Milk and Acne: Does Milk Cause Acne?

Milk and Acne

Milk and dairy products contain growth hormones and inflammatory substances that clog your pores and cause acne.

Have you heard about this yet?

If you eat milk, cheese, ice cream, or any other kind of dairy, and you have acne, this blog post could be the most important thing you read all week.

In fact – and I’m not exaggerating here – removing milk and dairy products from your diet is probably the absolute, honest-to-goodness most effective thing you can do to clear up your skin.

“Hold on a minute!” you might ask. Aren’t milk and other dairy products good for the body, providing essential vitamins and minerals and calcium? Even the government recommends that we consume low-fat dairy products on a daily basis, right?

Well, without getting into the politics of the powerful dairy lobby and the origin of government nutritional recommendations, the truth is that processed milk and dairy products do more harm than good to your body in general. And this is especially true for your skin.

Want to listen instead of reading? Check out our podcast episode about milk and acne:

> Subscribe to the CSF podcast on iTunes!

Why is Milk Bad for Your Acne?

Milk causes acne because…

  • There is abundance of a hormone called IGF-1 in milk, which is really good for baby cows, but not for you. IGF-1 is a growth hormone. It makes baby cows grow up big and strong, but in humans, it tends to make your acne grow big instead. IGF-1 is one of several factors that cause inflammation in humans, and which eventually lead to acne (and the ugly redness and swelling that makes acne so annoying).
  • Milk and dairy products cause an insulin spike in humans that cause the liver to produce even more IGF-1, leading to even more acne.
  • Dairy causes your skin to produce excess sebum (oil), leading to – you guessed it! – more clogged pores, more acne, and a breeding ground for P. acnes bacteria, which feed on your sebum and spew out inflammatory by-products.
  • Dairy glues together dead skin cells inside your pores, so they can’t exit naturally, leading to clogged pores (and thus more acne).

The milk and acne effect is well documented in the literature. In the last decade or so, a number of studies have found a strong link between the consumption of milk and increased occurrence of acne. For example, one such study found that teenage boys who drank milk broke out more often, and more severely, than those who didn’t drink milk.[1]  At least five other studies have confirmed that, in general, the more milk you drink, the worse acne you’ll get.[2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

So What Should You Do To Get Clearer Skin?

The answer is simple: cut dairy out of your diet. This includes milk, cheese, kefir, yogurt, ice cream, and so on. If it has milk in it, it’s likely to give you acne.

Okay, I know that isn’t easy, especially if you love dairy products and food that includes dairy products (like pizza, or my childhood favorite, toasted sesame bagels with cream cheese). It’s hard, I know! I haven’t eaten much dairy for the last 8 years, because it makes me break out like there’s no tomorrow. I miss it, but I like how I look with clear skin way better.

The thing is, if you want clear skin, cutting out dairy is one of the most powerful things you can do. I’m not saying it’s a good idea to go cold turkey on all dairy. Try this: gradually cut out milk and dairy products over a few weeks, and maintain this dairy-free diet for at least 90 days to see if it makes difference for your skin. I’m confident it will, and that you will love the improvement so much that you’ll never want to consume dairy again! (In fact, chances are you’ll start seeing improvement in a week or less! Usually, if I eat some dairy and break out, my skin clears up again in about a week after I stop eating dairy.)

Example Plan

Start with breakfast. Cut out dairy products from your morning routine, and eat eggs and bacon instead, or whatever else you’d like that doesn’t include dairy. Do that for a week. The following week, cut out dairy from your lunch as well. The third week, do dinner. This is a good way to ease into things. Going cold turkey on dairy can be tough, as it’s so dang tasty! (Dairy is also physically addictive, as it contains opioid peptides that mimic the action of opium.[7] )

What About Organic Milk or Hormone-Free Milk?

There’s actually no such thing as “hormone-free milk.” What producers really mean by that is that no synthetic hormones were given to the dairy cows. However, cows still pump tons of growth hormones into their milk to make their calves grow big and strong, and these natural hormones (IGF-1, growth hormone) are some of the main reasons that dairy causes acne. So, sorry, organic milk and hormone-free milk are not much better for your skin!

What about Raw Milk?

Raw milk, raw yogurt, raw kefir, etc. are much more easily digestible than pasteurized and homogenized dairy, and some people who suffer from acne happily consume raw dairy with no problems. (I’ve had moderate success with raw milk myself while doing a muscle-building program – I got some acne, but not too bad, and I managed to build quite a lot of muscle.) For the majority of people, though, raw milk is still likely to cause problems, because it still contains the natural cow hormones that cause acne, and it still spikes your insulin like regular milk does (which leads to inflammation and redness/swelling of acne).

If you want to try raw dairy, I recommend that you try adding it into your diet little by little to see if your body can handle it without causing breakouts (do this after the 90 days of going dairy-free, and once your acne situation is well-controlled). Now, it’s not easy to buy raw milk products, as selling raw milk is illegal in most places. For more information on where to find raw milk near you, check out Real Milk’s website.[8]

What About Lactaid or Lactose-Free Milk?

It’s a common belief that lactose-free milk is better for acne in some way, but I’m going to prove to you otherwise. Lactaid and other “lactose-free” milk is just regular milk with an enzyme called lactase added to pre-digest the lactose for people with lactose intolerance. Otherwise, lactose-free milk is still the same as regular milk. That makes it a no-go if you’ve got acne. Why? Because the lactose is typically not what causes acne. (It may cause diarrhea, but not acne!) It’s typically other ingredients found in milk, suach as whey, casein, IGF-1, and growth hormone (GH), that cause acne, not the lactose.

