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Insulin: The Inside Scoop and Why Spikes Cause Acne

insulin and how it affects your skin

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how insulin affects acne / acne care / breakouts/ acne causes/ pimples / internal healing for acne /

Insulin- A necessary evil in life…


… and one where the scales can be tipped with the slightest breeze. Too much, or too little, blood sugar can cause some serious issues in your body, but did you know it’s also linked to acne?

THAT’S RIGHT! Blood sugar, particularly when it’s spiked can cause breakouts, even the super sore cystic kind.

Here’s how:
  • Spikes in your blood sugar can occur when you eat something sugary, skip a meal, drink a cup of coffee and even experience a cold or flu.
  • When your system becomes overloaded with sugar, your pancreas has to go into “hare mode” to produce enough insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) to restore balance to your blood sugar levels
  • When your system is burdened by an abundance of insulin (or IGF-1), it begins to produce androgen hormones


how insulin affects acne / acne care / breakouts/ acne causes/ pimples / internal healing for acne /


When we have an excess of androgen hormones in our body, it reacts by producing excess sebum (oil), leading to clogged pores, congestion AND breakouts (both in the forms of black and whiteheads). When congestion and oil are present, it can increase the inflammation in the skin, and even lead to cystic acne when left untreated.

Basically – it’s a VICIOUS cycle! One wrong move can lead to a bad reaction, which leads to another bad reaction, and another…. well you get the point. If left unattended, the long-term results can lead to insulin resistance (basically meaning, it takes way more insulin to restore balance than it did before, and the pancreas is required to produce at much higher levels).  This also means the production of androgen hormones (and oil) is put into overdrive, eventually leading to acne chaos!



  • When we exacerbate the levels of inflammation it only propels our acne into a downward spiral further (ie. more inflammation = more acne)
  • Taking a “tinkle” is our bodies way of trying to rid itself of excess glucose (what our gut turns sugar into), but urine also requires water to happen, so it takes it takes the water from other areas of your body (including your skin). This can lead to dry skin, which then becomes vulnerable, as water is your skins’ main defence barrier. Bacteria can now enter the skin easier, leading to inflammation… and of course breakouts.
  • THE BOTTOM LINE = Sugar causes inflammation & the release of additional hormones. Inflammation and hormonal imbalances are the two root causes of acne!!



how insulin affects acne / acne care / breakouts/ acne causes/ pimples / internal healing for acne /

  • Avoid super, sugary foods

006_061Reduce the amount of sugar in your diet in general – check those food labels! You’ll be surprised at how much sugar are snuck into things we eat regularly (or things that we would guess are low in sugar!)

  • Increase the amount of “low GI” foods you eat
    010_024Food that is low on the glycemic index includes chickpeas, kidney beans, sweet potatoes, whole grain bread (NOT wholewheat), Cherries, Plums, Rolled Oats, Almond milk and dried apple slices.
  • Cut out dairy
    006_099A lot of the foods in this group are high in sugar. Plus, dairy has been scientifically proven to increase inflammation and breakouts! FYI- Dairy increases IGF-1
  • Increase the protein in your diet
    006_004This keeps you full, reduces sugar cravings and doesn’t make you feel like you’re constantly wanting to eat something (you know that feeling when you’re already FULL, but not satisfied, and you feel like a wild animal because you feel like you NEED to keep eating?  Protein high foods can help STOP that out of control feeling, especially if you start your day with protein). Protein-rich food includes eggs, beans and nuts.NOTE: Brown rice protein is NOT a good source for anyone! Go with a hemp protein instead (or pea protein, if you’re not sensitive to it). Also, try to avoid whey protein as it increases IGF-1
  • Don’t let your blood sugar get super low by skipping meals, especially breakfast
    006_088You’ve heard it a million times. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Well, it’s true! Many people will actually spike their blood sugar simply by waking up in the morning. Breakfast (both making sure we eat it, and what we choose to eat) set in motion how our body functions for the duration of the day. You want it to face the day as bravely as you do!
  • DON’T switch to chemical / synthetic sugars like aspartame, etc.
    024_003These are HORRIBLE for your body and will just increase your toxic load. Our toxic load also increases inflammation, which we all know at this point leads to acne.
  • DON’T stress or obsess
    024_003Just adopt the mindset that each week you’ll make one step towards reducing the sugar in your diet. Batty did this by adopting the habit of each time she went grocery shopping she made the conscious effort to reducing the sugar in her diet by either replacing a sugary food she normally bought with a healthy alternative (example: switching from cereal to quick oats. Jamie’s favourites recipe: she adds a little bit of honey, lots of berries, chia seeds, and hemp protein powder to her quick oats)



Good question! Simple sugars, that are unrefined (like honey, date sugar, maple sugar, etc.), are much better for us because they contain things like antioxidants, flavonoids, anti-bacterial properties, and more. If blood sugar spikes are the trigger for your acne, you’ll want to avoid these too. Jamie couldn’t cut out all processed sugars AND natural sugars in one go. That was just too much for her, so she started with processed sugars. Then worked on reducing her natural sugars. She still has honey in her tea every day though, and without an issue! Her body is able to tolerate natural sugars very well (as long as they aren’t at excess) when she’s avoiding processed sugars.

On the other hand, complex sugars (like those found in fruits, veggies, whole grains, etc) come wrapped in fibre. They take much longer for the body to break down and blood sugar spikes are much less likely. Jamie’s been able to clear my acne without ever worrying about these! She eats as many fruits and veggies as she wants. She can often be found enjoying a bowl of strawberries on a hot summer’s day.

We know that’s a lot of information to take in at once. Remember- It doesn’t have to be an overnight process. You can work at things over a period of time to improve your daily intake of sugars. In the meantime, we hope this helps paint a better picture of the connection between insulin & acne.

Until next time,

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P.S. Want to learn more about the common triggers and causes of acne? No problem! We’ve got the info you need right here.


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Jamie Sabot, Author, Grounded Sage Skincare

Jamie Sabot

Jamie Sabot is the founder of Grounded Sage Skincare. Since she started in 2009, Grounded Sage Skincare has helped thousands of customers with their skin by creating handcrafted skincare products, online workshops, and this blog, which has been a trusted resource for straightforward natural skincare information to over 2 million readers and counting.

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