Does milk cause acne?


Does milk cause acne ?

Today’s controversy is : does milk cause acne ? A lot of people think what we eat or drink don’t affect our skin. But recent researches tend to prove that ther IS a correlation between milk and acne. Apparently women may be more concerned, and people already suffering from acne. So where is the truth ? To help you decide what to do, here are the best articles from the net about milk causing acne :

Does Milk Cause Acne?

does milk cause acneIt’s said that a marriage in Hollywood is successful if it outlasts milk. Then the golden anniversary must be when the marriage outlasts acne milk caused.

There’s now good evidence to say that milk causes acne. Studies show higher rates of acne in those who drink more milk. Furthermore, milk increases the hormones that increase sebum production, skin cell growth and aggravate acne. Even a paper published by Nestle says they need to produce milk that causes less acne if they want to keep selling it.

In this post I’ll give you a good overview of all you need to know about dairy causing acne. Including clear explanation of studies and how it happens. Finally we’ll look at some milk alternatives and whether those are better for your skin.

Milk-acne studies

Studies have established drinking milk correlates with higher rates of acne. If statistics wasn’t your strong suite, this simply means that those who drink more milk also tend to have more acne.

The first study to link dairy to acne used data from the famous Nurse’s Health Study, and found that those who drank more milk as teenagers had higher rates of acne. But when it comes to acne this study is next to worthless. The problem is it used dietary recall. Do you remember what you ate last week? Last month? Last year? Exactly. The adult nurses in this study were asked to recall how much milk they drank as teenagers.

This is the study that Dr. Mark Hyman touts as the smoking gun evidence that milk causes acne. At best this study suggests dairy may be linked to acne, but as scientific study it’s so weak we can’t conclude much from it.

The authors of the first study followed up with two better studies. This one with teenage girls and this one with teenage boys. In both of these studies they followed the study group for 3 years. During each year they asked them to fill a food frequency questionnaire, basically asking how often you currently eat certain foods.

Both studies found very similar results. Those who drank more than 2 servings of milk per day were 20% more likely to suffer from acne than those who drank less than 1 serving per week. Not exactly earth-shattering results, but this shows it’s likely milk and dairy products aggravate acne.

I suspect that these studies may understate the risk in adults. These studies used teenagers and acne is very common during that time because of raging hormones. Milk affects these same hormones, so during teenage milk may not increase your risk of getting acne that much.

An Italian study done with little bit older subjects supports this. This study used adolescents and young adults, and found 78% higher risk of acne in those drinking more than 3 servings per week.

I should note than all the above studies found skim milk to be worse than full-fat or low-fat milk.


does milk cause acneIf we get technical we can say none of these studies proves milk causes acne (correlation doesn’t equal causation, and studies like these only find correlations). But in real-life, practical terms they are enough to seriously suspect milk. Especially when you consider that milk taps to the same hormones that cause acne.

How milk causes acne

There results from the above studies take on a different meaning when we look at biological plausibility of milk causing acne.

Research in the past 2 decades has underscored the role hormones play in acne, and especially insulin and insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Elsewhere I cover in detail how these hormones affect acne, but for now it suffice to say that these hormones and acne go hand in a hand. Higher hormone levels usually mean more acne.

Studies show that milk and dairy products increase IGF-1 levels. One study in older adults showed that 3 servings of milk per day for 12 weeks increased IGF-1 levels by 10%. Another study showed 16% higher IGF-1 levels in those who drank 1-2 servings of milk per day as compared to those who drank only rarely.

Studies on acne patients have shown correlation between IGF-1 and acne. IGF-1 has been shown to increase sebum production, make skin pores more visible and increase skin cell growth.

You are probably familiar with glycemic index, it measures how quickly certain foods increase blood sugar levels. Insulin index does the same for insulin. It measures how much 240 calorie portion of a particular food increases insulin levels. White bread was used as reference food with index value of 100. Here are insulin index values for a few foods:

*White bread 100
*White rice 79
*Eggs 31
*Beef 45
*Yogurt 115

As you can see yogurt really skyrockets insulin levels, even more than white bread. Now they probably used commercial yogurt with added sugar. So the value will be somewhat lower for unflavored, sugar-free yogurt. Still, it’s alarmingly high.

Why insulin is bad? Like IGF-1, it can stimulate hormonal acne, but it also increases bioavailability of IGF-1.

Milk allergy and lactose intolerance

Some people are allergic to milk. The immune system reacts to proteins in milk, usually casein, and treats them as invaders. Symptoms include rash and other skin problems. It’s possible that allergic reaction to milk also triggers acne.

Milk allergy also comes in a less severe form, known as milk protein intolerance. The problem is that common food allergy tests don’t detect this. Milk protein intolerance also triggers an immune response, and symptoms are similar to milk allergy.

Lactose intolerance is yet another way milk can cause acne. Instead of causing immune response lactose intolerance contributes to gut problems. Wikipedia article on lactose intolerance says it’s a significant cause of irritable bowel syndrome. Because lactose isn’t digested properly it feeds the bacteria in the gut and possibly leads to bacterial imbalance in the gut. I’ve written in detail about how gut problems can cause acne.

