Data on the effect of dairy products on acne risk is conflicting, as different dairy products may have different effects on acne risk.
What do the studies say?
According to two meta-analyses conducted in 2018 and 2022, milk consumption may exacerbate acne. Consumption of 2 to 6 glasses of any type of milk per week on average increased the risk of developing acne by 24%, 1 glass per day - by 41%, 2 or more glasses per day - by 43%.
How milk can worsen acne?
- The proteins found in milk and dairy products increase the levels of the hormone insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which in turn stimulates the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum, leading to acne.
- Milk and dairy products may also contain sex-hormones derivatives such as oestrogen, progesterone, androgen, androstenedione, dihydrotestosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone-sulphate and 5a-reduced steroids that have acnegenesis properties.
- Iodine in milk and dairy may agitate acne creation.
- There are genetic factors which increase the risk of acne when eating dairy products.
Why do doctors still recommend milk and other dairy products as part of a healthy diet not only for adults but also for teenagers and adolescents?
Milk and dairy products are major sources of protein, calcium, potassium, selenium, magnesium, vitamin A,B2, B5 and B12, and their consumption is associated with growth, the decreased risk of premenstrual syndrome, hypertension, gastric cancer, stroke, colorectal cancer, and diabetes. And some dairy such as Greek yoghurt or other types of dairy with probiotics can even help fight acne.
To eat or not to eat dairy?
Most studies on the relationship between acne and milk were observational and no randomised double-blind studies have been conducted, which means that we cannot say conclusively that elimination of dairy from the diet will help cope with acne. In addition, this association was found more frequently in people, following Western diets of high glycemic index/high-insulinemic foods, high fat, and significant protein intake. All these factors are also associated with a high risk of worsening acne. The combination of milk with other products, full of sugars and with a high glycemic index, disrupts insulin levels and makes skin more prone to acne.
So, if you have acne, try these steps:
1. Start keeping a food diary and track the effect of your diet on skin condition.
2. Eliminate high glycemic foods and artificial sweeteners from your diet for 3-4 weeks, as well as dairy products such as ice cream, milkshakes, sweet yoghurt, etc. If you see an improvement in skin condition, then you know that it is not dairy per se, but the products of specific type and quality that cause your acne.
3. Start eating more fresh vegetables, greens, and wholegrain carbs.
4. As a next step, you can try eliminating milk, but keeping Greek yoghurt in the diet.
5. You can use the Abe Heath app to more accurately determine which foods are helping to clear or worsen the acne.