Debunking the Big Dairy-Acne Debate


For celebrity aesthetician Nerida Joy, the subject of acne—especially the link that diet plays with exacerbating the skin condition—is not only her specialty, but her passion. 

“Treating the skin has been my life for 43 years and I have literally treated more than 100,000 faces dealing with acne. The results I have seen are not just astounding, even to me, but life-changing in more ways than you can imagine.”

“Transformations affect not just the skin, but with physical health and well-being.”

To that end, Joy says, in her experience and opinion, anything and everything food-related acne is very specific in how it looks and where it shows up on the face.

“Food- or dairy-related acne does not respond to Accutane, antibiotics and harsh topicals. It is not driven by hormones and, therefore, is not painful to the touch. It is strictly related to the gut and its digestion capabilities,” she says, adding that these flesh-colored congestion bumps are not painful to the touch nor do they surface like a pimple with a pus-like head. “Their inner substance is of a thicker consistency and, depending on how long they have been there, they can often have an odor when extracted, which resembles one’s gut health. Food-related acne starts mid-cheek, which, in my face-mapping relates to the small intestine. These bumps can continue to spread to the jaw line, linked to the large intestine, over time, if untreated, as it moves through the intestines.”

Metabolism Matters

So, what does all of this mean? “It means the body does not digest fats well and can show higher cholesterol counts early in life,” Joy explains. “When seen in a younger person, like someone in their early-20s, this can typically be passed down from a family member through generations as high cholesterol or gallbladder weakness. When someone does not do well with dairy, they often know it, because they can have stomach pain, blotting, constipation or diarrhea. These people will also not do well with other fats such as oily fish, oily nuts, fatty foods, egg yolks and non-dairy milks, such as soy milk.”

“What I always do for this type of ‘acne,’ is take my client off these foods mentioned above. Without the client/patient going off these foods, you cannot get rid of this type of acne. A good home-care regimen may give them a 20-percent improvement at the most. But to obtain 100-percent improvement and be rid of these bumps completely and forever requires working from the inside out and going off foods that their body does not metabolize well.”

“Understand, that this is not just about having a smooth, pretty skin, this is about having a healthy body and its longevity!”

Science Link

While New York dermatologist Jody A. Levine, MD also stresses assessing the individual patient on a case-by-case basis, she says that what a lot of people may be surprised to hear is that while the acne-dairy presumption is a long-standing one, it actually isn’t scientifically proven.

“There is speculation that dairy causes acne because of an increase in IGF-1, aka, insulin growth factor-1, in milk, which induces more sebum production in people and also because of proteins in milk that incite acne. But, no scientific studies have been strong enough to prove this correlation.”

“That being said, I do have certain patients who insist that they break out from chocolate, for example. While there is no scientific proof for this, I believe my patients, as each person knows his/her body best,” Dr. Levine says. “One way to explain this correlation is to say that an increase in hormone levels in one’s body—which we know can cause acne—may also cause a person to crave chocolate. So, while the chocolate itself is not causing the acne, the hormones are causing both the chocolate craving and the acne, making it seem like chocolate causes the acne. This is just one example of a diet-acne correlation.”

Elimination Diet

However, like Joy, Dr. Levine does believe it is worth it for patients to experiment with eliminating certain foods that one thinks may be correlated with his/her acne and seeing if it makes a difference in his/her skin.

“If so, then one should be cognizant of that relationship. But, when I see a patient for acne, I do not put them on a dairy-free diet as, in most cases, I do not think that dairy is the cause of the acne. I do not see a specific type of acne associated to dairy. Each person’s acne presents differently, in a distinct location and with different kinds of breakouts. I do not think there is a standard ‘dairy-acne’ type. Hormonal acne, for example, is generally on the lower face, in the ‘beard distribution.’ But I do not see a specific pattern with regard to dairy.”

New York aesthetician Vicki Morav also contends there is not an exact direct link between acne and dairy, as everyone’s lactic acid and lactose intolerant levels are unique and individual. “Not everyone will get acne if dairy is consumed, however, it is something to avoid if you are prone to breaking out,” she explains. “For some people, consuming dairy that is full of hormones may cause a hormonal inbalance. In other cases, some people may experience milia, which are whiteheads under the skin.”

Her number-one piece of advice: Balance. “Creating a pH balance in the digestive tract will allow the body to function without chaos. You need to balance the connection between the gut, brain, and all the ‘messengers’ that signal the organs to function properly. pH balance is essential to all body functions including the skin. The skin is a live organ and it needs to be balanced with the proper nutrients. You can achieve this by eliminating dairy as well as sugar. If one must have dairy, I would suggest reducing the consumption as well as having a product that is low in acid, such as hormone-free organic goat dairy.”

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