Got Milk, Got Acne? Here’s why I decided to ditch dairy.

If you ask me now what’s one change I made in my lifestyle which dramatically improved my skin, it’s not buying the latest organic facial wash in the market. It’s simply cutting down on dairy. But it’s not really that simple. I grew up with lots of dairy in the house. I like everything with an extra cheese, cream or milk in it. But le skin’s the queen so I bid bye-bye to dairy… well, almost.

I was never really pimple prone but one of the biggest skin problems I had was getting seasonal Queen Bee-sized pimples on my nose. I experienced a really, really bad bout of it in 2011 when several big, deeply rooted pimples decided to have their yearly Acne Convention on my nose tip.

But when I tried the Blood Type Diet (more to get myself acquainted with how to start eating healthy and controlling my indulgences rather than sheer belief in the diet’s theory), I had to let go of dairy and beef. The results were dramatic.

Ever since I stopped drinking milk regularly and ordering that extra serving of cheese (and getting myself that huge cut of juicy steak), I no longer get huge scar-causing pimples on my nose.

Why Can Dairy Cause Acne?

There are both complicated ways of explaining it (source) and simpler ways of understanding it. As usual, I’ll go with simple. Basically, dairy causes inflammation in the body and messes up the body’s natural hormone levels in various ways. Think of it this way:

  1. Milk is usually extracted from pregnant cows that are filled with their own natural raging hormones.
  2. Milk is made to grow things. Cow’s milk is meant to grow calves. Milk is filled with growth hormones which cause acne.
  3. Most cows are fed with antibiotics and steroids to keep them ‘healthy’ and force them to grow fast.

Aside from the issue of hormone overdose, dairy that’s not from our Moms has proteins that a lot of humans are allergic to, same case with gluten-sensitive people. Combine all these reasons and we get that potential glassful of pimple tonic.

(Just for fun, I compiled some ‘Got Milk?’ ads where I got the inspiration for the post’s title. Been seeing these since the early 90s.)

Success Stories?
My sister gave me a call last week to report that she stopped having forehead pimples after skipping her nightly ‘warm milk’. She’s been battling acne for years now and it became especially bad just before her period. Obviously, she was thrilled with her progress. Just two days ago, I also received an e-mail from a long-time reader who asked me once whether dairy caused me acne. When I said it did, she decided to slowly weed it out from her diet, too. And guess what? She reported having significant improvement on her acne-prone skin.

Does this happen with non-cow sourced dairy?
Truth be told, I don’t know. I tried drinking goat’s milk previously which was supposedly closer to ‘human milk’ and much easier to digest. But I guess, at the end of the day, if the Mama Goat had weekly shots of steroids and antibiotics to get her to produce more milk like the poor cows — not to mention the ‘bad’ protein from non-human sourced milk— then it might lead to the same problem. I’m pretty happy with my skin now so I wouldn’t dare experiment just to find out.

I didn’t totally stop, of course
At least at this point, I still can’t give up dairy. The thought depresses me. So what I’m doing is to reduce my dairy intake significantly but not totally deprive myself. I stay away from concentrated amounts of dairy in huge servings like milk, yogurt, ice cream and cream. So now, just like my sister, I’m giving my nightly warm milk a miss.

Have you tried ditching dairy for pimple-free skin?

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  • Alexis

    As an esthetician I tell this to my acne patients all the time! I’ve had some patients able to switch to dairy-free milks with great success. Others often just try going organic with their milk . I see some success with the patients that go organic but not as much as patients who cut it out completely.

    • Vivi

      I tried organic milk, too. Same thing happened — some success but not as significant as when I don’t take milk at all. As an esthetician, do you specialize in natural/organic beauty?

  • Audreiana

    Lol I’m also the girl whose always like “with extra cheese please.” I hear that giving up dairy products would be the answer to a lot of my skin woes but just like eating better I never seem to get around to it :/ xo, Audreiana
    Audreiana recently blogged..Revolution Organics Lip Gloss in Truth Review, Photos, Swatches

    • Vivi

      I never realized I was really ‘allergic’ to dairy due to my love for it. And because I’ve been underweight since young, my Mom and I thought the only way to keep my weight from deteriorating was to keep drinking milk.

