Confirmed: Dairy and sugar cause acne

dairy and sugar cause acneTurns out, if you’re following the USDA nutrition guidelines of MyPlate and getting your 3 servings of dairy a day, you’re inviting a face full of pimples.

Confirming the long-suspected link between dairy products and acne is a systematic review of 21 observational studies and six clinical trials conducted over 2009 and 2010.

While the link between dairy and acne isn’t news to the holistic community—or most facialists—it is to the medical one, which has come up with drug after zit-fighting drug to treat something that’s not about the skin at all.

In fact, a 2010 paper in Clinics in Dermatology makes it clear that you could use all the best pimple-clearing products available (and the worst ones like Accutane) and still not keep breakouts at bay—unless you dispense with dairy.

Just how is dairy damaging your otherwise pristine visage?

Hormones in milk, explains Mark Hyman, MD. But it’s also milk’s ability to stimulate insulin production. “It actually may be the lactose or milk sugar in milk that acts more like a soft drink [in your body] than a [protein-rich] egg.”

Read more on Dr. Hyman.com for how dietary changes could be your best acne-fighting solution yet. —Melisse Gelula


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  1. August 18th, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    […] post comes via our friends over at Well+Good. Tell us what you think about this research in the comments! Have you seen a link between dairy, […]

  2. August 18th, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    I have definitely seen a link with acne and dairy. I am off dairy due to a casein allergy and my skin is much better!

    I have never been a milk drinker but when I had a couple of stress fractures doing college sports, I began drinking milk. I started breaking out on my cheeks. I had very deep zits that left bad scars. This went on for almost a year with the acne getting progressively worse. I went to a natural health practitioner who told me to quit dairy. I did and my skin cleared up. Unfortunately, the scars took over a year to heal.

    I will say that the people I know who have been raised on raw, organic milk have great skin. So, if you can tolerate milk/milk products, make sure it is organic and raw.

  3. August 19th, 2011 at 9:02 am

    Thank you, Melissa and Tosha
    Welcome to the acne therapy (and PREVENTION) world.
    Take a look at the Physicians Guidelines on http://www.acnemilk.com
    A week off dairy is just not enough. It takes months to make a plugged pore into a zit, and months to cool the process.
    If you do not stop the dairy – ALL dairy – for long enough, you will fail. Organic and raw milk have all the natural hormones present in milk – there is NO hormone-free milk.
    And you do need to clean up the acne you have as well, with whatever you can access.
    Consider dairy as the match that starts the fire. Blowing out the match will not stop the fire – you still need fire extinguishers.

  4. August 19th, 2011 at 10:40 am

    […] • Dairy and sugar may contribute to acne. (Well + Good) […]

  5. August 19th, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    […] • Dairy and sugar may contribute to acne. (Well + Good) […]

  6. August 20th, 2011 at 1:08 am

    I heard about the link between dairy and acne too from my osteopath. I’m a girl in my mid teens who has acne and I used to eat quite a lot of dairy but my family now only has dairy and sugar on very rare occasions and although my acne isn’t fully cleared up, I have found that my skin has been looking a lot healthier.

  7. August 25th, 2011 at 9:28 am

    My facial clients have a hard time giving up dairy. If you must have it, limit it and choose organic goat milk or sheep’s milk dairy, which digests more easily. Remember that dairy creates an acidic environment in the body, no matter what the type, so counteract by drinking lemon water and eating lots of green vegetables.

  8. November 30th, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    […] skin-care products for tweensSkin care is a crucial part of adolescence—hormones are raging, and acne is blazing.And most brands that target tweens and teens—like Neutrogena and Clearasil—use harsh […]

  9. December 28th, 2011 at 6:48 am

    I don’t have a dairy allergy, but a concentrated cow milkfat allergy. Butter, cream, full fat yogurt, cream cheese, mascarpone–each cause cystic acne. It’s not the casein or lactose. Even the whey from my daughter’s yogurt caused cysts, and I’m 39 (discovered this problem when I was 16 and no dermatologist, or my mother, believed me).

    Full fat cured cheeses? No problem. Goat cheese is fine too.

    That does mean no cheesecake, cannolis, cookies, cake, buttercream frosting, butter pecan ice cream. I have to explain to servers that it’s not lactose, so no, ghee is not acceptable. Benadryl is in my purse at all times (not fun when having dinner out).

    I’m also sensitive to cocoa and it makes me break out in hives, though the apparent link between chocolate and acne has been debunked (unless you’re allergic to it).

  10. December 29th, 2011 at 10:41 am

    […] • How dairy and sugar affect your skin. (Well + Good) […]

  11. January 9th, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    There is some great information in this article, and in the comments.

    I love dairy, always have and always will, but it is a slippery slope on how much our bodies can handle before it causes problems. It could be acne, eczema, allergies, or phlegm.

    Ideally we should not consume any, but it is something that I choose to enjoy (and later suffer mildly) in moderation.

