Talk to anyone who has ever been on a diet for more than five seconds and you’ll discover two things: 1. that you deserve a trophy for listening to someone talk about their diet for more than five seconds, and 2. that cutting out dairy magically gave them the best skin of their whole entire life, and did you see their skin? Did you see how clear and perfect their skin is?! Did you know it was because they stopped eating dairy?!
Basically, dairy has gotten a bad rap across skincare communities throughout the years (Google “dairy and acne” and you’ll get almost 10 million results), which means that chunk of beloved gouda in your fridge is now public enemy number one to your skin. But is all the shade really warranted? Does dairy really cause acne, rosacea, keratosis pilaris, and every other skin issue in the world?
Uh, as it turns out, yeah, sort of. “There seems to be an association with dairy and acne,” says Yale dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, adding that although there are studies suggesting possible links between the two, “we have yet to see any research that makes a definitive connection.” Still, she says, “when it comes to acne patients, I always review their dietary habits and recommend reducing dairy intake, just in case.”
And it’s not just cautionary, either: Cow’s milk contains hormones that can react with the testosterone in your own body (yes, even - and especially - if you’re female), causing an increase in oil production (which can clog pores, leading to whiteheads, blackheads, and even hormonal cystic acne), as well as promote inflammation in your skin, which can worsen any skin conditions you already have, like keratosis pilaris or rosacea.
"You’ve gotta weigh clear skin against a giant mountain of ooey-gooey cheese."
Plus, if you’re partial to skim milk and soft cheeses, because you’re a normal human being, you’re also facing a double dose of skin troubles. The reason? Both contain high levels of lactose, which your body converts to glucose after you consume them, says Gohara. That glucose then raises your blood-sugar levels and causes an insulin spike, all of which triggers low-grade inflammation and hormonal fluctuations that can screw with your skin.
That’s not to say, though, that cutting dairy out of your life will be the magical cure-all for every single skin issue you’ve ever had. In fact - and sorry to burst your bubbles even more - I’ve been dairy-free for more than three years, thanks to a super-fun dairy allergy, and I noticed exactly zero difference in my skin. Still, that’s not to say it doesn’t work (just check out these enthused ex-dairy lovers with totally clear skin), it just means, like everything, your mileage may vary.