The amount of pimples on my face reached an all time high between my freshman and sophomore year of college. These pimples weren’t the tiny raised bumps that randomly pop up on your face and then vanish a few days later. Instead, the bumps would form painful, deep seated white heads and blackheads and took at least two weeks to finally emerge from my skin. During this time period, I was consuming a variety of dairy products multiple times a day until I was recommended by my dermatologist to decrease my consumption of dairy products. After a few months of lowering my dairy consumption as well as using Retin A cream once a day, I saw significant improvements in the texture and clarity of my skin. I continue to limit my dairy intake now, and I have recently realized that I automatically believed the dairy and acne claim without conducting my own research. While there is limited current research on dairy intake and acne prevalence, I discovered two research articles worth mentioning.

Study 1:

The first study is entitled “High Glycemic Load Diet, Milk and Ice Cream Consumption Are Related to Acne Vulgaris in Malaysian Young Adults: A Case Control Study”, and its purpose was to determine if there is an association between milk consumption, ice cream consumption, and high glycemic foods consumption on acne vulgaris. The three-month, case controlled study included eighty-eight Malaysian adults between the ages of eighteen and thirty. The participants were equally divided into two groups based on whether or not they had acne. The control group consisted of healthy individuals who did not have acne while the case group had acne vulgaris and were undergoing treatment in a Dermatology Clinic in Kuala Lumpur. Anthropometric measurements (body weight, height, and body fat percentage) were taken from the subjects. Daily dietary GI values were determined from three-day food frequency questionnaires, and dairy intake was noted during face to face interviews with each of the subjects. A family history of acne prevalence was also taken into account during statistical analyses, and the case group had a significantly larger number of family members with acne than the control group. The results of the study are that significant, positive associations were shown between increased milk and ice cream consumption and acne occurrence, and subjects with high glycemic load diets had higher incidences of acne. The risk of acne also increased quadruple fold when the consumption of milk was greater than once a week. While the results support the dairy and acne health claim, there are a few limitations and confounding variables in the study. The first confounding variable is genetic factors may play a significant role in the occurrence of acne in the case group since these subjects had a higher number of family members with acne. Another confounding variable is the study did not take into account other acne inducing factors, such as stress or menstruation, and there was most likely bias in the food frequency questionnaire. A limitation of the study that it may not be relevant in other countries, like America where the diet and overall health of the population is different than Malaysia’s diet and population health.

Study 2:

The purpose of the second study was to determine if the consumption of dairy foods contributed to acne among American teenage girls. The study was a prospective cohort study, and the participants were 6,094 teenage women who had completed at least two detailed food frequency questionnaires. The dairy food groups on the questionnaires included total milk, chocolate milk, instant breakfast drink, ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese, other (hard) cheese, frappe (milkshake), and butter. The type of milk (i.e. whole milk, 2 percent milk, skim/nonfat milk, etc.) was also included in the study. Statistical tests were used to analyze the data from the food frequency questionnaires, and factors such as age, weight, height, and use of oral contraceptives were controlled for during the analyses. The study’s results are the increased consumption of all milk varieties was associated with higher prevalence of acne. The limitations/ confounding variables in the study are biased answers in the food frequency questionnaire, biased reports of acne occurrence and acne severity since the participants self reported these answers to the researchers, and a lack of gender diversity in the sample population.

One plausible explanation for the results of both studies is milk increases serum levels of insulin and IGF I levels, which promote increases in sebaceous lipogenesis within sebaceous glands. Milk also contains a variety of steroids and androgen hormone precursors that could also increase human hormone levels, and irregular hormone levels is one step in the acne pathogenesis pathway.

Stay tuned for my last blog post in the series in order to know my final decision about the dairy and acne claim.


  1. Ismail, Noor, Zahara Manaf, and Noor Azizan. “High Glycemic Load Diet, Milk and Ice Cream Consumption Are Related to Acne Vulgaris in Malaysian Young Adults: A Case Control Study.” BMC Dermatology 12.13 (2012): n. pag. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
  1. Adebamowo, Clement, Donna Spiegelman, Catherine Berkey, F William Danby, Helaine Rockett, Graham Colditz, Walter Willett, and Michelle Holmes. “Dermatology Online Journal.” Dermatology Online Journal 1st ser. 12.4 (2006): n. pag. Milk Consumption and Acne in Adolescent Girls [eScholarship]. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
  1. Tomlin, Annie. “I Gave Up Dairy And All I Got Was The Best Skin Of My Life.” XOJane. Time Inc. Style Network, 31 Jan. 2014. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.