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Does Dairy Cause Acne?

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The skin is your largest organ. With that in mind, it makes sense that a nutritious diet which benefits brain and heart function would also maximize skin health. Antioxidant-rich berries, cruciferous veggies, omega 3 fatty acids, and foods with a low glycemic index can lead to glowing, radiant skin. But what about dairy? Sometimes an issue for the digestive system, but good for bone health, dairy lies in nutritional purgatory, waiting for a final judgment to be rendered. So what does science tell us about dairy and your skin?

Chocolate and greasy foods are the historical villains when it comes to acne. Recently, however, milk and gluten have taken center stage as the bigger pimple perpetrators. A May 2016 American Academy of Dermatology study showed that indeed, dairy may be contributing to acne. Researchers asked over 200 people between 14 and 19 years old about their diets. Turns out, people with acne consumed more low-fat and skim milk than those with no acne. But researchers found no association between acne and full-fat milk or total dairy intake. (See: Foods That Cause Acne)

This conclusion is consistent with earlier studies, but the authors were transparent that an association like this does not always equal causation. They noted the study had limitations such as the random timing of telephone calls and the need to rely on people's estimation of serving size.

Why may full-fat dairy be better for preventing blemishes? Although milk fat contains saturated fats, it also has other fatty acids that promote a healthy metabolism and decrease insulin resistance. Dairy fat also contains multiple fatty acids that help your metabolism, but the insulin levels are key when it comes to acne control. The speculation is that when insulin spikes, the sebaceous glands are stimulated, causing breakouts. If full-fat milk prevents this rise, then pimples are less likely to form.

So should you cut out skim milk? If you're struggling with acne, it's not advisable to start eliminating food or drink prior to consulting with a dermatologist. Although there seems to be growing scientific data that skim milk may be associated with more breakouts, there needs to be additional evidence confirming that stopping its consumption leads to clear skin. That being said, your doctor may suggest cutting down on low-fat milk as part of a more comprehensive treatment plan.

 

Mona Gohara, MD

Oberlin-bred feminist, Yale-trained dermatologist, mother, Virgo, and lover of all things Broadway, tulle, and 80's. Favorite TV show: the Mindy Project because beauty and brains are a wonderful thing. 

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