What is IGF-1? | Why is it Bad for Acne?

What you eat not only affects how you feel but the way your skin looks as well. When you eat a healthy diet, your skin will have a natural glow that’s absent when you get your meals from fast food restaurants.


There’s evidence that diet plays a role in acne as well. Eating the wrong foods can trigger hormonal changes that increase the production of sebum.  Sebaceous glands produce this sticky substance that clogs pores and contributes to pimples.  So are there certain acne-causing foods you should avoid?




Originated in the liver, Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 is an endocrine hormone whose molecules are made up of protein.  In simple terms IGF-1 is bad for acne because it is an insulin, causing the sebaceous glands to over-stimulate and produce more sebum blocking pores.


Acne-Causing Foods: What Foods Should You Avoid with Acne?


What is IGF-1?Most research has focused on the role that high-glycemic carbohydrates play in triggering acne.  High-glycemic carbs are carbohydrates that are low in fiber.  Because they lack fiber, they’re rapidly absorbed and lead to greater fluctuations in insulin levels.  These insulin spikes cause increases in insulin-like proteins like IGF-1 that can worsen acne.


Examples of high-glycemic carbs include sugary breakfast cereals, sweet pastries and desserts, white bread, white rice and potatoes.  These carbohydrates are low in fiber or high in sugar.  They’re quickly absorbed and cause production of more insulin and IGF-1.  This spells trouble for your skin if you have acne.  


Listed below are acne-causing foods that it’s best to avoid.


Milk and Dairy Products


Milk contains IGF-1 which is can increase acne breakoutsDairy products, particularly milk, are other acne-causing foods.  From a study carried out in teenagers with acne, showed this was evident.  It showed that teens that drank more than 3 cups of cow’s milk a day had more acne outbreaks than those who limited their milk consumption to a cup a day or less.


Switching over to skim milk won’t help either. It’s linked with acne outbreaks too.  Some research suggests it’s even more likely to worsen acne than whole milk.


Why is cow’s milk such a problem?  


Cow’s milk contains IGF-1 and skim milk contains greater amounts than whole milk.  If you put milk on your cereal in the morning, choose a non-dairy milk alternative such as almond milk or soy milk.  Also, choose a cereal that’s high in fiber.  Don’t choose corn flakes and cereals that are high in sugar. They cause insulin spikes that can make acne worse.


What about Fried Foods?


Fried and greasy foods can be the cause of acne because of the IGF-1 contentMost people believe that fried and greasy foods trigger acne outbreaks. Although these foods aren’t good for you, there isn’t a lot of strong scientific evidence that they make acne worse. On the other hand, saturated fats can raise Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 levels, which may worsen acne.


Even though there isn’t solid proof that fried foods make acne worse, it’s best from an acne standpoint to replace unhealthy fats with healthier fats such as polyunsaturated ones in olive oil, nuts and fatty fish such as wild-caught salmon. The omega-3 fats in fatty fish have anti-inflammatory properties that may be beneficial for acne and skin health in general. Think salmon not beef for keeping acne under control.


The Bottom Line?


There’s increasing evidence that what you eat affects your skin and your chances of developing an acne outbreak. Lighten up on high-glycemic foods, especially fast food, processed foods and sugary desserts, and limit the amount of dairy products you eat and drink, especially milk. Eat more fish, fresh fruits and vegetables and less red meat.  It could pay off with more beautiful skin.



Medscape.com. “Does Diet Really Affect Acne?”

Arch. Dermatol. 2005 Mar; 141(3): 333-8.

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