      It was only when I stopped that I found out what it was doing to my skin.

      But I really loved — still do! — triple cheese pizza 😀

  • Tara Mackey

    I will HAVE to try this! I am tired of combating breakouts instead of naturally pre-fighting them! Thank you SO much for this! <3

    • Vivi

      No worries. I hope it works for you as much as it did for me. :)

  • Mai

    I recently ate cheese alm0st daily f0r breakfast and n0ticed an 0utbreak 0f pimples 0n my face. It made me realized that they are the cause 0f the break0uts after a week 0f st0pping with the cheese. *sad*

    • Vivi

      OMG! That happened to me too about 3 months ago. I got soooo addicted to brie that I took it for breakfast for 1 week and sometimes as a ‘snack’ then I had a pimple on my nose (although it was much smaller than the ones I used to get… but still!).

  • Serena Eden

    I very rarely have any form of dairy anymore and I have to say I rarely break out/ have spots! :) I am also less bloated than I used to be xx
    Serena Eden recently blogged..The P Word: Parabens (Part 1)

    • Vivi

      Your skin looks so young and nice now 😉

      Yup, bloatedness was another problem I had with dairy although I didn’t notice it before, I was too intoxicated with how I enjoyed each cheesy meal. 😀

  • Nicole

    Amen! I loveeeeeee milk so much. I could drink 3L in one sitting, honest! But I started cutting it out last year and didn’t really notice much difference UNTIL I cut out most dairy from my diet. Once a week I indulge in a big chunk of cheese and it ruins the hard work of the dairy free week because I break out horribly. Dairy is horrible for acne but so hard to cut out entirely :(. From a dairy lover, I applaud your determination to limit how much you eat/drink.

    • Vivi

      I am like you! I used to be able to drink 1L a shot. I can’t even drink that much water! Haha. But well, when I get huge acne on my nose I feel so depressed that I don’t want to leave the house so milk really had to go. :( I’m still trying to train myself to like non-dairy milk. Soya is my next favorite but apparently, it’s not too good for women due to the phytoestrogens.

  • Aging Belle

    I discovered milk was the culprit for pimples on my jaw and has since long ditched it. I miss the taste of milk, but I think my skin is much more important than my palate. Now, I only use milk and yogurt on my DIY facials!!
    Aging Belle recently blogged..Fine Lines on Face? Guasha May Help!

    • Vivi

      Haha, high-five again! Skin is much more important. I still eat dairy once in a while but I never indulge in a glass of milk anymore.

  • Yaeseul

    But what is with the benefits of drinking milk? As kids we get taught that it makes your bones strong and healthy but it does wonders for your skin as well i.e it smoothes it out and prevents it from aging etc.
    I read on other blogs as well that milk and co is bad for your skin and if you want to have smooth pimple-free skin you have to keep dairy products out.
    Well, been there…done that. I used to drink about 3 cups of milk a day and my skin was so pretty, smooth, absolutely pimple free and supple. Then I read that dairy is supposed to be bad for skin and I eliminated it completely and somehow my skin got worse and worse though I did facial massages…I started to get pimples again and basically it was in no good condition. I kept this up until a week ago. I wondered why my skin went back to bad so I asked myself what I did differently. Concluding, I love milk and I obviously need it for my skin to be soft.
    I do see the points and of 85% of beauty bloggers but I would very much appreciate if it is mentioned that this only applies for people who are allergic in any kind of way to dairy because those articles are misleading.
    So no, dairy does not cause acne for me it’s actually the opposite.

    • Vivi

      Hi Yaeseul, thank you! I really appreciate the input and how you shared your own story. I changed a few phrases so the tone of the entire article won’t be misleading. If you notice, I changed one of the headers from “Why does Dairy cause Acne?” to “Why Can Dairy Cause Acne?”.
      However, I still suspect that traces of steroids, antibiotics and hormones from milk can cause acne or other health issues to some people although they may not be allergic to dairy.

