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:

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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. ^
  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. ^
  12. ^

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    • Devin Mooers says

      That’s a really good question, and I’m not 100% sure. Butter still has some leftover milk solids which could potentially be problematic, and also likely has some sex hormones concentrated in the butterfat (since they’re fat-soluble). It’s best probably just to experiment for yourself and see how your body reacts. I’m currently eating raw, cultured butter (grass-fed) and not having any problems.

  1. susi says

    If you still like to have dairy, for me worked heated dairy products (boiled for a while or in oven) for example cheese on pizza and lasagne didn’t cause any trouble or a spaghetti carbonara… All of this worked because it had been heated for a while. I don’t know the scientific background, but this is what I figured.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Susi, this is really interesting! I’ve actually typically found the opposite for myself, where raw dairy is the least likely to give me acne, but pasteurized / cooked dairy is the most likely to cause flareups. Goes to show how everyone reacts differently to different foods. Go figure! :)

  2. Erin Geraghty says

    I have struggled with terrible acne my whole life. Recently I went back to a dermatologist because I was so frustrated, but as usual she just threw some new cream/gel to try…. didn’t even mention diet. Oh and the cream didn’t work. Today is my first day dairy free! Ever since the probiotic I started taking helped my skin a lot, I am determined to fix the root cause of the problem through diet. I was so excited to find your blog! Admittedly I do eat a lot of dairy…. I love cheese. It would make a lot of sense if dairy was a big part of my skin issues. We’ll see what my new dairy free life does for my skin!

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Wow, Erin, thanks for sharing – it can be really exciting when you’ve tried a lot of things that haven’t worked, and then you find that powerful bit of knowledge that clicks right into place! Taking a probiotic is a great, healing step – and while it can be really hard to stop dairy (we love cheese, too!), it gets a lot easier when you experience the connection between dairy and acne for yourself. Wishing you excellent results from this!

  3. Maria Jo says

    Wow, thank you so so much. Thanks be to god for answering my prayer. Every so often, I break out and do not know why. Now, it all make sense. I do pay attention to the food I eat, and how my body reacts. I thought that all the sweets that I eat is what causing me to break out. I have overlooked at the dairy section because it would cause me to have diarrhea or be gaseous. I guess I was very much distracted from it, making me think I have food allergy when the truth is a big jug of milk is staring right in front of me. Now, I know. God bless you so much.

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hi Maria Jo – you’re right that sugar can definitely contribute to an acne problem, so it is useful to consider that, but dairy is also a huge culprit for many people. If you decide to stop eating/drinking dairy products, I hope you see some great improvements as a result!!

  4. Saatvik Kaushik says

    i quit cow milk for like 1 year now. But from 2 months i m drinking 2 glasses chocolate soy milk. My acne goes but sometimes accidently i eat cake or whey i get bad acne. I want to ask u can i drink buffalo milk or eat paneer. And i cant find a cheap alternative of milk other than soya. I workout alot too. And sometimes i dont know why but i get break outs with eggs and chicken too. Help me out

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Saatvik! You could try drinking buffalo milk – it’s likely easier to digest than typical cow’s milk. Do you know if it’s raw / unpasteurized? That also makes it easier to digest – some people have excellent success with raw milk and don’t get acne from it. I’m not sure how you’ll react to paneer – you probably just have to experiment with it. About eggs, I personally don’t tolerate eggs very well, and they are a pretty common allergen, so it’s possible that they’re triggering an inflammatory reaction in you. It might be worth avoiding eggs for a while and seeing how you feel and how your skin looks. Chicken should be fine – I can’t imagine that chicken could trigger a reaction.

  5. Rina says

    Hi! I saw this article just now and it made me really curious… I haven’t taken anything dairy last month and i noticed my skin cleared up a bit…..i thought that maybe it was because of the products i am using (i’ve been using loads since i’m super duper insecure with all my pimples and marks scattered all over my face!) and i was relatively glad… But recently, i’ve been eating loads of pizza, spaghetti (loaded with cheese), carbonara and fettucini, ice cream and i suddenly noticed my pimples were getting redder and larger.. I thought it might be because i’m almost nearing my period…..but just this week, i drank a cereal drink (comes in a small packet…) made of milk and wheat…. My body reacted violently and my body was really adamant in flushing everything out of my system after 5 minutes of comsuming the drink… I’m starting to think i may be lactose intolerant……but after reading your article..i’m starting to think dairy products might really be behind the sudden pimple invasions…. Mind you, my pimples started getting worse days after the cereal drink incident… Do you think its still possible to have pimples and acne if i consumed milk substitutes like evaporated creamers? Is it still harmful?

