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Dairy Alternatives for Sensitive Skin

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Veganism and considering the planet aside, there are other reasons for deciding to go dairy free, and one of them is our skin.

For some of us, what we eat, or what we choose not to eat, has a profound effect on our skin. Not least an allergy or intolerance to dairy, which can cause our skin to misbehave, break out and become irritated.

So, if you have an allergy or intolerance to dairy, you might be feeling stuck on what to use instead of milk, cheese and other common products.

In this article:

Milk
Bread
Butter
Cheese
Yogurt
Cream
Protein powder
Ice cream
Chocolate
’Sneaky’ Dairy

I’ve lived on a plant based diet for over four years now (how do you know someone is vegan? Yep, they’ll tell you…) so I’m pretty well rehearsed on seeking out dairy alternatives. Here’s my take on the wide array of choices you have if you’re deciding to ditch the dairy to help support your skin.

It’s a long one this week, so pop the kettle on, get your dairy free milk out, sit back and enjoy...

Milk 

Milk alternatives are perhaps the most common dairy free products on the market, and were (probably) the first. In days gone by, soya milk was the only option, but nowadays, there’s so many different nut and seed milks that there’s one to suit all tastes. (That’s why this section is so much longer than the rest!)

Here’s just some of the milk alternatives that are on offer…

  • Oat - my dairy free milk of choice as it doesn’t split in hot drinks, makes great smoothies and is a fantastic all rounder (and tastes creamy but not sweet). Plus, oats have the least impact on the environment and are generally grown in Europe rather than in sunnier climes, further afield. I’ve even found one that’s grown and produced in the UK, see below. Look out for versions that use oats grown without the use of the harmful pesticide, glyphosate. 
  • Pea - yep, pea milk, and it’s not green in colour! Peas (or yellow split peas, to be precise) are rich in protein so are great in protein smoothies for pre or post workouts. It also tastes uncannily like cow’s milk - great if you love that taste, not so great if you don’t. 
  • Hemp - a relative new kid on the block, hemp is free from THC, the chemical present in cannabis that’s responsible for its ‘high’ and psychoactive effects. Hemp milk is also great, sustainability wise. It has a nutty taste, not too sweet but can be fairly thin and watery. 
  • Rice - I find rice milk to be too watery and sweet to be of much use in hot drinks, smoothies, baking or on cereal. But if you like your tea or coffee sweetened, this could be a way of adding a touch of sweetness, without adding actual sugar. 
  • Soya - the bog standard dairy free milk usually offered at hotel breakfasts as a dairy alternative, soya milk is quite divisive. I personally don’t like the taste as it’s quite sweet, however, it is rich in protein. Some people prefer to avoid soya products as soya contains phytoestrogens, or plant oestrogens that can mimic our own (oestrogens are female hormones). These can cause a hormone imbalance, which can lead to a worsening of acne. Not great if you’re avoiding dairy for skin reasons! That said, if you only use a splash or two a day in hot drinks, then it’s unlikely to make too much of a difference. 
  • Coconut - rich, indulgent and creamy, coconut milk is tasty, but calorific! Perhaps best saved for treats and baking if you’re trying to avoid too much fat or a high calorie diet. It also comes with a hefty side of carbon footprint since coconuts can only be grown in tropical climates and transported to us in the UK. 
  • Almond - almond milk has recently lost it’s trendy dairy free milk crown since they use so much water to grow, generally in California where water shortages are a real problem. However, almond milk is a good all rounder for cereals and baking, although I find it splits in hot drinks. It’s rich and creamy, with a slightly sweet taste.

There are also lots of other dairy free milks such as hazelnut, cashew, tiger nut and even quinoa milks that are on the up. The fun is in the experimenting so get trialling! There are so many brands, too many to mention, so give them all a follow on social media and see which ones look like they align with your wants and needs.

I’m really not an oat milk ambassador, I promise. But if you’re looking for the best all rounder, that doesn't split, works in everything, isn’t sweetened (although some are), tastes good and has a low environmental impact, then oat milk should be your go to. 

Barista style dairy free milks

You’ll probably notice some “barista style” milks on the supermarket shelves. These are milks (usually oat, although I have seen pea) that have been developed to beeven better in tea and coffee.

The problem, as I mentioned above, with dairy free milks is that they often split, or curdle, when mixed with hot water and acidity from coffee. This results in a hot drink looking like it’s had either scrambled egg or cottage cheese added to it. Yep, gross.

But barista style milks are different. They generally contain an added fat (in small quantities) to allow the milk to ‘stretch’ like the fats do in dairy milk, and form a satisfying foam, rather than grouping together in gross clumps. This fat is usually an oil, such as sunflower oil. 

How good are dairy free milks in tea and coffee? 

Thanks to the newer barista style dairy free milks, tea and coffee resembling cottage cheese are a thing of the past. So if your previous experience of dairy free milks in hot drinks is pretty poor, then try again! I use Glebe Farm (the UK one I mentioned) and I can confirm that barista oat milk is perfect in my perfectly dripped morning coffee.

I’d never ‘trick’ anyone into drinking dairy free milk, because I don’t think it’s right to knowingly get someone to consume something they’re not aware of. Not least because of nut allergies.

But if someone does come to my house (which in current pandemic restrictions, basically means no one or the guy who sorted my overflowing guttering) I’ll always offer a cuppa. Then I admit that I don’t have ‘normal’ milk (almost apologetically).

