How Cutting Dairy Cleared My Acne

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Not to toot my own horn, but I used to have perfect skin with not a blemish in sight. But for the past year and a half, I’ve been struggling with adult acne breakouts on my chin. Basically, it seems like all the acne I should have had as a teen has come back with a vengeance. After trying product after product (even some prescription ones) to no avail, I finally found my nemesis: dairy.

I made the discovery after having a facial with celebrity aesthetician Renee Rouleau who explained that many of her patients' skin cleared up after they cut dairy out of their diet. “Every person's body responds differently to food ingested but cheese, yogurt, and ice cream seem to be problems for a lot of people,” says Rouleau. “When there is too much dairy in your system for the body to digest, it comes out in the form of cystic acne on the chin and jaw line area.” So that explains why my chin was my problem area. 

She challenged me to cut it out for two weeks to see what would happen. I reluctantly accepted the challenge, which as a yogurt-for-breakfast kind of girl seemed like the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. And as much as I wanted it to not be true, my skin miraculously cleared up within days of cutting out dairy.

So what gives? Why is it that dairy, my favorite food group, is giving me so much grief? “Most dermatologists don’t think that dairy causes acne, but I think it is not easy to make broad generalizations,” says West Palm Beach, FL, dermatologist Kenneth R. Beer, MD. “As with other dietary issues, dairy is very person specific.” 

It turns out that the proteins and trace hormones that are found in dairy products can sometimes cause breakouts like pus bumps and cystic acne. “I think that milk has the potential to cause acne—especially milk that is not free of hormones,” says Dr. Beer. “My concern with some milk is that it has hormones in it that are passed from the cow and that these can cause acne. I believe that organic milk, free from hormones is far less likely to be a problem.”

After my two weeks were up, I caved and had a nice (well-deserved) slice of cheesy pizza. However, two days later I woke up with an angry acne breakout. So while I really have cut down on the amount of dairy I eat, I’ve found that it’s nearly impossible to stay away from it—it seems like it’s in everything! So I still enjoy a cup of yogurt or a slice or two (or three) of cheese every now and then, but I know that I’m going to pay the price later on.

I’ve found that my skin is definitely better with less dairy, but not nearly as flawless as it was when I was avoiding it completely. But let’s face it, dairy-free cheese just doesn’t cut it! Now that I know the culprit behind my breakouts, if I have a big event coming up, I can cut it out to ensure my skin looks great for the occasion.

9 Comments
  • Beathe Sanden
    Posted on

    I read that it doesn't matter whether the milk is organic or not, because hormones are produced in the cows' bodies, and are naturally in the milk, even if the cow has not been given extra hormones. If it says on the milk container that the milk contains no hormones, it only means that no extra hormones have been given to the cow. But there are still natural hormones from the cow in the milk. So according to this, switching to organic milk will not help regarding this specific problem.

  • applewine
    Posted on

    I get acne on my back and chest, not face and I've found articles that says bacne is caused by dairy. I didn't always have the chest and back acne, but was eating a lot of dairy recently, about half a stick of butter a day for a long time. I've quit dairy for a few weeks and I think I already see a decrease. I'm willing to go for many months to see. In some people it takes up to a year to fully clear depending on how much dairy exposure and how bad the acne is, so the article said. I don't think mine is that bad.

  • Susan
    Posted on

    Count me in to the camp that gets cystic acne from dairy! In my case it's ANYTHING with the least bit of dairy in it. And yes also has a predilection for the jawline/chin (also cheeks at times); my chest also suffers some, but that seems to be more of a pre-menstrual pattern and has been going on since adolesence. On my face/neck, the terrible cystic acne really became a problem only in the past few years (late 20s-early 30s), coinciding with escalating amounts of dairy in my diet (I too LOVED all kinds of dairy products!). At the height, I was going through a whole gallon of milk per week (I did drink organic, grass-fed milk only), plus eating lots of cheese, Greek yogurt, etc etc. about 10 months ago, I decided i would do a dairy elimination diet. Well, things got a LOT better (at the worst, I was also itching in various places, and had eruptions almost like hives -- that got SO much better). And since then, every time i "cheat" or accidentally consume something with dairy in it (like someone here said, it's in the most unexpected places at times!!!), inevitably I get a "souvenir" or two (or three) in the form of very painful red, inflamed bumps that dont come to a head well and last for weeks and weeks.

  • rj
    Posted on

    I found that whenever I ate greek yogurt I ended up with cystic acne in my ear. I cut it out and viola, no issues. I dont find that milk or cheese is an issue for me, which is wonderful as I LOVE MILK! Also, love Renee Rouleau and her product line.

  • Ja
    Posted on

    Do you find that probiotic dairy products, like yogurt, cause less of a reaction than say, cheese for example?

  • Danielle
    Posted on

    Try some Amande vanilla yogurt, which is made from almond milk, and you will never, ever miss the regular. Our taste buds get trained to a certain food levels (sweetness, etc.) so you have to rest your buds for like 3 days beforehand and then taste the new. You'll love it and it's not much more expensive than dairy is.

  • Yvette La-Garde
    Posted on

    While most derms discount the role diet plays in acne, there are very good studies that show simple carbs, dairy and saturated fats promote the development of acne. Other studies have also shown that patients with acne can benefit from taking probiotics especially if they have been on antibiotics.

  • Anonymous
    Posted on

    My acne started couple months ago under my chin n I am going to try no milk products I am as well going to a allergist to follow up wht allergies I have with food.

  • Renee Rouleau
    Posted on

    So happy that we found the culprit for your acne, Anna! Consider yourself lucky since for many people, the cause isn't so clear. But of course my Anti Cyst Treatment works great for stubborn cysts. -Renee

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