(Geek note: Lactase is an enzyme that breaks down lactose, the primary sugar in milk. Your gut produces lactase when you’re a baby so you can digest your mother’s milk, but a lot of people lose the ability to produce lactase after childhood or once they’re weaned. A lot of people with Northern European ancestry have inherited a gene mutation that allows them to keep producing lactase into adulthood. However, even for these folks, drinking milk is still likely to cause acne, because it’s not the lactose that matters, it’s the other stuff.)

What About Goat Milk and Sheep Milk?

Goat and sheep milk is generally easier to digest, but it still tends to cause acne. Goats and sheep, like cows, pump hormones into their milk to help their babies grow. While it’s true that the A2 proteins in goat milk and sheep milk (and yogurt, cheese, etc. derived from goat/sheep milk) are easier to digest than the A1 protein produced by Holstein cows (which produce the majority of U.S. dairy), goat and sheep milk still contains IGF-1 and growth hormone, and still spikes your insulin. You might find that you can tolerate raw goat milk, for example, without getting acne, but I strongly suggest you cut out dairy for at least two weeks, ideally 90 days (to allow time for all your clogged pores to un-clog themselves), before you start experimenting with things like raw goat milk, raw cow yogurt, etc.

What About Yogurt? Aren’t The Probiotics Good For Me?

Probiotics are indeed good for you, but yogurt is not the ideal way to get them! Yogurt has some of the IGF-1 removed through the fermentation process, but not entirely, and it still contains natural milk hormones and proteins that tend to cause acne. (Update: extremely acidic, sour yogurt can have significantly reduced amounts of IGF-1, but most store-bought yogurt has a pH of around 4.8,[9] which isn’t low enough to denature the IGF-1 at all.[10] )

If you’re looking to rebuild your digestive flora, a better idea is to take a probiotic supplement. One of the most effective ones I’ve found is called Dr. Ohhira’s, an extremely potent Japanese formulation. Your typical budget probiotic will not perform nearly as well in recolonizing your digestive tract with the proper bacteria. It’s worth going for the good stuff!

It’s probably not necessary to take a probiotic regularly. Once you get your digestive flora back in balance, it should sustain itself naturally provided you’re eating healthy food and not a lot of processed stuff. If you’ve used antibiotics recently, I’d suggest taking a high-strength probiotic like Dr. Ohhira’s for 30-60 days.

What About Buttermilk, Or [Insert Type of Dairy Here]?

No go, sorry! All dairy products (except ghee) contain suspect milk proteins and hormones that tend to cause acne for all the reasons listed above. Here’s a list I’m going to add to over time with dairy products that should generally be avoided (unless you’re deliberately testing on yourself):

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Cream cheese
  • Buttermilk
  • Skim milk
  • Organic milk
  • Pasture-raised milk
  • Raw milk
  • Goat milk
  • Goat yogurt
  • Goat cheese
  • Sheep cheese
  • Powdered milk
  • Condensed milk

Just because X form of dairy isn’t on this list does not mean it’s okay for your skin! Leave me a comment below if you’re really not sure about a certain type of dairy.

Alternatives to Milk for Clear Skin

There are a few great alternatives to milk if you’re still hooked on liquid white stuff. Here we go:

  • Unsweetened, organic almond milk
  • Unsweetened, organic coconut milk (“So Delicious” or similar brand)
  • AROY-D 100% Coconut Cream
  • Organic full-fat coconut milk

You have to be a little careful with milk substitutes as they tend to have a bunch of added sugar and sometimes vegetable oil (both of which negatively affect your hormones and can worsen acne). That’s why I recommend unsweetened almond or coconut milk. [Note: by “vegetable oil” I mean canola oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, and cottonseed oil. These oils contain high amounts of inflammatory omega-6 fats. Olive oil, on the other hand, is fantastic! Just don’t cook with it, as it’s unstable to heat and forms skin-damaging free radicals. Other good fats to use for clear skin are red palm oil, coconut oil, and animal fats.]

You can also make your own nut milks, of course! Almond milk, Brazil nut milk, hazelnut milk – you name it. Google around a bit if you’re curious about this – you’ll find tons of great recipes and how-to’s out there. That way, you know you’re getting just pure, healthy nuts and no funny stuff added.

My personal favorite these days is AROY-D 100% Coconut Cream. It’s prized by Thai master chefs (so I’ve read) as the best-tasting coconut milk / coconut cream around. It’s incredibly rich and loaded with healthy medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and stable saturated fats. It mixes great into green smoothies and curries.

But Cereal’s No Good Without Milk…

You’re absolutely right! The alternatives to milk, like almond milk and coconut milk, really aren’t as good, and eating cereal becomes a lot less enjoyable without real milk. I’m going to propose something drastic: if you’re quitting milk, you might as well quit cereal and kill two acne-causing birds with one stone (excuse the violent phrase).

The main thing is that cereal can destroy your gut, especially if you’re one of the 70% of people that are probably sensitive to gluten. That opens the floodgates for systemic inflammation (redness/swelling of acne), food allergies, and majorly worsened acne. Even gluten-free cereal tends to be loaded with sugar and/or baked in some kind of vegetable oil, which leads to lipid peroxidation. Peroxidized lipids are BAD. They can directly damage your skin’s cell membranes, and if your immune system is already compromised from eating gluten and processed foods, you can’t really neutralize the peroxidized lipids as well, so they wreak havoc. I’m going to write a post soon about cereal and/or gluten, and I’ll link it here.

