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.

Watch this video to see why:

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 or so, 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.

Now, cutting out dairy sure ain’t easy – and you might not have to commit to being dairy-free forever if you want to enjoy clear skin. To help you test whether dairy is a problem for your skin, I’ve got two options for plans to follow.

Get rid of acne NOW with these diet and lifestyle changes.

Join 5,000+ readers. Detox your diet and lifestyle and get rid of acne for good, with Clear Skin Forever.

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The Total Elimination Plan

The Total Elimination Plan is the most likely to get you the fastest, best results, so go for this plan if you can swing it. On Total Elimination, you cut out all sources of dairy from your diet for 30 days. You can go cold turkey if you’re feeling like a rock star, or you can gradually reduce your dairy consumption for a week or two before you start counting your 30 days.

After the 30 days is up, you’ll hopefully see some noticeable improvement in your skin! If so, if you want, you can start experimenting at this point with adding back in certain types of high-quality dairy. You might try drinking raw, grass-fed whole milk, or eating some organic kefir, yogurt, butter, or cheese. Now, don’t eat these all at once – you’ll get the best feedback from your skin if you try one thing at a time, and wait a few days in between.

If your skin doesn’t improve, that doesn’t necessarily mean that dairy is safe for your skin. What it definitely means is that there’s something else triggering your acne – maybe something else you’re eating, some nutrients you’re missing, gut dysbiosis, or some lifestyle issue like stress or environmental toxins. For you, we highly recommend checking out our ebook, Clear Skin Forever, if you haven’t already.

The Reduce and Boost Plan

Now, if you’re reeeeally not ready to cut out all sources of dairy, don’t worry. Our second plan, the Reduce and Boost Plan, is easier. If you are doing this plan, you aren’t eliminating all dairy; instead you’re just reducing your dairy intake and boosting the overall quality of the dairy you consume.

So what that looks like is 1) doing your best to avoid dairy when you’re eating out and in processed foods, since these tend to be low-quality dairy, and 2) switching to full-fat, raw, grass-fed dairy products at home if they’re available for sale or via herdshare where you live. If you can’t get the raw stuff, then try whole organic, grass-fed milk, which is available at natural food stores and even a lot of regular grocery stores these days. (More on raw milk in the FAQs below.)

If after a month or so your skin has improved, high-five! You can continue with the changes you made, or if you want to try the Total Elimination Plan to see if you can get even clearer, go for it!

If your skin hasn’t improved after a month, you could try reducing dairy further, or try the Total Elimination Plan. If you can’t reduce further or don’t want to, don’t lose hope! Acne is a complex problem with lots of potential triggers, which can make it hard to pin down, but that also means that there are a lot of other diet and lifestyle changes you can try that may improve your skin drastically! You can get some more ideas from the other articles on our website, or get the master plan for clearing up acne with diet and lifestyle changes in our ebook, Clear Skin Forever.

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).[7]

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

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, while organic milk and hormone-free milk are almost certainly better for your skin than the conventional stuff – and some people do report that just switching to organic milk was enough to cure their mild acne – even organic dairy still causes acne for a lot of people.

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 30 days of going dairy-free, and once your acne situation is well-controlled).

Now, it’s not always 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.


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 can still 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.

Some people do find that they can tolerate raw goat (or sheep) milk without getting acne. That’s something you could try as part of the Reduce and Boost Plan, or you can also experiment with it when you skin is clear after 30 days on the Total Elimination Plan.

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 highest-quality probiotic supplements currently available is called Prescript Assist*. It’s not cheap, but it’s different from other probiotics in that it’s comprised of soil-based organisms, organisms which are highly represented in a healthy adult’s gut. Other helpful probiotics include strains of L. acidophilus and Bifidobacteria. (Learn more about the link between probiotics and acne here.)

*Note: This is an affiliate link, which means we receive compensation if you make a purchase using this link. Visit our disclaimer page for more information.

Especially if you’ve used antibiotics recently, I’d suggest taking a high-strength probiotic like Prescript Assist for at least 60 days. (Even if you haven’t, it’s probably worth taking some kind of probiotic from time to time unless you’re eating a lot of (non-dairy!) live, fermented foods.)

If you’re doing the Reduce and Boost Plan, you can include some whole (not low-fat or fat-free!), unsweetened, organic yogurt from grass-fed animals in your diet. If you can get or make raw milk yogurt, that’s even better.

