The Science Of How Dairy Causes Acne

acne and dairy

Earlier this week, Dr. Frank Lipman cleared up some of our confusion about why dairy seems to be the next evil food group. But in the process, he raised another issue about what milk does to your skin: according to him, dairy causes acne, too. But many commenters were up in arms about the connection between milk and skin—you wanted the science, not just the anecdotal evidence.

That’s where Dr. William F. Danby, Adjunct Assistant Professor Dermatology at Dartmouth Medical School, comes in. As a practicing dermatologist and someone who’s researched the ins and outs of milk and acne (check out his site,, he’s eager to clear up the issue (and your skin). We asked him a few questions to find out why dairy could be doing your skin wrong:

Can you briefly explain what is in dairy that causes acne?

Milk raises insulin levels and insulin-like growth hormone-1 (IGF-1) levels. These two polypeptide hormones work together to open the male hormone receptors—also known as androgen receptors—that turn on acne. (And this happens in both males and females.) The milk also contains several male steroidal hormones that go directly to those open receptors…So it’s Nature’s Perfect Food for making acne.


Does the dairy-acne link have anything to do with the use of antibiotics or growth hormones in cows? Would switching to organic, hormone-free, antiobiotic-free, grass-fed dairy prevent skin problems?

The hormones that are in organic milk are the ones that are in all milk, including human mother’s milk. These are anabolic steroids and are designed to make babies grow, whether cow babies or human babies. The hormone that was injected into cows for several years, bovine somatotropin (BST) or recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), is now used less and less (major thanks to Wal-Mart for stopping selling milk produced with it).


Does all dairy cause acne, or is it only certain products? (i.e. would yogurt or certain dairy products be more ok than others?)

I’ve seen patients with acne caused by every kind of dairy product, with the possible exception of well-cooked pizza cheese. I suspect, but cannot yet prove, that the heat “denatures” the polypeptide hormones and neutralizes them.


Why doesn’t dairy cause acne for everyone?

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    • Kj

      Wow! That explains why my skin is so good since I went vegan(ish)

      • Farheen Shahab

        lucky! ;)

    • Farheen Shahab

      But what about the acne scars? :(

    • Marie Corrigan

      I completely agree with the connection between dairy and scene. Recently, I started eating oatmeal in the morning rather than the normal cereal that I have eating for breakfast for as long as I can remember. Although my face seems to be little dry and avoiding feta cheese, it has been the clearest I have ever seen.

    • Lisa

      I have acne prone-oily skin, and I am in my early 20′s. I have always suffered from acne, and never once have I had completely clear and healthy looking skin until recently. I am not 100% positive that it’s not a mix of various contributive factors (new skincare routine, makeup, daily choices etc) but I have noticed that after I switched to organic milk my skin started looking noticeably clearer, and my teeth started appearing whiter. I went home from college over the winter break, and I started drinking regular milk from my parent’s fridge. My skin started breaking out again, and switching from drinking organic milk daily to regular milk a couple of times of week was the only factor that I had changed in my daily choices. That might be a coincidence; it might not. Food for thought, though.

    • Greg

      I am in my early 20′s. After having back acne for several years, I’ve spent the last 3 months in China and it all seems to have gone away. The reason? The Chinese diet contains very few dairy products. The staple foods of dumplings, noodles and rice have no dairy and milk is only available if you go out of your way to get it. After speculating a connection between dairy and acne, I decided to consciously avoid all dairy products. Sure enough my acne is almost all gone. Since I’ve gotten back to the states, I’ve continued to avoid dairy products and my skin is remaining clear.

      • Cyndy

        Bravo! Same here! I’ve been dairy free for over a month now and my skin has cleared up so much! I’m also on an Asian diet (Japanese) and have made fish and sushi rice my main staple along with miso soup, veggies, fruit, etc. Notice how people in Asian countries have such flawless looking skin? It bothers me how most of the crap in the grocery store contains dairy.

      • jake

        same here. since the day i cut dairy product, there is no acne anymore on my forehead. i know how it feels. it is embarrassing and totally hurt of having cystic acne on forehead. finally i got the answer. dairy products are the root of evil. thank god :)

    • Realkman666

      And take calcium from capsules, then?

      • jake

        from bone and collagen. if you wanna build muscle, you gotta eat muscle. if you wanna build bone, you gotta build bone. that’s the logic.

    • Moon

      Went dairy free for a week now, skin is the clearest I’ve ever seen. Fuck the people saying milk in moderation contributes to clear skin, it doesn’t.

    • Kevin

      Cow’s milk is meant for baby cows, not a freakin human!

    • Horizon
    • akuiso
    • jake

      to all of you who have acne on forehead. i recommend to avoid dairy products. it works! i’ve been 1 week avoiding dairy products and all of my acne are gone. totally gone. and my skin becomes clear and fabulous!