Is Dairy Bad for Your Skin?
Dairy products including cow’s milk, cheese, yogurt and products made using sheep or goats milk are common, everyday food items. But they can also be the cause of common food allergies or intolerances, particularly in children.
Some are lucky enough to "grow out of it", but some are affected by it throughout their entire adult life. As well as causing allergy symptoms and stomach upsets, they can cause skin problems too, prompting many people to ask, is dairy bad for your skin?
The common answer, is yes, but we don't always realise it and we continue to consume milk and other dairy products without knowing the true effect on our skin.
So in this article, we're going to take a look at milk and dairy and how they may lead to acne and what alternatives are available.
Dairy Products, Allergies and Skin Problems
For what seems like forever, we've been told that milk and dairy products play an important role in keeping our teeth and bones strong because foods such as milk and cheese contain the important bone mineral, calcium.
However, as we'll discover shortly, in fact, dairy consumption is actually linked to higher rates of bone fractures.
Plus, lactose intolerance (an intolerance to lactose, the sugar naturally found in dairy milk) is also an increasing problem. It can result in symptoms including headaches, bloating, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting.
Worse than this, a milk allergy, that is, a potentially severe allergic reaction to milk, including anaphylaxis, especially in young children, is also a very real problem for many.
So, here's a 10 second science bit. When you have an allergic reaction to dairy, your body produces histamine, which is a chemical responsible for allergy symptoms. According to Live Strong "histamine levels in your skin lead to inflammation and irritation which can cause your skin to become unstable and break out with a general or a specific rash".
Dairy and skin problems therefore co-exist - a dairy allergy has a direct impact on your skin, whether it's causing a new rash, or flaring up an existing condition such as eczema. This is particularly true for consumption of processed foods containing milk, and for cow's milk (more so than for goat or sheep milk).
Even if we don't have an allergy or intolerance to dairy, the impact on the skin can still be detrimental and cause angry skin and worsen acne and aggravate skin issues like eczema.
So, given the link between skin health, diet and acne, should we consider a life without dairy? Is that as simple as it sounds?
Risks to Consider when Avoiding Dairy
Does dairy affect skin? Most definitely yes, if you have an intolerance or allergy. Lots of eczema sufferers find that cutting out dairy products from their diet helps to clear up their skin and relieve their symptoms. However, going on a strict dairy-free diet can also have its consequences. Your body would react well initially, however it may also develop an increased dairy sensitivity to the point that any trace of dairy could lead to a severe flare-up.
When considering whether cutting out dairy is good for your skin, there’s one other thing to consider…
You May Become Deficient in Certain Nutrients
Dairy products are a rich source of certain nutrients, so if you avoid eating dairy for your skin, you should take care to replace these nutrients. On the whole, a healthy, balanced diet should provide you with all that you need, and there’s no reason why a dairy free diet will make you struggle to get enough calcium or protein.
Calcium is abundant in dairy products, but nuts, seeds, tofu and fish with edible bones such as sardines and mackerel are all rich sources of calcium. Non dairy milk alternatives such as almond and oat milk are also good sources - check for calcium enriched versions.
Dairy is also a good source of protein, but again, we can get enough protein from elsewhere. If you eat meat, opt for lean cuts and chicken breast, white and oily fish. We advocate for the alkaline diet which limits animal protein - aim to get the majority of your protein from plants. Beans, chickpeas, peas, lentils, quinoa, nuts and seeds are all great protein sources.
If you do decide to completely cut out dairy from your diet, we suggest that you consult a nutritionist who can help you on this journey.
You may also be able to gradually introduce dairy products back into your diet after completely eliminating them for a month or so. Add in one at a time, a little bit at a time and you will be able to monitor the response of your skin by introducing products slowly, and waiting a few days in between so you can gauge any reactions. However, we recommend avoiding all cow's dairy and switching to goat or eventually sheep dairy if cutting out dairy completely doesn't work for you.
Now, let's take a closer look at the reasons why dairy is linked to skin problems.
