Acne: Are dairy products really bad for your skin?

Wondering if you should cut back on the cheese because you've been breaking out lately? You might have to dig deeper than that to find the cause of your acne.

Dairy products
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Dairy products

Waking up to a hoard of pimples that are about to erupt yellow lava on your face has got to be one of the worst feelings in the world. Acne, though it may be very normal and even more natural, is also painful and really difficult to deal with physically and mentally. So, to see one (or maybe five) on your face always brings about a flurry of different emotions and questions.

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Breaking out

Many of us spend hours obsessing about whether or not it was caused by an incoming menstrual cycle, or our recent drinking and sleeping habits. We’ve all definitely reflected on the kinds of foods we’ve been consuming—particularly if we’ve been eating more dairy products than usual. Why is that?


Strangely enough, many of us are under the impression that dairy somehow contributes to acne. Very few studies have been conducted to strongly prove a link, but we all seem to be convinced that dairy is one of the main culprits behind our skin problems. But to what extent is that true? Let’s find out.

Dairy, the enemy of our skin?

Various sources have said that while studies have identified a possible link between acne and dairy products, the answer is not a simple yes or no. Dietician and gut health specialist Dr. Megan Rossi told Vogue:

While it’s been suggested that dairy products play a role in developing skin conditions, such as acne, the current evidence is actually very limited and conflicting.

According to her, ‘there are a number of variables that could be affecting the results.’ For example, people who have acne-prone skin and drink more milk may also be taking in more added sugars. They could also be eating less dietary fibre. She added:

These types of stats make it impossible to determine if one thing causes the other.

Biggest culprits

If you suspect that your skin problems could be because of dairy, Nurse Practitioner Kaitlyn Hunter, suggests completely cutting it out of your diet as even the smallest amount can trigger a reaction. She also mentioned that the biggest culprits that have been identified by studies are cheese and skim milk. She said:

There have actually been a lot of studies finding what particular dairy products trigger the most acne, and interestingly enough skim milk is the biggest culprit.
Skim milk Nikolai Chernichenko/UNSPLASH

While dairy may trigger acne in a group of people, it is not a universal fact that all who consume dairy will have acne. Kelly Light, a registered associate nutritionist, said in conversation with Refinery29:

If there is a link, then it is likely to apply only to a select group of individuals. While some people do cite dairy as a personal trigger for skin issues like acne, this is typically anecdotal.

Finding your triggers

Some experts believe that high levels of sugar, that have the potential to disrupt your hormones, is much more likely to cause a breakout than dairy.

But in the end, it’s all about finding your own personal triggers, as everyone’s skin is different.

While your diet could affect your skin, you should also know that there are a range of other things that also contribute to skin health—including stress, sleep, genetics, the products you’re putting on your face, and underlying conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Debbie Thomas, a facialist, explained to Vogue:

Remember that acne is a condition you have – and spots are the end result of what’s being triggered by the reactions within the body – so it’s important to work out, on an individual basis, what triggers your skin.
Acne: Does drinking water really help your skin? Acne: Does drinking water really help your skin?