Possibly because they’ve already committed to me putting the kettle on for them, they always say that’s ok. And they drink it! 100% of the time, they've said it didn’t taste any different. So unless they’ve actually chucked it in a flower pot, that means that in my everso scientific experiments, 100% of people like oat milk in their tea/coffee.*

*This probably won’t appear in the Lancet anytime soon.

OK, so enough about milk, here’s a run down of the other items you might want to consider in your quest for going dairy free. 

Bread 

Unbelievably, some breads contain milk powders, in particular some cheaper breads used to make shop bought sandwiches. So always check the label if you’re trying to avoid all dairy. Also, some fresh breads found in bakeries may be brushed with butter to make them crispier, so be sure to ask your baker.

As a side note, if wheat and gluten causes your skin to react or you have an allergy or intolerance to gluten, then Genius Breadis perfect for you! Free from gluten, this range is chewy, tasty and perfect for sandwiches and toast. The range is also free from milk.

Butter 

Until very recently, the only dairy free alternatives to butter were dairy free spreads. If you’re like me, you won’t like the taste of these as margarine to me tastes plasticy. But now, all hail Naturli!

The Naturli Block tastes so much like ‘proper’ butter that it can make you wonder if you’re being hoodwinked. But we’re not, I promise. It’s delicious, and most definitely free from dairy.

Alternatively, plump for sunflower or olive oil spreads that are labelled as dairy free. Just watch out for whey (which is a type of protein found in milk and milk products) in some olive oil spreads. If in doubt, go for Vitalite.

Cheese

For years now, I’ve been writing about my dislike of vegan cheese. Pre veganism for me, I LOVED cheese. So trying to find a dairy free alternative that tasted good was a real mission, and one that I’m still on.

Vegan cheese, unlike many plant based meat alternatives, simply doesn’t taste right. So it really is a case of trial and error until you find one that you like. Most, if not all, supermarkets now offer their own brand dairy free cheeses and there are lots of independents also doing the same.

Stand out dairy free cheese brands for me include Applewoodfor melting on toast or over a jacket potato and Violife for sandwiches and spreads. One that I’m really impressed with is Nush. Their almond milk and chive ‘cheese’ spread is great on oatcakes. 

Yogurt

As far as yogurts go, dairy free versions are pretty good. Most are based on soya milk, so if you choose to avoid soya products, then these are best left on the supermarket shelves. Watch out too, for yogurts with excessive amounts of sugar in them.

Again, Nush wins hands for me in this category as their Raspberry Yog is divine and a staple in my fridge! Made with almond milk, vegan cultures and no added sugars, it ticks all the boxes for flavour and health. 

Cream

Dairy free creams, custards and even crème fraîche are now also becoming mainstream (yay, dessert time!). Trendy Swedish brand, Oatly, are leading the pack with their oat based dairy free cream alternatives.

(I must point out a recent controversy with Oatly though, over their decision to sell part of the company to a US investment company linked with various nasties. You can read both sides of the story here andhere.) 

Protein powder

Many protein powders are made using whey, which as we discovered above, is a main constituent of milk (remember Little Miss Muffet with her curds and whey?). However, there are a huge array of protein powders that are dairy free alternatives.

Look for powders made with hemp and pea for the highest amount of protein per scoop. Vega is a great brand and contains no dairy or nasty fillers. Pulsin Pea Protein is also one of my faves. 

Ice cream

I’m not really an ice cream fan, but I’m told there are many new dairy free ice cream brands about now. Check out Booja Booja,Swedish Glace and the Coconut Collaborative. I’ve also spotted that big brands such as Magnum, Cornetto and Ben and Jerrys are also now in on the act with vegan versions of their classics. 

Chocolate

Aahhh chocolate! Nothing else quite satisfies like chocolate when all you want is chocolate. Dairy free versions are, in my opinion, a bit hit and miss and sometimes don’t itch that scratch of wanting chocolate. (A bit like when, as a Brit, you try American chocolate, and it tastes weird.)

I urge you to try the Vego range of bars and chocolate spread because they’re quite honestly divine. For true not to be shared (definitely hide the box from partners, housemates and kids) indulgence though, try Booja Booja truffles. Trust me, they’re a game changer, albeit a pricey one.

Dairy free chocolates tend to also have the added bonus of being Fairtrade and ethically produced. So check out Seed and Bean,Divine and Montezuma’s.

Galaxy Vegan is also a worthy food cupboard staple (that you can share) and it’s also worth remembering that most dark chocolate is naturally dairy free. 

‘Sneaky’ dairy

Finally, a word on the foods that sometimes contain an unexpected dollop of butter, milk powder or whey, where you really wouldn’t expect them. These foods contain what we call 

‘sneaky dairy’ and include crisps (including some Doritos), meat products including hot dogs and pepperoni, soups, dressings and sauces.

Always read the label to be sure. Plus, look out for labels that say a product is suitable for vegans, as this will guarantee that a product is free from dairy.

We also have a meal plan filled with recipes that are completely dairy free that can help you plan and prepare skin friendly meals. Enjoy!

References

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46654042

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/28/what-plant-milk-should-i-drink-almond-killing-bees-aoe

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/best-milk-substitutes

https://www.forbes.com/sites/joanneshurvell/2020/02/26/six-of-the-best-barista-style-milk-alternatives-for-2020/

https://www.thespruceeats.com/foods-that-contain-hidden-dairy-products-1000953

https://www.ecoandbeyond.co/articles/best-vegan-cheese/

https://www.theguardian.com/food/2020/sep/01/oatly-vegan-milk-sale-blackstone

https://www.oatly.com/uk/climate-and-capital


Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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