The best thing you can do, cereal-wise, is to stop eating it altogether. I ate cereal + milk for breakfast every morning for close to 15 years, but now I know that it gives me acne, taxes my immune system, and drains my energy, so I’ve switched to pasture-raised eggs, bacon, and green smoothies for breakfast. Give it a try – your skin will thank you!

Do Not Drink Soy Milk!

Soy milk is made from processed soybeans, which can have estrogen-mimicking effects on the body. Any food that could potentially disturb your hormones in this way is something you’ll want to avoid as you’re going toward clear skin.

Furthermore, soy contains large amounts of omega-6 fats, which cause inflammation and redness/swelling of acne unless balanced out by a healthy amount of omega-3 fats (rare in most modern diets).

Soy is also linked to increased rate of birth defects, increased chance of developing Alzheimer’s later in life,[11] and is very often genetically modified (unless organic or otherwise stated). The health effects of genetically modified foods are a hotly debated issue, but why play guinea pig on yourself when genetically modified foods are so new to our bodies?

Finally, the minerals found in soymilk are basically useless to humans, because they’re bound up by phytic acid (used by plants for defense against getting eaten before they flower and reproduce). Tempeh is much better in this regard, as the phytic acid is broken down by the fermentation process. By some accounts having around half the phytic acid.[12]

Are You Physically Addicted To Milk?

Surprising fact: milk contains casomorphin, which is a physiologically addictive substance that essentially does to your brain what morphine and opium do (to a lesser degree). Casomorphin binds to opioid receptors in your brain and makes you happy, and then your brain gets used to the jolt when you drink milk over and over, and you get unhappy if you try to stop drinking it. (Or eating cheese, or yogurt, or pretty much any other kind of dairy.)

Milk is yummy stuff, but it’s also literally addictive! That tends to make it seem more tasty than it really is, in my experience. And the acne trade-off doesn’t seem worth it. The best defense you have against relapsing into dairy-drinking is to just stop for at least two weeks, then drink some milk and see what happens to your skin. After a few times of doing that, I can almost guarantee you’ll be able to get over the addiction!

Watch Out For Hidden Milk Ingredients

Dairy is in everything. Okay, not everything, but tons of packaged foods and restaurant dishes have hidden dairy. Read ingredients labels before you buy anything! Case in point, a reader recently discovered that the tomato soup he was eating – which sounds healthy enough – had powdered milk in it (which is actually one of the worst forms of dairy, since it’s so heavily processed).

Other examples: mashed potatoes often have milk in them. Omelets and scrambled eggs, in restaurants, often are “fluffed up” with milk. (And scrambled eggs are bad news anyway because of the oxidized cholesterol – see below.) The list of hidden milk ingredients is pretty long – anything with a cream sauce, anything that’s creamy (including lots of Indian food), probably has dairy. Just keep a careful eye out, and you’ll learn over time what’s better to avoid.

What About Eggs? Are They Dairy?

Eggs are fantastic! Eggs are not dairy, even though they are essentially baby food (for the growing, unborn chick). Eggs do not have growth hormones like IGF-1 that are bioactive in humans. Eggs are really a fabulous food, especially farmers’ market, pasture-raised eggs. They’re loaded with choline, lutein, zeaxanthin, B vitamins, cholesterol (which is a good thing – it’s the building block for all hormones in the body, after all), and healthy fats. I eat three eggs, typically, for breakfast.

Poaching or soft-boiling are you best bets for healthy eggs. Sunnyside up is a solid method. I strongly advise against scrambling your eggs, though (I used to do this all the time). When you scramble an egg, you oxidize the cholesterol in the yolk, turning an otherwise healthy nutrient (cholesterol) into a dangerous substance (oxidized cholesterol), which tends to take up residence in your arteries. Yikes.

The healthiest way to cook an egg is to keep the yolk intact and runny – poaching is definitely my method of choice. Give it a shot if you haven’t yet!

Key Take-Aways

  • Dairy is one of the worst acne triggers in the Western diet. It contains the growth hormone IGF-1 and it spikes your insulin dramatically, leading to inflammation, redness, swelling, clogged pores, and acne.
  • Try cutting out processed milk and dairy products from your diet for 90 days. It’s one of the most powerful things you can do to start clearing up your skin.
  • Dairy is chemically addictive (like opium and morphine, but to a lesser degree), so quitting dairy can be tough.
  • The minimum I recommend, if you’re really addicted to dairy, is to cut out dairy 100% for two whole weeks, then re-introduce it and see what it does to your skin. If you break out, you’ll have more evidence and stronger desire to quit dairy long-term. (You may have to repeat this process a few times – it took me many cycles of this before I was able to quit dairy 100%!)
  • Watch out for hidden dairy ingredients. Read ingredients labels before you buy packaged food, and ask at restaurants for dairy-free options.
  • Quitting dairy is only one part of a holistic diet- and lifestyle-based treatment for acne.
  • You also need to fix the other diet- and lifestyle-based root causes of acne (and that’s what our book is all about!).

While dairy is one of the worst acne triggers out there, there’s even more you can do to kickstart your journey to clear skin.