What About Buttermilk, Or (Insert Type of Dairy Here)?

The same criteria apply to all forms of dairy. If you’re doing the Total Elimination Plan, if it is derived from the milk of an animal, don’t eat or drink it. If you’re doing the Reduce and Boost Plan, if it’s full-fat, grass-fed, and organic, it’s probably okay to consume in moderation. (Raw is even better.) That includes butter, ghee, buttermilk, cheese, cream cheese, yogurt, and kefir. Always avoid:

  • Conventional dairy products
  • Skim milk
  • 1% milk
  • 2% milk
  • Powdered milk
  • Condensed milk
  • Dairy in processed/packaged foods

If you’re really not sure about a certain type of dairy, leave us a comment below.

What About Whey Protein?

Whey protein is definitely a strong acne trigger! See our article here for more info:

Whey and Acne: Does Whey Protein Cause Acne?

What About Eggs? Are They Dairy?

Nope, 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.

One caveat – a small percentage of people are sensitive to eggs and find that for them, they do cause acne – so pay attention to your own body’s signals.

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, corn oil, and cottonseed oil. These oils are highly processed and/or contain high amounts of inflammatory omega-6 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.

*Note: This is an affiliate link, which means we receive compensation if you make a purchase using this link. Visit our disclaimer page for more information.

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 (which is used by plants to defend against getting eaten before they flower and reproduce).

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 either the Total Elimination Plan (avoiding all dairy) or the Reduce and Boost Plan (reducing dairy consumption and boosting the quality of consumed dairy) for 30 days. These are among 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.
  • 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.
  • Most people also need to fix the other diet- and lifestyle-based root causes of acne before they’re totally clear (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. ^
  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. ^
  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. ^
  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. ^
  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. ^
  6. High school dietary dairy intake and teenage acne. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2005 Feb;52(2):207-14. ^
  7. Opioid peptides encrypted in intact milk protein sequences. British Journal of Nutrition / Volume 84 / Supplement S1 / November 2000, pp 27-31. ^
  8. 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. ^


  1. Adaobi says

    I take oats most mornings and I can’t imagine taking them without milk. Are there any less acne-prone breakfasts? Also, can taking honey as a substitute for sugar cause acne?
    To put things in perspective a bit, I live in Nigeria and it isn’t very easy or affordable to get some of the healthier options mentioned.

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hey Adaobi! Yes, more protein-based breakfasts are better than oats and milk, like eggs, meat, and veggies. You can also eat leftovers from dinner for breakfast if you have them! I’m not sure what’s available in your area, so I hope that helps.

  2. Lisa says

    Do you know if IGF-1 is denatured with the pH of 4.2-4.6? I’m asking because I might want to try kefir (which has pH level around that).
    Thank you for all the information on this site!

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hey Lisa! Glad you’ve found our site useful :). Devin tells me that IGF-1 starts breaking down at about 4.9, and it’s nearly all denatured by around 4.2. So yes, very sour yogurts or kefirs are probably quite low in IGF-1. If you try it, let us know how it goes for you!

  3. carolina says

    I have back acne and i want to know if that is also affected by the milk, or is it something different?

  4. Katherine Benford says

    When I turned 22 recently, I was still puzzled as to why I was still occasionally getting bad breakouts. I eat a very balanced and all natural, healthy diet, and always have. I always took very good care of my skin, and used top of the line skin products. However, being the French girl I am, I LOVE cheese. Bleu, Gorgonzola, brie, goat. I also LOVE having a big glass of cold milk before bed with a piece of dark chocolate, and LOVE frozen, sugar free Greek yogurt. I noticed where I was breaking out (along my chin, jaw and neckline), is where the ‘hormonal acne’ occurs. That was my first sign. I decided to get a little more strict with my eating habits, and started focusing on a Paleo diet, which does not allow dairy. So, I cut dairy, cold turkey, but I was very skeptical. I saw results within 2-3 weeks. My face has never, ever been so clear before. Not only has ALL of my acne cleared up, but inflammation and red has gone done. Not to mention, my oil/shine has gone down. I still cannot believe it. It just goes to show you that you can put all the topical treatment on your face, or buy all the biotin vitamins you want, but something as simple as cutting out dairy is the real solution. Tip: Coconut Milk! It’s so good, and they can make so much out of it. Coconut milk yogurt, ice cream, ect. It helped me cut out dairy. Anybody who is skeptical about this, give it a try. You have to wait to see some results, but you see them within 3 weeks, and it only gets better from there. 2 months dairy free and I’m still amazed when I look in the mirror with no makeup.

