Myth Busted: Dairy and Acne What's the Story?

Myth Busted: Dairy and Acne What's the Story? | Mirra Skincare

I used to love milk so much as a kid (before the intolerance hit) that I would ONLY drink milk and not even water. Besides milk, I find most dairy products to be delicious. Pizza, ice cream, grilled cheese, cream cheese, and dairy galore! I would simply roll over and die without pizza. Unfortunately, it seems that dairy and acne might be related.

The Link Between Dairy and Acne

While there are tons of anecdotes out there about how cutting out dairy will change your life, the science behind it isn’t extremely well known. In the future, more extensive research is needed to explore this phenomenon. 

However, here’s what we know today about the relationship between dairy and acne (3). 

  • Participants who drank one glass of milk or more per day were more likely to have acne than those who drank less
  • Those who drank low fat or skim milk were more likely to have acne
    • This is possibly because these type of milk-drinkers would consume more milk
  • Acne is more common in Western countries, which typically consume more dairy and high glycemic-index foods

Luckily, a 2019 study found that there was no significant relationship between acne and yogurt or cheese (3).  

So does dairy cause acne? Maybe. As you might’ve learned in statistics class, correlation doesn’t imply causation. There’s a strong association between dairy and acne, but there could be an outside variable interfering.

Why Could Dairy Trigger Acne?

Scientists have hypothesized several reasons as to why dairy could cause acne. The first hypothesis points at hormones. IGF-1, or a growth hormone, naturally exists within cow’s milk. We also have it in our blood, and it’s similar to insulin (3). Consuming dairy increases IGF-1 levels, which may cause breakouts because IGF-1 can increase sebum production (3). 

Some scientists think that artificial hormones, recombinant bovine growth hormones (rBGH), amplify IGF-1 levels. However, the FDA has denied that rBGH-treated cows have higher IGF-1 levels than non-treated cows (3)

Another theory points at milk proteins as the culprit. Whey raises blood insulin levels, and casein increases IGF-1 (3). 

Or maybe it’s just our lactose sensitivities. According to Healthline, approximately 65 percent of people are lactose intolerant (6). In general, we become less able to digest lactose as we grow up. 

Dairy Alternatives

The great thing about more and more people going dairy-free is that there are a plethora of tasty substitutes to choose from. Avoid the dairy and acne combination altogether. There are many health benefits from dairy alternatives, and most of them are fortified with other vitamins as well. Just remember to check the ingredients in your milk. Some may have unfavorable additives, which are used to preserve or emulsify the milk alternatives (2). 

1. Oat Milk

Oat milk is probably one of the best-tasting milks. It’s super creamy and is great for those who are allergic to nuts. Oatmilk is loaded in protein and fiber, which fills you up (2). If you have oats and water at home, you can easily make your own oat milk.

2. Almond Milk

This milk is personally my favorite. It’s low calorie but still has a great taste. While it lacks protein, almond milk is rich in good unsaturated fats (2). Catch me with a glass of chocolate almond milk! 

3. Soy Milk

Soy milk is like the OG milk substitute. It’s similar nutrition-wise to cow’s milk and is high in protein (2). 

4. Coconut Milk

If you like the sweet coconut taste, this milk is for you. It’s nice and thicc, but does have little calcium and high-fat content (2).

5. Rice Milk

Looking for something a little more neutral? Are you allergic to a lot of things? Rice milk may be for you. I wouldn’t recommend rice milk for those with diabetes as the milk alternative is high in carbohydrates (4). It also lacks protein.

6. Hemp Milk

This one is an acquired taste. Made from hemp seeds, hemp milk has omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin D, and a moderate amount of protein (2).

7. Cashew Milk

This milk is great for replacing cow’s milk in recipes. Cashew milk is rich in unsaturated fat, potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants (5).


Dairy and acne may not be enemies but they’re probably not the best of friends. If I had to give you a word of advice, I would say, know your body. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve found that limiting dairy did clear up my forehead bumps. While we wait on future scientific research, you can always test to see if limiting dairy consumption will improve your skin. 

Myth Busted: Dairy and Acne What's the Story? | Mirra skincare

Written by Jessica Lu


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  1. https://integrisok.com/resources/on-your-health/2020/january/how-healthy-is-oat-milk#:~:text=A%20one%20cup%20serving%20of,daily%20allowance%20for%20vitamin%20D.
  2. https://www.roswellpark.org/cancertalk/201707/what-best-alternative-milk 
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/dairy-and-acne#causes
  4. https://www.healthline.com/health/milk-almond-cow-soy-rice#:~:text=Pros%20of%20rice%20milk,sweeter%20than%20other%20milk%20alternatives
  5. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cashew-milk-benefits#TOC_TITLE_HDR_6 
  6. https://www.healthline.com/health/dairy-and-acne#:~:text=Lactose%20is%20the%20natural%20sugar,lactose%20sensitivity%20or%20allergic%20reaction.

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