If you’d like to be walked through the whole process of tweaking your diet for clear skin, I’ve written an ebook that does just that. It’s called “Clear Skin Forever” (surprise, surprise!).

For this complete guide to taking an all-natural, diet-based approach to getting rid of acne and having clear skin for life (no kidding!), go here.

Sources (click to expand)

  1. Milk consumption and acne in teenaged boys. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2008 May;58(5):787-93. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18194824 ^
  2. Family history, body mass index, selected dietary factors, menstrual history, and risk of moderate to severe acne in adolescents and young adults. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2012 Dec;67(6):1129-35. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=22386050 ^
  3. High glycemic load diet, milk and ice cream consumption are related to acne vulgaris in Malaysian young adults: a case control study. BMC Dermatology. 2012 Aug 16;12:13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22898209 ^
  4. Role of insulin, insulin-like growth factor-1, hyperglycaemic food and milk consumption in the pathogenesis of acne vulgaris. Experimental Dermatology, 18: 833–841. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19709092 ^
  5. Milk consumption: aggravating factor of acne and promoter of chronic diseases of Western societies. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2009 Apr;7(4):364-70. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19243483 ^
  6. High school dietary dairy intake and teenage acne. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2005 Feb;52(2):207-14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15692464 ^
  7. Opioid peptides encrypted in intact milk protein sequences. British Journal of Nutrition / Volume 84 / Supplement S1 / November 2000, pp 27-31. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=886780 ^
  8. Real Milk Finder. http://www.realmilk.com/real-milk-finder/ ^
  9. Are All Yogurts Created Equal? ^
  10. The Effects of Dairy Processes and Storage on Insulin-Like Growth Factor-I (IGF-I) Content in Milk and in Model IGF-I–Fortified Dairy Products. ^
  11. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2004/04/21/soy-health.aspx ^
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soy_milk ^

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Comments

  1. nguyen truong says

    Thank you so much for your article. I really love the almond milk since I have a moderate break out (not a serious type but not a good experience I wish for). After then, my skin gets clearer everyday except for the last 5 cystic acne (the toughest kind in acne race). Hence, I have few red bumps on my cheek and my skin compares to before is obviously darker. I believe it’s a mild acne scars. I hope you could give me some advice to brighten my skin. I’m thinking to try DIY mask: matcha green tea+yogurt+honey and use AHA/BHA exfoliation products from Paula’s choice
    p/s: I will give coconut milk a try

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Almond milk is a great choice – just make sure the kind you’re drinking is sugar-free and all-natural. For tips on reducing scars, check out our blog post on aloe – it’s a slow but effective and very safe treatment for scars. I don’t know what steps you’ve taken to treat your acne with diet changes, but for most people, cutting out dairy products isn’t enough; other diet and lifestyle changes are in order as well. To learn more, read around our blog and check out our book!

      Finally, we don’t focus too much on topical treatments of any kind, and so I can’t comment on the mask you mentioned. If it’s all-natural, though, I say give it a try and see how it works for you! In addition, I encourage you to continue to focus on curing your acne from the inside with diet and lifestyle changes! Best wishes to you!

  2. Daniel says

    I was wondering if there is enough milk in the cheese of a pizza to make your skin break out after a while of no dairy

    • Devin Mooers says

      Oh yeah, DEFINITELY. That’s the kind of thing where you could wake up the next day with a new breakout, no question. Cheese is basically concentrated casein, with all the additional bovine hormones concentrated in the fat, and most pizza that you buy isn’t going to be using grass-fed cheese or anything. :D

  3. Bryce says

    Hi, this is probably a dumb question, but I was wondering to how far of an extent I should go on avoiding milk (I started the nondairy diet today). Obviously I should not eat milk, cream, cheese. Yogurt, ice cream, etc. but what about if milk is cooked into something like a dough. There’s butter in baked goods and milk and butter in plenty of foods that are prepared like pasta noodles, etc. should I avoid basically everything? (I’m not going gluten free or sugar free as I planon starting up my own bakery and need to taste my foods) I’m just wondering about dairy!

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hi Bryce – that’s a great question! We encourage people to go 100% dairy-free, and that’s because 1) it yields the fastest results, and 2) a lot of those foods that have milk or butter as an ingredient are foods that trigger acne in other ways. However, if you’re starting a bakery, it might make the most sense for you to do exactly what you described – avoid the obvious sources of dairy, but don’t worry too much about the small amounts contained in your baked goods. Some people are sensitive enough to break out consuming very small amounts of milk products, but for many people, reducing their intake will lead to an overall improvement in their skin!

  4. Alan says

    I had an acne problem, more so in college than high school. After college, I went into the military and seemed to have less of a problem. I did have cysts and acne on my back for a while but into my 30’s it all seemed to disappear. My son is a college athlete, playing football. I know they give them supplements and protein drinks, and I know he loves milk. He seems to break out worse in college than high school. Similar to what I did. I am not sure he cares enough to give up milk. I just wonder if it is hereditary and will go away or if he will have to give up milk someday or always have a problem.

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hi Alan, good questions. It sounds like you’re wondering if your son’s acne will just go away over time like yours did, or if it will persist until he makes dietary changes. I can’t answer that for you, unfortunately – acne has a genetic influence, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your son’s experience will mirror your own. Either outcome is possible. Protein powders – especially whey protein – can be problematic for sure. If he doesn’t want to give up the milk or supplements, he may experience a reduction in his acne if he switches to a different type of protein powder, a non-dairy variety (see our article on whey protein for our suggestions on that). He might also switch to organic milk if that’s feasible for him – we’ve had a few readers now mention that switching to organic milk helped immensely (read below). If he’s reluctant, it can be helpful to think in terms of just trying it for a short amount of time – 2 weeks, 3 weeks, a month – to see if he notices any changes. Psychologically, that’s much easier to sign on to than “forever”!