    • Sonia Carlson says

      We love reading stuff like this! So glad this worked so well for you, Katherine :). Thanks for sharing!!

    • Sonia Carlson says

      We’re not fans of soy milk and don’t recommend it – read more about why in the article above!

  5. Jean says

    I have been drinking Lactaid: Almond Milk.. it says it’s dairy, soy, lactose free, is it still recommended? My face has been pretty clean but I’m still getting acne on my shoulders :(

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hi Jean! It depends on what the ingredients are (I wasn’t able to find them online). If it’s almonds, water, and other “natural” stuff (no sugar or other sweetener, no veg oils, no weird chemicals), then it’s probably ok to drink in moderation. (Too much in the way of nuts isn’t usually great.) More likely, there’s something else about your diet or your lifestyle that could be optimized. If you haven’t read the other articles on our site, I recommend doing so. And if you’re interested in our complete program for getting rid of acne, check out our e-book!

  6. Patrick says

    The problem is you are confusing (additives) and intolerance to certain processing substances to the food chain. Demonising dairy is just not so good and you are doing people no favours in that course. You would find if people consumed raw dairy as in not homogenised and actual cheese from a real culture it would have the safe effects. Mentioning low-fat diets is also not a good thing to be doing as polyunsaturates are the problem with cardiovascular and heart disease not saturates. It is easy to come to that conclusion as much of the research is sponsored by parties making money from the sale of polyunsaturates, fish oils and alike.

    So it is all sort of a false positive you could say.

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hey Patrick! We do acknowledge that dairy products that are raw, full-fat, from grassfed animals, not treated with antibiotics or other substances, and especially fermented may be good for people on the whole. However, some people react to all dairy, whether it meets all of these standards or not. Our general approach is to advise people to go dairy-free until they clear up their acne (the Total Elimination Plan), and then start experimenting with high-quality dairy products to see how they effect them personally. But the Reduce and Boost Plan does allow for high-quality dairy to stay in the diet.

      Low-fat diets – do we mention these? We’re pro-fat (especially saturated and monounsaturated), so not sure where you would’ve read this…

      • Patrick says

        Hi Sonia, what I find troubling is what is written it mainly beats up on dairy without highlighting that it is the processing causing most of the reactions. Although, then in the next sentence you say to try coconut milk, although coconut milk, oil and derivatives are brilliant for health they are also incredibly comedogenic, far in excess of milk. You also talk about Almond milk, a high PUFA product, so trading off health for substitution.

        You also do not mention that consuming dairy and it increasing acne may be the issue of increasing metabolic rate and thus a need to increase Vitamin A

        Although the reasons people get acne are broad, nutrient deficiency, nutrient balance and environmental factor tend to be the main incubators.

        Before removing all dairy from your diet it can be beneficial to:

        Increase the quality of the dairy you consume
        Before removing dairy, go gluten free
        Before stopping dairy, remove polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils) omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3s are both inflammatory when the balance is out. Omega-3’s lose their anti-inflammatory benefits when a high Omega-6 diet is in place (most people’s diets)
        Before stopping dairy take a Vitamin A supplement

        If you still continue to break out remove dairy products

        We find by balancing people’s diets, bringing balance and increasing specific nutrients they are able to consume dairy.

        The health benefits of quality dairy outweigh the reasoning to remove it unless absolutely essential.

        Removing dairy from a growing body can have severe impacts on long-term health later on. more for western peoples than Asian.

        • Sonia Carlson says

          You’re right that there’s a huge difference between the milk that comes from a cow (or other animal) that lives on pasture, comes from an animal that isn’t routinely treated with antibiotics and other drugs, isn’t pasteurized, isn’t homogenized, isn’t skimmed, and isn’t adulterated with weird additives – and conventional dairy products. Unfortunately, for most people in the US, getting raw, organic dairy is difficult, and even that still triggers acne in some people.

