Dairy-free Diet for Acne

“Does the food I eat influence the look of my skin”? It’s a logical question you’ve probably asked yourself if you’re struggling with acne or other skin ailments. The answer is simple. Yes, it does.

Up until recently, medical training in many countries would include little to none nutrition. The transformative potential of diet for health has received limited acknowledgment in medical research and practice.

Many believed that diet wasn’t a factor in acne. This has started to change in recent years. More and more studies are pointing to links between acne and diet. Just as with any other bodily organ, your skin depends on how well you treat it, both inside and out.

Let’s review then what’s the link between acne and dairy. Do you remember how you hated drinking warm milk as a kid and your mum used to say it’s good for your teeth and you have to drink milk to get your calcium? Well, that may be true. It’s also true though that dairy makes you break out more. At the same time, milk and dairy products are only one source of calcium out there. Other exist, and healthier ones for that matter.

What’s the connection between dairy and acne? Why should you switch to a dairy-free diet? How can you maintain a healthy, dairy-free diet for beautiful and clear skin? Read on to find out the answers.

Can you Improve Bad Acne by Ditching Dairy?

Let’s get this out of the way immediately: Yes. Giving up dairy can result in a visible difference in your skin’s tone and texture. However, this may not hold true equally for anyone. This is because not all cases of bad acne breakouts have something to do with milk and dairy.

Also, don’t jump to the conclusion that the opposite works too. Meaning, drinking milk regularly and consuming dairy products won’t make you breakout by default. Individuals with healthy, clear skin don’t have to get rid of dairy unless other medical conditions call for it.

Research shows though, that for people with already acne-prone or oily skin types, dairy consumption does play a role in the frequency and severity of acne breakouts. More and more dermatologists report that reducing or eliminating milk and dairy in patients’ diet has helped keep acne in check.

Still, don’t expect this to happen overnight. To start feeling the benefits, you’d need to wait for a couple of weeks. All other factors equal, usually you’ll start noticing a difference in your skin’s appearance up to a month after eliminating milk and dairy from your diet.

Enjoying an occasional brie treat doesn’t amount to a disaster immediately. What we are talking about here is switching from regular and significant dairy consumption to reduced-dairy or a non-dairy diet to feel a long-term improvement in acne and skin appearance in general.  

Why Eliminate Dairy for Acne?

A growing number of scientific studies reveal a correlation between dairy consumption and skin breakouts. There are several aspects of dairy important for understanding why it may cause more breakouts.

Lactose Sensitivity and Milk Allergy

Lactose is one of the carbohydrates in dairy products. Our body possesses a natural ability to break down lactose. According to statistical data, between 65 and 75% of people in the world lose the ability to break down lactose to some extent over the course of their lives.

However, not everyone becomes aware of their lactose intolerance in due time. The severity of lactose sensitivity can vary greatly. For many people, their lactose intolerance doesn’t produce any immediate, drastic symptoms.

Some people, who have noticed they get stuck nose and sinuses problems after periods of abundant dairy consumption may have a form of lactose intolerance or milk allergy but are unaware of it. In this case, lactose can also trigger skin-related inflammation. For example, this study details a case of a patient treated for eczema, asthma and sinus problems for years. After eliminating dairy completely from her diet, immediate skin improvement followed.

Lactose sensitivity and milk allergy are two different medical conditions. In both cases though, acne breakouts can be caused by the dairy-related condition.

The Hormones in Milk

You may already know that hormones affect acne. The group of so-called androgen hormones, which are also known as male sex hormones (but are also produced in females) has been linked to causing acne breakouts.

One of the androgens, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), is found to stimulate the sebaceous glands. Located in the deeper skin layers, these glands produce sebum, the skin’s natural oil. When stimulated to produce more of it, the excess sebum can clog hair follicles and cause pimples and acne.

The milk and dairy we consume today contain a lot of hormones both naturally and due to synthetic additions fed to the cows by farmers. Studies have produced conflicting results with regards to the effect of these hormones and milk in general with regards to acne.

On the one hand, remember that the milk used in the dairy industry largely comes from pregnant cows. Mama cow milk is full of naturally occurring hormones, such as DHT, which stimulate growth in calves. On top of that, many farms feed their cows with additional, synthetic growth hormones. The purpose of this is to stimulate cows to produce more milk. Unfortunately, this means that, despite the pasteurization, the milk that reaches consumers still contains hormones that are likely messing up the natural functions of your skin.

