Dairy And Acne: Does Dairy Cause Acne?

Written by Ramona Sinha • 

Picture this: You drink a glass of flavored milk, gorge on ice cream, and have a slice of cheesy pizza. The next morning, you see that your acne has gotten worse! Does this ring a bell? If yes, this article is for you. Although milk and other dairy products don’t cause acne, they can worsen it. Why? And how? We have the answers. Just keep scrolling!

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Is There Any Link Between Dairy And Acne?

Is There Any Link Between Dairy And Acne
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Yes, there is a partial link between your flare-ups and dairy. This might be confusing for you as we have always been told that milk and dairy products are good for our health. Even doctors recommend consuming dairy products and milk regularly (unless you are allergic to them).

Though dairy is definitely good for your overall health, it can cause acne flare-ups. There are several reasons behind it.

1. Milk Is Loaded With Hormones

Milk usually comes from pregnant cows and is rich in the hormone IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor 1). This hormone is good for the growth of calves (who were actually supposed to drink that milk). But, it’s not good for you. Drinking milk can make your acne flare up and turn painful (1).

2. Dairy Products Raise Insulin Levels

When you consume dairy products, the insulin levels in your body shoot up. To control the insulin levels, your liver starts producing more of the IGF-1 hormone, which, in turn, aggravates acne (1).

3. Dairy Causes Excess Sebum Production

Your hormones influence the production of sebum in your body. This sebum (along with bacteria and dead skin cells) clogs your skin pores and causes acne. When you consume milk and other dairy products, your skin produces excessive sebum, which then aggravates your acne (2).

Cow milk contains casein and whey. These milk proteins stimulate hormone production in calves. Consuming milk and dairy products stimulates hormone production in your body as well. These hormones interact with the hormones already present in your body, which ultimately confuses your endocrine system. This, in turn, triggers breakouts.

Breakouts can also be a result of lactose intolerance. Lactose is a type of natural sugar present in dairy products. If your body cannot tolerate lactose, it will give you signals. These signals could be allergic reactions, excessive bloating and acidity, or acne breakouts. So, if your acne has worsened in the past few days, and you think dairy is one of the causes, get an allergy test done.

Research is going on to find further connections between dairy and acne. However, most of the studies that have been conducted so far suggest that dairy does trigger acne. Go through the next section to get to the crux of these studies.

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Do Milk And Other Dairy Products Cause Acne? What Does Research Say?

Do Milk And Other Dairy Products Cause Acne What Does Research Say
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Studies conducted in recent years to examine the effect of dairy products, especially milk, found that it does contribute to acne severity.

  • A study conducted in 2005 on 47,355 adult women found that severity of acne was connected to milk consumption, especially skimmed milk (3).
  • Another study conducted in 2006 examined the relationship between milk and acne in 6,094 adolescent girls between the ages of 9-15 years. The study examined them for three years. They consumed whole milk, total milk, skim milk, and low-fat milk during this time. At the end of the study, they found that milk was linked to acne severity, mainly due to its metabolic effects (4).
  • A study conducted in 2008 involving 4,237 teenage boys found similar results. The participants were asked questions about their food intake and their acne severity. It found that those who consumed skim milk suffered from acne breakouts. The study concluded that skim milk either contained hormones or constituents that affected endogenous hormones and caused acne (5).

Don’t know whether dairy is the culprit behind your breakouts? Try eliminating dairy from your diet for a month and observe how your skin reacts to it. This will give you a clear idea. However, if dairy is not the issue, there are several other factors that could be the cause of your acne breakouts.

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What Are The Other Causes Of Acne?

What Are The Other Causes Of Acne
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  • Your Diet

Junk food may not cause acne directly, but it does play a role in aggravating it. So, if you have been experiencing flare-ups recently, check your diet.

  • Not So Clean Face

Sleeping with your makeup on traps all the dirt and oil in your skin. These, along with makeup particles, clog your pores and cause acne. Not washing your face can also result in dirt and dead skin cell accumulation.

