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Dairy and acne; will cutting out dairy improve your skin health? | Balance

Acne is a common skin condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by the presence of pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, and cysts, which occur when the pores become clogged with dead skin cells or bacteria.

Girl staring at camera

While the causes of acne are multifactorial, there has been ongoing debate about the potential link between dairy consumption and acne flare-ups.

In this article, we will explore the scientific evidence behind this association and debunk some of the myths surrounding dairy and acne.

Understanding the Research

Numerous studies have examined the relationship between dairy consumption and acne, but the findings have been inconclusive. While some studies suggest a correlation between dairy intake and acne, others have failed to find a significant connection.

It is important to note that research in this area is still ongoing, and more studies are needed to establish a definitive link between dairy and acne.

One theory proposed by researchers is that hormones present in milk, such as insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and androgens, may contribute to the development of acne.

Milk being poured into a cup

These hormones can potentially disrupt the delicate balance of hormones in the body, leading to increased sebum production and clogged pores.

Additionally, the presence of artificial hormones given to dairy cows for milk production may further exacerbate the hormonal imbalance.

Another possible explanation is the presence of pro-inflammatory substances in dairy products. Some individuals may have an inflammatory response to these substances, which can trigger or worsen acne.

Moreover, the high glycemic index of certain dairy products, such as skim milk, can cause spikes in blood sugar levels, leading to increased inflammation and sebum production.

The Role of Dairy Components

To better understand the potential effects of dairy on acne, it is important to consider its various components:


Milk contains two main proteins: whey and casein. These proteins can stimulate the release of hormones, such as IGF-1, which has been implicated in acne development.

Additionally, the digestion of these proteins can lead to the production of a hormone similar to insulin, further contributing to acne breakouts.


Lactose is the natural sugar found in milk. Some individuals may have difficulty digesting lactose, leading to digestive issues and potentially exacerbating acne symptoms. If you suspect lactose intolerance, eliminating dairy from your diet may be worth considering to see if it improves your skin health.

Fatty Acids

Dairy products, particularly those high in fat, contain various fatty acids. These fatty acids can affect the absorption of vitamins A and D, which are crucial for maintaining healthy skin. Low-fat or skim milk, which is often associated with an increased risk of acne, may lack these beneficial fatty acids.

Dairy and Acne: Fact or Fiction?

Fact: Dairy can aggravate acne for some individuals.

While not everyone will experience acne flare-ups from consuming dairy, there is evidence to suggest that certain individuals may be more prone to acne breakouts when consuming dairy products. Factors such as hormonal imbalances, inflammatory responses, and the presence of artificial hormones in dairy may contribute to this aggravation.

Young person with acne

Fiction: Dairy directly causes acne.

It is essential to clarify that dairy itself does not directly cause acne. Acne is a complex condition influenced by various factors, including genetics, hormones, and lifestyle choices.

Dairy consumption may exacerbate or trigger acne in susceptible individuals, but it is not the sole cause of the condition.

Making Informed Choices for Clearer Skin

If you suspect that dairy may be contributing to your acne breakouts, consider making some dietary changes. Here are a few tips to help you navigate your journey towards clearer skin:

  1. Consult a Dermatologist: Before making any drastic changes to your diet, it is advisable to consult with a dermatologist. They can assess your specific situation and guide you on the best course of action.

  2. Try an Elimination Diet: To determine if dairy is a trigger for your acne, consider eliminating dairy products from your diet for a few weeks. Monitor your skin's response during this period and observe any changes in acne severity.

  3. Consider Alternative Calcium Sources: Dairy products are a significant source of calcium in many people's diets. If you decide to cut out dairy, make sure to incorporate other calcium-rich foods into your meals, such as leafy greens, tofu, and fortified plant-based milk.

  4. Focus on a Balanced Diet: Opt for a well-rounded diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. A balanced diet can support overall skin health and may help reduce acne symptoms.

  5. Practice Good Skincare Habits: Regardless of your dietary choices, maintaining a consistent skincare routine is crucial for managing acne. Cleanse your skin gently, avoid harsh products, and moisturize regularly to keep your skin balanced and hydrated.


While the relationship between dairy and acne is still under investigation, there is evidence to suggest that dairy consumption may aggravate acne symptoms for some individuals.

Hormonal imbalances, inflammatory responses, and the presence of artificial hormones in dairy products may contribute to this association.

However, it is important to remember that acne is a complex condition influenced by various factors, and dairy is not the sole cause.

Making informed dietary choices, seeking professional guidance, and maintaining a healthy skincare routine are essential steps towards managing acne and promoting overall skin health.

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