      Your son is lucky to have such a caring dad – I hope you find a workable solution together!

  5. Austin says

    Milk is definitely the cause of my acne breakouts. I quit drinking regular milk about a year ago out of curiosity and within a few days of cutting back on milk, I saw a huge improvement with my face. In your article you mention that Organic Milk is not any better, but it is for me at least. Ever since then I have switched to Organic Milk and my acne stays away. I can have as much as I like and I will rarely get a pimple. However, as soon as I have a couple glasses of regular milk, the breakout will start within the following couple of days.

    So for me, there is something in regular milk that is not in Organic that causes my breakouts.

    Thanks for the good read though!

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Austin! Perhaps we were amiss in saying that organic milk is not any better – organic milk typically has a healthier fat profile, fewer antibiotics, and fewer artificial hormones, all of which make it healthier from a skin perspective. But even milk from the most thoughtfully raised cows still contains substances known to trigger acne, and that still causes problems for a lot of people. But if you can drink organic milk with no ill effects, enjoy!!

  6. Maria says

    That’s interesting, but I think that ia another myth, and kind of paleo “mainstream”, because it’s more important proccessing dairy, and this is the problem.

    I know people who started to drink milk and eat dairy products and their acne dissapeared.
    I would say that MILK doesn’t cause acne, but many people have problem to digest it, so first we have to heal our gut.
    Dairy is anti-inflammatory food as well, and has a lot nutrients.

    I know people who eat “junk food” and no acne.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Maria! You’re right that dairy can be a healing food, but there are a lot of different kinds and quality levels of dairy. At one end, there’s mass-produced, corn- and soy-fed skim milk – and that is a HUGE acne bomb, with studies to prove it (see the studies linked in the “Sources” section at the bottom). At the other end, there’s grass-fed, raw, organic, fermented dairy from goats or heritage-breed cows. And that’s basically a totally different food. A lot of people tolerate that quite well. I still think there’s good reason for people suffering from acne to cut out dairy entirely for a while until they get things under control, then experiment with reintroducing raw grass-fed fermented dairy, because of the risks involved (IGF-1, bovine hormones in the milk, etc.).

      • Cammie says

        I just want to add to this and say that once I cut dairy out of my diet my acne disappeared. (I’m 31 and shouldnt be getting acne anymore). I moved to New Zealand few years ago and began drinking milk again (all cow there are grass fed) and I never get any pimples from it. But whenever I come back to the States to visit, even if I only drink organic milk I get pimples. There is a huge qualitative difference between “organic” and grass fed, as well as the supplemental diets, which most likely include soy and corn (even if its organic) that cows in the states receive. If you know where your milk is coming from and are sure its 100% grass fed then its most likely not going to give you pimples.Organic on the other hand doesn’t imply that the cows are grass fed.

        • Sonia Carlson says

          Wow, you and Austin agree on this point! Organic doesn’t mean that the cows were grass-fed, but at least in the U.S., animals must be raised on pasture for at least 4 months of the year for their milk to qualify as organic. It’s our position that whole, raw, and cultured dairy products from grass-fed animals is ideal (meaning that it’s the least likely to cause acne), but certainly organic dairy products are much better than conventional. Thanks for sharing, Cammie!

    • Devin Mooers says

      And yes, some people can eat junk food all day and never get acne. There’s a HUGE genetic (and epigenetic) component to acne.

  7. Sarah says

    Hello! I’m quite interested in work like yours, examining the power of food and its effects on the body. I don’t have a lot of acne, but my skin isn’t extremely clear (I don’t know if it’s something I’d be making a big effort to change, but I was interested in seeing what would come up when I searched it).
    Just looking through your site, it appears you promote a paleo-esque diet (especially the exclusion of dairy (and some other commonly processed materials like foods with lots of gluten, sugar, and the like in them). And you seem to promote meat-sourced protein. I am a vegetarian and thinking of becoming a vegan (so eschewing dairy, etc. as well as meat), and I was wondering if you have any recommendations. Becoming vegan would generally mean consuming more of some items you don’t really recommend, like beans…
    I was wondering if you could shed some light on this for me? (Again, I don’t know if any of this will be of major importance or concern to me, but I’m interested in what you have to say on the matter.) Thank you, and have wonderful days!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sarah! Yep, we generally recommend a Paleo-inspired diet. While I applaud many of the reasons for becoming vegan (I was raw vegan for 8 months at one point, and Sonia was vegan for ~4 years), all my research has led me to the conclusion that it’s really not optimal for skin health, especially because of key nutrients like vitamin A that are safest and most effective when gotten from animal sources (e.g. fermented cod liver oil, liver, etc.).

      You can definitely prepare beans, lentils, and non-gluten grains to get rid of most of the anti-nutrient content, which will make them easier on your body and skin. You can also supplement B12, D, K2, and potentially retinol/A (I just answered another comment on that, not sure about the safety of synthetic retinol), but it takes some diligence to do all this properly.

      Are you pretty set on going vegan at this point? And if you’re comfortable sharing, what are your reasons for potentially doing so?

