Acne and Dairy

Dairy has been linked to acne for a long time. It isn’t the cause for everyone but it is for some and if you are suffering from acne and have done everything RIGHT (good skin care products for your skin, consistency, no acne meds) and you still can’t get rid of it, this might be worth trying. When I tell people this, they are never happy and usually reluctant. Who wants to give up cheese? So you have to make a decision. What is more important to you? Your skin or cheese?

I have this client who is much older and she complained every time I saw her about her breakouts (not acne but always has 4-5 pimples). I used to see her every 3 weeks and she was using a good regimen and was so frustrated that at her age she was still breaking out. I tried to make her feel better by telling her she should be happy that everything was still working but that didn’t help. 🙂 I kept telling her that maybe she should give up dairy. I told her that there have been studies about it and sometimes there is a link. She wasn’t excited about it so she didn’t do it but she kept complaining. Then, I didn’t see her for about 6 months. About 1 month ago she called me and told me that she finally decided to give up on dairy and now very rarely gets pimples. It only took about 2 months for her to see a difference.


I don’t always (ok, I usually don’t) agree with Dermatologists and how they treat acne. I do not think that medications are the way to go for most people. Plus, their other recommendations drive me crazy too! But when I came across this article from Dr. William F. Danby, I couldn’t argue with it. It makes sense and now I’ve seen the proof (I also have a friend who had full blown acne and she gave up dairy and got great results). He has done the research on acne and dairy so I trust his information. Here is what he had to say…

Can you briefly explain what is in dairy that causes acne?

Milk raises insulin levels and insulin-like growth hormone-1 (IGF-1) levels. These two polypeptide hormones work together to open the male hormone receptors—also known as androgen receptors—that turn on acne. (And this happens in both males and females.) The milk also contains several male steroidal hormones that go directly to those open receptors…So it’s Nature’s Perfect Food for making acne.

Does the dairy-acne link have anything to do with the use of antibiotics or growth hormones in cows? Would switching to organic, hormone-free, antiobiotic-free, grass-fed dairy prevent skin problems?

The hormones that are in organic milk are the ones that are in all milk, including human mother’s milk. These are anabolic steroids and are designed to make babies grow, whether cow babies or human babies. The hormone that was injected into cows for several years, bovine somatotropin (BST) or recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), is now used less and less (major thanks to Wal-Mart for stopping selling milk produced with it).

Does all dairy cause acne, or is it only certain products? (i.e. would yogurt or certain dairy products be more ok than others?)

I’ve seen patients with acne caused by every kind of dairy product, with the possible exception of well-cooked pizza cheese. I suspect, but cannot yet prove, that the heat “denatures” the polypeptide hormones and neutralizes them.

Why doesn’t dairy cause acne for everyone?

Some lucky people don’t have the genes to make acne. They’re the ones with the faces that up close seem to have no pores—lucky them.

We do not yet know what exactly is the hormone/gene combination is that is missing in them that is present in about 85-90% of the population.

Oftentimes patients with acne are trying a million things at once to resolve their skin problems, so how do you know if dairy is the culprit?

First you need to realize that it takes three to four months for a pore to become plugged and inflamed, and it often takes six months to slow it down and let it heal.

So while it’s possible to flare an acne pustule quickly with some foods, the plugged pore has to have already started, and it is just given an extra inflammatory boost by things like chocolate and iodine. These foods don’t cause acne, but they can make pre-existing acne flare quite impressively and quite quickly.

The bottom line answer is to stop all dairy products totally for six months, and if that doesn’t do it you should go on a full paleolithic diet. If you’re on birth control, ask a dermatologist which ones are better for preventing or even treating acne. If you’re an athlete or sports-minded and you take protein powder supplements, avoid whey, casein, caseinates, milk solids, or anything that promotes growth by stimulating IGF-1 production.

I’m constantly amazed by patients and their parents who want something “natural” to treat their acne, but don’t understand that stopping the absolutely most obvious un-natural thing they are doing, consuming diry from another species has to be the most natural thing to do. – Briana Rognlin (questions written by)

One thought on “Acne and Dairy

  1. Sloan July 4, 2013 / 7:11 am

    Very interesting article on the link between dairy and acne. I was not aware there was a connection. My wife and I have switched to almond milk, because regular milk tends to cause us digestive problems,too. I am also trying to give up ice cream. A bowl of chocolate ice cream is awesome, but it does tend to make me sluggish! Thanks for the great information!

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