Even Nestle admits milk causes acne

does milk cause acneYou might think that the world’s largest producer or milk products would rush to deny any possible links between milk and acne. In that case you would be wrong. A 2011 paper published in Nestle Nutritional Workshop Series explains all the ways milk can cause acne. It’s pretty much what we discussed above. Milk increases insulin and IGF-1 levels that then leads to acne.

Here’s a quote from the paper.

Both, restriction of milk consumption or generation of less insulinotropic milk will have an enormous impact on the prevention of epidemic western diseases like obesity, diabetes mellitus, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases and acne.

Melnik BC.
Evidence for acne-promoting effects of milk and other insulinotropic dairy products.
Nestle Nutr Workshop Ser Pediatr Program. 2011;67:131-45. Epub 2011 Feb 16.

Basically what they are saying is that to avoid acne people should drink less milk, or Nestle should develop milk products that don’t skyrocket insulin levels.

What about milk alternatives

By now there’s ample evidence that to say that milk causes acne. But what about alternatives, like milk from or made of soy, almonds, goats, etc? Are they safer for your skin? I can’t say for sure, but here are some pointers:

*To my knowledge goat’s milk doesn’t increase insulin levels as much as cow’s milk. So it should be safer.
*There’s a lot of debate about soy. Some say soy decreases testosterone levels and has a feminizing effect in men. I wrote a detailed post about soy, and after looking at all the studies the hormonal effects of soy are weak to nonexistent. Soy allergies are fairly common, and that’s by far the most plausible way that soy could cause acne. But other than allergies, there’s no good reason to believe soy or soy milk causes acne.
*Almond, rice and other ‘milks’. Other than possibly high sugar content, I can’t think of a way these alternative milks could harm your skin.

Did I miss some dairy alternative? Please post to the comments below and I’ll add it here.

Is it ok to eat yogurt?

Homemade and ‘live’ yogurts are a good source of probiotic bacteria, and as such can help with gut problems. So they can be good for the skin. But what about the hormonal effect of milk? Do the positive effects of yogurt outweigh the negative effect?

There’s some reason to believe that yogurt and other processed dairy products don’t have as strong hormonal effect as pure milk does. For example, fermentation deactivates a large portion of IGF-1 in milk. Also studies that found higher IGF-1 levels in milk drinkers showed no effect from yogurt or cheese.

That said, yogurt will cause a temporary increase in insulin levels, see the discussion about insulin index above. But unlike milk it may not cause long-term increase in baseline IGF-1 levels.

That’s about all we can say. Unfortunately there’s no way to tell whether yogurt is good for your acne or not. I would say that if sugar aggravates your acne, then it’s likely that yogurt also does. Sugar aggravating acne shows your acne responds to insulin and IGF-1. There are other cases where acne is more inflammatory in nature. In those cases the gut healing effect of yogurt might help the skin. I remember at least one study where fermented dairy beverage helped acne.

So use that as a rough guideline, but it’s by no means accurate for everybody.


So does milk cause acne? I think we can safely conclude it causes acne for some people. All the studies I’ve seen show higher rates of acne in people who drink more milk. Milk is also known to increase both insulin and IGF-1 levels, and both of these hormones are linked to acne. Less common ways are allergic reactions to milk and gut problems as a result of lactose intolerance.

Goat’s milk is usually promoted as a safer alternative to cow’s milk. Soy allergies are fairly common, but in allergy-free people soy milk shouldn’t be a problem. Similarly almond, rice and various other alternative milk products should be acne safe.

Yogurt has both beneficial and harmful effects on the skin. It’s a good source of probiotic bacteria and can help with gut problems. The fermentation process mitigates some hormonal problems, but it’s still a dairy product and will spike insulin levels. You have to judge it experimentally.


Does Drinking Milk Cause Acne?

Is There a Link Between Dairy and Acne?

does milk cause acneWe’ve heard it over and over again: your diet does not cause acne. However, there are a handful of doctors who believe that what we eat may indeed affect our skin. And they’re not pointing fingers at chocolate and potato chips, but instead at milk. That’s right — the wholesome drink that we’ve always considered healthy is at the center of an acne controversy.

Researchers claim to have found a correlation between milk intake and the incidence of acne. It seems milk drinkers develop more severe acne than non-milk drinkers. One study, published in the May 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, looked at the diets of teenaged boys. The young men who drank the most milk also tended to have the worst acne.

This supports the results of previous studies, during which teenage girls were asked to keep food diaries and monitor breakout activity. Again, girls whose diets were rich in dairy products had more severe acne than the rest.

Of all dairy products, milk was the worst offender. Chocolate milk, cottage cheese, and sherbet also had a negative effect on the skin. But other dairy products didn’t seem to cause breakouts.

Interestingly, skim milk induced breakouts more often than whole milk, so it seems fat content in milk isn’t the culprit. And those who took vitamin D supplements didn’t have more breakouts, so vitamin D isn’t thought to be the cause either.

