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Acne

Updated 12 June 2018

'I had acne and then stopped drinking milk – this is what happened'

Health24 writer Mandy Freeman gave up drinking milk – and a few weeks later she noticed some surprising results.

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A couple of months ago, on a whim, I decided to stop drinking milk in my coffee. I think I was interested to see if it would help move the scale downwards because I had been stuck on a plateau for ages. So, one morning, I ordered my usual Americano – but this time without milk.

Every morning my order remained the same. I quite enjoy drinking black coffee so I didn’t miss the splash of milk. A few weeks later, I suddenly noticed something interesting happening (hint: nothing to do with the scale). I noticed that my acne was starting to clear up.

I have battled with cystic acne for many years – it improved while I was on the Pill but I stopped using that a couple of years ago and just accepted that my bad skin was part of the Pill-free package. I even tried a three-month course of antibiotics. Because I wasn’t on the Pill, my doctor did not recommend Roaccutane as the risks to an unborn child are dangerous, and I couldn’t take the chance in case of an unplanned pregnancy.

Antibiotics for three months

The good news is my skin did clear up for a bit while on antibiotics. But the bad news is that the antibiotics stained my teeth terribly. When I came off them, my skin remained unblemished for a few weeks until one day I woke up with a huge, painful cyst on my chin. It was downhill from there – I was once again plagued with cystic acne, and it seemed even worse than before. It was painful and unsightly.

Vanity aside, the pain caused by cystic acne is horrific. You see, cystic acne forms deep in your skin, which causes pain and pressure. It never really forms a pimple, so you must wait for it to clear up. At least with a pimple you can pop it to get rid of the pain from the pressure (although, that is never advised because of the risk of spreading infection, which can cause scarring).

A new, milk-free life

I was dumbstruck when I realised that milk may be the cause of years of suffering. I had tried so many things (the Pill, antibiotics and tons different face products) and nothing worked. I never for a second thought that it could be something I was consuming that was aggravating my acne (because we’ve dispelled the myth about chocolate).

Since I’ve stopped drinking milk – I'm not a huge fan of cream and don't eat much ice cream, so the only milk I had in my diet was in my morning cup of coffee – my skin is a lot clearer. I do still have breakouts but those are usually a sign my period is on the way. And I can handle one or two hormonal spots once a month. Previously, my skin was constantly breaking out.

What science says

Even though I no longer drink milk, I still eat yoghurt and that seems to have zero effect on my acne. I did some digging and was quite surprised at what I found.

Growing research shows that there is definitely a link between acne and milk. According to dermatologist Dr Joshua Zeichner, who is also director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital, that’s because acne is an inflammatory condition. Oil gets trapped and clogs up your pores, allowing bacteria to grow in the follicles. The trapped bacteria cause the inflammation and then acne.

How does milk affect this? Dr Zeichner says the hormones in milk can react with your testosterone to increase the production of sebum (the oily substance that blocks the pores) in your skin, which leads to a breakout. 

Dr Jeremy Fenton of Schweiger Dermatology Group, agrees and told Bustle, "Milk contains hormones, such as oestrogen, which can affect the person who’s drinking it. Dairy has also been shown to stimulate testosterone in those who consume it. Additionally, it may also stimulate the production of other hormones and cell signalling, particularly inflammatory signals, in the body." 

There is a bit of good news

While milk and ice cream might be the obvious dairy products to put your “do not consume” list, it appears that yoghurt doesn't seem to have the same effect. This is good news because we do need to include dairy in our diet for calcium. 

According to Dr Whitney Bowe, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, probiotics found in yoghurt may actually help control your breakouts. She says researchers aren’t sure why but they believe that probiotics may help to calm inflammation. 

(By the way, they still don't know whether cheese is a trigger for acne, but it doesn't appear to affect me.)

So, what should you do?

Dr Bowe said in a media release that more clinical research is needed to determine dairy’s impact on the severity of acne but she advises that you speak to a dermatologist if you think one or more dairy products, is aggravating your acne. 

“Given the benefits of calcium and vitamin D – especially in a growing adolescent population – patients who choose to limit or avoid dairy products should supplement their diet with appropriate levels of calcium and vitamin D,” said Dr Bowe.

"Patients can be their own best detectives in determining possible food triggers for acne, and I encourage them to make an appointment with a dermatologist if they have any acne concerns.”

Does something you eat or drink affect your skin? Email mandy.freeman@24.com and share your story.

Image credit: iStock