While this hormonal action is probably not potent enough to cause breakouts in individuals with healthy, clear skin, there are serious indications that it may aggravate existing acne or trigger acne in and other skin ailments in people with oily skin.  

Nowadays it’s possible to choose better quality milk. To avoid synthetic hormones in milk, search for hormone-free labeled milk. Additionally, make sure the milk you and your family are consuming is organic. Or, the best option that will help you keep your skin clear is to avoid animal milk altogether. Substitute with Vitamin D-fortified plant milk.


Skim milk is high in sugar content. For foods which are high in sugar content, we say that they have a high glycemic index. And foods with a high glycemic index usually contribute to and sustain inflammatory processes in the body, anything from yeast infections to acne. Quite simply, more inflammation means more acne.

Milk is also responsible for stimulating insulin secretion, in part thanks to lactose, which is a simple sugar and causes a much less potent insulin spike than glucose. However, the amino acids in milk also have to do with speeding up insulin production. How is this related to acne? Well, an increased amount of insulin in the system can prompt the production of androgen hormones. As we said, this worsens acne.

This all being said, research has showed that milk has a higher likelihood of affecting the skin in individuals who already have acne-prone skin. Several studies show that milk consumption can increase the chances of breakouts in people with acne-prone skin up to 45%.

How to Stick to a Dairy-free Diet?

Controlling your daily dairy intake doesn’t involve simply Dairy-free diet has more benefits besides just ensuring a better-looking skin

Review Which Products to Cut down on and Eliminate

Milk is your number one suspect. Surprisingly, the studies that established a significant correlation between milk consumption and acne all found that skim milk is more of an “enemy” than whole milk. Yogurt and different cheeses have a lesser effect, and cream and butter were also found to influence insulin production much less than milk.

Beware of mislabeled products which in fact contain hormone-rich milk you may not even be aware of. Examples include many varieties of cookies, custard, pudding, ice cream, and similar products. These can slip easily into your diet and you may not even be aware of what they bring in. There’s a simple trick here: tend to reduce and eliminate processed foods in general. Seek out recipes for home-made alternatives and then you can be sure you have full control over the ingredients list, both in terms of quantity (keep it simple) and quality (choose organic).

Learn where to find calcium and protein

There’s only one key to success when introducing a major modification to your eating habits: know how to substitute effectively. The point isn’t to simply switch milk for orange juice in your morning cereals. You need to make sure you’re having a balanced, dairy-free diet.

Milk contains two types of protein: whey protein and casein protein. You’ve probably heard of whey protein since it’s a very popular supplement, especially with athletes. The good news is, whey protein consumption doesn’t necessarily interfere with acne and skin health. You can continue the supplementation if you have been consuming whey protein by now for some reason. However, you don’t have to start getting whey protein supplements if you don’t need it or just because you ditched dairy.

Non-dairy foods rich in calcium include chia seeds, soy, almonds, tofu, white beans, even kale and broccoli! Yes, you can even add calcium and keep acne under control with veggies. Surprised? Yeah, we’ve been quite brainwashed to think only of milk and dairy when we hear calcium.

What’s even better about switching to non-dairy options is that you’re also going to be taking in other beneficial substances. Things like Vitamine C and antioxidants also help against acne and some non-dairy alternatives are full of them!

Demystify Non-dairy Types of Milk

Are you one of those people who used to roll their eyes at hearing stuff like “almond milk” or “hemp seed milk”? Plant-based types of milk for sure sound a bit too fancy and definitely not like normal people’s food. If you’re on a quest to prettier and clearer skin, though, you better start giving them a try.

In fact, most non-dairy milk varieties are relatively easy to make at home. Of course, you should always favor homemade almond milk, for example, to a store-bought carton of the same thing, since industrial options are usually high in sugar content, among other additions. Home-made, non-dairy milk, on the other hand, is super healthy and easy to make, after some initial practice.

Another common myth concerns taste. If it’s non-dairy then it must be a bland, tasteless vegan invention. Well, if it was so once, it’s not anymore. Some of the non-dairy kinds of milk and cheeses out there taste absolutely amazing. What’s more, you can even learn how to make them on your own. Here are some health benefits of the most common types of non-dairy milk, along with a winning recipe for the milk.

