In brief

Oily skin, clogged pores and acne flare-ups can be linked to a poor diet consisting of excess fat and low intake of fruits and vegetables.

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Greasy foods aggravate acne

9 Jan 2023

More evidence emerges that fatty foods change skin composition, creating the perfect conditions for acne flare-ups.

Being a teenager isn’t easy. Besides coping with pressure from school, parents and extracurricular activities, studies say that up to 90 percent of adolescents also struggle with acne, an inflammatory skin condition that can be painful and negatively impact their mental health.

Though often attributed to the hormonal rollercoaster of puberty, acne can also persist into adulthood. Scientists have long suspected that besides hormones, dietary factors could also trigger the inflammation of the hair follicles and cause breakouts. “Acne has been linked to a high intake of foods rich in fatty acids, such as dairy products, cakes and chocolate, and a low intake of fruits and vegetables,” explained Satoshi Nakamizo, a former Principal Investigator at the Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN).

Nakamizo collaborated with A*STAR researchers Florent Ginhoux and Kenji Kabashima to examine more closely the relationship between fatty acid consumption and skin flare-ups like acne. The scientists studied mice on normal and high-fat diets, simulating acne through the topical application of a mild irritant. They then performed a series of tissue, protein and genetic analyses to track the influx of inflammatory immune cells into hair follicles.

The researchers found that mice on the high-fat diet were more prone to the clogging of pores with sebum, an oily substance produced naturally by the skin. This clogged follicle, also known as a comedone, appeared to be exacerbated by excess fatty acid consumption which then set off a chain of events that led to acne formation.

“Bacteria grow within the microcomedones, attracting inflammatory cells and resulting in inflammatory acne,” explained Nakamizo, adding that follicle infections were also observed in mice that were on a normal diet but had fatty acids and a mild chemical irritant applied to their skin.

The team plans to expand the scope of their study to include lipid samples from human donors to better understand how molecular imbalances on the skin contribute to acne. For now, Nakamizo advises that a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables could help maintain healthy skin.

The A*STAR-affiliated researchers contributing to this research are from the A*STAR Skin Research Labs (A*SRL), A*STAR Microscopy Platform and Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN).

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Satoshi N., Tetsuya H., Tomohito S., Md A.M., Zachary C., et al . High-fat diet induces a predisposition to follicular hyperkeratosis and neutrophilic folliculitis in mice, The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 148(2) , 473-485 (2021) ǀ article

About the Researchers

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Satoshi Nakamizo

Satoshi Nakamizo is currently an assistant professor at Kyoto University in Japan. He obtained his PhD from Kyoto University, Japan in 2015. From 2016 to 2020, he was a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Medical Biology and Singapore Immunology Network. Together with Florent Ginhoux and Kenji Kabashima, he worked on the relationship between diet and skin condition and the identification of antigen-presenting cells in inflammatory skin diseases.
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Florent Ginhoux

Florent Ginhoux obtained his PhD in 2004 from the University Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris VI. As a postdoctoral fellow, he joined the Laboratory of Miriam Merad in the Mount Sinai School of Medicine (MSSM), New York, where he studied the ontogeny and the homeostasis of cutaneous dendritic cell populations, with a strong focus on Langerhans cells and Microglia. In 2008, he became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Gene and Cell Medicine, MSSM and member of the Immunology Institute of MSSM. He joined A*STAR's Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) in May 2009 as a Principal Investigator before becoming Senior Principal Investigator in 2017. He has been a Web of Science Highly Cited Researcher since 2016, and an EMBO member since 2022. Ginhoux is also an Adjunct Visiting Associate Professor in the Shanghai Immunology Institute, Jiao Tong University, as well as Adjunct Associate Professor in the Translational Immunology Institute, SingHealth and Duke NUS. He is now a laboratory director at the Gustave Roussy Hospital, Villejuif, France. His new laboratory focuses on paediatric cancers.
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Kenji Kabashima

Senior Principal Investigator

A*STAR Skin Research Labs (A*SRL)
Kenji Kabashima graduated from Kyoto University in 1996 and underwent Medicine and Dermatology training at the United States Naval Hospital in Yokosuka Japan, Kyoto University Hospital and University of Washington Medical Center. His research interests include atopic dermatitis, its pathogenesis and potential treatments. He is also working on gene-targeted fluorescent chemical probes to visualise cells to help understand the mechanisms underpinning skin homeostasis. Previously with the Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN), Kabashima currently serves as a Senior Principal Investigator at the A*STAR Skin Research Labs (A*SRL).

This article was made for A*STAR Research by Wildtype Media Group