Is Dairy the Real Dirty Culprit Causing Acne? Yes, Says New Study
“I can tell you’ve been eating a lot of cheese,” says Mamie McDonald, owner of Mamie’s Skincare in New York City. Mamie loves to expose all of my dirty dietary habits–drinking the occasional Pear Grey Goose Vodka and Cranberry juice, eating cheese and drinking cow’s milk with my cereal—while extracting gunk from my pores. And since she gets the unenviable task of doing said extractions, I suppose it’s only fitting that she share with me its offending causes. But when I follow-up with my dermatologist for medical skin treatments, getting her to agree with Mamie’s assessments has always been hard. “The studies aren’t conclusive,” says Dr. Fran Cook-Bolden, who is the co-author of Beautiful Skin of Color and owner of Skin Specialty Dermatology in New York City.
Beginning in the 1800s, there was research connecting acne to certain foods, with chocolate getting the primary blame. But by the 1960s, studies challenged those theories and dermatologists followed suit. Now, thanks to a new, more comprehensive study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, what Mamie has been saying is proving to have been right all along. ”More recently, dermatologists and registered dietitians have revisited the diet-acne relationship and become increasingly interested in the role of medical nutritional therapy in acne treatment,” says Jennifer Burris, MS, RD, of the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New York University, and co-author of the study.
The study compared a cross-section of dietary and dermatological studies dating back to 1960, and has determined a direct connection between eating dairy and the onset of acne.
The medical trifecta of Burris, William Rietkerk, Department of Dermatology, New York Medical College, and Kathleen Woolf, of New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, concluded that a high glycemic index/glycemic load diet and frequent dairy consumption are the leading factors in establishing the link between diet and acne. In other words, if you are acne-prone and tend to eat lots of sweet, sugary foods (like chocolate) or alcohol, which converts into sugar, plus nosh on milk and cheese, chances are you’ll continue to get acne. They also note that although research results from studies conducted over the last 10 years do not demonstrate that diet causes acne, it may influence or aggravate it.
More than 17 million Americans suffer from acne, mostly during their adolescent and young adult years. And it’s one of the main reasons Hispanics seek dermatological help. Research has shown that Hispanic teens and adult men are more prone to cystic acne, a more severe form of acne, than other populations. Based on this new study, the researchers recommend that dermatologists and registered dietitians work collaboratively to design and conduct quality research for each patient about their dietary habits before prescribing medicine.
“This research is necessary to fully elucidate preliminary results, determine the proposed underlying mechanisms linking diet and acne, and develop potential dietary interventions for acne treatment,” says Burris. “The medical community should not dismiss the possibility of diet therapy as an adjunct treatment for acne. At this time, the best approach is to address each acne patient individually, carefully considering the possibility of dietary counseling.”
In other words, if you’re already dealing with acne—either as a teen or an adult—try laying off the cheese, ice cream and milk. Your skin may just thank you.