  8. Lommy says

    Will protein products from “protein world” cause acne? It’s gluten and soy free but it still has whey protein concentrate.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Lommy, anything that has whey protein in it, especially concentrate, since it has more other milk solids in it than whey protein isolate, will potentially be a problem.

      • Lommy says

        Thanks for the reply. Haha I thought it would be a problem but the brand looked so promising that I got a bit excited. Another question, are all Vegan protein supplements okay or do I have to make sure it doesn’t have soy if it says the product is gluten and lactose free?

        • Devin Mooers says

          Definitely avoid anything containing soy protein. Have you looked into egg white protein? Or Paleo Protein? There are a few options out there that are better-absorbed than most vegan protein powders and shouldn’t trigger acne.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Marwan, I’m not sure – I’d suspect that camel milk would have a lot of the same hormones and hormone-stimulating properties that cow’s milk does. That said, raw, fermented camel milk seems like it could be a pretty good choice for testing on yourself!

  9. revanth says

    I cut down on dairy products about 5-6 months ago, apart from an ice cream every now and then. Cutting down on dairy and some other minor changes to my diet not only killed my acne but also helped me a lot of weight. Of course there was some exercising involved too though :). Nonetheless, a very informative article

    • Devin Mooers says

      Glad you got such great improvement from cutting down dairy! It’s interesting how strong of a negative effect it can have for so many people (myself included). I’m able to tolerate raw, grass-fed, cultured dairy somewhat, but for anything remotely pasteurized, industrially produced, etc., forget it!

  10. Jarah says

    Hi! Thank you for this very informative article! I have been suffering from acne for the last 10-12 years, with it having gotten much worse within the last year or so. I’ve tried so many different things to clear it up. I will be starting a no dairy diet tomorrow and see how it goes. I’m desperate at this point, I’m willing to try anything! I purchased a coconut/almond milk blend to replace my milk and a soy creamee to replace my replace my regular coffee creamer, but after reading your article, it sounds like that’s not such a good idea either. About how long after cutting out dairy did you see results with you skin? I hope to see something within the next few months! Thank you again!!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Jarah! Glad you enjoyed the article and are going dairy-free! If dairy is triggering acne for you, you will almost definitely see results within 1-2 months. Usually it’s even shorter than that, like improvement within a couple weeks, but not always. Depends a lot on what the rest of your diet is, whether you’re eating sugar, vegetable oil, gluten, other inflammatory foods, etc. (We talk about all that in our book if you’re interested.) As for the creamer, if it contains sugar and/or vegetable oil, then yep, I’d avoid it. You can make delicious coffee creamer at home with raw almonds (and/or cashews) and a blender – tons of good recipes on the internet! That’s what I use when I drink decaf coffee.

  11. Rob T. says

    The milk question is very confusing. I have tried on 3 separate occasions to cut out milk for close to 2 months each time. I had substituted either unsweetened Almond Milk or Coconut Milk. I found that not only did stopping milk not improve my skin but I got worse. I’m guessing something maybe in the almond or coconut milks (sunflower oils?) made my skin worse. I went back to have some milk in my oatmeal. I have no problem cutting out milk but it seems that the alternatives don’t help and may actually be worse. Very frustrating.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Rob! Sunflower oil, a vegetable oil (technically seed oil), can definitely be an acne trigger. That’s one possibility… it’s also possible that you were getting some vitamins/minerals from the milk that were actually *helping*.

      There are definitely almond milks / coconut milks that don’t have sugar or vegetable oil. Let me know if you’re having trouble finding any. You can always just make your own almond milk or cashew milk with just raw nuts + water, and it’s probably going to taste better/fresher than what you could buy in the store. Recipes for nut milks abound on the internet.

      What kind of milk are you buying/drinking? Like what brand, % milkfat, etc.? Also, are you taking vitamin D?

      • Rob T. says

        Thanks for the reply. I’m drinking Clover Organic Farms regular milk, not low fat or non fat. The milk contains 8G of fat (5G of saturated). As most all studies on milk and acne have stated that the full fat milk is better than the low or non fat if one must drink milk.
        My vitamin D levels were checked (at Labcor) twice 6 months apart. The first reading was 53.7 and 6 months later was 61. Interesting that I wear long sleeves and a ball cap and wear sunscreen on my face and neck and still have these readings. I only take one 1000mg tablet of D3 a day.

        I think that I will continue with just using milk in my oatmeal 3-4 times a week. I use very little and does not seem to be a factor with my skin. Something else is going on I’m afraid.

        • Devin Mooers says

          Wow, those are quite high vitamin D levels. Wait – what are the units on it? Are we talking ng/ml or nmol/ml?

          Also, out of curiosity, you mentioned you don’t think milk is the problem, but something else instead – why is that? Milk tends to be one of the top problems for a lot of people dealing with acne (myself included).

          • Rob T. says

            The Vitamin D tests were the 25-Hydroxy D from LabCorp Labs and were the ng/mL that stated the range is 32.0 – 100.0

            As to my mentioning I don’t think milk may be my problem is because I have experimented with avoiding milk on three separate occasions for over a month each time and without any positive result whatever and actually was somewhat worse off but that may have been because of the almond & coconut substitutes I was using.

          • Devin Mooers says

            I see… I’d still be a little surprised if the milk weren’t contributing to your acne at least a little, but everyone’s different, so you could be right. Sugar/vegetable oil/gluten maybe?