    Reading your article actually made me happy because now I have gained new knowledge on how to get clearer skin….. I’ve been obsessed in findings ways to battle acne inexpensively and now I know all I need to do is just avoid acne causing food… Thank you for this article… :)

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Rina! Glad you enjoyed the article. Sounds like you’ve gotten a strong wake-up call that milk might be triggering your acne (as well as the possibility that you’ve got lactose intolerance!). I’d definitely recommend cutting out dairy as much as possible (100% is best) for 1-2 months and seeing how your skin fares. By “evaporated creamers” do you mean evaporated milk, or a non-dairy creamer substitute?

      • Rina says

        Hi Devin! I tried as soon as possible from cutting dairy off of my diet after waking up (after reading your article). Unfortunately, every food my daughter seemed to eat contains atleast 3 or 4 kinds of milk products… Powdered milk, milk whey, etc., and I did a little experiment to see how my skin would react if I ate a small meal with milk on it. Milk really is the culprit….as much as i like milk, i prefer going outside with my best skin out so I will stop eating and drinking anything with milk in it. I also talked with my husband about it since he looooves milk and it got him thinking. He himself loves to drink milk before sleeping and he recently complained about breaking out a lot.

        Do you think lactose intolerance can also be the reason my body reacted to the instant cereal drink? The only other time my body did the same thing was when I drank a carton of sweet milk. Do you think its safe if I ate or drank something with carabao’s milk? Its something like a water buffalo if i’m not mistaken. Would it also trigger acne?

        There are evaporated creamers sold, though i’m not sure if they have any milk in them, that really do taste like the creamer used in coffee’s. Its not as sweet as mik but you can taste the sugar in it. Is it safe? Thanks!

        • Devin Mooers says

          Hmm, your reaction to the instant cereal drink could be because of lactose – do you remember the name of it? I’d be interested in looking up the ingredients. As for carabao milk, wow, had to look that one up! Are you in the Philippines? It’s possible that carabao milk wouldn’t make you break out, but it likely still has lactose in it. As far as I know, that will be constant across species.

          As for coffee creamer substitutes, I haven’t run into any that I’d recommend. They tend to be based on vegetable oil. Evaporated milk in general is probably even worse than fresh milk just because of how much it’s processed. Making your own almond milk or cashew milk seems to be the best non-dairy alternative coffee creamer. I just had a decaf cortado with house-made almond milk and it was great!

          • Rina says

            Yeah, i’m from the Philippines… :)

            The instant cereal drink is ENERGEN.. I looked up the ingredients and they are: sugar, non-dairy creamer (glucose syrup, refined hardened vegetable lauric fats (coconut and/or palm kernel oil), sodium caseinate, Di-potassium phosphate (E340ii), silicon dioxide (E551)), wheat flour, milk powder, corn, oats, calcium carbonate, salt, vitamin premix, vanillin, eggs, malt extract.. I’ve taken other brands of insant cereal drink but I haven’t reacted like that… The only other product I have reacted is to Moo Sweetened Milk..

            So far, I don’t think I know any place where they do other kinds of milk substitute like almonds…. but i’d love to give it a try…

          • Devin Mooers says

            Okay, wow! I’d definitely recommend avoiding that cereal drink like the plague. All of the main ingredients in it are potent acne triggers (sugar, wheat flour, milk powder, etc.). Good luck finding substitutes! You can also make your own nut milks if you have a blender – there are tons of recipes on the web. I’ve had good luck with making my own almond milk and cashew milk.

  6. Alex says

    Hello! I have cut most dairy from my diet for about 5 years now, and I have seen significant improvement in my acne. However, recently something interesting happened. I vacationed in Italy for 3 weeks, eating cheese, gelato, pizza, coffee… Basically just indulging myself. And… I had no acne! None at all. So now I am confused as to why this is. I am thinking that American dairy may be more processed/less natural, thereby containing more hormones. What is your take on this?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Alex! Fantastic question. It could absolutely be dairy quality, which varies a HUGE amount in the US. For example, skim milk from cows raised in feedlots and treated with rBST (a growth hormone) exhibits something like 16x the IGF-1 levels in the milk (not 100% sure on that factoid), as well as having overall lower nutritional quality due to corn/soy-fed cattle (instead of grass). European cows are probably much more likely to be pastured, and likely also to be different breeds that are easier to digest. Most US big-farm cattle are Holsteins, which also have a protein mutation that makes their milk more difficult to digest vs. heritage breeds like Brown Swiss, Guernsey, etc.

