Does Dairy Cause Acne? Here’s What The Science Says

by Gio
does dairy give you acne

Can dairy cause acne?

Scientists stubbornly even refused to consider the possibility for decades. Yet, those who tried it swear that quitting diary made their acne vanish within a month. What kind of sorcery is this?!

The evidence’s mounting so fast, scientists had no choice but go back to their labs and give the whole “dairy gives you acne” thesis another go. Lo and behold, there IS a link..

Does Dairy Cause Acne?

It’s complicated.

Dairy does NOT directly cause acne. If you add Camembert to your sandwich, it’s not a done deal your face’s gonna erupt in pimples. Phew!

You’re just increasing your chances that may happen. Diary messes with certain hormones that play a part in the acne equation. Here’s what I mean:

How Does Dairy Cause Acne?

A 2018 study found that “intake of any dairy, any milk, full-fat dairy, whole milk, low-fat/skim milk, and yogurt regardless of amount or frequency were associated with a higher odds ratio for acne compared to no intake in individuals aged 7–30 years.” But why?

The short answer is that diary increases the levels of hormones in your body, triggering sebaceous glands to produce more oil than it needs. Too much sebum is always the first step towards acne.

The long answer? Here we go:

1. Diary Increases Hormone Levels

Diary messes with a few hormones that are involved in sebum production:

  • IGF-1: Short for insuline-like growth factor, it stimulates growth in every cell of your body. When your body has too much IGF-1, it increases the production of sebum and enlarges your pores. Just 3 servings of milk per day is enough to make it spike by 10%.
  • DHEAS: Short for Dehydroepiandrosterone, it increases the levels of testosterone and DHT, two hormones that trigger sebum production. Studies show that women affected by acne have higher levels of DHEAS than normal.
  • Added hormones: Cows (like any other mammal) produce milk only when they have to feed their babies. To make them produce milk all the time, you have to inject them with hormones that stimulate milk production. These hormones then end up in the milk you drink.

You know where this is going. When your sebaceous glands pimp out too much sebum, the excess gets stuck in the pores. Here, it mixes with dead cells to form clogs. If acne bacteria join the party, it’s pimples galore.

2. Lactose Intolerance May Cause Acne

Some people are allergy to milk. When they drink it, their immune system treats casein (the main protein in milk) as a threat and triggers the alarm.

This is a pain, but it does NOT directly cause acne. Lactose intolerance is more tricky. Studies show that it’s linked to gut problems.

It all starts when the bad bacteria in your gut overtakes the good ones that digest foods and make vitamins. Now they’re in the majority, these bad bacteria start causing all kinds of havoc.

For starters, they interfere with the digestive process and start producing nasty toxins. Not satisfied, they then attack the walls of your gut so these toxins leak out into your body.

This leads straight to chronic inflammation. Guess what acne is? An inflammatory disease!

If you’re not lactose intolerant, all’s good. But if you don’t feel right (like tummy rumblings and too much gas) after consuming dairy, your body may not be able to handle lactose all that well. Staying away from dairy can help reduce your acne (and improve your overall health).

Do All Dairy Foods Cause Acne?

Not all dairy foods are created equal. Some are more prone to give you acne than others:

  • Regular Whole Milk: Not as comedogenic as other types of milk, but it’s still loaded with hormones that can give you acne.
  • Skim milk: It’ s more likely to give you acne than whole milk. We don’t know why but it’s probably because it has a higher glycemix index.
  • Organic milk: A better choice than regular milk as it doesn’t have any added hormones, but it can still increase hormone levels in your body.
  • Cheese: It still has some problematic hormones, but it’s less likely than milk to give you acne.
  • Greek Yogurt: Out of all the diary products, it’s the least likely to give you pimples. Probably because of the added good bacteria that help you restore balance in the gut and decrease inflammation.
  • Ice creams: It’s one of the worst culprits. But scientists think it’s because it makes your blood sugar levels spike like crazy (sugar has been linked to acne, too).

If you can’t give up milk with your cereals, switch to nut milk. Coconut, almond and oat milks don’t have any of the hormones found in milk, so they won’t give you acne.

The Bottom Line

Diary does NOT directly cause acne. But it can increase the risk of getting acne for some people, especially those intolerant to lactose. If you suspect milk is giving you acne, go without it for a few days and see how your skin reacts. It may finally clear up for good.

What do you think about the link between diary and acne? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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2 comments

Sam June 6, 2019 - 3:12 am

“Added hormones: Cows (like any other mammal) produce milk only when they have to feed their babies. To make them produce milk all the time, you have to inject them with hormones that stimulate milk production. These hormones then end up in the milk you drink.”
This is not correct- just as humans who can nurse children longer than several months, continuing to milk a cow results in her continuing to produce milk. This doesn’t last forever, which is why most dairy cows have a calf every year or so. Some farmers do use a modified version of bovine growth hormone, but it is increasingly uncommon. Additionally, this hormone is digested as a protein when consumed by humans.
Otherwise, a very interesting article. ~A dairy veterinarian

Reply
Gio July 6, 2019 - 12:09 pm

Sam, good to know this is becoming uncommon now and thank you for your thoughtful comment.

Reply

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