Can giving up dairy clear hormonal breakouts? That's the question I typed into Google's search bar after months spent on spot treatments, acne-fighting cleansers, and masks that didn't work. I was at the point where I was so desperate for blemish-free skin that I was willing to do anything, including completely overhauling my diet.
There's reason to believe that a diary-free diet can transform your skin. Although it's a hotly debated topic among dermatologists, some studies show evidence of a connection between skim milk and acne. "Since milk can increase the blood sugar level, it's thought that this mechanism stimulates hormones, which leads to the increase of male hormone production, which directly causes more oil," explains New York-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Arielle R. Nagler.
Dr. Nagler recommends first lowing the glycemic index of your diet by cutting out processed carbs (white bread, sugary cereals) and instead eating unprocessed ones because there's more evidence tying processed carbs to acne. But if you want to take things one step further by eliminating dairy too, she suggests removing skim-milk products first.
While I've never thought of myself as a dairy addict, I do consider myself as a goat cheese connoisseur, so I knew that breaking up with cheese was going to be tough. But if it would clear my skin, it would be worth it.
In the pursuit of acne-free skin, I gave up dairy for three whole months last summer. Here's what I learned.
YOUR SKIN WON'T CHANGE OVERNIGHT
Much like any topical or oral acne treatment, it'll take time before cutting out dairy makes any difference when it comes to your skin. Dr. Nagler says that it can be six to eight weeks before you see any changes.
I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't expecting to see a change in my skin a few days after I adopted my new diet. I was disappointed when I still had the same number of cystic zits at the end of my first week of being dairy-free. Still, I kept with it in the hopes that eventually my breakouts would become less severe.
While my skin never completely cleared (I eventually ended up going on Spironolactone to control my hormonal acne because my oil glands were too sensitive to the amount of male hormones my body was producing), I did notice that, about a month and a half into my new dairy-free lifestyle, my cystic blemishes started to become less inflamed and deep. I was able to switch from using a full-coverage foundation to a concealer to cover up my blemishes.
GOING DAIRY-FREE CAN BENEFIT SKIN BEYOND ACNE
Aside from my cystic acne becoming a less severe, I also noticed that, toward the end of my dairy-free summer, my skin was less dull and oily then it was when I was regularly eating fat-free yogurt for breakfast. When I asked Dr. Nagler if going dairy-free can benefit your skin beyond minimizing acne, she said it is possible, but there's no direct evidence. Since oil production can affect the overall appearance of skin, including how much you break out, dairy is being studied for its connection to acne.
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CUTTING OUT DAIRY CAN BE EXPENSIVE
Switching to almond milk with my coffee and buying coconut-milk yogurt instead of regular Greek yogurt really added up. Not only at Whole Foods, but when I was out, too. I quickly learned that even though so many people have different diet restrictions in 2018, most cafes still charge almost a dollar extra for non-dairy milk. It doesn't sound a lot, but considering how often I need an afternoon caffeine fix during the work week, I was definitely spending more money on food every month than I used to.
A DAIRY-FREE DIET WAS HARDER THAN I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE
Considering my diet was never really dairy-heavy, I didn't think cutting it out would be that hard. I quickly found out I was wrong. During the week, I have a lot of after-hours work events and get home late. Instead of ordering Seamless, I often quickly make an egg and grains or gluten-free avocado toast to save money. In the mornings, I usually eat a Greek yogurt with chia seeds and berries.
Going dairy-free required me to plan my meals more. When work events included food, it was rare that there were diary-free options. I also spent more time looking at the ingredients of the vegan options at the grocery store to make sure I was still getting enough calcium and vitamin D. I learned that just because something is labeled "vegan" doesn't automatically make it healthy. Eating a slice of vegan red velvet cake is still eating a slice of cake.
After three months of abstaining, I started incorporating dairy back into my diet after coming to the conclusion with my dermatologist that I needed an oral treatment to properly control my hormonal acne. I don't think I'll ever be completely dairy-free again, but right now I only eat the odd bit of cheese.