      Also, could just be how much you were enjoying yourself while traveling! Sometimes just going wild and eating whatever you want, while in a relaxed/fulfilling/exciting environment, can clear your skin right up. It’s a pretty complex phenomenon, this acne stuff! If you’d like to experiment more with dairy after getting back home, I’d recommend starting with raw, grass-fed dairy from a local farm. Here’s how to locate a farm near you:

      Sonia and I are actually part of a herd share right now, since it’s illegal to buy/sell raw dairy directly in Oregon (depends on the state). We’re getting raw butter from the herd share and I’m not having any acne problems with it whatsoever. Definitely worth a shot!


    Hi ! First, I want to say that this is a great article and second, I want to ask you a question : I was eating oatmeal with goat milk for some time and I think oatmeal is bed for acne too, am I right ?
    Thank you for your time !

      • HORATIU ZANOAGA says

        Thanks a lot for your answer. Can you know a substitute for oats ? I used oats in the mornings and as a source of carbo with my shakes after workouts. Dextrose is sugar, so it’s criminal to my face. Thank a lot !

        • Devin Mooers says

          Sweet potatoes are the best carb substitute I’ve found. They’re really amazing if you steam them, mash, and then add coconut oil. We make big batches at once, then refrigerate it and just eat it cold – tastes like pie.

          White rice is another “safe starch” alternative to oats, eaten in moderation.

          You could also try certified gluten-free oats and see if that changes anything… by the way, are you sure it wasn’t the goat milk that you were reacting to?

          • HORATIU ZANOAGA says

            Thanks for your answer ! For 5 months I used this type of foods : in the morning a shake with some fruits.. oats.. chia and flaxseed seeds mixed with pure goat milk from a barn. Then later I eat chicken or fish with brown rice or whole wheat pasta.. I eat a lot of fruits and almonds as snacks.. and because I work a lot at gym, I take a shake with whey powder + oats (as carbs) and before bedtime I take a shake with cassein powder. I drink only water and I don’t eat products with sugar. I think I have to take off : cassein.. whey.. goat milk and oats… because I have a very sensitive skin and as you said dairy products are to blame for my problems. What’s your opinion ? Thank you !

          • Devin Mooers says

            I agree about getting rid of casein, whey, and goat milk. However, whole wheat is typically WAY more of a problem than oats for triggering acne – gluten in general is one of the worst foods for acne, we believe. So you could try keeping oats for now, and just cut out whey/casein/goat milk/whole wheat (and any other kind of wheat/bread/gluten). It can be hard to figure out what to eat if you try to cut everything out at once!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Chan, I really don’t recommend eating yogurt because it’s usually not sour enough to have gotten rid of most of the hormones. If you can find *really* sour/tangy yogurt, the pH might be low enough to remove a lot of the IGF-1. However, IGF-1 is not the only problem with milk when it comes to acne. You can always experiment, though! Only your body can tell you what really makes a difference for you.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Bianca, there are a few reasons for this. One is that there’s a strong genetic component, so some people just seem to react very strongly to dairy (I’m one of them – pasteurized dairy, at least). Also, people who suffer from acne tend to have compromised digestion and gut function, leaky gut, systemic inflammation, etc., already, for a variety of dietary, psychological, and genetic reasons, so drinking milk just adds fuel to the fire. I wish it weren’t the case! Some folks find they can tolerate raw dairy, though, even if they get acne from pasteurized dairy. I still haven’t seen a solid explanation for that observation.

  8. Alma says

    Thanks so much for this post. I came across it 5 months ago while researching what causes acne and how to mange it. I followed your advice and my face hasn’t looked this good in years. It hasn’t been easy – there’s dairy in so many things – but definitely worth it. Plus, you’ll find specialty products, like Nada Moo dairy free ice cream, exist if you do a little research.

