemishes including clogged pores, acne, and eczema.
Second, the harmful bacteria in your gut thrive on processed sugar. (13) After being nourished, these bacteria proliferate and push out the beneficial ones, creating a microbial imbalance. Rash, acne, and other skin problems may develop when these levels of gut bacteria are out of whack. (14)
4. Meat, both red and processed
According to a research study conducted in 2022, higher total red meat intake can cause more allergic reactions such as inflammation and itching. (15) Hives (red raised rashes) and eczema are typical skin rashes caused by a reaction to meat proteins.
There is mounting evidence that red meat is bad for your health, especially your immune system. There is a link between eating red and processed meat and having more oxidative stress and inflammation. (15)(16)
A study using data from Korea’s National Health and Nutrition Survey on the prevalence of atopic dermatitis found significant links between skin condition and meat consumption. (17)
Studies show that drinking too much alcohol can lead to skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, post-adolescent acne, and rosacea. (18)
A study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that drinking two or three beers per week increased the risk of psoriasis. (19)
Chemicals known as “food additives” are used to preserve food and improve its appearance, taste, and/or texture. Because some food additives contain sulfites, food dyes, and preservatives, they can cause allergic reactions such as hives and itching. (20)
The food additive propylene glycol is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, which means it can be used in food without fear of adverse effects. It’s great for keeping food moist because it soaks up excess moisture. (21) However, propylene glycol is a known allergen. (22)
One study found that people who consumed seafood, which contains omega-6 and more omega-3 fatty acids, experienced significantly lower rates of acne and oily skin. (23)
Other Factors That Can Aggravate Sensitive Skin
Epidemiological studies have found that between 50% and 61% of women and between 30% and 44% of men believe they have sensitive skin.
Sensitive skin is more commonly reported in patients over 18 years, likely because this is the age group on which epidemiological studies have focused. Research also shows that younger patients are likelier to have easily irritated skin.
The face is the most prominent area, but other sensitive skin zones include the arms, hands, privates, and scalp. (24)
The environment is a significant contributor to the development of sensitive skin. Both hot and cold weather can trigger hypersensitive skin.
The overuse and incorrect application of cosmetics are two leading causes of sensitive skin in women. For example, ingredients that can be irritating (such as alpha-hydroxy acids, propylene glycol, alcohol, and fragrances) can trigger the appearance of symptoms of sensitive skin. (24)
General Queries Related to Foods to Avoid for Sensitive Skin
What nutritional deficiency could be to blame for very sensitive skin?
Acne, rashes, dry and flaky skin, cracked lips, and wrinkles are some of the skin issues resulting from insufficient vitamin B. In this case, the skin may become more easily irritated and reddened by environmental factors such as sunlight and cosmetics.
Can I take anti-allergy medication for skin sensitivity?
Anti-allergy medications such as antihistamines and corticosteroids are viable options for skin sensitivities. However, some patients with pruritus (itchy skin) caused by skin rashes, hives, or eczema report that antihistamines are ineffective in relieving their symptoms. (25)
Treatment of eczema with mild- to moderate-strength topical corticosteroids is best, especially on thin, delicate skin areas. The face, insides of the elbows, groin, and armpits are all good examples. (26)
Food additives, soy, gluten, sugar, red and processed meat, alcohol, and spice extracts have all been linked to skin reactions in some people. There is a risk of inflammation if these foods are consumed regularly.
- Fawkes N, Tselenti E, Shah N, et al. A survey to identify determinants that influence self-perceived sensitive skin in a British population: Clues to developing a reliable screening tool for sensitive skin. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8436085/. Published September 8, 2021.
- Farage MA. The prevalence of sensitive skin. Frontiers in medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6533878/. Published May 17, 2019.
- Hess JM, Stephensen CB, Kratz M, Bolling BW. Exploring the links between diet and inflammation: Dairy Foods as case studies. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8502778/. Published October 11, 2021.
- [current position of the role of allergic and non-allergic food … https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7379392/.
- Rizzo G, Baroni L. Soy, soy foods and their role in vegetarian diets. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5793271/. Published January 5, 2018.
- Celakovská J, Karel E, Jaroslava V, Ettlerová K. Allergy to soy in an adolescent suffering from atopic dermatitis. Indian journal of dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3667338/. Published May 2013.
- Jarmila C, Květuše E, Karel E, Jaroslava V, Josef B. Soy allergy in patients suffering from atopic dermatitis. Indian journal of dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3726893/. Published July 2013.
- Shewry P. What is gluten-why is it special? Frontiers in nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6625226/. Published July 5, 2019.
- Parzanese I, Qehajaj D, Patrinicola F, et al. Celiac disease: From pathophysiology to treatment. World journal of gastrointestinal pathophysiology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5437500/. Published May 15, 2017.
- Gluten associated medical problems – statpearls – NCBI bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538505/.
- Academic.oup.com. https://academic.oup.com/rheumatology/article/41/10/1195/1784414.
- Macdonald IA. A review of recent evidence relating to sugars, insulin resistance and diabetes. European journal of nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5174139/. Published November 2016.
- Katta R, Desai SP. Diet and dermatology: The role of dietary intervention in skin disease. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4106357/. Published July 2014.
- Bowe WP, Logan AC. Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis – back to the future? Gut pathogens. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3038963/. Published January 31, 2011.
- Wang Y, Uffelman C, Hill E, et al. The effects of red meat intake on inflammation biomarkers in humans: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Current Developments in Nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9194089/. Published June 14, 2022.
- Chai W, Morimoto Y, Cooney RV, et al. Dietary red and processed meat intake and markers of adiposity and inflammation: The multiethnic cohort study. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5540319/. Published July 2017.
- Kim S, Lee S-I, Kang S-S. Nutritional intervention for a Korean adolescent with atopic dermatitis: A case report. Clinical nutrition research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8575648/. Published October 28, 2021.
- STL Volume 16 Number 4 -, By, -, STL Volume 16 Number 4Purchase PDF for $2.79, 4 STLV16 N, $2.79 PPDFfor. Alcohol and skin disorders: With a focus on psoriasis. Skin Therapy Letter. https://www.skintherapyletter.com/psoriasis/alcohol-skin-disorders/. Published September 10, 2019.
- Women who drink beer more likely to develop psoriasis. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100816162645.htm. Published August 18, 2010.
- Witkowski M, Grajeta H, Gomułka K. Hypersensitivity reactions to food additives-preservatives, antioxidants, flavor enhancers. International journal of environmental research and public health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9517530/. Published September 13, 2022.
- Toxicological profiles. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiledocs/index.html. Published February 9, 2023.
- Katta R, Schlichte M. Diet and dermatitis: Food triggers. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3970830/. Published March 2014.
- Rubin MG, Kim K, Logan AC. Acne vulgaris, mental health and omega-3 fatty acids: A report of cases. Lipids in health and disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2577647/. Published October 13, 2008.
- Duarte I, Silveira JEPS, Hafner Mde FS, Toyota R, Pedroso DMM. Sensitive skin: Review of an ascending concept. Anais brasileiros de dermatologia. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5595600/. Published 2017.
- Song J, Xian D, Yang L, Xiong X, Lai R, Zhong J. Pruritus: Progress toward pathogenesis and treatment. BioMed research international. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5925168/. Published April 11, 2018.
- Eczema: Steroids and other topical medications – NCBI bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK424899/.