Can Dairy Cause Acne?

We’ve all heard people say that dairy gives them spots… many of us probably have first-hand experience! But what does the science say?


It is nuanced, and there is not enough evidence to prove a cause-and-effect link, but mechanistically it makes sense and limited evidence suggests a link between all or some dairy – particularly skimmed milk – and acne.

Amino acids (the building bocks of proteins) in milk promote insulin secretion (insulin is the hormone responsible for driving glucose into cells). They also induce the synthesis in the liver of another, molecularly similar hormone, insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1).


It is thought IGF-1 could be the pivotal driver of acne as it stimulates follicular epithelial growth, keratinisation and androgen hormone production – all processes which could all lead to greater sebum production and acne.
In fact, one particular IGF-1 polymorphism (genetic “SNP”) has been shown to increase susceptibility to acne, and blood levels of IGF-1 correlate with acne severity.

What is more, dairy also contains bovine IGF-1 and DHT (a precursor of IGF-1)

So what to do? If you suffer from acne or breakouts, where is the harm in trying a few weeks dairy-free? Just be sure to replace the dairy with a fortified (calcium, vitamin D and iodine etc.) plant-based alternative to avoid deficiencies

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