You have an acne breakout, you run to your local drugstore and you spend the next hour debating which cream, gel, spot shrinking patches are best going to kick butt to your acne mountains.
What most people don’t think about is diet.
If this is you now, that is A-OK. It makes 100% sense, you see something on your skin and it’s automatic to see the quickest route to treating it as skincare.
…which by the way can do a lot of good.
But, unless you treat the underlying cause, acne fighting skincare will keep having to battle your breakouts. Imagine trying to stop people coming into your house without a door (!)… hiring a hunky security guard is like using skincare to get rid of hormonal acne, buying a new door is like fixing the cause of your acne.
And out of all foods, there’s 1 biggy becoming a well-recognized cause of acne, hormonal acne, oily skin, spots, breakouts and more. Which sounds 300% crazy until you realise how this 1 food is extremely likely to be in your breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Come find out all dear friend…
Can Food Cause Acne?
Ever had a sugar high? Or the reverse – ever felt in need of a daytime nap after eating the yummiest of lunches? Ever gotten grumpy because you skipped a meal? Or ever been buzzing with energy after a fruit packed breakfast?
Food has a huge impact on your body.
Nowadays we’re trained to see medicine you buy from a drugstore as the only way to fix your health/body/skin.
But before medicine dear friend – there was food.
And food is not just calories. All of the different foods you eat speak different languages to your body.
Different foods provide you with different vitamins.
They give you energy at different speeds – some like a turtle and others like a Ferrari.
And the most important bit – different foods have different effects on your hormone balance.
Pssst! Your acne, spots and breakouts are a hormone triggered skin condition.
Avoid This 1 Food For Better Skin
Did you know your skin can make its own hormones? Inside each of your pores there’s a special setup allowing your sebum aka oil making glands to make androgen hormones like testosterone.
And when your skin has more androgens, it makes more oil which clogs up your pores which then feeds acne causing bacteria and BOOM – a breakout.
Well dear friend, there’s one food in your diet which is at this very moment is hormone laden – and it’s dairy.
The science bit’s a’coming but don’t worry the human explanation’s coming up straight after.
Dairy is a source of 5α‐reduced steroid hormones plus other steroid precursors of DHT (dihydrotestosterone – a super strength version of testosterone). These hormones found in dairy help your sebum glands make testosterone, DHT and ultimately therefore sticky spot making sebum.
Why Dairy Can Cause Hormonal Acne
Back in the day no human grown adult would ever have eaten dairy on the regular. Oh no – when you were little you got mum’s milk and once you’d grown too old for the breast – dairy pretty much vanished.
Only in the last 100 years has dairy become a daily staple… and people have evolved to tolerate its effects.
Dairy is a wonder food for growing small people into big, healthy adults. It’s packed with growth hormones, sugars, micronutrients and steroid hormones.
But when you eat dairy as an adult – who’s no longer growing – things can go wrong – hormonal acne can spring.
Remember how spots need 3 factors to grow?
- Sticky sebum/skin oil
- Dead skin
- Acne causing bacteria
Well the hormones found in dairy directly act on spot cause number 1 – sticky sebum/skin oil.
…and when your skin makes more sebum/oil, more dead skin gets trapped inside of your pores and more acne causing bacteria get to eat, breed and repeat.
Pssst! Eating dairy can also make your pores bigger, which can make blackheads more obvious and breakouts more likely.
Double Pssst! There’s also another hormone pathway dairy can activate because it’s an insulinotropic food aka it gives your body shock blood sugar peaks – which release insulin like growth hormone (IGF-1) an up and coming recognized cause of acne.
— Cheryl Woodman (@HonestyForSkin) 27 April 2018
Triple Pssst! Some other foods can cause the same IGF-1 hormone cascades as dairy, if you’re wanting a full list of clear skin diet principles plus a 2 week pre-made meal plan, grab a copy of my 2 week clear skin meal plan here.
Dairy & Acne Studies
If you’d have spoken to a dermatologist 20 years ago, they’d have told you diet has no effect on your skin – in fact right at this very moment I have a dermatology textbook sat on my desk which says the very same thing.
But today science is proving the opposite, just take a look at some of these studies;
- Published in 2005, this study questioned 47,355 women about their diet. The conclusion; acne is positively associated with the amount of milk/skimmed milk consumed aka drink milk and you have a higher chance of acne.
- Published in 2006, this study followed the diets of 6,094 girls between 9 to 15 years old. The conclusion; the more milk you drink, the more acne you’ll experience.
