Does dairy cause acne? The food that could be causing your breakouts

Studies suggest that up to 55 per cent of adults aged 20-40 suffer from low grade, persistent acne

The impact on an acne sufferer’s quality of life and daily confidence cannot be underestimated. As a nutritionist, I strongly believe that it is important to take a combined approach and to address skin concerns not only from the outside, but to consider how our diet might be affecting our skin health too.

Is my diet affecting my skin?

A question which comes up time and again is: ‘does eating dairy products cause acne?

While a link between the two was once dismissed by medical professionals, there are now a number of studies supporting a positive correlation between dairy intake and acne. In 2009, a study review was carried out to investigate the association between acne and diet in which 21 observational studies and six clinical trials were evaluated. Based on findings, researchers concluded that the research supports the role of dairy products in influencing hormonal and inflammatory factors, both of which are linked to acne.

So how does dairy influence acne? One way is down to how it affects our hormones. It’s understood that milk consumption increases levels of the hormones insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Both of these hormones stimulate sebum (an oily secretion of the skin’s sebaceous glands) production, a well-known cause of acne breakouts. Trying to counteract this excess sebum production through your skincare regime can help, but it may be more effective to tackle the root cause.

How can I find out if dairy is triggering my breakouts?

The simplest and most effective way to identify whether it is dairy triggering your acne breakouts is to eliminate it from your diet for a minimum of four weeks. This can be challenging, because dairy products are often hidden in foods you wouldn’t expect, so you’ll have to read labels carefully.

Milk will be mentioned in bold on ingredients lists as it is considered a common allergen. Once four weeks have passed you should have a clearer idea of whether there is a link between the dairy in your diet and your acne outbreaks.

The best dairy alternatives

The good news is that it’s easier than ever to cut dairy out of your diet if you do find it to be a trigger.

There are an increasing number of non-dairy milks on the market. I like the Plenish and Rude Health nut milks, and Oatly is a great oat-based milk.

You can swap butter for coconut oil or rapeseed oil in much of your cooking, and coconut milk yoghurts, such as CoYo and Coconut Collaborative, are now widely available too.

If you are a cheese lover, there are vegan cheese options, or olives make a great savoury alternative.

And, you’ll obviously need to fill the chocolate-shaped hole in your diet with something… Green and Black’s organic dark chocolate (70% and above) is dairy free or try Booja Booja truffles for an indulgent treat. 

Kim Pearson is a qualified nutritionist based in Harley Street. 


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