Naturopaths, Massage, Nutritionists, Acupuncturists & Osteopaths in Brisbane

Acne Treatment Brisbane

Discovering the hidden drivers of acne

Many people think “balancing their hormones” is the key to improving acne. Fluctuations in hormones after puberty certainly do play a part, but there often comes a time when medications like antibiotics, the contraceptive pill or roaccutane no longer help control acne breakouts. You may be a teenager wanting to get your acne under control, or someone who has struggled with acne well into your adult life. It’s frustrating and there are so many acne treatment options out there.  

Naturopaths at Vibe Natural Health in Brisbane explain new research into acne treatments and what could be the hidden drivers of your acne.

shutterstock_371452981_webIn both men and women, worsening acne and severe breakouts are more closely linked to changes in a protein called insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) than they are to testosterone based hormonal changes.

Rather than chasing “perfect hormones,” there are some dietary and supplement strategies that our naturopaths can advise you on that can influence the effect that IGF-1 has on acne.

Research shows that food choices can drive up IGF-1 levels and worsen acne symptoms. There are also some conditions such as poly-cystic ovarian disease (PCOS), obesity and insulin resistance that also push levels up, worsening adult acne. Our Naturopaths at Vibe Natural Health in Brisbane can develop a acne treatment plan to address all the common hormonal and nutritional drivers of your acne.

Three major food groups drive up levels of IGF-1 to worsen acne:

  • high glycaemic foods (sugars and processed carbohydrates)
  • milk and dairy
  • saturated fats including trans-fats and fats deficient in omega 3 polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs).

These dietary factors lead to increased oily sebum production in the skin, which provide a breeding ground for a normal skin bacteria called P. acnes to overgrow. This oily skin environment forms a biofilm, where the acne causing bacteria can hide, making topical products for acne less effective. The oiler skin and high levels of P Acnes cause inflammation in the skin and pore blockages which are the drivers of acne.

Summary of how IGF-1 drives acne:

  • Amplifies the androgen (testosterone and DHEA) metabolism in the skin, which has a local effect further promoting increased sebum and acne
  • Increase facial sebum (oil)
  • Increases skin cell proliferation, which then blocks pores
  • Stimulates local skin inflammation

Dietary Strategies for acne treatment:



Our Naturopaths recommend a low glycaemic diet as part of acne treatment.  It is also quite common for us to suggest a period (up to 5 weeks) of dairy avoidance. The association between milk and acne is independent of high glycaemic foods and extensively studied in over 10 thousand people.

So while milk and dairy are not a direct cause of acne, cutting it out of your diet can help to reduce acne severity. A note of caution, often when people give up cow’s milk, they move over to soy milk. While this may seem like a sensible substitute, soy contains phytoestrogens, which may also be problematic for acne sufferers. Unfortunately, goat and sheep milk may not be good alternatives either, as the proteins are very similar to cow’s milk and may have a similar effect on digestion.



As you can see, there are many dietary factors to consider when on the discovery to find the cause of your acne. Our Naturoapths will help you demystify all the acne treatments, diets and supplments out there, with a tailored program to help you.

Our Naturopaths specialise in advising you on an acne friendly, low inflammatory diet.

Our Vibe Natural Health Naturopaths have a special interest in Acne treatment, running a Brisbane based Healthy Skin Program, which will help you to:

  • Have clear, healthy skin
  • Be able to see and track clear improvement over a 6 month period
  • Experience improved wellbeing and overall health
  • Understand what underlying causes impact your skin and know how to manage them
  • Know what foods support your skin, and those that don’t
  • Have an individual at-home care program that suits your skin
  • Know what topical products suit your skin and how to choose them
  • Have mindfulness and self-care strategies in place to support your overall health

Book an Acne Treatment appointment with a Naturopath 


More research on the foods that drive Acne via IGF-1:

A diet high in high glycaemic foods and dairy products has been shown to increase  IGF-1 and is also linked with conditions such as PCOS and diabetes type 2, which further increase IGF-1. High glycaemic diets, which include processed foods, processed carbohydrates and sugars, soft drink and dairy, are significantly linked to higher acne incidence, seen in up to 79-95% of the adolescent population in Westernised countries.

By contrast non-Western diets, which are traditionally low glycemic do not drive IGF-1.  Diet can be a significant treatment approach in acne as shown in an Australian trial conducted by RMIT in Melbourne where a low glycaemic index, higher vegetable and protein diet was shown to improve symptoms of acne including a reduced number of facial lesions, reduced androgen and IGF-1 levels and improved insulin sensitivity.

The research shows:

  • Milk consumption alone doesn’t cause acne but it seems that those that drink milk develop more severe acne than non-milk drinkers. Furthermore, the more milk consumed, the worse the acne tended to be.
  • The link between the severity of acne and milk is strongest, however other dairy products have shown similar effects including cottage cheese, chocolate milk and skim milk.
  • One of the interesting things that emerged from the research is that skim milk induced more breakouts than whole fat milk indicating that fat is not the issue.

So if not the fat, what is the culprit? As mentioned above cow’s milk both contains and is a promoter or IGF-1 and high milk consumption is associated with a 20-30% rise in circulating levels in teens. In adults the rise is 10-20%. Dairy products (except for cheese) also promote rises in insulin, a factor that compounds the impact of IGF-1 and further drives sebum production, inflammation and acne development.

There are many different proteins in milk and IGF-1 is only one that may cause issues. The other issue that may be linked to dairy is the casein and whey proteins found in cow’s milk. Casein is approximately 80% of the protein and whey makes up the remaining 20%. Casein is the factor that drives up serum IGF-1, whereas whey increases fasting insulin both of which promote the development of acne.


Melnik, B.C., 2015. Linking diet to acne metabolomics, inflammation, and comedogenesis: an update. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 8, p.371.

Melnik, B.C. and Schmitz, G., 2009. Role of insulin, insulin?like growth factor?1, hyperglycaemic food and milk consumption in the pathogenesis of acne vulgaris. Experimental dermatology, 18(10), pp.833-841.