Last week, I shared the beginning of my acne journey.  Today, I share the next major stepping stone in my quest for clear skin: discovering the link between dairy and my acne.

As an adult, my acne has been pretty consistent – always one to ten cystic lesions along with some minor blackheads and whiteheads.  (Just to spice things up a bit, you know?)

During my first pregnancy, I would say that my lesions tracked as expected with my hormones.  I was never totally clear (of course) but some points of the pregnancy were worse than others.

After my son was born in the spring of 2007, I exclusively breastfed him.  Around his third week of life, I decided that his 2am angry wakings might be the result of irritation from something in my diet.  I eliminated dairy.  His tummy problems seemed to subside, so I decided to keep it out of my diet entirely.

A few days after eliminating dairy, I realized that the ever-present acne around my mouth had largely disappeared.  Mind you, I still had cystic lesions elsewhere, but the acne around the mouth was better than it had been in ages.  I hypothesized that this had something to do with my dairy elimination, so I tested my hypothesis by eating some.  Yep … the mouth acne returned.

I was shocked.  I’d always been told that diet didn’t cause acne and that the whole “chocolate and pizza” hypothesis had been discredited.  But there I was, staring at my truth in the mirror.

I did some digging and over the past five years, I have continued to dig, looking for research or statements from MDs or quotes in popular magazines linking acne to dairy consumption.

Turns out, there’s a lot out there linking the two:

Here’s a literature review from 2010 showing a “weak” link between diet and acne and asserting “Dermatologists can no longer dismiss the association between diet and acne.”

Here’s a piece from a Professor of Medicine at Dartmouth linking acne, breast cancer and prostate cancer to dairy consumption in some people.  The first time I heard of this triad being linked to dairy was in the book [amazon_link id=”1581825749″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Clear Skin Diet[/amazon_link], which I devoured and then handed off to an M.D. I knew.

In 2005, an article in The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology regarding milk consumption in teen girls and acne concluded:

We found a positive association with acne for intake of total milk and skim milk. We hypothesize that the association with milk may be because of the presence of hormones and bioactive molecules in milk.

The dataset for this study was derived from the Nurses Health Study II.  Here is a link to the full study.

Not to be outdone, the teen boys got a little research love, too:

We found a positive association between intake of skim milk and acne. This finding suggests that skim milk contains hormonal constituents, or factors that influence endogenous hormones, in sufficient quantities to have biological effects in consumers.

There’s recent qualitative data suggesting a link.  And if you need more n=1 tales of the dairy / acne connection, just visit and search on the word “dairy.”

I could go on.  And on and on and on.  The web is full of testimonies from people who have seen clearer skin when they eliminated dairy from their diets.  I would add that skim milk and skim milk products seem to be the worst offenders.  (I believe that homogenization … which is how milk gets to be “skim” is one of the biggest threats to health that exists in the standard American diet today.  This statement from Robert Cohen sums up what I believe nicely:

Milk is a hormonal delivery system. With homogenization, milk becomes a very powerful and efficient way of bypassing normal digestive processes and delivering steroid and protein hormones to the human body (both the cow’s natural hormones and the ones they were injected with to produce more milk).

If we were all consuming raw, whole, grassfed dairy, I am not sure our skin would be so ravaged.)

I’ve been dairy free for nearly six years now and when I accidentally ingest dairy, my skin flares.  Sometimes, the cysts begin to crop up within hours of my exposure.

After more than a year of my gut-healing diet (Paleo / ancestral / WAPF / but definitely gluten free) I decided to experiment with some dairy products.  Grassfed cream and butter both immediately upset my stomach and caused lesions.  I’ve toyed with goat milk and still the lesions emerge.  I have tolerated some goat butter and the [amazon_link id=”B003IW2JWY” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Fermented Cod Liver Oil / Butter Oil Blend from Green Pastures[/amazon_link] well.

What’s my conclusion about my n=1 dairy and acne experience?  I believe that, for whatever reason, my body does not process the hormones that are present in milk.  (Milk is a hormonal fluid regardless of whether an animal has been given additional growth hormones.)  As a result, my stomach hurts when I ingest it and my skin erupts in angry, pus-filled lesions.  So, I avoid it.

Have you experienced an improvement in your acne symptoms by removing it from your diet or switching from skim to full fat products?  Please share.


One Response to “Acne, Dairy & Me”

  1. […] hard to produce. Liz evidently popped over to the blog, checked out my posts on acne here and here, and asked me if I would like review copy of her book, Skintervention Guide : Purely Paleo […]

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