How Dairy Can Affect Skin Health
Happy, healthy skin is something many of us strive for. If you have a skin condition such as acne, or unhealthy skin that likes to act up, it's well worth looking closely at the link between diet and skin, as consuming dairy could well be the root cause.
Dairy is Acid Forming
We mentioned above, the link between dairy, acid and bone fractures. So here's more.
When we consume animal products such as meat and dairy, our body produces acid, hence why they're known as acid forming foods. Calcium, an important mineral for the health and strength of our bones and teeth, as well as for muscle function, is an effective acid neutraliser.
Therefore, when we consume dairy, calcium from the dairy product and crucially, the calcium that is stored in our bones, is used to neutralise the resulting acid, taking it away from its important job of keeping the bones strong.
So this relatively new science appears to go against the advice that we've heard for years, that drinking milk is the best way to look after out bones. In fact, studies show that those who consume the highest amount of dairy products actually also experience higher rates of bone fractures.
The Hormones and Antibiotics in Dairy That Are Bad for Your Skin
Dairy milk naturally contains animal hormones, including the two female sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone. Studies suggest a possible link between consuming cow hormones and human cancers of the breast, womb and prostate.
Oestrogen is a fat soluble hormone and is therefore found in higher concentrations in full fat dairy milk than semi skimmed or skimmed. In some countries, dairy herds are also fed artificial growth hormones that can be present in their milk. The use of growth hormones in dairy herds is banned in the UK.
Either way, female cows produce hormones in order to produce milk. They're sometimes given artificial hormones to increase milk production. Therefore, milk and dairy products contain these hormones when we consume them. Our body then needs to deal with these hormones in milk and milk products and this is related to acne breakouts.
Also, these hormones can lead to an increase in sebum production. Sebum is naturally produced by our skin and helps to prevent the skin from becoming dry and itchy. However, too much, and the skin becomes oily. Oily skin is associated with acne and severe acne prone skin, which is another reason dairy and acne are so closely related.
Therefore, it's well known in beauty circles that dairy is widely regarded as having an impact on our skin. And often, dermatologists agree. Skin experts will often look at our diet, and suggest that people with acne prone skin avoid even small amounts of milk, to measure the impact on their skin.
In addition to hormones, dairy milk often contains traces of antibiotics, used to treat a common infection of the udders of dairy cows, called mastitis. Like hormones, these antibiotics are present in milk and dairy products, and when it comes to skin, could be just as problematic.
Dairy is High in Saturated Fat
Another skin related problem with dairy is it's high fat content. Full-fat dairy products, especially cheese, contain high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol.
Regularly consuming milk and dairy products can therefore lead to weight gain, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease. Adding to the problem is the high level of sodium, or salt, also found in cheese.
Although not a direct issue for maintaining clear skin, a high fat diet is associated with inflammation, that can impact our skin.
Dairy Products Can Cause Acne Breakouts
So we can see from this discussion, that due to hormones, antibiotics, saturated fat and the issue of calcium leaching, milk and dairy foods may not be doing us many favours.
Because of their link with inflammation, they're also linked to acne so if you have acne prone or oily skin, you'd do well to avoid them.
Dairy Alternatives That Are Better for Your Skin
"Dairy products are good for strong bones and healthy skin." We hear it a lot, don't we. But in reality and as we've seen here, they leach calcium from the bones and contribute to acne and unhealthy skin. So avoiding these particular foods is a good idea for your skin!
If you decide that you’d like to stay off dairy products on a full time basis, the great news is that recently there's been a huge increase in the availability of dairy free recipes, options and substitutes that you can enjoy.
Shops, supermarkets, high street restaurant chains and independents are now brimming with dairy alternatives. You’ll find everything from dairy free milk, yoghurt, cheese and ice cream to pizzas, sandwiches and frothy cappuccinos! And to us, there's nothing like a splash of oat milk in your coffee.
There’s absolutely no reason why avoiding dairy to look after your skin will mean that you’re missing out on nutrients or any of the fun of an ice cream with friends or a pizza date.
And while you’re looking after your skin from the inside, look after it on the outside too, with our range of alkalising skincare products designed to look after the needs of skin just like yours!
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.