“Aside from ‘McDonald’s acne,’ which is common with people who operate fryers, it’s not the fat in fast food that seems to cause breakouts; it’s the processed carbs,” says Omaha dermatologist Dr. Joel Schlessinger. “Pizza, burgers, chocolate and all the other old-wives tale culprits do seem to have a negative effect on skin – and science is finally catching up.”
A 2005 article in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology examined the diets of 47,355 women and found a strong connection between milk and milk product (like cream cheese, sherbet, instant breakfast drinks and cottage cheese) intake and breakouts. Another study, of 4,273 teenaged boys also found an association between milk and acne flare-ups.
So what’s the link? “Much of the milk that we drink is produced by pregnant cows and contains high levels of hormones that can send oil glands into overdrive,” explains Schlessinger. Progesterone, insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) as well as compounds that the human body turns into dehydrotestosterone (DHT) are passed on to the milk, which can aggravate acne. Unfortunately, you don’t get a pass for buying organic milk from cows that haven’t been treated with Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH). “The hormones are just as bad,” he insists. If dairy triggers your breakouts, “You simply have to avoid milk.” Schlessinger advises his patients switch to almond milk, and cut down on cheese and other dairy products.
Researchers aren’t sure why, but skim milk seems to be more inflammatory, and they have a couple of theories why. Whole and partial fat milk have higher levels of estrogen, which can reduce acne, and may offset the other hormones. Or, the way skim milk is processed could make the hormones more available so that they have a stronger effect. At this point, milk does seem to aggravate acne, but the reason is still unclear.