          Coconut milk, oil, etc. – actually coconut products are comedogenic when used topically, but not when ingested (unless you have a coconut sensitivity of course!).

          Almond milk (and other nuts and their milks) do contain PUFA. You’re right that it’s a good idea to keep your intake of these in check (though we don’t believe it’s necessary to eliminate nuts altogether). But it IS helpful for people to have milk alternative options as they transition away from consuming dairy milk.

          I don’t think our approaches are so different (though I do not recommend supplementing with retinyl palmitate, if that’s what you’re suggesting); it’s more a matter of how we go about it. Most of our readers want to get rid of their acne as quickly as possible, and so our method is geared toward that. Once you eliminate foods, you can experiment with adding them back in, rather than the reverse!

          • Patrick says

            Hi Sonia, I agree our methodology is not that dissimilar. I would have to say we don’t agree with the coconut not being comedogenic if ingested. Our clinical trials and the biology I am afraid does not agree there. Wish it was the case as then we would have more options for clients. Coconut directly affects the metabolic rate and the thyroid, both produce an inflammation response in acne sufferers.

            Food and nutrition are a good place to start, certainly no argument there as on a biology level it directly affects how we synthesise proteins.

            Yes, we do and recommend using Retinol A in treatment, I am not sure why you would have an issue with Retinoids. It does have a pregnancy warning, although that is common with many supplements. With severe cystic acne and Vitamin A deficiency, it is one of the better ways to get on top of things so to speak. Further treatment with blue light therapy aids in stopping the bacteria and helps avoid secondary infection with open lesions.

            Good conversation Sonia

          • Sonia Carlson says

            Hey Patrick. If you have scientific research you can link me to that indicates that coconut oil is comedogenic, I’d be interested to see that. From personal experience, though, we’ve had loads of readers see great results – even when consuming coconut oil as their primary fat source!

            As for the A – I’m not sure if you’re talking about Retin-A (a topical retinoid) or retinyl palmitate, which is a synthetic form of vitamin A that can be ingested. But if it’s the latter, our approach favors getting natural forms of vitamins and minerals whenever possible, which is why we recommend firstly eating liver for your A, and supplementing with fermented cod liver oil as the next best choice. Both provide a range of natural vitamin A metabolites, not just a single metabolite created in a lab.

            And to go on a tangent, you’re right about pregnancy – I would absolutely stay away from synthetic A supplements if you’re pregnant. But pregnant women actually need more vitamin A than the rest of us (balanced, as always, with D and K) – so if you’re not eating liver, doubling the recommended dose of FCLO as a part of a nutrient-dense diet when you’re pregnant may be advisable. Being a pregnant lady myself, I’m taking 2 tsp (10 mL) daily. (As always, check in with your midwife or other prenatal care provider before changing your supplement regimen!)

          • Micki says

            What about non dairy creamers that contain a milk deivative sodium caseinates are they acne causing what are good alternative coffee creamers? I have neck and back acne and have always had extremely sensitive skin so I use dye free, soap free, fragrance free body wash and laundry detergent, I recently asked a friend of mine to make me some homemade products she used goats milk in her soap is putting it on your skin just as bad as ingesting ? I haven’t used the products yet

          • Sonia Carlson says

            Goat’s milk used topically is not a problem, ingesting milk is the problem. You’re right, the weird chemicals in non-dairy creamers make them not great choices. You may be able to find an almond or coconut-based cream at your natural foods store, or you can simply use almond milk. If you make it at home, you can make it as thick and creamy as you like (1:2 almond to water is a good ratio).

  7. Paula says

    Hi i am 48yrs old come may,i have been numerous medicines and topical,herbal remedies for many years with no controll on my acne.
    Ihave bad acne problems from the age of 13 and my confidence and life were seriously effected,the only thind that worked for me was the dianette contraceptive pill over all the years which every while you have to give urselve a break from but everytime my skin would flare up within a week are so now
    I went to my gp last week and i have been taken of it for good so im hoping by researching your page that cutting out diary will help as i suffer so much with my skin that i have very low depression and anxiety ps is vitamin d3 any good as i am very faired skinned,nad i never sunbath thank you so much i would be very happy if you could give me any extra tips thankyou

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hey Paula! I’m really glad you found our site, and are inspired to cut out dairy!! Yes, if you never get sunshine (and if you don’t take other D-containing supplements), it’s a good idea to supplement with D3. It can also help some with depression-like symptoms, especially seasonal affective disorder (lack of sunshine!).