Almond Milk

You may have read that it’s simple to make your own almond milk at home. However, after trying to make it myself I can only say, no, it wasn’t simple – it was unbelievably super easy peasy! Making almond milk at homes is seriously one of the easiest kitchen endeavors.

Probably that’s why almond milk ranks pretty high in the most popular dairy-free milk alternatives. But that’s not the whole story: almonds are also high in calcium content, as well as magnesium and potassium.

Almond milk recipe – the soaking method:

To make a good quality almond milk it’s best if you plan in advance. Soak the almonds in cool water overnight. In the morning, rinse and drain them well. Mix one part almonds to three parts water in your blender. Add your sweetener of choice, such as raw honey or agave nectar. You can also add vanilla beans for flavor. Blend until a white, frothy, homogeneous liquid is formed. Strain it through a cheesecloth into a large bowl. Move to a bottle or a mason jar and voila – your snow white, delicious, super healthy milk is ready. Note: Do not throw away the pulp! You can toss it in your morning smoothie or dry it and mix it into your next batch of cookies.

Soy Milk

Soy milk is the type I would always buy from the store. The biggest strength of soy milk though is its high protein content. Soy milk is very creamy and its texture is quite close to regular milk. Some people find fault with its taste, so they prefer the sweetened, flavored ones. You should try for yourself, but you may as well end up loving it plain. The plain varieties are almost always healthier since they contain fewer additives than the flavored versions.

A lot of adverse information about unfermented soy (used to make soy milk) has been circulating online. Most of the soy used in Western food industry comes from GMO seeds. It has been linked to serious health risks, such as a higher risk of infertility in men. However, these claims aren’t fully backed by scientific evidence.

I used to live in China and there I learned how much soy was a respected crop for the locals. My Chinese friends definitely consumed more soy milk than any type of animal-derived milk. This wasn’t a dietary choice, but rather the traditional way to go. I suggest you do your own research and decide whether you’d opt for this variety.

Hemp Milk

If we’re talking about protein content though, we can’t leave out to mention hemp milk. Hemp is a so-called complete protein. This means that it contains all of the nine essential amino acids which are not naturally produced in the human body but must be obtained from food.

Of course, you should know that hemp seed, although made from the Cannabis Sativa plant, contains no THC and is perfectly legal to consume. The taste is mild and addictive and it reminds me a bit of that of sunflower seeds (btw, using the soaking method, you can also make a perfectly legit non-dairy milk from raw sunflower seeds!).

Coconut Milk

Another one that’s easier bought than made, coconut milk comes from the coconut flesh. The hidden power of coconut milk is its richness with healthy fats. Coconut milk also helps keep a healthy gut, since it boasts some anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. A related benefit, coconut milk gives your immune system a boost.

In absence of coconut milk from your local store (or when you go for a holiday in Greece, for example. I still remember going about the town’s shops searching for coconut milk, in vain), you can make it out of coconut oil. Mix half a cup of coconut oil with three parts water and blend well for several minutes.  

Cashew Milk

Rich in magnesium, zinc, and iron, these nuts make for the most creamy non-dairy milk variety and an especially delicious one. You can prepare it in the same way as almond milk, just the soaking time can be shorter if needed. I’ve found that cashew milk keeps a bit longer in the fridge than almond milk. Sometimes it’s still good after 4 days, while with almond milk I’d suggest keeping it not longer than three. In any case, it’s very unlikely you’d need to count the days since you’ll probably down it all very soon.

Bottom Line

Acne is one of the most complex and common skin conditions. It’s still under-researched, with many questions hanging in the air even today. Whether dairy contributes to acne is one of those – there is certainly no conclusive scientific evidence on this question. Still, with plenty of anecdotal evidence and some scientific backing for the claim, it seems that giving up dairy has the potential to produce clear, acne-free skin.

Some of the ways how dairy may be aggravating acne have to do with the hormones and sugar present in milk and dairy.

Do not see this as an immediate and sure method for keeping acne in check. Results will depend on various other factors and for sure won’t come immediately. Cutting down dairy from your diet may influence acne and lead to improvement in skin tone and texture.