Can Dairy Cause Acne? | Proactiv Australia

Can Dairy Cause Acne?

It seems like we’re always looking for something to blame for our skin problems. If there’s a simple cause for acne, then that also means there’s a simple solution. Unfortunately, this isn’t usually the case. Our diet is one lifestyle factor that often gets the blame for breakouts, with dairy often acting as a suspect.

So, what’s the truth? Can dairy cause acne or is it just another old wives’ tale? This article will dig a little deeper to help uncover the relationship between dairy and acne.


What causes acne? Does milk cause acne? Does cheese cause acne? What about yoghurt? Will cutting out dairy improve your acne?

What causes acne?

We’ve seen in previous blogs that acne is caused by your pores becoming blocked when the oil they produce mixes with things like dirt, dead skin cells, and bacteria. So, the simple answer is that, no, dairy does not cause acne.

But when we look more closely at the relationship between a dairy-filled diet and acne, things get a little more complicated. Let’s look at some different dairy products to see how they might be affecting your skin.

Does milk cause acne?

While milk might not be a direct cause of acne, it can make your skin condition worse. For people who are sensitive to dairy or lactose (which is more than you might think), milk can worsen breakouts and prevent them from subsiding.

While there is no definitive proof for the link between acne and milk, it is thought that the growth hormone contained in milk, IGF-1, causes an increase in sebum production. With more sebum, debris is more likely too clog pores, creating a pimple. Similar to insulin, this hormone can cause spikes in your blood sugar levels and sugar is another prime suspect in the acne-causing diet.

The growth hormone can also cause problems when it interacts with your body’s natural hormones. This includes testosterone in both men and women, and androgens, which can also increase sebum production and the presence of keratinocytes, where IGF-1 receptors are found.

In some cases, you may be able to avoid the negative effects on your skin by switching to milk substitutes, like almond milk. However, soy milk is another culprit that could be disrupting your hormones in a way that worsens acne. We know that fluctuating hormones during puberty, for example, can lead to breakouts. Well, the soybeans used to produce soy milk contain components that can mimic the effects of oestrogen in the body.

Oestrogen may actually be beneficial toward skin condition and acne, as women going through menopause tend to suffer from increased breakouts as a result of decreasing oestrogen levels. However, the hormones mimicked by soy products can lower our body’s ability to produce its own natural oestrogen hormone. So, soy milk may contribute towards hormonal acne.

Does cheese cause acne?

There are loads of anti-acne skincare products on the market that will promise to give you clear skin, but before you pick up a product and start to decipher the label you need to know one thing – the ingredients.

Onto the lifeblood of many people’s favourite meals – cheese. While there’s no conclusive evidence on the effects of milk on acne, there’s even less evidence for cheese. This could be good news for cheese lovers. Since cheese contains less lactose than milk, this may be the reason it has less of an effect on acne, but there are still no definitive answers.

Remember that the foods you eat cheese with could also be a factor contributing to your breakouts. For example, greasy, cheesy pizzas might lead to higher levels of oil on your skin, even just by touching your face with greasy fingers. This makes blocked pores more likely to occur.

What about yoghurt?

Even more good news, not only has a link between yoghurt and acne not been found, it could even be beneficial for your skin. Natural yoghurt contains low levels of lactose and IGF-1 compared to milk. It also contains a variety of probiotics (beneficial bacteria) that can have anti-inflammatory properties for your body and skin.

So, you can still get your dairy fix with natural yoghurt, but remember that flavoured and sweetened yoghurts contain artificial sugars – another possible enemy in the battle against acne.

Will cutting out dairy improve your acne?

While eating dairy is not a direct cause of acne, could cutting it out make your skin clearer and your breakouts more infrequent? Lots of factors contribute to a person’s acne, and each case could be completely different. This means there’s no definitive answer to this question, but it is something you can test for yourself.

You could start by keeping a diary that records what you eat and drink and the condition of your skin. If your acne is related to your diet, you may be able to spot patterns over time – do breakouts tend to appear a couple of days after you gulp down a big milkshake? Then dairy could be partly to blame.

If you’re ready to take the dairy-free step already, then try cutting it out of your diet for one month to see if it has a positive effect on your skin. Of course, remember to keep up your regular skincare routine, including gently washing your face every day and applying any topical creams for your acne.

Dairy may not be to blame for every case of acne, but some people that suffer from breakouts have reported improvements after cutting out or cutting back on milk in their diets. Remember, dairy products are still a great source of calcium, so it might not be recommended to cut it out completely.

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