How Are Dairy And Acne Related To Each Other


As the famous saying goes: “You are what you eat”.

While we tend to discount this simple truth in the name of indulging in chocolates, ice cream and junk food – they may actually be scientific evidence to back up this claim.

In fact, studies to demonstrate the link between diet and acne have been conducted as far back as the 1960s – but with insufficient, evidence-based research – there has never been any conclusions.

Think about what you eat and drink on a daily basis, and we can bet you are most likely to name a particular food category – dairy. Whether it is in the form of milk, cheese, yogurt or ice cream, this seemingly harmless food category has always been under scrutiny, where it remains as one of the most commonly discussed culprits in the acne battle.

Drawing upon multiple scientific research and studies, this article aims to build a case for the connection between the consumption of dairy and acne, and more importantly – why it might be wise to think twice about your diet whilst undergoing acne treatment.

The link between diet and acne

As we all know, acne is largely caused by hormonal fluctuations – paired with the deadly combination of unwanted bacteria, overproduction of sebum, clogged pores and inflammation.

Just as eating certain types of foods can have mood-altering effects due to the release of certain neurochemicals and hormones such as dopamine when eating chocolate – it isn’t hard to see why our diet could be the reason for triggering acne outbreaks.

Research has indicated that our diet possibly affects acne in three ways:

  • Increase in insulin in the body: Raised insulin levels cause a surge in the production of sebum and androgens – all precursors to the dreaded acne flare-ups.
  • Causing inflammation: Certain foods have been proven to increase inflammation, which is a huge driver of acne progression.
  • Increase in hormones such as IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor 1): IGF-1 and testosterone are guilty of causing higher sebum production that in turn, causes acne. Diets high in calories, protein and milk have been associated with higher levels of IGF-1.

Taking a look at these 3 factors, it isn’t hard to correlate your diet as a plausible reason to your acne lesions, or even worse – cystic acne.

The case against dairy

Yes – eating less dairy has been proven to improve acne.

There have been countless of studies done over the years, with many showing dairy playing an active role in acne development and severity – and the results are hard to ignore. Dairy products have been proclaimed to worsen existing breakouts and possibly trigger breakouts in sensitive people, with skim milk and cheese being the most likely culprits.

In 2009, a study review concluded that dairy products played a significant role in influencing both hormonal and inflammatory factors – both of which tick the boxes of the factors mentioned earlier.

Once again, the hormones in milk may be playing a huge role. This is due to high levels of IGF-1 in milk. In fact, certain dairy products such as processed milk and whey and casein protein-based products in particular – seem to stimulate high insulin and IGF-1 levels – a reason why not all fitness junkie necessarily possess healthier skin.

In another study, higher concentrations of IGF-1 are found in women with acne, with the number of acne flares being positively correlated with the plasma levels of IGF-1. Regardless of gender, the results are the same – a study conducted in 2007 with 43 young acne-prone men had similar results.

However, a caveat to this is that evidence seems to lean towards those who are current acne sufferers – those with already clear skin are not impacted as much, or even at all.

Head over to several acne and rosacea forums and they will tell you the same – that many acne sufferers have reported an improvement of symptoms after eliminating dairy from the diet, and others with no results whatsoever. 

What to do next

According to the Health Promotion Board (HPB), Singaporeans are consuming more fat – total fat intake has actually increased from 28% to 35% from 2004, with the bulk of fat coming from cooking oil, coconut milk and creamers – a source of dairy.

Especially after undergoing an acne scar treatment in Singapore – it makes sense to steer clear of anything that can negate and lessen its effects.

If you currently going through any type of laser treatment for acne with us, ensure you consult our doctors to further understand the lifestyle adjustments that need to be made in order to accelerate your results in the long-run.

In 2013, the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology concluded that while the studies on dairy shows a possible association with acne, it should not be used as a sole solution for acne treatment – but rather a complement to proven acne treatments such as laser therapies.

Until there is sufficient research to turn theory into fact – one thing is for sure – a call for balance and thoughtful reflection when it comes to our diets is absolutely critical. Indeed, too much of anything can be a bad thing, even for acne.

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