- Published in 2008, this study questioned 4,273 boys about their diet and skin. The conclusion; the more skimmed milk you drink, the higher risk you have of developing acne.
- Published in 2008, this small-scale study looked at diet and acne in young Malaysian adults. The conclusion; Eat more milk and ice cream and you have a higher risk of acne.
- Published in 2014, this medium scale study questioned New York based 18 to 25 year olds about their diet and skin. The conclusion; if you eat more milk, you have a greater risk of acne.
- Published in 2017, this Norwegian study followed students over 4 years. The conclusion; high intakes of full fat dairy are associated with moderate to severe acne in boys and high intakes of dairy products in girls was associated with a greater risk of acne.
Does Dairy Cause Acne?
While science cannot yet say with 100% certainty that eating dairy can cause you acne, science can say people who eat a lot of dairy, have a higher risk of acne. Imagine being in a teeny-tiny boat at sea, if you fall out I couldn’t be 100% certain you’d instantly feel chilly, but I could be pretty sure you will. See, falling out of a boat doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be cold – you could be close to shore in Thailand where the sea’s super warm, you could be wearing a warm suit which stops you feeling chilly for a few more minutes, you could be one of those people (*cough* men – how are they always warm!) who never feel the cold.
Acne is a complex skin condition, with many factors feeding in – remember how I said a few other foods can cause similar hormone changes to dairy?
For some people dairy could be a primary trigger of acne. Quit dairy and acne goes on holiday. For others dairy could be a secondary trigger or aggravator. Quit dairy and acne goes from severe to moderate or moderate to mild.
How Long Before Going Dairy Free Gives You Results?
Great news my friend, diet can have quick effects on your skin and it’s very likely that after just 2 short weeks of going 100% dairy free you’re going to see significant change in your acne – if dairy’s one of your trigger causes. These changes should then only get better – science, dietitians and dermatologists recommend severe cases stick to 100% dairy free diets for up to 6 months.
But be warned – dairy hides in the craziest of places and if you have a sensitivity to the hormones dairy contains, even a tiny amount could stop you seeing positive skin change.
Be sure to read on to avoid falling into sneaky dairy traps.
How to Avoid Dairy for Clear Skin
Shall we start at the beginning my fellow skin savvy? First stop, the dairy family, these are all the foods you’ll want to pass on by for seeing whether dairy’s the cause of your acne, spots and breakouts;
- Cheese – including soft cheese and cottage cheese
- Ice cream
Psst! Don’t worry eggs aren’t dairy so feel free to eat them. They come from hens not cows, but supermarkets confuse us by putting them down the dairy aisle.
And here’s what you can replace them with;
- Milk for almond milk, but make sure it’s sugar-free like this one
- Yogurt, for dairy free coconut yogurt like this one – again make sure anything you switch in is sugar-free
- Butter, for a plant-based spread like this, or even a nut butter like this
- Cheese for dairy free cheese like this or this
- Ice cream for dairy free ice cream like this or even sorbet – which if you get the right one can even taste creamy!
- Cream – for coconut milk or coconut cream
Next stop, the semi-obvious to not so obvious dairy traps;
- Milk chocolate – which you can replace for dark chocolate like this
- Hot chocolate powders
- Biscuits – if you want a dairy free replacement try these
- Pasta sauce
- Crisps – specifically ones with cheese flavour
- Pre-made soups
- Pre-made curry
Yessh! That list might want to make you run a mile, but I promise dear friend once you get into the diary-free food groove, its super simple. Plus it also encourages you to naturally eat a wee bit more healthy as you’ll likely end up switching pre-made foods for homemade yummies.
…and if you want the hard work taken out of your dairy free equation. Grab a copy of my 2 week clear skin meal plan which comes ready-made with over 49 dairy free recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can pick and choose or you can super simply follow the step by step 2 week clear skin meal plan with shopping list. All you need to do is buy the food and get cooking – and don’t worry, there’s lots of quick recipes too. Grab yours here now.
Well, there you have it dear friend, does dairy give you acne – very possibly yes. Could your hormonal acne be caused by diary – very possibly yes. Are your breakouts caused by dairy – very possibly yes. Give 2 weeks of dairy-free living a go and come back to let me know how you’re getting on.
Are you going dairy free for 2 weeks? Have some food questions? Want to know more? Come chat with me in the comments below, I’m here to help…
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.