Like many of you, when I am stressed, eating too much sugar or dairy, my body let’s me know it is not impressed by rewarding me with acne especially along the jawline and forehead.

Lets take a closer look at why Sugar & Dairy contribute to acne:

Consuming dairy is an issue when it comes to acne because it can boost male sex hormones called androgens as well as increase insulin levels.

Here’s a short list of the 60-some hormones in your average glass of milk—even the organic, raw, and bovine growth hormone free milk:

  • 20α-dihydropregnenolone
  • progesterone (from pregnenolone)
  • 5α-pregnanedione
  • 5α-pregnan-3β-ol-20-one,
  • 20α- and 20β-dihydroprogesterone (from progesterone)
  • 5α-androstene-3β17β-diol
  • 5α-androstanedione
  • 5α-androstan-3β-ol-17-one
  • androstenedione
  • testosterone
  • dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate acyl ester
  • insulin like growth factors 1 and 2 (IGF-1 and IGF-2)
  • insulin

Two large controlled trials found that cow’s milk increased both the number of people who got acne and its severity. Other large randomized prospective controlled trials (the gold standard of medical research) found that people who had higher sugar intake and a high glycemic load diet (more bread, rice, cereal, pasta, sugar, and flour products of all kinds) had significantly more acne. The good news is that chocolate (dark chocolate that is) didn’t seem to cause acne.

Similarly, foods that cause a quick rise in blood sugar (sugar and starchy carbs) spike insulin and elevated insulin levels can cause acne.

Every single carbohydrate you eat will eventually get converted into glucose – the form of sugar in your blood. In order to get glucose into cells to be used as energy or stored as glycogen, insulin is required. Therefore insulin is an absolutely vital hormone for health. However, the big problem for almost everybody is not that we don’t have enough insulin in our bodies; it’s that we have too much. Elevated levels of insulin or multiple spikes of insulin throughout the day will stimulate sebum production. Sebum is the oil that is responsible for blocking your skin pores. It is produced by the sebaceous glands in your skin, and insulin stimulates them to be active. The more insulin you have, the more sebum production there will be.

This makes it inevitable that your pores will get blocked and P.acnes bacteria will flood into the blocked pores, they will be attacked with an inflammatory response, and the surrounding pore will swell up and go red. Here is where a viscous cycle starts because insulin leads to the creation of IGF-1, which stimulates a massive increase in sebum, and it also enhances the ability of androgens to cause acne.

In addition to dairy and sugar, nutritional deficiencies, as well as excesses, can worsen acne. Correcting common deficiencies including low levels of healthy omega-3 anti-inflammatory fats, low levels of antioxidants such as vitamin E, zinc, and vitamin A, and including an important anti-inflammatory omega-6 fat called evening primrose oil all may be helpful in preventing and treating unwanted pimples.

The solution to the problem for acne… is NOT the birth control pill.

1. Cut out dairy: Swap out cows milk for almond, coconut or cashew milk but read the label. Many milk alternatives are filled with sugar and canola oil. Butter is also considered dairy so choose coconut oil or ghee. Ghee is clarified grass-fed butter, this means the proteins that cause inflammation have been removed.

2. Limit sugar and processed carbohydrates: Baking, breads, pasta, essentially everything white needs to be removed. If you need a low carb treat, my go to is the delicious dark chocolate Cocofiber bars. These bars are loaded with vegetable fiber and offer a host of health benefits. This natural, soluble, prebiotic dietary fiber naturally supports healthy mineral absorption, bowel pH, immune system function, and composition of intestinal microbiota. You can purchase them here.

3. Practice intermittent fasting: Consuming fewer meals means fewer spikes in insulin levels. One human study showed that intermittent fasting lowered blood sugar by 3-6% and fasting insulin by 20-31%.

4. Stress less: The stress hormone cortisol is a big cause of insulin resistance. When you are stressed it tells your body to increase glucose in your bloodstream, in order to give you the energy to fight off the threat you face. More glucose in the blood means the pancreas is signaled to produce insulin. Over time the cells stop responding to insulin and you become insulin resistant. Download the calm app and start incorporating meditation into your daily routine. Also remember to breath deeply throughout your day.

5. Address nutritional deficiencies: Key things to consider when dealing with acne are omega 3 fatty acids, zinc, vitamin D, B3, and vitamin A. Lab testing for nutrient status include Organic Acid Testing and Spectracell.

6. Consume ground pumpkin seeds and flax: Pumpkin seeds are antiandrogenic and provide a dose of zinc. Flax seeds help to ensure adequate bowel movements and are phytoestrogenic meaning they help to balance estrogen levels. The fiber content of flax also helps to feed to good gut bacteria.

7. Test hormone imbalances: The Dutch Test is a simple urine test tells provides me with a significant amount of information about your hormones and hormone metabolites over the course of a day. This test allows me to discover the underlying cause of weight gain, fatigue, mood disturbances, glucose control, infertility & miscarriage, menstrual complaints, libido and more. This insight is provided by the ability of the Dutch test to detect imbalances in androgens (Testosterone, DHT, and DHEA), Estrogens (E1, E2, E3), Cortisol, Progesterone, and Melatonin. This truly gives me a complete picture of hormone production, breakdown and excretion. It is not enough to just know you are low or high in a specific hormone. I need to understand the WHY. Is there a production issue, breakdown issue or excretion issue?

8. Consider taking a probiotic: The gut and skin interact, each one affecting the other through several pathways, especially the microbiome and its metabolites. Because they can interact, they also have the ability to influence one another’s health, with the gut having a greater impact on skin health.T here are many skin disorders that are more common in those with gut issues and vice versa. For example, rosacea has an association with SIBO, Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is also associated with a higher risk of developing an inflammatory skin condition, such as psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and rosacea, and Celiac disease is also associated with skin problems such as dermatitis herpetiformis. Before recommending a probiotic I like to do a comprehensive stool test to determine which strains would be right for you using the GIMAP stool test.

9. Spot treat as needed: In my practice, I use products with research to support acne reduction. My favourite spot treatment is the AlumierMD Acne Balancing Serum. In addition to spot treatment ensure you are using products that best suit your individualized skin type. You can also register, order and collect points with us! For additional product info and a free skin assessment call 519-500-5525 or [email protected]


I hope those tips were helpful to you. If you are struggling with acne please book an appointment at the Wild Side. We have 2 locations in Guelph Ontario and Kindersley SK and offer a variety of options to treat your acne from Naturopathic Consults, Laboratory Testing, Peels, and Collagen Induction therapy.