We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.

Greatist only shows you brands and products that we stand behind.

Our team thoroughly researches and evaluates the recommendations we make on our site. To establish that the product manufacturers addressed safety and efficacy standards, we:
  • Evaluate ingredients and composition: Do they have the potential to cause harm?
  • Fact-check all health claims: Do they align with the current body of scientific evidence?
  • Assess the brand: Does it operate with integrity and adhere to industry best practices?
We do the research so you can find trusted products for your health and wellness.
Was this helpful?

Acne is no fun, and when you have no idea why it’s happening, it can be extra frustrating. If you’re one of the 50 million people dealing with breakouts non grata, you might be wondering if the pimples on your face could have anything to do with the dairy in your diet.

Et tu, Yoplait?

Does dairy cause acne?

According to a review of studies, dairy is a likely culprit to the development or worsening of acne. Though the reasons are still debated, data points more and more to eliminating dairy from your diet as part of successful acne treatment.

Was this helpful?
dairy and acneShare on Pinterest
Danil Nevsky / Stocksy

While there’s no guarantee dairy is causing your breakouts, researchers have many theories about why dairy might be linked to acne.

Natural hormones can be an issue

As much as you might love a good gouda, making cheese is not actually what Daisy’s milk is designed for. The milk of a dairy cow is filled with enough growth hormones, protein, and fat to triple the weight of an 85-pound newborn calf in a year.

A 2011 study showed that acne is largely caused by hormonal imbalances and fluctuations in the body. When you consume the dairy of an animal 13 times bigger than you, the natural proteins and hormones in the milk might throw your hormones out of whack and trigger, or worsen, acne.

Artificial hormones don’t help the cause

If the natural hormones in milk weren’t enough to confuse your body, dairy cows are usually treated with artificial bovine growth hormones to increase their milk supply.

These hormones go from the cows’ bodies to their milk, and upon your consumption of dairy, into your body. The hormones can irritate and interact with your natural hormones, which may cause acne.

Lactose intolerance is real

A 2011 study showed that milk is technically (and biologically) meant for infants to nurture them as they grow until they can eat properly. Lactose is the name for the sugar found in milk, and when you drink it as an adult, it can cause some real issues.

Humans are the only species that consume milk after infancy, and when you get older, your body has a much harder time digesting and breaking down the lactose. In fact, 65 percent of the human population is lactose intolerant, and if you’re one of them, your lactose intolerance can present itself as acne.

If you think dairy may be the cause of your skin’s woes, consider eliminating it from your diet and monitoring how your skin responds. If your acne starts clearing up, you may want to make a long-term change.

If dairy is, in fact, the culprit, the good news is you’re currently living in the land of milk (alternatives) and honey! There are so many substitutes for milk, butter, and cheese, and you may be surprised how good they taste!

But keep in mind that just because something is plant-based or vegan doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s healthy.

Always check your food labels, and avoid anything with added sugar or starch, preservatives, carrageenan or other thickeners, added flavoring, and an overall lack of nutrients, protein, and minerals.

Milk alternatives

Plant-based milks can be highly nutritious, and, like dairy milks, come fortified with extra vitamin D and calcium. They include:

Butter alternatives

Whether you’re looking for a baking substitute or something new to spread on your toast, there are plenty of dairy-free options:

Cheese alternatives

There are lots of substitutes for your favorite cheeses that are all plant-based, including:

There are even pizza, ice cream, and yogurt alternatives!

The bottom line is options are out there.

If you’ve eliminated dairy from your diet and you’re not seeing the results you’d like, there are other factors to investigate.

There are three prominent causes of acne:

  • Hormones. Hormonal fluctuation is a major contributing factor to acne. Puberty, pregnancy and various stages of your menstrual cycle can all trigger pimples and acne. Hormonal medications like birth control can also cause flare-ups, but they may also help treat them.
  • Stress. Though stress itself doesn’t cause acne, a 2003 research review suggested that stress-induced hormones ramp up oil production and inflammation in your skin. There are many ways to help alleviate stress, including exercising, meditating, and getting enough sleep.
  • Genetics. If you have a family history of acne, genes may be the culprit.

Along with these common causes, you may have sensitivities to other types of food, or need to give your makeup brushes or cell phone an extra good clean. Hair and skin products can also cause your skin to break out.

No matter the cause, if you’re dealing with acne, talk to a dermatologist about establishing a skin care routine that can help clear those breakouts up.

You can start by washing your face with a gentle face wash twice a day (no harsh exfoliants). After sweating, opt for cosmetic products that specify they don’t clog pores. Keep your makeup brushes and anything else that touches your face clean. Try not to pop your pimples.

Enough research has linked dairy to acne that it’s worth trying a break and seeing how your skin reacts. Breaking up is hard to do, but if subbing in some plant-based goodness to your diet is your key to clearer skin, it just might be worth it.