Could a Low-Cal Keto Diet Help Ease Acne?

by Ella

In a small pilot study, young women aiming to lose weight on a low-calorie ketogenic (keto) diet experienced an unexpected benefit: a significant reduction in acne.


“These findings represent an opportunity to control a skin disease that affects most teenagers and many adults at some point in their lifetimes, causing distress, embarrassment, anxiety, and low self-confidence among sufferers, robbing them of their quality of life,” said lead study author Luigi Barrea, from the Università Telematica Pegaso in Naples, Italy.


Barrea and his team presented their findings at the European Congress on Obesity held in Vienna, Austria.


Acne and Inflammation: A New Approach

Acne is a chronic inflammatory condition affecting the pilosebaceous unit, which includes the hair follicle, hair shaft, and sebaceous gland. It impacts about 9% of the global population, predominantly during the teenage years. According to the Italian researchers, there is a well-established link between acne and obesity, potentially due to shared factors of increased inflammation and oxidative stress.


The ketogenic diet, known for its weight loss benefits and anti-inflammatory properties, might also address these underlying issues. “While the role of diet in acne is inconclusive, the very low-calorie ketogenic diet is known for aiding weight loss and generating anti-inflammatory ketone bodies that provide energy when dietary carbohydrates are scarce, as well as promoting resistance against inflammatory and oxidative stress,” Barrea explained in a meeting news release. “We thought it would be worth exploring this potential treatment in acne.”

Study Details

The pilot study involved 31 young women aged 18 to 30 who were obese and had moderate levels of acne. Over 45 days, the participants followed a very low-calorie ketogenic diet, consuming only 700–800 kilocalories per day. The diet composition was 44% fat, 43% protein, and 13% carbohydrates.

All participants successfully completed the diet, with some reporting mild adverse effects such as headaches and muscle weakness. The weight loss results were significant, with an average reduction of about 8% in body weight and a similar decrease in waist circumference.

Acne Improvement and Quality of Life

The most notable finding was the improvement in acne. Using the global acne grading scale, participants’ scores improved by an average of 41.5% over the 45 days. Additionally, participants reported a 45% improvement in their quality-of-life scores, indicating better overall life satisfaction.

Scientific Basis for Findings

Barrea’s team found that the diet led to improvements in markers of systemic inflammation, oxidative stress, and gut microbiome health. These improvements were correlated with reductions in acne severity. “In this small pilot trial, the 45-day very low-calorie ketogenic diet demonstrated notable improvements in acne severity that seemed to be attributable to the known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of the diet,” Barrea concluded.

Future Implications

Despite the promising results, Barrea emphasized the need for caution, as the study was small and the findings were presented at a medical conference, making them preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal. “If confirmed in larger, more robust studies, the very low-calorie ketogenic diet could provide a valuable alternative to antibiotics and topical treatments to help the many thousands of people affected by acne,” Barrea said.


This pilot study offers hope that a low-calorie keto diet could be a dual-purpose approach for weight loss and acne treatment, providing significant improvements in skin health and overall quality of life. Further research is needed to confirm these findings and understand the mechanisms behind the observed benefits.


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