  12. Mary says

    What are your thoughts on rice milk? I am 37 and have always had issues with acne. I just recently read about the connection to milk. I am on the slim fast diet shakes (with protein) to loose weight. I drink one for breakfast and one for lunch so I need a milk supplement to mix with the powder. I had been using fat free milk till I read how milk can cause acne. I am experimenting with almond and rice milk. Haven’t tried coconut yet. Problem with these are the fat content when I’m trying to loose weight. Any suggestions? Which non dairy supplement would be best to use in my diet shake mix? Thank you for this post!!!!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Mary, sounds like you’ve been dealing with the acne specter for a while. As for Slim-Fast, I would highly recommend finding an alternative – there’s a high probability that the shake mix itself is triggering acne in a major way. The main ingredients include 3 out of the top 4 worst foods for acne – sugar, vegetable oil (canola/soybean oil), and milk (milk protein, milk powder, etc.). I understand that Slim-Fast probably does an excellent job of marketing their products, but I think you might be getting hoodwinked on this one. You’re drinking down ~20 grams of sugar with each shake, not to mention the several grams of vegetable oil and all the milk powder that comes along with it. You can’t get away from these highly acne-causing foods with Slim-Fast. I’d actually guess that it would be pretty difficult to lose weight on Slim-Fast, unless you were just restricting overall calories altogether. Have you ever looked into books like “Good Calories, Bad Calories” or “Why We Get Fat,” both by Gary Taubes? They’re great introductions on the sugar/carb theory of weight gain, which we align with strongly at CSF.

      All told, I can’t in good faith recommend that you keep taking Slim-Fast if you’re dealing with acne. Whole foods are going to do you a lot better for losing weight, I’d wager. We recommend a fairly Paleo-style diet in our book, if you’re interested in checking that out (we also have a recipe book out now too, for folks that have already bought the book). I hope this helps!

      (By the way, rice milk tends to have added sugar and vegetable oil. If you really need a milk alternative (ideally NOT for Slim-Fast, if you value your skin), then I’d go for unsweetened almond or coconut milk.)

    • Devin Mooers says

      I should add that the diet we recommend tends to be very good at helping people lose extra weight, for the same reasons that it helps with clearing acne (balancing hormones, lowering inflammation, curbing blood sugar spikes and enhancing insulin sensitivity, reducing glycemic load, etc.).

  13. Viki says

    Hi there :)

    How we tolerate ghee can depend on whether ghee is grass fed or not? Just want to know how important it is to use grass fed ghee and why.
    Thanks!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Viki! The issue with non-grass-fed ghee is that it’s potentially from corn- and soy-fed, factory-farmed cows. These cows tend to be dosed heavily on antibiotics to keep them from getting insane mastitis (udder infection), and those antibiotics get into the milk. I’m not 100% sure whether the specific antibiotics used on cows are water-soluble or fat-soluble, but if they’re fat-soluble, you can bet your behind that they’ll be super-concentrated in the resulting ghee. Antibiotics are problematic for acne because they disrupt your normal gut flora, which is a HUGE part of the inflammation equation. I think it is basically ALWAYS a bad idea to eat milk, meat, ghee, or any other products from potentially factory-farmed cows when it comes to skin health and clearing acne.

      • Viki says

        Thank you :)

        Oh, antibiotics, this didn’t come to my mind at all. Good to remember it.
        I thought if there could be some difference in hormones which then ghee consist, or omega fats or so.
        And when you want to try how you tolerate something, how many days it usually takes? Already the next day you can see if skin got worse or can it take also a week? And how long does it usually take untill this concrete food is out and don’t influence the skin anymore?

        • Devin Mooers says

          Actually I would expect a difference in omega-3/6 levels in grass-fed ghee vs. grain-fed. It’s likely that the grass-fed ghee would have slightly higher omega-3 levels and significantly lower omega-6 levels (but that’s just a guess).

          So you asked some difficult questions here – in general, I’d allow a week to see if you tolerate a food. If you don’t see any negative changes after a week of beginning to eat that food again, it’s *probably* okay, but not always, since it can take a *long* time for pores to progress from clogged pores to full-blown pimples (several weeks up to several months).

          For removing foods, it really depends again on what it is. But I’d recommend a similar time span for most foods. For ones like gluten and dairy, which have much more insidious and long-lasting effects on acne, I’d just get rid of them altogether (unless experimenting with someone like ghee, for example).

  14. sara says

    i been fighting acne for a long tim I tired cutting down on sweets and sodas and now I have to cut down on milk bcuz it causes acne I thought milk is good for you and chesse and other dairy prod I tried over coner med and doctors med I have acne on face chest and back im trying to drink mango juice to see if that helps so now I got cut down the milk and I love ice cream wish I can fine something to get rid of this acne been having it for years im like 37 yrs old still fighting it .

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sara, I feel your pain! I often wish I could eat dairy products / milk / ice cream, but it just makes me break out like clockwork so I avoid it. Some people are actually able to tolerate raw, grass-fed milk/dairy, so that’s something worth looking into. Let me know if you’re interested and I can point you in the right direction. Overall, though, cutting out dairy tends to be the #1 factor for a lot of people in helping to get rid of acne. I wish it weren’t so!

  15. Kubaaa says

    Heyy. Thanks a ton for this really. it answered everything because you went at it from like every possible angle :p
    hahahaha and it was pretty funny too. Great job :D xx

    • Devin Mooers says

      Haha thanks, glad you liked it! We do try to bring a little humor to the subject, as it can get pretty dang depressing.