    Hormones are a big part, but another issue is that our bodies start to shut down making the enzyme that digests the milk’s sugar lactose. We are mammals so we are supposed to drink our Mother’s milk as babies, but we are not designed to keep consuming it in adulthood. Around the age of 5 years old we nearly stop the production of that enzyme that helps break down the lactose.

    That makes EVERYBODY over the age of 5 somewhat lactose intolerant. Don’t believe me? When you wake up in the morning with an empty stomach, go drink two full glasses of milk and nothing else. Most people will have an upset stomach and may throw up. Others will be extremely gassy.

    Everybody’s level of lactose intolerance varies, some may not notice it at all and others can’t have a drop of milk. I am somewhere in the middle and try to keep my dairy consumption to a minimum.

    It is so hard to give up butter, cheese, and ice cream.

    Dr. Jeff

  12. February 29th, 2012 at 4:06 am

    When cleansing skin, do not to scrub with a washcloth. Acne is not caused by dirt clogging the pores, and scrubbing the skin will aggravate the condition. Use a gentle skin cleanser, lukewarm water, and a gentle motion with your fingertips while performing your primary acne skin care regime.

  13. May 2nd, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    […] Repairing Acne LotionNotice that even if you do all kinds of healthy things for clear skin (like skipping dairy and sugar), there’s often no stopping a blemish or two—or a gym-induced cardio breakout?Luckily […]

  14. September 19th, 2012 at 6:32 am

    […] 4. Limit your dairy intake. Too much dairy can cause oil glands to kick into high gear, studies show. […]

  15. September 20th, 2012 at 9:41 am

    […] 4. Limit your dairy intake. Too much dairy can cause oil glands to kick into high gear, studies show. […]

  16. September 27th, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    […] harmful chemicals that can result in permanent or serious scarring. It is difficult but if you keep trying different things eventually ward off acne from occurrence and everyday multi-vitamin will probably have the result of a […]

  17. March 28th, 2013 at 2:35 am

    This is something my doctor shared with me about my acne, I hope it helps someone! If you thought sugar can aggravate your acne, here’s another major nutritional player in the formation of acne: behold the miracles of milk. Milk (all dairy products included) is the most harmful, mucus forming, allergenic and acne aggravating food you can find. The truth is: every sip of milk contains 59 different raging hormones, (which trigger the hyper-production of sebum oil resulting in more acne), saturated animal fat, steroid hormones, dead white blood cells, and cow pus in abundance!

  18. April 3rd, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    […] my skin will break out within a day or two of eating dairy [read more on the link to acne and dairy here]). I don’t dig long-distance running, although a good long walk is lovely, especially with […]

  19. April 4th, 2013 at 6:22 am

    I don’t know about dairy but sugar: YES.

    Whenever my sugar consumtion goes up, my face will “Bloom” and I will continue to look like a pizza till I get off the sugar.

    Dairy? Not sure. Sugar? Absolutely.

  20. April 17th, 2013 at 11:23 am


    Interesting discussion. Does this apply to other kinds of milk such as goat milk? I gave up on cow’s milk about three years ago when my lactose intolerance got progressively worse. I also switched to brown sugar and noticed that this actually helped clear my face of pimples within a short amount of time.


  21. May 20th, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    For over three years I’ve had bad cystic acne, prior to this occasionally. Thought my hormones, smoking, other toxins to blame. Saw derm, rx topical and oral antibioticsvsix months of bactrim!) And tretinioin.been 7 weeks. No real help. Then I noticed, DUH! That I hadn’t had my usual chocolate ice cream n milk. Then I noticed my acne lesions were less swollen. Amazing! Kicking myself in the ass for not catching on sooner. The acne took over my life, hiding, avoiding, and hours locked in bathroom trying to cover it, pop, picking, etc…
    Milk ruined my skin. I have scars from when I was younger. And new scars. Since 2010 I have been having ice cream n milk often, thinking I t good for a woman my age 43. No more!
    I do 100% believe milk is the cause of my cystic acne. Hopefully I can fully kick the habit without rehab…

  22. May 20th, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    The only thing that helped my cystic acne as far as cleansers I highly recommended: forgot exact name, friend bought it for me. But if you check Mexican herbal stores, which are all over here in phx, ask for a ph balancing antiseptic soap. Dr. Ro?…somethin is the name. It’s tan soap in a white box about f n dollars,long lasting bar. It worked from first use. Wash three times every time to cleanse, cleanse again, then balance ph. Milk was to blame, stopped it. I can’t say enough on how great this soap was, I tried everything! It really brought my swelling, Infection down I used nothing else. Good at removing the oils and leaves skin feeling beautiful, soft, so good I hated to putt on makeup after cleansing! Wish I remembered name, but when I do I’ll post. it’s Dr. Ro???? Ph balanced antiseptic soap. From Mexico. Them Mexicans sure do know what works!

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