Fatty foods also didn’t trigger breakouts. And the foods that many people associate with causing acne — chocolate, pizza, soda, and French fries — didn’t seem to increase breakout activity at all.

does milk cause acneWhy would certain dairy products contribute to acne? Some think it’s the hormones found in milk. Milk contains androgen hormones, which have long been associated with the formation of acne breakouts.

Testosterone is an androgen hormone, and it is strongly linked to acne development. It’s most often thought of as a male hormone, but women produce testosterone too, although in lesser amounts.

Testosterone, through a complicated chain reaction, creates di-hydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT stimulates the sebaceous glands, creating an oilier skin that is more prone to pore blockages and, ultimately, pimples. Milk naturally is filled with hormones, including DHT. It’s possible that milk contains enough hormones to have an effect on the body, including the skin. People who are genetically predisposed to acne breakouts may have a stronger reaction to the hormones in milk, according to some researchers.

Many dairy farmers also give their cows additional hormones to stimulate milk production and enable the cow to produce more milk. As a result, most milk is very high in IGF-1. IGF-1 is a growth factor that peaks in the human body during adolescence, when acne is usually at it’s worst. It is believed that IGF-1, along with testosterone and DHT, trigger acne breakouts.

In two previous studies, high milk consumption was linked to high IGF-1 levels. Again, skim milk was associated with higher IGF-1 levels than whole milk.

The processing of skim milk may explain why it is linked to acne severity more often than whole milk. Whey proteins are added to give skim milk a creamier consistency. Some speculate that these proteins impact acne development.

Of course, not everyone who drinks a lot of milk breaks out in pimples, and many disagree with these findings. The Dairy Council counters that the results are skewed, citing the fact that in one study, adult women were asked about their dairy intake during the years after they left high school.

And many medical professionals are wary of the conclusions being drawn, because they don’t take into account other factors that may influence acne severity. They’re also quick to point out that the studies don’t link milk to acne development — they only establish a correlation between milk consumption and acne severity.

The biggest problem for researchers is proving their controversial theory. There is no way to do a double-blind, randomized controlled trial (considered the gold standard in research), because there is nothing that can be used as an adequate placebo for milk.

But some doctors are taking a new view of how diet affects the skin, and this no-dairy philosophy has its believers. Some dermatologists say they have had some success in having their patients cut milk and dairy from their diets.

There is still no hard evidence proving milk consumption causes, or worsens, acne. Much more research is needed before this theory can be proven. However, decreasing milk intake may be helpful, especially for those whose acne isn’t responding well to more conventional treatments.

In the meantime, you can stick to the advice that doctors have given for years: avoid any foods that seem to worsen your breakouts whether that be pizza, chocolate, oranges, or dairy products.


Does Milk Really Cause Acne or is it a Myth?

does milk cause acneFor almost a century people have thought that there was a link between milk and acne, but there was never any proof behind this and many medical experts argued that diet plays a small or no role in the cause of acne. However, there have been a number of studies completed in recent years, which have explored the link between whether milk and acne are linked.

The question ‘does milk cause acne?’ is still an issue that many medical experts do not agree on, although the studies have suggested that people with a higher intake of milk often suffer from worse acne than those with a low intake. Most of the studies that were undertaken concentrated on teenagers but there have been a few studies with adults and the link between milk and adult acne.

Why Does Milk Cause Acne?

There are number of reasons that milk may contribute to acne problems and the main one that has been found is the fact that milk contains a number of precursors to dihydrotesterone or DHT. As most milk comes from pregnant cows, it contains a number of hormones that the body will then convert into DHT. This hormone signals the body to produce more sebum, resulting in over active sebaceous glands that can block pores.

Drinking milk also increases insulin levels within the body and high levels of insulin have been linked to acne. Insulin itself will stimulate the production of sebum oil and is also linked to a number of hormones in the body that have a significant link to acne problems.

Cows also produce the hormone IGF-1 and this hormone is known to work with DHT and testosterone to cause acne.

This hormone is present in all milk although the level can vary as cows that are given injections of recombinant bovine growth hormone, which raises milk production, will see an increase in the levels of this hormone by up to ten per cent.

Should Milk Be Avoided?

Some research has suggested that by cutting down on dairy products, or cutting them out of the diet completely, it may have an effect for people who suffer from acne. However there have been no studies that have proven conclusively that milk consumption and acne are directly linked. There are many benefits to drinking milk as it contains nutrients that if given up would have to be found elsewhere.

For those who have severe acne and have had no luck with conventional treatments, to help clear the acne up, then lowering milk intake is an option.

Some people have found that up on giving up milk or cutting down their intake, their acne has cleared up completely or partially.


It is always worth trying these options, but medical advice should still be taken into account and other treatments should not be ruled out. Many doctors will recommend consuming less fatty foods and a simple skin hygiene routine before looking for more serious treatments, and it is always worth following the advice of a medical professional or discussing whether they think that lowering consumption of dairy products is a good idea.


So, even if we are not yet 100% sure about milk effects, you can test on your own skin while you drink or not some milk. And then answer the question does milk cause acne with your own experience.

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