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Myth Buster

What does ditching dairy do for your complexion?

Posted on: December 27th, 2017 by Dr. Jennifer Herrmann

Part One:

As a teen with acne, did your parents offer encouraging words, gently reminding that it was “just a phase” you would grow out of? The problem is that acne often persists into adulthood, now more so than ever. While genetics, stress, and environmental factors may contribute, mounding evidence also points to dairy as a culprit.

So what is acne exactly?

Acne is an inflammatory skin condition related to 3 main triggers; a bacteria named p. acnes, hormones that produce too much oil, and skin cells that are too sticky. In acne prone skin, dead skin cells get trapped around your hair openings called follicles, forming a plug. Bacteria which live below this plug feed on excess oil, driven by over-active hormone production. Gradually, inflammation (think redness and irritation) builds, and either a white head, pimple or more painful large cyst results.

How does dairy worsen acne?

  1. All dairy contains hormones. Let’s consider milk. Even organic, raw and growth-hormone-free milk contains hormones. In fact, in just one cup of milk, there may be as many as 60 different hormones! Why? Because baby calves need these hormones to rapidly grow into their gargantuan adult selves. Grass alone doesn’t help a calf put on 100-400 pounds during his first year of life. When we ingest these milk hormones, they also signal our oil glands to produce more oil, which provides perfect nutrition for p. acnes bacteria to multiply, promoting inflammation and pimples.
  2. Dairy contains whey and casein proteins. Although milk hormones themselves can fuel acne, growing evidence suggests that the milk proteins whey and casein might also be to blame. Although the exact mechanism isn’t known, these proteins release a hormone similar to insulin called IGF-1, which can trigger breakouts. Because these proteins are often added to skim milk to make it less watery, the association between skim milk and acne is highest compared to fuller fat milks.

Are all dairy products equally bad?

No. Interestingly, some yogurt and cheeses seem to be less related to acne flares. In fact, the probiotics in yogurt can actually be helpful in controlling breakouts. Although we don’t know the exact science yet, the probiotics can calm inflammation, and the fermentation process results in lower levels of IGF-1 than what you would find in milk. Want to keep dairy in your diet? Stick with kefir to keep skin clear. 

Will cutting out dairy do the trick?

Although reducing or eliminating dairy may help reduce acne flares in some, it’s likely that diet alone will entirely solve your acne problem. “Genetics, your skin-type, stress, and your skincare habits can also influence breakouts,” says Dr. Herrmann. The bottom line is that a combination approach is most often needed. Lifestyle modification as well as a solid cleansing and prescription routine usually work best to achieve and maintain clear skin.

Stay tuned for Part Two…


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