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.