  • Your Genes

You can’t do anything if you have got it in your genes. If your parents had it, you will suffer from it too. In fact, it becomes a real challenge to control such acne. However, you can follow a good skin care regimen and use natural and allopathic remedies to manage it.

  • Side Effect Of Medicines

Medications that contain steroids, iodides, and bromides worsen acne. Talk to a dermatologist if you think some medicines are making your skin break out.

  • Cosmetics And Makeup

Do you ever wonder why some skin care products and cosmetics say ’non-comedogenic’ on their packaging? It’s because these products won’t clog your pores and cause acne. Not all products are non-comedogenic, and using such products can cause acne.

  • Menstruation

When you are menstruating, your body produces excess hormones, which can cause breakouts or worsen existing ones. Such breakouts usually fade away once your period is over.

If your skin is breaking out, don’t panic. There are ways to control it. Read on to find out what they are.

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How To Control Your Breakouts

How To Control Your Breakouts
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  • Over-The-Counter Medication

OTC medicines are readily available in drugstores, and you don’t need a prescription to buy them. Get products that contain alpha hydroxy acids, glycolic acid, lactic acid, or salicylic acid. These ingredients help in unclogging the pores and controlling breakouts.

  • Essential Oils

Topical application of certain essential oils helps in eliminating acne-causing bacteria and reduce inflammation. These include tea tree oil, basil oil, spearmint oil, peppermint oil, and manuka essential oil (6). You need to mix the essential oil with a carrier oil before applying it to your skin.

  • Check What You Are Eating

If you suspect that your dietary habits are a major reason for your acne, track them closely. Try to maintain a food diary where you jot down whatever you are putting in your mouth all day long. Share it with your doctor to figure out the reason behind your acne.

  • Be Consistent With Your Treatment

If you are taking medicines or applying ointments for controlling acne, be consistent. Lifestyle and diet changes are a part of your acne treatment, but they need to be followed up with regular medicines and treatment to get the best results.

  • Go Easy With Makeup

Tone down using foundation, blush, and compact every day, especially when your skin is breaking out. These makeup products clog your pores and don’t let your skin breathe. If you do choose to wear makeup, keep it minimal and wash it off at the end of the day.

  • Check What You Are Applying On Your Hair

Hair products like gels, oils, and pomades can glide down to your skin and cause acne. Avoid using them altogether. If you have an oily scalp, wash it often. The oil from your scalp can make your face extra oily and cause breakouts.

Finding out that dairy products can aggravate acne may have broken your heart. Here are a few alternatives that you can try out.

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Dairy-Free Alternatives You Can Try Out

Dairy-Free Alternatives You Can Try Out
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Here are some non-dairy alternatives that may suit your dietary needs:

  • Almond milk
  • Soy milk
  • Flaxseed milk
  • Cashew milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Tofu (to replace cheese)

These are all plant derivatives and will not trigger acne inflammation. They are rich in essential fats, nutrients, and vitamins.

Before you cut out dairy from your diet, try to understand how exactly your skin is responding to it. Go slow. Take time to eliminate dairy from your diet completely and then see how your skin is responding during the dairy-free months. If dairy is the trigger, replace it with alternatives. In the end, it’s for you to decide what will keep you happy – that creamy glass of chocolate milkshake or glowing acne-free skin.

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Have any questions or doubts? Or would you like to share your experience with going dairy-free? Feel free to let us know in the comments section below.


1. “The relationship of diet and acne”, Dermatoendocrinology, US National Library of Medicine
2. “Significance of diet..”, Advances in Dermatology and Allergology, US National Library of Medicine
3. “Diet And Acne“, Journal of American Academy of Dermatology
4. “Milk consumption and acne…”, Dermatology Online Journal, US National Library of Medicine
5. “Milk consumption and acne in teenaged boys”, Journal of American Academy of Dermatology, US National Library of Medicine
6. “Commercial Essential Oils as…”, Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, US National Library of Medicine

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