By now, you’ve probably heard a friend (or even a celebrity) claim their skin cleared up after they went vegan, or maybe you’ve read one of the countless online articles stating that dairy causes acne.
So we decided to get to the bottom of the matter, and were lucky enough to sit down with Dr. Gene Rubinstein, a board-certified dermatologist, to discuss the connection between dairy foods and acne:
1. So how does diet, especially dairy, relate to acne?
For the most part, diet has historically not been stressed by dermatologists as being important for acne. In the past decade, there has been increasing evidence that along with genetics and hormones, certain foods can worsen acne.
There have been several observational studies on milk consumption and acne, and a link between increased milk consumption and acne was seen. Interestingly, the strongest association was with skim milk. The authors of the studies have different theories on the reasons for milk causing increased acne. One theory is that the majority of milk consumed in the United States comes from pregnant cows, and that the pregnancy hormones cause increased oil production leading to acne.
However, skim milk, which is more strongly associated with acne, theoretically has less hormone in it, since hormones are fat soluble and are expected to be found in greater amounts in milk with higher fat. Another theory is that milk itself elicits an increase in insulin, like the high glycemic foods, leading to oil production and acne. It turns out that skim milk is often sweetened to make it more palatable, and the increased sugar can make skim milk more likely to cause acne.
2. What has been your experience when patients get off dairy? Is there immediate improvement?
The reasons for acne are multifactorial, and I perform a careful history on all acne patients. Their diet is something I discuss during the first visit. I find that many teenage patients report consuming lots of milk and dairy. Although studies were done on milk and not other dairy products, I assume dairy products other than milk may be involved in acne, and recommend that patients cut their consumption.
Many patients report improvement of their acne within several weeks. It is important to note that I also give my patients appropriate medications and treatments, both oral and topical, in addition to recommending dietary changes, like decreasing consumption of dairy products and high glycemic index foods.
3. Lots of vegans claim their skin "glowed" after they ditched animal products. Is there any truth in this?
No studies have been done on this, of course, but anecdotally I have many vegan patients whose skin seems to glow, and look particularly healthy. I went vegan about a year ago myself, partially because of the impressive skin effects, and my patients have remarked that my skin looks a lot better.
Gene Rubinstein, MD, FAAD
Board Certified Dermatologist
Clinical Instructor, UCLA
Director, Dermatology and Laser Centre of Studio City
3959 Laurel Canyon Blvd.
Studio City, CA
Inspired? Click here for 7 people who changed their life with a vegan diet.