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Wow, Alma, thanks for your comment! Really happy that you had good success with eliminating dairy. It IS a hard one for a lot of people, but then you find other foods to enjoy instead, and it’s not so bad after all :)

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Jake, not sure I understand the question, since soy isn’t derived from milk. Do you mean protein that’s NOT derived from milk?

    • Jake says

      Woops I was pretty tired when i wrote the question, what I meant was -what about protein thats not derived from milk (like soy for example)?

      • Devin Mooers says

        Haha, no worries. I really wouldn’t recommend soy protein because of the potential estrogenic effects of soy, and for the other reasons listed in the “Don’t drink soy milk!” section on this page. As for safe protein powder, some folks have reported good success with egg white protein not triggering acne for them. Haven’t tried it personally, but True Nutrition and Protein Factory both sell it online. I stopped using protein powder a while ago because 1) it all seemed to give me acne, 2) alternatives like egg white protein are expensive, and 3) it just seems better / healthier / more nutritious to eat whole real food. Money better spent, I think. Not sure if you saw the whey protein article, but there’s more info there.

  9. Michelle says

    I just wanted to make an observation about coconut oil. I love coconut oil and use it often, but it is not an ideal food oil. The author of the blog called it a stable saturated fat. The most important word in that sentence is saturated. Saturated fats are just not good for you.

    I don’t often ingest coconut oil (although I love it in cookies!), instead I use it topically on my hair and skin. It is great on dry skin and split ends. I use it as a night eye cream and sometimes lip balm (edible, delicious, and moisturizing=YAY!). It has natural antimicrobial properties, so I will often put it directly on an ingrown hair, or mix a bit with lavender or tea tree oil (both have more extensive antimicrobial properties) and place directly on a zit. The possibilities are endless. Do some research and you will be amazed.

    Research the benefits of coconut oil; it is really good for so many things, just not so much for your arteries.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Michelle! Do you have any studies to back that up? :) The belief that saturated fat causes heart disease has been pretty thoroughly debunked in the past few years. See here for an analysis of 21 studies, covering 347,747 people tested:

      The bottom line is that saturated fat does not clog your arteries – however, trans fats (formed from vegetable oils when heated) and oxidized cholesterol do. (One more reason to avoid vegetable oils altogether – one study found that a bottle of organic canola oil actually contained 5% trans fat, due to intense heat and pressure during processing.)

      Saturated fat can elevate your overall cholesterol, but that depends on hormonal status – if you’re eating a low-glycemic diet generally, and have good insulin sensitivity, saturated fat is not harmful at all, and is in fact an excellent food for supplying the body’s energy needs, and doesn’t oxidize / rancidify or get peroxidized like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats do.

      Coconut oil is also moderately pore-clogging – I’d be a little wary of putting that on acne-prone skin. I do think it’s one of the best cooking fats, though. Do you have any links to studies suggesting a link between saturated fat and heart disease? I don’t mean to be all “I’m right and you’re wrong” here – I would love to have a discussion about it, but it needs to be evidence-based. So far, the evidence does not support any significant link between saturated fat and heart disease (or acne, for that matter).

  10. Ben says

    Hi Devin

    I wanted to add some data to your studies. I believe I am a rare acne case.

    I started getting acne at the age of 12, at age 13 I went on Roacutane (I would like to point out that this has never made me suicidal!)

    The medication cleared my acne. All of the people I know that used this medication only had to be on it for about 6 months and there acne never returned. I am one of the few that when I stop taking it, my acne returns.

    Over two years ago I gave up gluten and I have had amazing results, I have not been sick for the last two years… Not even a sniffle!

    I thought that going gluten free may have cleared my acne however I am still on Roacutane, mind you my dose is only about 3 tablets per week.

    I am now 28 and would like to be able to stop taking the medication. I am going to give up dairy tomorrow and see the affects on my acne over the next few months. I will repost so others can see my results.

    My wife recently gave birth to our first child, I really do not want her having to deal with the acne curse! So I determined to find the cause for her sake… I have about 12 years to find it!that this has never made me suasidal

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hi Ben! Thanks for sharing your experience and insights! Actually, I don’t think you’re a rare case. For many people, they do not experience a relapse in acne for some time, but even for those people, their acne is still only “in remission,” and will almost certainly return someday if they don’t make diet and lifestyle changes to cure the underlying condition.
      Gluten consumption has a huge impact on acne for many people – in fact, it is one of the “top 4″ dietary acne triggers! Dairy is another big one, so that’s a great step in the right direction. I have no doubt that if you stick with the necessary dietary changes, you’ll be able to be off your Roaccutane for good. Yes, please do keep us posted on your results!
      (PS, most people on Roaccutane don’t get suicidal, but it’s a severe enough problem to be worth considering before taking it!)

