Acne and Milk – The Real Relationship

In an effort to help reduce acne, many people have begun to look to dietary changes to help clear their skin. While we know that greasy food is not the cause of greasy skin, it is very possible that there is a link between the consumption of milk and the development of acne. As part of our series on acne tips, in this article I will make a case for three possible ways that milk can cause acne.


Casein – An Acne Stimulating Protein

A large component of the protein found in milk is a protein known as casein. It is specific to milk and has been known to stimulate inflammation in the human body.

One study in particular known as the “China Study” has linked casein consumption directly to an increased risk of developing cancer. The primary mechanism for this increased risk of cancer is increased levels of inflammation in the body as measured by blood markers like c reactive protein.

Inflammation is a major contributor to acne, as inflammation typically reduces the strength of the immune system, increases sebum (oil) production, and decreases pore size, making it easier for pores to become blocked.

Digestion Problems with Milk Can Lead to Acne

Another contributor to inflammation that can ultimately lead to acne and poor skin quality is lactose, the sugar that makes up most of the carbohydrates found in milk. As we age, we naturally lose our ability to digest this sugar. Infants have high levels of lactase, an enzyme necessary to digest lactose.

Every year that passes, our bodies will produce less and less lactase because the ability to digest milk was not something needed by our ancestors. When lactase production really drops off, we become lactose intolerant. This is why many people can no longer eat dairy in the old age without risking digestive problems. These digestive problems can cause inflammation and make skin look less clear.

Insulin Spikes Cause Acne

Finally, note that diabetes as well as regular exposure to high levels of insulin may help contribute to acne. What does this have to do with milk? Milk is highly insulinogenic, meaning even though a glass only has 13g of carbohydrates, the body tends to secrete a lot of insulin in order to process these carbohydrates. Drinking milk regularly may contribute to insulin resistance, which can in turn promote acne formation.

What About Other Dairy Types?

The influence of other types of dairy on acne depends on the dairy type. Milk is definitely the worst of all dairy types. Low carb dairy items like cheeses still contain the irritant casein but are very low in lactose. Low protein dairy products like ricotta cheese still do contain casein, which can lead to problems, but may not be outright as harmful as milk.

In Summary

As you can see, milk can contribute to acne through a variety of mechanisms. The major acne contributor here is the casein protein, which is found in all dairy types. Lactose present in milk can present problems as well, but is not found in large amounts in all dairy products but rather primarily milk and milk products.