Can Meat And Dairy Cause Acne?

If you suffer from acne, you’d know that there’s nothing more frustrating than not knowing what’s causing the spots on your face to multiply each morning. And, unfortunately, dermatologists might only go so far as to tell you that your genetics or hormones are at fault.

While conventional medicine has denied any connection between diet and acne, certain studies say otherwise. Within this debate, meat and dairy have been the most discussed foods. Recent research has looked into both these foods and found that the two might worsen acne in acne-prone individuals.

Dairy Might Increase Sebum Production

Dairy increases sebum production.

Most of us consume cheese, butter, yogurt, and milk on a regular basis. However, if you suffer from acne, this might not be a good idea.

Research links dairy consumption to an increase in the amount of acne. One such study divided 225 people with moderate acne into two groups. Both groups were given low-fat milk, but one group (the control group) was given a significantly smaller amount of it. At the end of the study, researchers found that the control group had very little acne on their face, as compared to the group that consumed more dairy.1

Further studies found that this effect is common in teenagers, irrespective of the fat content or the type of dairy product they consumed.2 Here are a few possible reasons why dairy triggers acne.

  • High-glycemic index: Dairy has a high glycemic index. Regular consumption of such foods is believed to elevate serum insulin concentrations which, in turn, might stimulate sebum production. And, too much of sebum causes us to break out.
  • Hormones: Hormones in milk, such as IGF-1, 5α-reduced steroids, and α-lactalbumin, might survive even after milk has been processed and negatively affect the glands that deposit sebum in our skin’s pores. Besides this, excessive IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) from milk has been associated with increased ovarian androgen production which could lead to acne in premenarchal girls and adult women.3
  • High iodine content: Farmers give their cows iodine-fortified feed to prevent infection and use sanitizing iodine solutions on their udders and milking equipment. This is why there’s a significant amount of iodine in milk in the U.S., Britain, Denmark, Norway, and Italy. Very high iodine can reduce the function of the thyroid gland and mess with your hormones, in turn causing acne.4

Hence, it might be a good idea to limit your dairy intake, especially if you have noticed that you tend to breakout post a midnight ice-cream session.

Meat Might Trigger Inflammation

Meat leads to inflammatory acne.

Several studies have already established that red and processed meat trigger inflammation. However, of late researchers have noticed that communities, like the Kitavan Islanders of Papua New Guinea and the Aché hunter-gatherers, that earlier ate very little red meat had little to no acne. When the same communities made the shift to urban spaces and ate more meat, they developed acne.5

Recent studies state that, like milk, excessive meat consumption increases the intake of amino acids like BCAAs from it. This leads to an increase in the level of  IGF-1 hormone in the body which, like milk, leads to acne.6 Besides being inflammatory and affecting hormones, there aren’t any other studies that identify the specific factors that cause acne breakouts due to meat consumption. However, it wouldn’t hurt to try adopting a diet that might relieve breakouts.

A Low-Glycemic, Anti-Inflammatory Diet Promotes Clear Skin

A healthy diet clears up skin.

Apart from reducing the consumption of dairy and meat, modifying your diet to include less inflammatory foods might help you manage acne.7 Here are a few options that combat inflammation

  • Tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, kale, and collards)
  • Nuts (like almonds and walnuts)
  • Fatty fish (like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines)
  • Fruits (such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges)

Besides these, be sure to avoid processed food and refined grains.8 Another factor that could contribute to better skin is consuming low-glycemic foods. So, be sure to have whole grains (like brown rice and whole wheat bread), nuts, green vegetables, and seafood while cutting out sugary foods, red meat, and processed grains.

Additionally, be sure to have probiotics like kefir water, kombucha, kimchi, or pickles since a few studies link them to fewer breakouts. 9 All of these things combined will help you sort out any diet-related acne issues that you might have.10

It’s important to note that for some, diet has nothing to do with breakouts and hence changing it might not necessarily give you any benefits. However, it doesn’t hurt to stay healthy regardless. If you are concerned about the severity of your acne, do consult a dermatologist at the earliest.