The modern diet has not only seen an increase in sugar and dairy, but it has also seen a spike in the number of acne sufferers. Consequently, there have been multitude of social media ads on acne topical treatments hawked by influencers and celebrities. However, it’s not always about what you put on your body but sometimes it’s about what you put in it that makes the difference for acne treatment.
There are many research studies that indicate that there is a link between diet and acne. Controlled trials found that people who consume larger amount of sugar and a higher glycemic load food are more prone to acne.1 A study found that cow’s milk increased acne in teenage girls.2
There is suspicion that dairy like milk causes acne. This article will address the question “Does dairy cause acne?”
Dairy May Increase Your Hormones Level
Dr. Jeremy Fenton of Schweiger Dermatology Group said, "Milk contains hormones, such as estrogen, which can affect the person who’s drinking it. Dairy has also been shown to stimulate testosterone in those who consume it. Additionally, it may also stimulate the production of other hormones and cell signaling, particularly inflammatory signals, in the body. 3"
According to research, milk may cause acne by increasing the levels of insulin like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and insulin growth factor (IGF) as well as releasing comedogenic hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, androgen precursors and 5a-reductase steroids.4
Excessive sex hormones (androgens) lead to increase excess sebum (oil) production, clogged pores and ultimately acne. In addition, dairy rapidly increases blood sugar levels and in turn lead to increased amount of insulin and IGF-1 to restore the sugar level balance. When the body has an abundance amount of insulin or IGF-1, it produces androgen hormones.5
As previously discussed, increased level of androgens results in more breakouts. It is a vicious cycle.
Skim and Low-Fat Dairy Products Are Worst for Acne
Some studies found that skim milk and low-fat milk are more likely to trigger acne than whole milk.6 Skim and low-fat milk contain more whey protein. Whey protein is a mixture of globular proteins isolated from whey, the liquid portion of the milk. Unlike whole milk which contains more fat, skim milk and low-fat milk have more of the liquid component and thus more whey protein.
The protein powders that bodybuilders frequently use, have the same amount of whey protein with 6-12 liters of milk as concentrated formulas. Recent studies have demonstrated that protein supplementation as well as milk can lead to acneiform lesions. A study found that after 2 months of whey protein supplementation for bodybuilding, 6 healthy adolescent males ended up with more acne breakouts on their backs and faces. Those who stopped the supplement had the best skin result with acne treatment.7
Therefore it is important to avoid dairy products with high whey protein such as skim milk and skim yogurt.
However, there is a component of yogurt that may be beneficial to acne. According to Dr. Whitney Bowe, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, probiotics in yoghurt may help control your breakouts.8 She says researchers aren’t sure why, but they believe that probiotics may help to calm inflammation. Read more about probiotics and skin health here.
It is apparent that IGF and IGF-1 are key players in the link between diet and acne. Therefore, it is important to avoid foods with high glycemic diet like processed carbohydrates and eat more whole and anti-inflammatory foods like probiotics. We also recommend taking an anti-inflammatory supplement like Dermatrope Clear Skin Support. It contains probiotics, turmeric, and fish oil to support gut and skin health.