      I wonder – Dianette is prescribed for acne, but it’s also prescribed for women who have hyperandrogenism – excessive body hair and other more “masculine” physical manifestations. If that’s you, then that’s a good clue to what might be triggering your acne (high testosterone). If you eat a lot of sugar, cutting down on that can help. Practicing good stress management is also helpful. Even if this doesn’t describe you, cutting down on sugar and managing stress more effectively are good acne-reducing strategies for everyone!

  8. sanjana says

    firstly for god’s sake plz reply up for this one .. so my biggest problem is that :

    1) i dont understand which vegetables actually cause acne and which ones heal ??
    2) which grains cause acne and which ones heal ??
    3) for the sake of probiotic i hv started taking yogurt ( totally fat free ) shall i continue ?
    4) are watermelon guava and beets the culprit ??
    so just provide me a list of vegetables ( green ) which are great for acne .. and moreover i’m from india and i cant get broccoli or collard greens here .. the season is not supporting .. so plz just answer it out .. for the grains too !! plz replyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy fastttt :):

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hey Sanjana! Okay, so there are no vegetables and fruits that cause acne, but eating too many fruits can add too much sugar to your diet, so it’s best to eat no more than 2-3 fruits daily. (If you have an individual food intolerance to a vegetable, however, it’s best to avoid that one.) We generally advise people not to eat yogurt (though full-fat is better than fat-free); you can get your probiotics in other, less acne-provoking ways. Grains – we’re not a big fan of grains generally, but we encourage people to steer clear of wheat and other gluten grains. Hope that helps! If you are interested in more dietary specifics (including a Food Explorer App that contains hundreds of foods, whether they cause acne, and why), you might want to check out our book!

  9. Misha says

    Hello there. Just got done going through your article and found it very intriguing. About a week before finding this article i had already cut back my dairy intake by leaps and bounds. I love dairy, especially cheese and yogurt and omg dare i say it cheesecake yummy! Is it true that cheese and yogurt have less dairy than actual milk? IF so does it also have less of that IGF-1 hormone or more of it? Also, now I drink Cashew milk, unsweetened of course with my Muslix. Is cashew milk just another fad or is it actually healthy stuff? Anyway after cutting out many(and sometimes almost all) dairy products Id consume over a full day I noticed an improvement with my skin after just one week! ANd its true, very hard to let it go but having clearer skin is totally worth it!

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hey Misha! That’s great to hear that you’re seeing improvement in your skin after cutting down on dairy for a week! Keep up the good work :)

      Cheese and yogurt don’t have less dairy than milk – they’re basically 100% made from milk. Cheese and strained yogurts (like Greek yogurt) have less whey (the liquidy portion) than milk, but are more concentrated sources of casein, a milk protein. Casein boosts IGF-1; whey boosts your insulin levels, and both are bad news for your skin. It may be that some people are more sensitive to the effects of one or the other, so you might do some personal experimentation on this if you want.

      And yes, cashew milk is a much better choice for your skin than dairy milk. Just don’t go overboard on nuts, since they tend to be higher in omega-6 fats.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Avocado is a good one, otherwise just get used not eating it! Nutritional yeast can sometimes provide a cheesy flavor on veggies or that sort of thing too.

  10. sanjana says

    hii sir .. i m a female sufferer of acne .. nd presently i’m 15 ! i was getting it since i was 13 .. i’m doing all sorts of things what i can do … infact i’m taing an ayurvedic treatment also .. beside that i ‘m drining neem juice everyday . doing yoga everyday .. since yrs i’have not touched spicy and fried items .. only simple homemade food .. i exercise everyday .. and still my breakout happens .. and i find that the problem is with my hormonal imbalance ,.. so plz tell my how can i manage them ,.. plzzz tell my cuz its important as you know !!

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hey Sanjana! It sounds like you’re being really attentive to your health, and feeling frustrated that you still have acne (which you suspect is related to a hormonal imbalance). I’d really recommend checking out our book, which can help you figure out the things you’re doing or eating that might be causing acne, and how to eat and live in a more skin-friendly way! We also have a lot of great conversation on the CSF Forum (which comes with your book purchase) about hormonal acne, so that might be really helpful for you, too. Of course, if you have a serious hormonal imbalance, it’s probably best to work with a holistic health practitioner to come up with an solution individualized to your particular needs.

