Does milk cause acne?

Going dairy-free for clear skin (and how to not hate your life)

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Curology Team
May 07, 2019 · 5 min read

We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

If you’re wondering what foods to avoid for acne, our dermatology providers recommend you start by avoiding dairy. Milk and milk products such as ice cream have been shown by study after study to be a culprit behind breakouts in some of us. Switching to a low glycemic index milk substitute such as almond milk may give you a noticeable improvement in your skin! We know giving it up can be a big ask, though, so let’s get into it.

Does dairy cause acne?

Dairy, especially skim milk, has been linked to acne in recent studies. The evidence is convincing, but this doesn’t apply to everyone! Some people break out from drinking milk; others don’t. In any case, the worst acne-related offender in the dairy family is skim milk. For some reason, skim milk is more likely to cause breakouts than whole milk, cheese, or yogurt.

If you like to add protein powders to your smoothie in the morning or after a workout, watch out: some protein powders, such as those containing whey, casein, caseinates, and milk solids, can have the same effect on your skin as milk.

We’re not saying dairy is inherently bad — it doesn’t necessarily cause acne for everyone! But if you’re breaking out, you might want to try cutting out milk, ice cream, etc. for a few months to see if your skin clears up. Try dairy-free, low-glycemic alternatives such as almond milk or soy milk.

For more info on how dairy might be related to acne, check out our Acne-Free Lifestyle Guide and our Diet Guide.

Why is milk linked to acne?

Acne can often be triggered by hormonal changes in our bodies, and that’s something milk is known for. All milk, including organic, contains insulin-spiking hormone triggers that can lead to acne. So, drinking milk can set off a chain reaction that leads to breakouts. You might be showing signs of hormonal acne, with pimples appearing on your jawline, chin, and cheeks.

Cheese and acne 🧀

We know that some dairy products can be hard to give up. For example, cheese is DELICIOUS. But luckily, thanks to lots of vegan-friendly products out there trying to perfect dairy-free cheese, it’s not so bad to live without it. Check your local health food store, Whole Foods, or other grocery store to try some of the best dairy-free cheese alternatives available. Dairy-free “cheese” can be made from ingredients like almond milk, such as the popular brand Kite Hill. Others are made from tofu, such as Chao. Sometimes you can hardly tell the difference! Try thinking of it as a fun opportunity to taste-test the various options out there and see which ones you like the best.

Dairy-free diet plan 🚫🥛🍦🚫

If you’re down to ditch dairy, we’re here for it! We know it’s not easy for everyone, though. Think dairy might be messing with your skin? Here’s how to go dairy-free and not hate your life.

  1. Try vegan, dairy-free alternatives. You can find these at your local health food store, at major health-centric grocery chains such as Whole Foods, and at many conventional grocery stores now, too. Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives out there so you can replace your favorite snacks, treats, and even keep up your daily latte habit. Opt for milk alternatives with a low glycemic index (meaning they’re less likely to spike your blood sugar), such as unsweetened almond milk or soy.

  2. Try all the things! Ditching dairy doesn’t have to limit your dining options. There are so many choices out there for vegans and lactose-intolerant people nowadays, you could practically make yourself a buffet of breakout-free, low glycemic goodies. Try to look at it as an exciting new opportunity to try new things and find out which kinds of dairy alternatives and which brands you enjoy the most. You’ll find your new favorite food (that won’t cause breakouts) before long.

  3. Notice the difference in how your body feels. As long as you’re eliminating dairy to achieve clear skin, you might find there are even more benefits! Some say that we’re all a little lactose-intolerant, although some people definitely have more adverse symptoms than others. When you skip the milk, ice cream, and cheese for awhile — even if you replace them with dairy-free versions — try to notice if you feel different. Anecdotally speaking, some people tend to feel less bloated or sluggish than they used to after cutting dairy from their diet! It’s possible you’ve been used to eating dairy for so long that you don’t even realize how it’s affecting your body.

  4. Allow yourself to cheat now and then. Don’t stress out if you go off track — for example, if have some ice cream at a party or some cheese at a special dinner. The goal is to reduce your intake as much as possible to clear your skin, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you “cheat” on your diet. To reduce the chance of future breakouts even if you have some “cheat days,” apply an effective topical skincare treatment like your Curology custom cream every night, and try your best to reduce stress.

  5. Own it. One of the most difficult parts about making any lifestyle change, especially a dietary one, is the social factor. When you share the news with friends and family, you’ll inevitably receive some commentary from those who can’t imagine life without pizza, ice cream, or cream in their morning coffee. Just remember: you’re doing it for you, not for them. Don’t be sorry for being the one to request vegan or dairy-free options when you’re dining out or ordering in. You’re standing up for your health, and for clearer skin!

How to get rid of acne if you’ve indulged in dairy?

Whatever might be causing your acne, Curology can make you a custom treatment to help clear it up. Sign up for a free trial and give it a try! To learn more about how to keep your skin clear, healthy, and happy, check out our handy-dandy Guides and the Curology blog.

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