Dairy and Acne: What You Need to Know for Clearer Skin

When it comes to acne, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the multitude of information available, some of which may be conflicting. Dairy is one such topic that seems to elicit strong opinions. So, should you drop that block of cheese for good? Let's delve into the science behind dairy and its relationship with acne.

3 Science-Backed Reasons to Consider Limiting Dairy

Reason 1: Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF-1)

Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) plays a crucial role in childhood growth and continues to have anabolic effects in adults. However, elevated levels of this hormone can stimulate oil glands and skin cells to grow too quickly, thereby contributing to clogged pores and oily skin. Skim milk, in particular, has high concentrations of IGF-1, even more than milk fat, making it a significant factor to consider if you're experiencing acne breakouts.

Reason 2: Pesticides and Antibiotic Residue

If you consume non-organic milk, you're potentially exposing yourself to antibiotic residues and pesticides found in modern farming practices. These substances often accumulate in the fat cells of animals and humans alike, thus making their way into dairy fat. These toxins could potentially worsen your acne condition, which is why it's advisable to opt for organic dairy products.

Reason 3: Hormonal Imbalance

Milk is rich in natural hormones like estrogen and progesterone. While these hormones are essential for various biological functions, an imbalance could exacerbate acne symptoms, especially in individuals who are already struggling with hormonal issues.

The Alternative: Goat or Sheep Dairy 

If you're hesitant to give up dairy entirely, goat or sheep milk can be a viable alternative. They are often easier to digest and contain fewer acne-triggering hormones. Moreover, goat milk closely resembles human milk in its composition. Fermented products like goat milk kefir provide an added advantage by being rich in probiotics, promoting gut health and potentially improving your skin condition.

What About Plant Milks?

I often get asked about whether I approve of nut milk, soy milk or oat milk. I totally get that you'll want to replace dairy with an alternative, but please be cautious! Many milk alternatives have a lot of gums or fillers added and have additional seed oils added to make them richer. 

Nut milks like almond milk contain a lot of omega 6 and some antinutrients like lectins and oxalates which can irritate your gut further. I caution against daily consumption of more than 1 cup of almond milk. 

Soaking and blending your own nut milks is definitely a better option. By soaking your nuts for 8 hours you can decrease their antinutrient content and make them more digestible. You also have control over the sweeteners you use and can avoid adding thickeners. 

Rather my favorite milk alternative is real coconut milk from the can. I use the Native Forest brand without added gums or sweeteners. You can always blend it with some dates and vanilla to make it extra special. In my opinion, coconut milk is the most natural form of milk alternative that you can buy.

Is Raw Milk a Better Option?

While some people swear by the benefits of raw milk, it may not always be the best choice for acne. Although raw milk contains beneficial bacteria and enzymes, it has all the growth factors and hormones intact and active. Fermented forms of dairy start to breakdown the growth factors so they may be less irritating for your skin.

Some people argue that raw milk is more natural than pasteurized milk. This may be true, but it's also true that our ancestors would have not had access to refrigeration. They often let their milk naturally ferment into curds and whey to prolong its shelf life or made cheeses from it.

Fermented dairy products were a staple of many cultures and it happens that the growth factors were less of a factor. I recommended watching how your skin reacts to raw dairy and making a personal decisions. Some people may be sensitive while others are just fine!

If you still wish to consume cow dairy, opt for grass-fed butter or ghee are good options as these are less likely to aggravate acne.

An Ancestral Perspective

It's worth noting that our ancestors primarily consumed fermented, organic, and grass-fed dairy, often containing A2/A2 proteins which are easier on digestion compared to the A1 proteins found in most modern cow milk. These are miles apart from the factory-farmed, grain-fed, and chemically enhanced dairy that fills our supermarket shelves today.

What to Look for in Quality Dairy

For those who wish to reintroduce dairy into their diet once their skin has improved, these are the key terms to look for:

1. Organic
2. Grass-Fed
3. Cultured/Fermented
4. A2/A2

Personally, I buy from Alexander Farms through Azure Markets, which ticks all these boxes. You can also often find A2/A2 Dairy at Whole Foods or other high quality grocery stores.

Conclusion: Healing Takes Time, and So Does Tolerance

Once your skin and gut have healed, you may be able to reintroduce dairy products, especially those that are organic, fermented, and grass-fed. Remember, the key to long-term health and clearer skin lies in improving gut health, enabling us to tolerate a wider range of foods. We're all on a unique journey to better health, and while it may involve some trial and error, the ultimate goal is to live a life that makes us feel good, inside and out.

Thank you for reading, and if you're interested in diving deeper into this topic, download our free recipe guide to discover delicious, skin-friendly meals. I also invite you to check out our courses: Teen Acne Academy for the younger folks and The Clear Skin Code for adults. In these comprehensive courses, you'll find transformative modules that cover everything from understanding the mind-skin connection to the impact of your gut health on your complexion. Don't miss this opportunity to embark on a life-changing journey towards better skin and overall health.



1. Prosser CG. Insulin-like growth factors in milk and mammary gland. J Mammary Gland Biol Neoplasia. 1996 Jul;1(3):297-306. doi: 10.1007/BF02018082. PMID: 10887503.

2. Juhl CR, Bergholdt HKM, Miller IM, Jemec GBE, Kanters JK, Ellervik C. Dairy Intake and Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of 78,529 Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults. Nutrients. 2018 Aug 9;10(8):1049. doi: 10.3390/nu10081049. PMID: 30096883; PMCID: PMC6115795.

3. ROBERT J. COLLIER, M. A. MILLER,1 J. R. HILDEBRANDT, A. R. TORKELSON, T. C. WHITE, K. S. MADSEN,2 J. L. VICINI, P. J. EPPARD, and G. M. LANZA3. Factors Affecting Insulin-Like Growth Factor-I Concentration in Bovine Milk. 1991 March 26. Journal of Dairy Science.


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