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  • Writer's pictureBreanna Barton


Santa! Put down the milk and cookies.

Research proposes that it’s not our skin care regimen that matters most, but what we put in our mouths. Let’s take a deeper look at the biggest acne causing food culprits.


Humans are the only species known to drink the milk from another species. It is no wonder we have adverse reactions. Milk is designed to grow things, like baby cows. Are you a baby cow? Moooo.

“Two large controlled trials found that cow’s milk increased both the number of people who got acne and its severity.”

It may seem contradictory, but low fat and nonfat milk products are even worse for acne than their full fat counterparts. The lack of fat causes the sugars from dairy to be absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream. This increases the insulin response, increasing inflammation.

Whey and casein protein can be major culprits too. Just because the marketing claims say they are low lactose or lactose free, doesn’t mean you might not still react. These powders are still made from dairy. Casein protein is slow digesting so it can cause even more digestive distress for people who are lactose intolerant.


Sugar is a well-known inflammatory for the entire body, and straight cane sugar has no nutritional benefits. Liquid calories like sodas and even juice raise insulin that increase systematic inflammation.

“Other large randomized prospective controlled trials (the gold standard of medical research) found that people who had higher sugar intake and a high glycemic load diet (more bread, rice, cereal, pasta, sugar, and flour products of all kinds) had significantly more acne.”

What Doesn’t Work?

Enzymes like Lactaid will help with the digestion of lactose, but don’t stop the inflammatory process from consuming dairy. Lactose free milk is essentially just milk with digestive enzymes added to ease digestion. It’s unlikely that any of these enzymes will decrease the acne caused from consuming dairy products.

Sheep’s milk and goat’s milk may be a better solution for some people, but if the goal is to eliminate acne then you are better off avoiding dairy entirely.

How About Medications?

Doctors prescribe long-term antibiotics and Accutane, both of which could cause long-term harmful effects. There is new research on autoimmune diseases and gut health that point the finger back to long term antibiotic use. Killing off the intestinal bacteria just left people with damaged guts. When they discontinued the antibiotics their acne symptoms came back but the body was worse off than before the treatment.

“Accutane and other isotretinoin products are effective treatments for serious acne. But the drug can have extremely serious side effects: mental health problems -- including depression, psychosis, and suicide -- and, when taken by pregnant women, miscarriage or birth defects.” Oh and the manufacturer pulled Accutane from the market in 2009 citing “business decisions” amongst a slew of personal injury lawsuits. What’s even worse? These products are generally only effective while you are taking them. Once the pharmaceutical is detoxed from the body the acne will likely just come back until the root cause is addressed.

Medications work well for many acute diseases, but chronic systematic inflammation is best met with prevention.

The Solution?

Resolve the systematic inflammation that causes acne with prevention instead of treatment.

Kick the dairy.

Replace your whey and casein protein powders and bars with a vegan pea protein supplement or turn to collagen protein. Collagen is great for repairing connective tissues and is known to help support gut health. There are plenty of milk alternatives out there. Even Starbucks gives you several options for dairy free coffee drinks. Try almond milk on your cereal or coconut milk in your smoothies. Coconut yogurt is all the rage right now, and other milks such as oat and cashew are becoming more mainstream.

Decrease your sugar intake.

If you are sucking down sodas and swear by your three-step acne skincare routine, you are missing the big picture. Sugar causes system wide inflammation in the body. Save the treats for special occasions and work towards replacing sugary snacks with lower glycemic foods.

Decrease systematic inflammation with fish oil.

Shoot for 1,500mg of EPA/DHA per day. Maybe you have tried fish oil and stopped because you were getting the “fish burps”? Try a higher quality supplement and take it with your meals. Fish oil does take some time to build up Omega-3 fatty acids in your blood. So don’t despair if you don’t see a change overnight. Removing these foods that cause inflammation and increasing your naturally nutritious foods (I’m looking at you, colorful produce!) will get you on your way to clear skin.


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