  11. Asia Carrington says

    I have suffered from acne for all of my life and could not figure out what was causing it. I purchased lots of products in my quest to heal myself but to no avail until one good day, in visiting a dermatologist, I was told that from her experience, she realized that most people who have severe acne problems also (heavily) consume dairy products. Within myself I got angry, i just did not understand that possible correlation (between dairy and acne) and I, for a little while argued with her… I supported my disbelief by giving examples of people who eat a lot of dairy products and get NO acne at all…

    I stopped dairy cold turkey, this was very, very, very, very, very depressing because I live for cheese, love cheese to the point of insanity. I am a lover of ice cream and chocolate… I gave it all up and since doing so (approximately 6 months now) I have had no violent acne attacks. Eventually my desire for dairy diminished, but whenever I get bouts of craving it, I just think of getting a flare up of acne and that keeps me away. Correlation does not mean causation and I am not sure if the link between these two factors have been scientifically established but this article made me smile because it is true to a great extent.

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hi Asia, wow, you have a pretty observant dermatologist! Most people aren’t so lucky. I know how hard it is to give up dairy… especially cheese! You can still eat chocolate – I eat small quantities of dark chocolate a few days per week! Just be sure to check the ingredients, and the darker, the better (sugar isn’t good for acne, either). I too found that the desire to eat dairy became less and less the more time passed since I’d eaten it. Thanks for sharing your craving-busting strategy – I use a similar strategy, except that since I’m lactose intolerant, I just remember how eating a bunch of cheese makes me feel inside!
      The link between dairy and acne has been scientifically established, actually, and there are many good sources listed at the bottom of this post, if you’re interested in reading further. Regardless, it sounds from your experience like you know you’re on the right track, so keep up the good work! :)

  12. Mike says

    What do i do if in losing weight? I cant lose weight what are some high calorie foods that in alignment with the clear skin diet. I already use coconut oil

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hi Mike,
      On this diet, you’re mostly looking to fats and proteins for your calories, and of course fats are denser calorie sources. Coconut oil is a good one. Other good fats include red palm oil, avocados, and olive oil. Devin’s a naturally “skinny” guy, and he ups his caloric intake by dousing everything with homemade, olive oil mayonnaise (salads, burgers, veggies, you name it, everything gets topped with mayo!). Be careful about using store-bought brands, though, because they’re typically packed with veggie oils.
      Lamb and fattier cuts of beef are good sources of both fat and protein. Nuts are ok, but should be eaten reservedly (no more than a small handful per day). It can also be good to eat some starchy foods every few days, such as potatoes or sweet potatoes, which are great with coconut oil. The other important factor is getting into the gym and lifting heavy weights (safely, of course)!

  13. monique says

    Its funny, i have been looking for the reason i break out for ages!! I figured it out when i decided to go on a paleo diet 3 years ago and guess what?! I stopped breaking out, it wasn’t instantaneously , it took me three months to notice because I had a great deal of acne on my face. But I eventually put two and two together and figured it out…and now I read this post and I hear lots of people having the same problem, it makes sense. The other day for thanksgiving I decided to eat some food with dairy in it, i broke out 2 days later and it gets even worse after 3 days depending on the amount of dairy. I did eat lots of it, and now I have regretted it because its the painful acne too. I have tested this over and over again and it ends up being the same results. I also heard that Natives can’t consume process food and dairy and they break out. I see lots of the Lakota with terrible acne, it must have some connection.

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hi Monique! It can be great when you can so clearly interpret a message from your body like that! I have read that lactose intolerance tends to be higher and lower in people of different ethnic backgrounds, probably depending on how important milk and milk products were in their food supply over many generations. It may have some impact too on the dairy-acne connection (I don’t actually have any data on this), but we’ve had people of all different ethnicities tell us that they’ve noticed that dairy is an acne trigger for them… which suggests that even if people can digest dairy products well, it still has a negative health impact on many people!

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