cookie splashed with milk Source: Lumix   These days, everyone knows that certain nutrients are essential to make specific body parts work better. We need calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones. Our hearts function better when we eat omega-3-rich foods, such as oily fish. And for healthy skin we should eat….what? Well, that’s a good question. If you’re confused about which foods are good for your skin and which ones are harmful, you’re not alone. Still, it’s widely acknowledged that a healthy diet, in general, does wonders for radiant skin. A nutritious diet that keeps you healthy on the inside is bound to keep your outward appearance looking good. Yet, amid all the dietary advice, there are certain claims about the benefits that a dairy-free diet can have on your complexion. This article probes the validity of these claims, so as to assess the effects of dairy on skin.

Is dairy bad for your skin? Source: Lumix   While drinking milk has evident health benefits—from helping you reach your daily intake of calcium to replenishing your body after a workout—there’s more to dairy’s impact than you might think. Dr. Firas Al-Niaimi, consultant dermatologist at Sk:n, told the Huffington Post UK: ‘It is generally largely known that in a subset of patients, a dairy-free diet certainly improves their skin and in particular skin's appearance’. However, the jury is out within the scientific, nutritionist and dermatologist communities, with Walter Faulstroh, the co-founder of Hum Nutrition, saying ‘The issue is more complex than saying it is good or bad.’ So, how bad is dairy for your skin? The answer is: no one knows. We can merely go on anecdotal information and testimonies, because the science isn’t there yet. The reason for the lack of concrete evidence on dairy’s adverse effect on the skin is that we aren’t sure exactly what is ‘bad’ about it. Is it the dairy itself, or is it the hormones? Or is it the way it is processed? Indeed, studies have shown that it’s not always the dairy causing problems, but how it reacts with our unique chemistries. Nonetheless, some dermatologists—like Jeannette Graf, MD—maintain that there is a link between acne and dairy consumption.  

Bovine Growth Hormones and Acne

2 cows in a sunbreak field Source: Matthias Zomer   One explanation for acne breakouts linked to dairy consumption are the hormones found in cow’s milk. After all, the milk we drink comes directly from perpetually impregnated cows, who produce a hormone known as bovine growth hormone (designed to help calfs develop into adult cows/bulls). Ingesting this hormone may, as some specialists conclude, lead to increased likelihood of acne. Other experts tentatively suggest that the hormones and growth factors found in cow’s milk trigger acne flare ups in milk drinkers, but add that more research needs to be done. On the contrary, some members of the nutritionist community, such as Morten Elsoe—self-styled refuter of ‘pseudoscientific health BS’, stress that bovine growth hormone has no biological activity in humans. If all of this is making you feel exasperated, you’re not the only one! The truth is, as we mentioned earlier, the bulk of the information available relies either on anecdotal accounts or studies with limited samples. So, for now at least, it is unclear whether dairy is (or isn’t) bad for your skin. We can, however, look into the effects of a dairy-free diet on the skin.  

What is a dairy-free diet and how does it boost skin health?

close up of cookie being dipped in milk Source: Lumix   NB: We don’t recommend dramatically altering your diet at any point; if you do want to go dairy-free, gradually wean yourself off it, as rapid changes in your diet can lead to complications. Now, as we have established, there are several scientific studies that link cow’s milk to increased prevalence of skin issues like acne. Nevertheless, the benefits of a dairy-free diet have been called into question by experts who believe milk alternatives do more harm than good.  

What is a dairy-free diet?

A dairy-free diet is just that: cutting out all dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt. Dairy can also be found in hidden sources such as:
  • Whey
  • Ghee
  • Casein
  • Lactose
  • Lactulose
  As always, product ingredients can change without notice, so check the label every time you purchase a product.  

Why go dairy-free?

People adopt a dairy-free diet for a number of reasons, including lactose intolerance, veganism and weight loss, but more recently it has become associated with helping to clear up skin. Lactose intolerance is when the body lacks the enzyme lactase, which digests the milk in sugar, called lactose. The inability to digest lactose leads to the gut filling up with water, and can lead to nasty symptoms such as bloating and diarrhoea.  

Can a dairy-free diet improve your skin?

Dr. Daniel Glass, consultant dermatologist, says that acne is ‘associated with the western diet—defined as high intake of milk, high glycemic load and high calorie intake. ‘This type of diet appears to influence your cell signalling, which increases levels of insulin/insulin growth factor 1 in your blood. This, together with other cell signalling molecules, can eventually lead to aggravation of acne.’ Dr. Glass adds that in western society, ‘almost all adolescents get some degree of acne’. But in certain non-westernised populations, ‘no acne is seen at all’. Taking this information into account, it seems a dairy-free diet is a promising way to achieve clearer skin. But it is worth noting that, in some cases, it may cause problems.  

The issues with going dairy-free

almonds being splashed with milk Source: LisaRedfern   Dairy-free alternatives, such as almond or coconut milk often contain lots of sugar to make them taste more like cow’s milk; this sugar may also lead to skin problems. Sugar can cause insulin levels to rise, which can lead to inflammation throughout the body. According to Dr. Nicholas Perricone, a dermatologist and nutritionist, this inflammation can then lead to the production of enzymes that break down collagen and elastin which causes sagging skin and wrinkles.  

Tips for going dairy-free

There are simple measures you can take to reduce sugar intake, while continuing a healthy, dairy-free diet:
  • Go for unsweetened versions of dairy-free milk, such as soya milk
  • Try making your own milk substitute at home. For example, make almond milk with one cup of almonds, three to four cups of water, three Medjool dates and vanilla bean seeds
  • Top your intake of calcium by eating nuts, seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, soya, lentils, beans and tofu
  • Choose products which are fortified with vitamins and minerals such as calcium and B vitamins
But ultimately, the best way to achieve clearer skin is to ‘eat well, exercise and get plenty of fluids’, says nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed. ‘It’s recommended that we have around 6-8 glasses of fluid a day. Try and choose water whenever possible as your main source of fluid, as it contains no calories and no sugar.’ We hope this post has given you a better idea on how to keep clear skin, in relation to dairy consumption, and given you some ideas about how you might go dairy-free in the future.   Don’t forget: natural skin care products that are kind to your skin are the best way to achieve a radiant complexion, so stay up to date with Bioeffect and our latest releases to keep your skin youthful, nourished and beautiful.