  11. Linda says

    Hi there. Thanks so much for your website. it’s absolutely brilliant.

    You mention quite a bit about Omegas not being great for the skin if one ingests too much of them. Does this include the omegas found in flax seeds and chia seeds? I usually have 2 heaping tablespoons of each every day in my morning smoothie – is this too much and could it be worsening my skin?

    You mention that vegetable oils are not good for the skin. Does this include organic cold pressed sunflower oil?

    Thanks for your help!

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hi Linda! I do think it’s a good idea to reduce your chia/flax intake – you’re getting over a quarter cup of seeds every morning, and that’s a lot of PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids). Also, the omega-3s in those seeds is ALA – which does not give you the anti-inflammatory benefits of longer-chain omega-3s like DHA (and EPA). Unless you’re taking them for another reason – the lignans in flax seeds can reduce estrogenic activity in the body, if that’s a problem for you – I’d try cutting them out entirely for a bit and see what happens!

      And absolutely yes, minimize your intake of sunflower oil, even if cold-pressed. It’s mostly the pro-inflammatory omega-6 linoleic acid. Olive oil is a much better choice for unheated uses.

      Hope that helps!

  12. SM says

    Hey there,

    I am an acne-sufferer since I was 16. More than 10 years have passed by trying to experiment with different natural and pathological methods. I noticed cutting down dairy does make a difference to the severity of my acne. They are still there but not as big and painful.

    However, I have a question regarding omega-6 fatty acids. Linoleic acid found in safflower oil, sunflower oil etc actually has anti-inflammatory effects on acne. Especially rosehip oil and evening primrose oil, rich in linoleic acid (which is a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid), are great for acne and are used in various skin products. I have read that acne-prone skin have high oleic acid as compared to linoleic, and including foods rich in linoleic acid in your diet can help reduce acne. Isn’t that true?


    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hi SM. Good question. Not all omega-6 fatty acids are bad for inflammation (and acne), but consuming linoleic acid is when consumed in excess, like it is in the West. Now, oils like evening primrose oil are mostly omega-6, and EPO does contain linoleic acid, but the beneficial fat in EPO is GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), also an omega-6, but not the same as linoleic acid.

      Another thing to consider is the dosage – which, as they say, makes the poison. Therapeutic doses of EPO are around 1-2 grams. An ounce of tortilla chips comes in at 5-10 grams of fat, mostly linoleic acid. (And really, who only eats one serving?) I’ve found figures that indicate that the average American these days consumes 35g of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in a day, most of which is linoleic acid. That’s very much in excess of a healthy, therapeutic dose, even if linoleic acid were beneficial in small amounts.

      You’re right that linoleic acid has been found to be higher on the skin of acne-free people. However, eating more linoleic acid won’t improve the fat profile of your sebum any more than eating money will make you rich :). The mechanisms for how the body transforms dietary fats into the fats needed by each cell of the body are beyond me, but the research (and our experience working with lots and lots of readers) shows that consuming large amounts of PUFA, in any form, is likely to trigger breakouts in acne-prone people.

      We talk more about PUFA and how it can damage the body in this article, if you’re interested!

      I hope that helps answer your question! And that’s great to hear that cutting down on dairy has helped your skin some :)

      • SM says

        Thanks a lot! This is great information. I had read so much about omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, it began to get confusing. Hence, I asked. This makes a lot of sense. Thanks again! :)

  13. Chris says

    Hello, I have been suffering from acne on and off for years (I am in my 30’s) and recently have had large outbreaks. I am on the 2nd week off from dairy milk (after having a glass or two of it everyday for the past 20 years) and so far have seen some slight improvement, but hopefully more time will tell. It has been hard to remove dairy milk from my routine and I am trying to find a healthy substitute thats similar to the milk taste I am used to. I have tried unsweetened coconut and almond so far but I am not a fan.

    What are your thoughts on hemp milk such as living harvest hempmilk unsweetened or similar? I noticed it has omega-6 fats but also omega-3 fats in it.


