Does Milk Cause Acne? What Is The Link?

Written by Annie Jangam

Acne is among the world’s most prevalent diseases, affecting 9.4% of the global population (1). There is no proven cure for this skin condition due to its complex nature and various trigger factors like diet, stress, and hormonal fluctuations. Among all trigger factors, dairy is widely believed to worsen acne. Proponents of this theory claim that eliminating dairy from their diet can make one acne-free.

Is there any scientific basis for this theory? Do milk and other dairy products trigger acne? Keep reading to learn the truth.

Dairy And Acne: What Research Says

Several studies found a link between dairy products and acne. Researchers believe that the carbohydrate in dairy products may affect the serum insulin levels and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). This may trigger acne.

Dairy cows in the US are injected with bovine growth hormone to increase milk production. Such milk contains high levels of IGF-1. Moreover, cow’s milk is meant for the calves and contains growth hormones and anabolic steroids, which may trigger acne in humans (2).

Dairy products may contain hormones like (3):

  • Androgens
  • Estrogens
  • Progesterone
  • insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1(IGF-1)
  • CRH, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)
  • Melanocortins
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Growth hormone (GH)

Ingesting these hormones through dairy products cause hormonal imbalances, leading to acne and even cancer (4).

The American Academy Of Dermatology Association agrees that cow’s milk may increase the risk of developing acne. However, there is no substantial clinical evidence to prove a link between dairy products like yogurt or cheese and acne (5), (6).

On the flip side, dairy products like cheese, butter, and sugar (milk contains lactose) have a high glycemic index (GI). High glycemic diets lead to insulin resistance and acne (7). Hence, in one way or the other, dairy products may worsen your acne.

Does that mean you should skip milk altogether? Do low-fat and skimmed milk also trigger acne or worsen existing lesions? Let’s find out in the next section.

Why Does Milk Cause Acne? Should You Avoid It Completely?

All forms of milk, be it total, whole, low-fat, and skimmed, are linked to acne (6). The exact mechanism is unknown, but the hormones in milk are to be blamed for that.

As discussed earlier, milk naturally contains growth hormones, anabolic steroids, and other growth factors. In dairy farms, the cows are further treated with artificial growth hormones to increase their milk production (8). This increases the hormone levels in the milk.

When you drink such milk, it affects the IGF-1 levels in your body. Increased IGF-1 levels and male hormones (androgens) may cause adult acne in men and women (9).

If you have acne-prone skin or hormonal acne, it is better to avoid any form of milk and dairy products. If you have noticed flare-ups recently, dairy or milk can be one reason. Here are a few tips to find if your flare-ups are due to dairy products.

How To Check If Dairy Products Are Worsening Your Acne

  • Maintain A Food Journal: Record if the consumption of certain foods, especially milk, cheese, yogurt, and protein powder, increases acne inflammation or causes new breakouts.
  • Skip A Particular Food: If you notice excessive breakouts when you consume a particular food, eliminating it from your diet for 30 days. Watch how your skin and existing acne behave.

Follow these ways for at least a month to understand the exact reason behind your acne. Can reducing the intake of dairy or eliminating it from your diet helps in acne management? Read next.

Can Avoiding Dairy Improve Acne?

It depends on the individual. Consuming dairy products and milk worsens acne. However, there is no evidence suggesting that cutting out dairy can improve acne.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that eliminating certain trigger foods can help you manage acne. A study involving men found that following a low glycemic index (GI) diet could reduce acne severity and insulin sensitivity (10). You may try cutting out milk or any other trigger food from your diet to see how your skin responds.

Acne is a complex condition triggered by many factors. It is important to understand which factors are worsening your condition. Frequent flare-ups may also indicate underlying health conditions. Consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment. If you want to eliminate milk from your diet, here are a few alternatives you can try.

Alternatives To Milk

You can try:

  • Almond milk
  • Soy milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Rice milk
  • Oat milk
  • Cashew milk

To Conclude

Dairy products can trigger acne. However, it does not mean everyone who consumes dairy will experience breakouts. Acne is a complex skin issue caused by multiple factors other than dairy. Maintain a food journal to understand what foods aggravate your acne. Eliminate them from your diet or try alternatives. However, it is best to consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment for your condition.

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Sources

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. A global perspective on the epidemiology of acne
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25597339/.
  2. Diet and Dermatology
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4106357/
  3. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5015761/
  4. Acne, dairy and cancer
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2715202/
  5. Can The Right Diet Get Rid Of Acne?
    https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/causes/diet#:~:text=No%20evidence%20yogurt%20or%20cheese,cheese%2C%20lead%20to%20more%20breakouts
  6. Dairy intake and acne development: A meta-analysis of observational studies
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29778512/
  7. Dietary glycemic factors, insulin resistance, and adiponectin levels in acne vulgaris
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27061046/
  8. Hormones in Dairy Foods and Their Impact on Public Health – A Narrative Review Article
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4524299/
  9. Correlation Between Serum Levels of Insulin-like Growth Factor 1, Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate, and Dihydrotestosterone and Acne Lesion Counts in Adult Women
    https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/fullarticle/393279/
  10. Insulin resistance in severe acne vulgaris
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4565837/
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Annie Jangam is a Molecular Biologist with 7 years of research experience in Rice Functional Genomics and Nutrient Signalling with International Publications in Abiotic stress, Nitrogen, and G-protein signaling. She specializes in writing on Health and Wellness. She has been an avid reader since childhood and is passionate about stories that help decipher life and its meaning. She believes in Human Rights for all and that one should "love others like we love ourselves."