Morsani College of Medicine

Dermatology & Cutaneous Surgery

Acne and Milk

Written by Robin McClain MSN, ARNP, FP-C

Over the last decade severe acne has been linked to dairy intake such as milk, breakfast drinks, sherbet, and cheeses. What should teens and parents do with this information? Should teens stop drinking milk and eating dairy products that are good for their health, growth and development? The answer is no.

First, thing you must know is that diary has shown to make acne more severe but, does not cause acne. A study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in February 2005 analyzed responses from 47,355 married female nurses who drank more than three servings of any type of milk per day. Twenty-two percent of the women were more likely to report having had severe acne than those who drank only one (or less) servings of milk per week. Those who consumed two or more glasses of skim milk daily were forty-four percent more likely to have been diagnosed with severe acne as teenagers. Then in May of 2008 the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology published a study that found amongst boys who drank skim milk tended to have more severe acne. These findings suggested that skim milk contains hormonal constituents or factors that might influence endogenous hormones in sufficient quantities to have biological effects in patients that lead to increased severity of acne. We know that whey is found in higher concentrations in skim milk, which maybe the substance to blame in causing acne to worsen. Also, milk contains androgen hormones or better known as testosterone, which have been linked to the formation of acne breakout. The reason teenagers are more prone to acne breakouts is due to increased levels of testosterone that causes a chain reaction that stimulates the oil gland to secrete more oil possibly leading to increase acne outbreaks. If all of the above was not enough, dairy farmers are actually injecting genetically-engineered bovine growth hormones (rBGH) into their cows to increase milk production. This growth hormone has been possibly linked to acne and cancer as well.  

It is hard to come to the conclusion that we should stop drinking milk or ingesting diary to minimize acne outbreaks, when the studies are so limited and the exact reasons why diary has this effect is unknown. Let alone diary can be very beneficial to our bodies in so many other ways.  We need to remember people react differently to milk and dairy. And just because one drinks milk or eats diary does not mean that person will get an acne outbreak.

Long story short, if you are worried that milk and diary may be playing a role in your acne getting worse try soy or organic milk. It is typically pesticide, antibiotic, and injected hormone free but there will still be natural hormones in the milk and less in soy milk. Stay away from products high in whey such as fat-free or skim milk, or pasteurized processed cheese.

Dermatologists and medical providers cannot say for sure, what role dairy truly has on acne. However, if you are struggling with acne, it probably would not hurt to limit milk and dairy for a while and see if your skin improves.