Does Dairy Cause Acne? The Milk and Acne Relationship Debunked

Does dairy cause acne? Here's a research backed answer

Most of you readers that suffer from regular outbreaks of acne have probably got a huge range of products that you’ve tried and tested. If you’re lucky then you might even have found some treatments and a routine that actually keep your acne at bay.

Whatever way you deal with this frustrating and at times embarrassing skin condition, one thing is always important to keep in mind:

Prevention is better than cure!

One way of prevention that we extensively discuss on this site is to have a daily cleansing routine that keeps your skin’s pores clear from aggravating substances. But have you ever wondered whether certain things that you eat might be the cause?

Maybe you’ve noticed more severe reactions after eating certain types of chocolates or even cheeses?

In recent years, dairy products have been increasingly blamed as having a contributing effect on acne. The problem is that clinical style trials with proper test groups have not been performed to find a definitive answer.

To help you figure out whether dairy products are contributing to your acne, we’ve taken a look at some of the research that has been done. This will give you enough information to decide whether trying a dairy free diet might be worth it for you.

Researches on Acne-Milk Relationship

Although, far from conclusive, several studies have been published linking the consumption of milk with increased acne breakouts, especially among teenagers.

“We found a positive association between intake of skim milk and acne. This finding suggests that skim milk contains hormonal constituents, or factors that influence endogenous hormones.” – Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

An Italian study found the risk of acne development “increased with increased milk consumption in those consuming more than 3 portions per week.” This study subjected adolescents and young adults, which means it’s not only teenagers that can be affected by milk consumption.

And in a recent review of the subject, Dr. F. William Danby from Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover, New Hampshire, USA, made a very interest comment that:

“Nature’s Perfect Food’ (milk) also seems to be nature’s perfect acnegen.”

An important point to note is that each of these reviews and studies has found skim milk to be the culprit and not the full or low fat milk.

What We Can Conclude:

These were the three main studies on milk-acne relationship, but there are others that reveal more or less the same facts.

However, all of the conclusions up till now have been made on the basis of ‘correlation’ of milk consumption and increased acne breakouts. There’s a clear line between correlation and causation. Not a single controlled trial has been conducted investigate the role of milk in acne formation. Moreover, experts have also never used concrete wordings in their opinions on the matter. Mona Gohara, MD, practicing dermatology at Yale says, “There seems to be an association with dairy and acne.” Further adding, “we have yet to see any research that makes a definitive connection.”

But still, all of this are enough to justify that there is something in milk (or skim milk) that aggravates acne breakouts on your skin, and that we will be far better off dealing with it than turning a blind eye.

So, what really is in milk that can cause or increase your breakouts? Let’s find out.

How Milk Causes Acne

Insulin and IGF-1 Hormones

Hormones play a pivotal role in the development of acne. And it’s not by surprise that you get to hear terms like ‘hormonal acne’ time and again.

The most important hormones that contribute in acne formation are insulin and insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).

IGF-1 is a hormone that not only increases sebum production on your skin, but it also makes your pores more visible, making a perfect breeding ground for acne.

Several studies have shown that the consumption of dairy products can dramatically increase the IGF-1 levels in your body. In essence, 1-3 servings of dairy per day can increase your IGF-1 levels up to 16%-20% than normal.

And just like IGF-1, insulin can also trigger hormonal acne.

Allergic Reactions

If you’re allergic to milk to dairy products, you can see an increase in your breakouts upon dairy intake. This is due to immune system’s response to milk’s proteins, such as casein. Other than acne, symptoms of milk allergy can include rashes and other skin problems.

Does Yogurt Cause Acne?

A very calculated answer is NO.

According to Whitney Bowe, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, “Milk and ice cream have been associated with acne, but yogurt and cheese don’t seem to have the same type of effect.”

There are a couple reasons behind this.

First, the fermentation process that the yogurt goes through results in lowering up the IGF-1 levels from the normal milk, and along with the probiotics, yogurt becomes much less likely to cause inflammatory responses in your body, and hence less acne.

Your Takeaway

The essence of our discussion is that a link, although inconclusive, exists between dairy and acne.

And typically, doctors like Mona Gohara, MD always recommend their patients to start with changing their diet when going through acne treatment.

This also implies that giving up dairy doesn’t mean total emancipation from acne, even to the most evangelical practitioners. What it does show that is because dairy intake can increase your acne breakouts, giving up its use can surely help minimizing them.

So, what does giving up dairy actually mean? To make even the slightest impact, you have to be free of dairy for at least one month (although it actually takes about 3 months for your body to adapt any new skincare routine or dietary change).

Other Options You Have

What if you don’t want to quit dairy products cold turkey? Thankfully, there’s a way around for you.

Balancing Your Metabolism

Dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream are potent metabolism boosters. This is down to the fact that calcium, along with protein and saturated fats present in milk, helps the body burn calories much faster [source].

Now, this increase in the metabolic rate of your body isn’t bad as long as you follow up with adequate nutritional intake. And the most important for your skin is vitamin A.

If you avoid vitamin A deficiency in your body, you can balance the increased metabolism rate of your body that contributes to acne formation on your skin.

Some important non-dairy food sources of vitamin A include liver and fish oils, leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables, tomato products, fruits, and some vegetable oils.

Vitamin A is also widely available in the supplement form.

Your Thoughts?

Do you think if diary causes acne or not? How has your acne responded to milk consumption? Share your valuable thoughts in the comments below!

Sheikh has been blogging regularly at CAA for over 5 years. He spends majority of his time studying health and technology or participating in discussions about these niches (online or offline).


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