    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Chris, you can certainly try hemp milk. It does have a fair amount of omega-6 PUFA but it’s going to be way better for your skin (in most cases) than dairy milk. Eventually you might find that you’re able to transition away from milky drinks altogether (it took me a while, but I managed it eventually). That’s really the best course of action in the long run, because other foods that milk is associated with (cereal, granola, etc.) tend to trigger acne as well. Sounds like you’re just drinking it, but anyway. Yeah give the hemp milk a shot! Post back here with results, if you have any other questions, etc.

  14. Maija says

    Hi! I’ve been visiting cosmetologists and dermatologists for more than 10 years now, even all my blood test results were perfect! But still had to deal with acne… Until one day I came upon your site and read the article about milk. I was drinking coffee with milk from 2-5 cups a day! /can’t live without it :(( at least not yet/ But then I found a perfect solution – I started using Rice Milk instead of ordinary milk, and it worked!
    Now my question to you – is rice milk acceptable the same as almond and coconut milk? Or still better stay with almond/coconut? Because my skin is still not picture-perfect, sometimes just 1 or 2 spots appear but it’s nothing compaired to how it used to be!
    Thanks in advance!

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hey Maija! It sounds like the rice milk was certainly an improvement for you over the dairy milk – I’m so glad you found our article and gave that a try. Rice milk (it’s unsweetened, right?) is probably fine, especially if you’re just drinking it in your coffee. (As an aside, coffee can also be an acne trigger for some people… :( ) If you’re still having little breakouts, my guess is that it’s probably not due to a small amount of rice milk; I would guess that there are bigger triggers than that still in your diet (or lifestyle – stress, sleep, sun, movement, environmental toxins, etc.) that would be better to focus on. More on some of those around our blog, or in our book!

  15. Kelly says

    Never had acne problem before until 3 years ago-then just on my neck! Nodules come up & there is break out that looks like acne-my dermatologist said stress & hormones. Take this med that was unbelievably expensive & this cream with coupon was still $300!! So friend mentioned possible dairy allergy-is this common in women in 40’s. I have heard yes! And I am less stressed than anytime in my after 6 year divorce/custody battle for my 3 children. So I am just trying to educate myself & what I can eat!
    Thanks –

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hey Kelly! Really glad you found our site, and I hope you find a lot of great information and inspiration here. If you’re interested, I totally recommend giving up dairy for awhile to see how it affects your skin! I also wouldn’t discount the possibility that stress plays a role. It plays at least a small role for most people. And symptoms of stress often show up after a stressful time is over, after your body and mind downshift and begin to let go a little. It’s why people often experience breakdowns / major anxiety attacks after the big test, the divorce, the funeral and dealing with the estate, etc. (It feels counterintuitive though, I know!) Anyway, keep reading around the blog, and see what calls to you! You also don’t have to come at your acne from every angle at once :) Best wishes to you!

  16. Alannah says

    Hi, I don’t have really bad acne but it’s still there. I have started drinking green tea and have noticed my skin becoming clearer. I usually have porridge for my breakfast and I’m worried that my acne will come back and get worse once I start eating the porridge again. If I don’t eat the porridge them my calcium levels could drop so I don’t really know what to do ? And what’s the best was to clear black heads off your face?

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hi Alannah, that’s great that you’ve seen an improvement in your skin after starting to drink green tea! As for your porridge breakfast, I’m uncertain as to why you think not eating porridge is going to lower your calcium, since oats aren’t a major calcium source.

  17. Abbi says

    I have been getting help from my dermatologist for quite awhile and my acne results have been up and down. Although your dairy elimination plan sounds good, I feel that it may cause a calcium deficiency. Will calcium substitute pills work also, or will they clog my pores and cause acne also?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Abbi! Good question. The calcium found in dairy really isn’t very absorbable, though, and you have to wonder – how did we survive as a species prior to 10,000 years ago when we started drinking milk? :) And what about all the people who are lactose intolerant as adults (huge majority of Asian populations, for instance)? The “dairy is necessary for calcium” idea is a big farce perpetuated by the dairy industry.

      Great article here on getting enough calcium without dairy:

      Short answer, eat your greens, and I’d add bone broth in there too (great calcium source, as well as other minerals and connective-tissue-ad-skin-regerating glycine/collagen/glycosaminoglycans).

Like what you read? Have something to share? Leave a comment below! Your ideas are much appreciated, though we can't answer every individual question. :)

- Devin and Sonia

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