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- Dr. Anjali Mahto is a dermatologist and longtime acne sufferer with a large Instagram following.
- She recently posted a photo on her Instagram Story showing some ice cream she ate.
- Mahto received a message after that read, “No wonder you get such terrible acne. So much sugar and dairy.”
- Mahto responded to the comment in a new Instagram post, writing, “acne is a medical problem, largely down to hormones and genetics. It is not a lifestyle [problem] caused by ice cream on a hot day.”
- She stressed that blaming acne patients for their condition is both harmful and scientifically inaccurate.
Dr. Anjali Mahto is a dermatologist who gets what it’s like to fight breakouts. The UK-based doctor doesn’t just treat acne — she’s had it for years. She’s also not afraid to share a photo of a new pimple with her 19,000 Instagram followers. Her honesty about adult acne is usually greeted with a flood of supportive comments.
But a recent response to Mahto’s Instagram Story struck a very different tone.
On Saturday, Mahto updated her Story with a photo of some ice cream she was about to eat. She received a scathing direct message in response.
“No wonder you get such terrible acne. So much sugar and dairy all the time,” the message read. “Cockatils, ice cream….oil. Ugh. Prescribing is the easy route but at the end of the day laziness around lifestyle choices just won’t help, no matter what any dermatologist says.”
On Monday, Mahto shared a screenshot of this message in a new Instagram post. And in a lengthy caption, she wrote that — though the message made her feel “indignant surprise” at first — she wanted to use it as a teaching moment.
“I was going to let it go but then it occurred to me there were too many issues raised in those five short sentences that I changed my mind,” she wrote. “So let’s see what educational information we can get out of this.”
Mahto stressed that blaming patients for their acne is “unacceptable.”
“This is not okay,” Mahto wrote near the start of her caption. “Acne is a medical problem, largely down to hormones and genetics — it is not a lifestyle [problem] caused by ice-cream on a hot day. Blaming and judging people for their skin disease on dietary choices is unacceptable.”
She took particular issue with the messenger’s implication that people who eat ice cream while attempting to treat acne are lazy.
“This thought process is toxic and first-hand I see the problems it causes from countless patients I treat,” she wrote. “Many delay treatment for their acne and develop preventable scarring as they try ‘alternative’ therapies, others develop disordered eating due to … fear that everything may cause their [pimples], others are scared to eat certain foods in public for fear of being shamed. Those with chronic skin disease do not deserve this kind of treatment.”
Mahto also said it’s not scientifically accurate to blame diet on acne.
In an email to INSIDER, Mahto said that food can be an easy scapegoat for skin problems.
“I think it is human nature to want to search for solutions, answers, and explanations — to be able to control aspects of our life,” she said. “Diet is something that can be ‘controlled’ and it is an easy factor to pin the blame on.”
There is some evidence to support the idea. Small studies suggest that people who eat low-glycemic foods — a.k.a. foods that don’t cause huge spikes in blood sugar — can improve their acne symptoms, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). (Fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grains tend to be low-glycemic, while foods like white pasta, candy, and sugary drinks are high-glycemic.) A few other small studies suggest that consuming milk products — particularly skim milk — may aggravate acne.
But all this evidence is still “emerging” and “limited,” the AAD website adds. It’s not strong enough to actually recommend dietary changes for acne management.
“The bottom line is that it is not recommended to treat acne with diet alone … There are many people who eat ‘healthily’ most of the time yet still suffer with skin problems,” Mahto wrote on Instagram. “I am not saying it is okay to eat sugary foods in excess on a regular basis … However, it is a problem to think that food or lifestyle choices alone can treat skin disease. Good nutrition and lifestyle choices are part of the solution which slots together with modern medicine and prescribing. It does not have to be one or the other!”
Commenters flocked to the post to express support.
A number of commenters on Mahto’s post said they’d also been forced to field food shame disguised as skin-care advice.
“I had acne for approximately 22 years and I can relate to this so much,” one person wrote. “I cut out countless foods in futile attemps to clear my skin because of others.”
“This is such an important post” another commenter wrote. “It took me 15 years of trying all sorts of ‘alternative’ therapy and every lifestyle change under that sun to help my acne. I felt completely responsible for my bad skin. I finally took [Accutane] and it started to clear up within days … Real acne sufferers aren’t lazy slobs, they are incredibly vigilant, proactive people who will do anything to help improve their skin. Thanks for being a voice for us all!”
Mahto told INSIDER she was happy to read reactions like these.
“I’m delighted to see how the post has clearly resonated with so many people,” she said. “It makes my job incredibly worthwhile.”
Read the entirety of the post on Mahto’s Instagram page.
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