There are a lot of factors that can contribute to acne. It could be rooted in hormonal imbalances, the use of certain beauty & skincare products, stress, as well as food intolerances and dietary intake.

Acne is an invasive, unappealing, irritating, and let’s face it, just plain annoying skin condition. Acne, or acne vulgaris, is a condition that shows up as pimples or red bumps on the skin.

It often begins to develop during puberty (likely due to hormonal changes). For a lot of people it continues through the teenage years into adulthood.

But when it comes to acne, an often-overlooked culprit is dairy. Dairy has the potential to cause or exacerbate acne in certain individuals, which we will explore below.


An image of a woman with acne touching her chin

Even if you are buying organic dairy products with no added hormones, dairy products contain naturally occurring hormones. Remember that an animals milk was intended to support their own baby’s health, growth, and immunity, and that a cow’s nutritional needs are very different from a humans.

Interestingly, even if it’s organic, raw, or “hormone-free”, there are 60-some hormones in your average glass of milk.1

These hormones present in cow’s milk include prolactin, steroids including estrogens, progesterone, corticoids, and androgens, as well as IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1).2

The presence of these hormones in dairy products can disrupt your own hormonal balance, estrogen and testosterone in particular, which can potentially lead to acne.

In addition, the aforementioned hormone IGF-1 raises our levels of insulin, which causes blood sugar swings that can lead to acne.3

Excess Sebum Production

The growth hormone IGF-1 in dairy can cause an increase sebum (oil) production by the sebaceous glands in the skin. Excess sebum leads to clogged pores and an increased likelihood of developing acne.


Dairy products can cause inflammation in the body. In turn, this inflammation may act as a trigger for a number of issues, including an acne breakout.

Try Going Dairy Free

An image of two glasses of almond milk and a bowl of almonds

One way to tell if dairy products are causing or exacerbating acne is to eliminate it from your diet for at least 30 days. If you notice a change in your skin after eliminating dairy, then it’s a likely possibility that it was playing a role in causing or exacerbating acne.

If after the period of elimination you’re still not completely convinced that dairy is the culprit, begin reintroducing dairy products back into your diet one at a time to see if and how they affect you.

But have no fear! You don’t need to live the rest of your days without ever drinking milk or eating yogurt again. This is made possible with the wide array of dairy-free products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice-cream that are available in health food and grocery stores.

So if you are suffering from acne and suspect that dairy may be responsible, try eliminating it from your diet and see if it makes a difference.