Can a seemingly healthy and innocent product like milk cause acne vulgaris (common acne)? Surprisingly, the answer for many people may be yes.
Around 80% of American teenagers have acne, while in countries on traditional diets that do not include dairy products there are virtually zero cases of acne. However, as soon as a culture becomes westernized and starts including milk and cheese in the diet, acne appears. Japan is an example of this.
Of course there may be other factors at work, but there are two reasons why milk and other dairy products may contribute to acne.
First, many people do not digest milk products well and their bodies react by dumping many of the elements that they cannot digest through the lungs in the form of mucus and the skin in the form of acne vulgaris.
Second, even in people who can digest milk just fine, there may be a reaction to the hormones that are believed to be in milk. The main cause of teenage acne is said to be hormone imbalance, and milk these days probably contains a lot more hormones than it did 50 or 100 years ago. Here’s why.
Any female human or animal that is pregnant naturally has more of certain hormones in her body. In the wild, this doesn’t matter because milk is not used until after the baby/calf is born, when the excessive hormones are no longer there. But in present-day commercial milk production cows are kept pregnant almost constantly, to make them produce more milk. Because of this, the excessive female hormones are believed to get into the milk that we drink, probably contributing to acne and possibly other problems such as obesity, breast tissue forming on men, and even breast cancer in older women.
So if you have acne, consider staying off dairy products completely for 2 weeks. This takes some planning because dairy products can be hard to avoid. You will have to check the ingredients in every food or drink that goes in your mouth. Milk powder can appear in places you would never expect it.
If you are a teenager and your mother says that you need milk, explain that this is just a 2-week test, and why you are doing it. She was young once and she probably understands more than you think! Tell her that you can still have eggs, and you can take a calcium supplement, but for these 2 weeks you will have no milk, butter, yogurt, cheese or anything containing them.
During these 2 weeks be prepared for your acne to get a little worse before it begins to get better. You may be detoxing for the first 3-7 days. You may also develop a cough or cold symptoms.
After 2 weeks, has your skin improved? Very likely the answer will be yes.
Now you can informally test your dairy tolerance by drinking a glass of milk or eating a normal portion of cheese. If you are dairy intolerant you may have an immediate reaction such as blocked or runny nose, or a headache soon after. You may have diarrhoea or a very loose BM the next day. Or you may have no immediate symptoms but if you go back to eating dairy regularly your skin may break out worse than ever. If as a result of this informal test you believe that you may be milk intolerant, have your results checked by taking a food sensitivity test with a nutritionist.
If you had a reaction, stay off dairy for another 5 days and then test yogurt. Some people can digest yogurt but not other milk products.
If there was no reaction, you are probably not sensitive to milk. You may still want to cut down your consumption to avoid the hormones that it is believed to contain, but don’t stress out about little bits of milk or cheese in foods that you eat.
Be sure to get enough calcium through other food sources or supplementation, and consult a doctor or dermatologist about treatment for severe acne vulgaris.