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Adult Acne & Dairy

Adult Acne & Dairy Adult Acne & Dairy


The link between diet and adult acne has long been controversial. For decades, the American Academy of Dermatology has stated that "acne is not caused by specific foods," but scientists are beginning to discover otherwise. A study published in 2008 in Current Opinion in Pediatrics notes that "nutritional studies have re-evaluated a possible role for diet and lifestyle factors in acne development."

One of the classes of foods that has been implicated in acne is dairy.


The first scientific article to link diary products to acne was published in 2005 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology by Clement A. Adebamowo, Donna Spiegelman, William Danby, Lindsay Frazier, Walter C. Willett, and Michelle D. Holmes. The article found that teens who drank a lot of milk in high school were more likely than other teens to suffer from severe acne.

Why Dairy Causes Acne

The 2005 article in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology speculates that "the association with milk may be because of the presence of hormones and bioactive molecules in milk."

Milk that comes from pregnant cows can contain androgen hormones. These hormones, which include the steroid hormone testosterone, may exacerbate acne, according to the book "The Clear Skin Diet" by Harvard Medical School doctor Alan C. Logan and nutritionist Valori Treloar.

Acne and Androgens

According to a 2009 article published in Medical News Today by Christian Nordqvist, androgen hormones like testosterone increase the production of sebum, an oil-like substance that seeps from glands under the skin. Typically, this oil carries dirt from inside the pore to the surface so that it can be removed. But when the body produces too much sebum--which is what happens when testosterone levels are high--the follicle clogs, and pimples form.

Avoiding Dairy

One way to clear acne is to replace dairy products with soy-based products, like soy milk. According to Cornell University, soy is a phytoestrogen, a compound very similar to estrogen. Estrogen counteracts the effects of testosterone by inhibiting the production of sebum. As a result, soy doesn't just have a neutral effect on acne: it may actually help clear it.

Other Reasons Dairy May Cause Acne

Many dairy products, such as ice cream, also contain simple sugars that have a high-glycemic index. According to "The Clear Skin Diet," sugars exacerbate acne because they stimulate the production of insulin, a hormone that indirectly raises testosterone levels. Dairy products that are high in sugar may therefore have add-on effects and further worsen acne.

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