      I’d appreciate it if you can tell me more about your experience. I have a ‘theory’ why you experienced a sudden breakout but of course, I can’t be too sure. How long did you stop drinking milk before going back to it? Do you drink organic milk or not really? Would love to hear from you! :)

  • surille

    Oh I just can’t have milk because of stomach issues, and I actually don’t like the taste of whole milk even though I love ice cream and cheese…doesn’t make sense. But I still eat a lot of non-fat organic yogurt and that hasn’t caused any problems for me (stomach and skin). My skin has improved slightly, and I think it relates more to my recent skin care products/routine because I still had horrible skin while being dairy-free for years. Well it’s different for everyone.
    If one is worried about soy milk products and doesn’t have a tree nut allergy, one can try almond milk. I alternate between the two.

    • Vivi

      You’re so lucky! :)

      I love dairy and it’s really a torture to stay away from it. But I’ve learned to appreciate lots of nut/non-dairy milk types already. I can drink almond, hazelnut, rice, quinoa, etc. I sometimes take soy milk but only as a treat — I try to avoid it due to the phytoestrogens.

  • Sakina

    Hi Vivi!

    Ever since I stopped taking dairy- milk, yogurt, cheese, and slapped on sunscreen on myself, I started encountering sleep issues. Insomnia in the middle of the night. I did a quick search and lots of studies/ forums I visited acknowledged the link between vit D deficiency and insomnia. Now I’m really sad :( Cause my skin has since improved since stopping dairy, and I honestly do not want to expose my skin to the Sun’s rays.

    Have you heard of Vit D and insomnia relation? I’d like to take cod liver oil to up my Vitamin D intake but I remembered it causing issues for my skin. SIGHHHH it’s just so tough figuring out the body!

    • Vivi

      Hi Sakina, yup I’ve heard about that. Because Vit D is related to sun exposure — which in a way regulates our sleeping patterns. So yes, to answer your question, there is a possibility that deficiency in Vit D can make you lose sleep. Vit D is also accompanied by other symptoms like proneness to depression/mood swings, aching of muscles/joints, low immunity, etc.

      Aside from dairy products, you can also get your Vit D through oil-rich fish like cod and salmon. If you’re worried that you’re not getting enough Vit D (Surprisingly, there is a local research that showed about 70% of people in Singapore are Vit D insufficient although we live in a very hot country *Source: Hawkins RC. Clin Chem 2009; 55), you might want to take a Vit D supplement for 3 weeks, see how it goes. I have been taking it for about 2 weeks and have noticed better sleep. I bought mine from iHerb. There might be locally sold brands at guardian/watson’s/unity.

      • Sakina

        Thanks Vivi! My friends on the other hand convinced me that it’s impossible that I’m Vit D deficient, because I apply sunscreen only to my face, and leave me legs and hands exposed.

        Hmm, May I know the brand of the Vit D supplement you’re taking? I have something against supplements honestly, as I’ve always felt that it may cause further deficiencies/ imbalances with regards to the other minerals and vitamins existing in my body. I mean, I’m no professional so making an inaccurate prognosis is something I really fear!

        • Vivi

          Hi Sakina, I also only apply sunscreen on my face but I’m in the office most of the time where there’s no sun. I also went for a blood test which showed that my body might be lacking in Vit D. I’ve been taking the supplement and will probably get another blood test in a few weeks to see whether there’s any improvement.

          Anyway, you have to listen to your body. Vit D deficiency doesn’t just cause one symptom, it’s a combination of several ones like what I listed above. I take Health Origins from iHerb — and it might just be the changes in my diet recently or the addition of Vit D supplement but I’ve been sleeping really well and feeling better overall. If your problem is just insomnia, you might want to give it a few more days and weeks and observe. Try to do relaxing exercises, drink chamomile tea and pick up a boring book. For all you know, it’s just stress.

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