  16. TK says

    Sounds like a dangerous recommendation. In Western diet, dairy is the main source of:
    – Calcium
    – Vitamin B12
    – Vitamin B2

    How to get these three important micronutrients without dairy products?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Do you have a source on that? I’d disagree that dairy are the main sources of these nutrients. Maybe calcium, but that can be gotten from leafy greens, almonds, bone broth, etc., and is much more absorbable in these forms than from dairy. I’d guess that animal protein / meat is actually the highest dietary source of B12. I can’t imagine someone who eats a good amount of meat and avoids dairy 100% would have a problem with B12. That’s usually only a problem in vegan diets, or due to some pre-existing malabsorption condition. As for B2/riboflavin, according to this site, it’s quite high in leafy greens, almonds, mushrooms, seaweed, and eggs:
      http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=93
      All of which are regular foods on the diet we recommend.

  17. Brent says

    Around January I quit drinking milk all together. I always used to have moderate acne(3-4 pimples at all times) with ocasional bad breakouts. Now I rarely ever have any problems with my skin whatsoever and still eat cheese and yogurt etc. I used to have close to 2L of milk a day so The minimal cheese and yogurt I have is probably the culprit for the ocasional 1 zit I get nowadays. This is great advice people so follow it for better skin and health in general.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Brent! I find the same problem personally – small amounts of cheese and yogurt still tend to give me a few pimples. Raw dairy seems to be better for me, but raw dairy still has some of the same problems. I wish it weren’t so!

  18. FirstTime says

    Hello,
    Thank you for this detailed advice regarding acne trigger. I can assosiate my self to the causes of what you explained. Thanks again.

  19. Holly says

    My dermatologist told me it doesn’t matter what we eat, that there has been no proof shown that dairy or anything else makes a difference for acne and that i can eat whatever i want. Honestly sometimes i feel like she doesn’t know what she’s talking about but it is HER job not mine…..is there any proof that this is really true? Ever since ive been eating more dairy lately i feel like ive been getting really bad inflammation which ive never had before

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Holly! It’s important to keep in mind that a lot of practicing dermatologists probably went to medical school in the ’70s or ’80s, and even today, there’s typically only one semester of required nutrition classes (if that), so you can imagine how bad it was 20-30 years ago. There are a number of studies out now demonstrating the very, very clear link between milk consumption and acne – scroll down to the bottom of the Milk article, click the “Sources (click to expand)” link and you’ll see a list of the sources we used for the article, including some scientific studies. Dairy absolutely does tend to increase inflammation for all the reasons laid out in the article – trust your body (and the latest science) on this one, I’d say!

  20. fabio says

    Hi again, it’s been a while since i started this dairy free diet, almost a year and i’ve been good but even like this sometimes i got pimples, not a bunch of them but a few and i would like to know what food should i eat to avoid this events, i eat eggs, carrots, avoid milk but i would like to know more foods that are good to avoid this
    Thanks for all this :D

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Fabio! We generally recommend following a Paleo-style diet. We eat lots of grass-fed red meat (beef, lamb, goat, etc.), lots of vegetables, some nuts (like almond butter), coconut, fruit, etc. – for more ideas, google “paleo recipes” or similar and you’ll find tons of resources. Hope this helps!

      • fabio says

        Thank you, yes, it was helpfull, i just have one more question, when washing my face (only with water) it should be with cold or warm wather? do you know? some people say it should be with cold, others say warm, i never knew. Thanks again

        • Devin Mooers says

          Hey Fabio, the issue with warmer/hot water is that can strip off your face’s natural oils. I’d use lukewarm water at the hottest. Cool water works pretty well for me, and is generally going to leave more of your skin’s precious oil intact.

    • Devin Mooers says

      That’s a pretty complicated question, and I wish I had an easy answer. At the moment, I eat some raw cultured butter, and I avoid pasteurized butter and ghee and cream. I don’t have any hard data on whether, for instance, pasteurized butter might trigger acne – but it does contain milk solids/proteins and hormones from the milk, so it’s possible. I would avoid cream, generally speaking, since it’s got more of the milk solids in it. For butter/ghee, I would just experiment and see what works for you. It’s going to be safer, acne-wise, to avoid dairy altogether, but the vitamin K2 is hard to find elsewhere so it’s worth experimenting if you want to. Sorry I can’t give you a better answer!

  21. Sam says

    Hi Sonia & Devon

    First time on your site and I want to tell say you have an amazing website full of great evidence based advice.

    I have no dairy at all except whey protein because of working out. I would buy other proteins but they cost to much for me. My question is I recently started kefir milk ONLY because I was told it was good for skin. I ferment it in gently pasteurized goats milk. In your article you mentioned kefir is bad, yet I have heard from others that It could really help acne. Any clarification and advice would greatly be appreciated. Thanks and hope you get rewarded for all your effort and hard work.

    Thanks

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sam, I’ve experimented with making my own kefir from raw cow’s milk, and I don’t seem to get any breakouts from it. Dairy is kind of a risky thing for acne sufferers, but it’s worth experimenting with since everyone reacts differently. Home-made kefir from goat’s milk is definitely on the “safer” side of the dairy spectrum, so why not test it out and see how it goes? I would expect the whey protein to be worse for your skin than goat’s milk kefir.

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