Acne, just like other skin conditions, is a representation of what’s going on inside your body!


It’s important to look at all the factors that contribute to or exacerbate this condition, but for now let’s look at the first and foremost thing to address: diet. Most people know that sugar is a culprit for pimples – we’ve all woken up with one or five after indulging in chocolate a bit too much the day before. But what are the exact mechanisms behind this?


Insulin and Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1)

There is a major role between these hormones and SREBP-1-mediated sebaceous lipogenesis (technical term for acne formation). Enhanced IGF-1 signalling is directly correlated with diets high in glycaemic load and dairy.

Glycaemic load (GL): a calculation based on amount of carbohydrates in foods and the effect on blood sugar levels. For more info on GL, visit

To put it simply,

High glycaemic load and dairy intake

Insulin, IGF-1

Androgens, mTOR

Increased sebum production, inflammation, keratinization



The milk from most dairy cows contain A1 casein, a protein which causes inflammation, disrupts the immune system and causes digestive discomfort in susceptible individuals. The damaging and inflammatory effects have a direct effect of worsening acne.


So is all dairy a problem?

Milk from goats and sheep contains A2 casein instead of A1, meaning it doesn’t have the same inflammatory action. Goats milk and yoghurt is a good option if you’re after an animal-based substitute to cow’s milk – and it has many other benefits such as helping the body absorb more nutrients from food (cow’s milk is the opposite), has prebiotics and is easier to digest. For plant-based milk alternatives, my favourites are home-made hemp milk, almond milk and cashew milk.



mTOR is also worth mentioning – it’s an enzyme that regulates metabolism and is needed for the function of muscles, adipose tissue and the liver. Elevated levels of mTOR will stimulate keratin, sebum production and inflammation, thus contributing to acne.

Other conditions linked to high insulin, IGF-1, and mTOR are PCOS, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and cancer. Treating acne by improving your diet will in turn reduce your risk for these diseases later in life.



This group of hormones have many important functions in both men and women. Increased androgens in women have a role in acne pathophysiology but are also indicated in other hormonal conditions such as PCOS. It’s best to check in with your GP or naturopath if you have any of the following symptoms as well as acne: irregular or absent periods, hirsutism (hair growth on the upper lip or chin), thinning of head on the head, weight gain or difficultly losing weight. We’ll talk more in-depth about excess androgens, PCOS and their treatments in another blog.


What dietary changes can I make?


Veggies, leafy greens, sweet potato, berries, avocado, nuts, seeds, eggs, fatty fish, green tea are your friends. Search up foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, selenium, antioxidants, vitamins A, E, C and Bs. Prebiotic and probiotic foods are also super beneficial for the skin.


This doesn’t mean giving up the sweets all together – make yummy raw desserts that contain good fats, protein and fibre. These components slow down the spike in blood sugar, and subsequently insulin, therefore reducing the glycaemic load.


Processed foods, white bread, cow’s milk, saturated fats, refined sugars, alcohol need to be reduced or avoided if you want to see results.

Artificial sweeteners are definitely not the answer, as research shows they still raise insulin levels, cause glucose intolerance, cause dysbiosis in the gut and lead to metabolic syndrome.


For phytonutrients and herbal medicine specific to enhancing and fast-forwarding the healing of acne:


Treating acne isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Making changes in the diet is just the first step in treating the problem!


We have to consider other factors to understand the whole picture, such as hormone levels, inflammation, intestinal permeability, gut function, the microbiome, and nutrient deficiencies.


It’s best to see a naturopath to determine which of these factors are at play and how to address them. Contact us on to book a consult or for more information.


The Miss Vitality Naturopathic Team

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Info gathered from:
Iftikhar, U., & Choudhry, N. (2019). Serum levels of androgens in acne & their role in acne severity. Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences, 35(1), 146–150.
Liauchonak, I., Qorri, B., Dawoud, F., Riat, Y., & Szewczuk, M. R. (2019). Non-nutritive sweeteners and their implications on the development of metabolic syndrome. Nutrients, 11(3), 1–19.
Melnik, B. C. (2012). Diet in acne: Further evidence for the role of nutrient signalling in acne pathogenesis. Acta Dermato-Venereologica, 92(3), 228–231.



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