Does Dairy Really Cause Acne?

By Kaitlyn, MedSpa Nurse Practitioner

One of the biggest topics in the skincare industry is how dairy affects the skin and if it does, how does it particularly affect acne? 

I want to start off by saying that dairy may or may not be contributing to your acne. Not everyone is affected by dairy. So if you do try some of these tips and your acne does not improve, then you may not be affected by dairy.

The Theories

There are a lot of theories behind the link between dairy and acne. The first is that many dairy products are loaded with hormones from cows and various animals.  These animal hormones can interact and double up on our human hormones which may result in acne.

Other theories stem from the idea that simply adding dairy into our highly processed diets can cause acne. A follow-up question to that theory for most people is also how can this affect my insulin levels?

It’s important to note that in doing your own research, you’ll see cases for both sides of the argument of “does dairy really cause acne?”. So what should you do? We’d recommend finding out if your body is even sensitive to dairy in the first place.

How to Check if You Are Sensitive to Dairy

If you’re unsure if you are sensitive or if dairy might be the cause of your breakouts, there’s two ways to check:

  1. You can just eliminate dairy completely from your diet for at least one month. While it may sound hard for you to give up cheese or other dairy products for an entire month, ultimately it’s worth it to see if you are sensitive. In addition, to see if your acne starts to clear up.
  2. Schedule a food sensitivity test. The results of this test will tell you if you’re sensitivity to dairy and in particular which dairy items.  Sensitivity can make your body react in different ways. A few examples being: bloating, GI distress, and again, acne breakouts.

Hormones & Dairy

Let’s jump back to the first theory on hormones, which is the most popular. When we go through puberty we have a large surge of hormones that inevitably causes acne (we broke down teen vs. adult acne in a previous blog here). If we are having breakouts because of our own hormones, there’s a good chance that we’re going to experience breakouts as a result of adding animal hormones as well.

These hormones cause stress to the body and again, can react in different ways. For some of us, that may mean acne. For others, it could simply mean bloating.

Cheese and Milk

In regards to dairy, two of the biggest culprits are typically cheese and milk. Since it is such a hot topic in the skincare industry, there have actually been a lot of studies determining which particular dairy products trigger the most acne. Interestingly enough, skim milk comes out as doing the most damage to your skin.

If you currently drink a lot of skim milk, you could always try switching away from it and see if that helps with your breakouts. I highly suggest dairy-free milk options, such as coconut or almond.

Protein Powder

Another big trigger is actually protein powder. Anyone who is very involved in the fitness world and drinks a lot of protein shakes can experience acne breakouts. Common areas include back or chest acne. I suggest switching to a plant-based protein powder if that is the case for you.  

If you’re unsure if your protein powder is dairy-based, review the ingredient list to check for the words “whey” and “casein”.  

So, Does Dairy Cause Acne?

If you do cut out dairy and find that it helps the complexion of your skin, you would obviously benefit from cutting out dairy for the rest of your life. This can sound a little ridiculous and we’re also all human- sometimes you need to have that pizza.

Just pick and choose when you want to have dairy and consume it in moderation. Do you need cheese on a salad? No. Do you need ice cream every night? No.  Do you need cheese on a pizza? Of course (at least we think so).

There are a lot of dairy-free options out there. When you do eat dairy, it doesn’t matter if you have one bite or if you have ten bites- studies have found if you are truly sensitive to dairy you will have breakouts no matter the amount of dairy you eat.

Check out some of our other blogs on how to fight back against acne:

If you’re still unsure about what first steps to take in regards to your skin, call our office to schedule a free skincare consultation. We’ll sit down, assess your skin using our VISIA Facial Analysis System, and develop an individualized treatment plan just for you. To book yours today, please give us a call at 513-791-9474.

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