Is 'Dairy Skin' a Thing? A Nutrition Expert Weighs In

We've all heard that eating too much chocolate (or refined sugar) can lead to pimples and breakouts. (Doesn't stop us from smashing a family slab of Cadbury Dairy Milk though, does it?). It makes sense—what we put into our bodies is always going to show on our skin. Chow down on the not-so-great, albeit the most delicious, stuff (fatty foods, greasy foods, sugary foods), and you can expect to see some negative impacts on your skin.

Well, it turns out you may need to add unassuming dairy to the list of culprits that can lead to a few unwanted pimples. We spoke to Geraldine Georgeou, accredited practicing dietitian and author of The Australian Healthy Skin Diet and The Healthy Skin Diet, to get the lowdown on how dairy can affect our skin.

Does eating dairy cause bad skin?

Well, there's no definitive yes/no answer to that, because it's different for everyone, but according to Georgeou, there is a connection between dairy consumption and acne.

"There has been recent research linking a diet higher in dairy or sugar to higher rates of acne," she says. "In particular, casein and whey—two types of protein found in cow's milk—and dairy products are thought to raise levels of a certain hormone called insulin-like growth factor-1, or IGF-1, which has been linked with increased production of hormones such as androgens, resulting in acne development and other conditions such as hidradenitis suppurativa."

So, am I getting pimples because I have dairy?

It's important to know that it's not necessarily dairy itself making you break out. Or sugar. Or even that greasy hamburger you had when you were hungover. Rather, Georgeou says that acne and pimples can be a result of underlying insulin resistance and metabolic dysfunction, and if you have those things, then you could be more prone to breakouts when consuming dairy.

"Having steady insulin levels ensures our body is functioning optimally, but this is especially true for many people with skin conditions," she says. "This was shown in a Melbourne study in Australia that found that a low-glycaemic index diet significantly reduced insulin sensitivity and acne, too."

Should I ditch the dairy, then?

It could be something to consider if you're just not having a great time with your skin and nothing you've tried already seems to be working. Try cutting back on your dairy intake—you don't necessarily need to cut it out completely. Interestingly it won't make a difference if you swap from full-cream to low-fat. "Dairy milk consumption has been linked to the presence of acne, regardless of whether it was low-fat, skim or full-fat; however, yoghurt and cheese are not associated with acne," explains Georgeou. Cheese boards and yoghurt smoothies for everyone!

If you're going to go down the route of cutting back on dairy, Georgeou recommends consulting an accredited practising dietitian to ensure you're getting enough nutrients, especially calcium.

But also, the biggest take-home message from Georgeou about dairy and your skin is that of insulin resistance: "Managing underlying insulin resistance is key to managing inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, rosacea and hidradenitis suppurativa. Focus on consuming low glycaemic index carbohydrates, low sugar, lean protein and good fats."

And at the very least, Georgeou says that having adequate hydration and limiting alcohol alone will give significant improvements to your skin and promote good skin health.

Enjoyed this? Here are the best foods for healthy skin, according to dietitians.

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