Hormonal acne and I have had a pretty tumultuous relationship. As soon as I think she’s left my life for good, she comes back with a vengeance. That is, until I quit dairy and eliminated it from my diet.
You know the phrase “You are what you eat?” Well, I didn’t really think that applied to me. I just knew that I moved back to the U.S., and I went through multiple rounds of insane hormonal acne breakouts that left my chin and jawline riddled with PIH marks. At one particularly low moment, I was looking back at pictures from my time in Asia (where I had the clearest skin of my life) and wondering just what the hell I was doing differently there. I blamed the water in the U.S., the lack of my facialist that I used to see in Vietnam, and that I no longer had the fresh ocean air in Phuket. And then it hit me.
I DIDN’T EAT DAIRY.
At the time of this epiphany, I was eating dairy like my life depended on it. I’m an athlete that needs a lot of protein, and I was downing cups of Greek yogurt, double scoop whey protein shakes, cheese on everything, just literally an excessive amount of dairy. And when I lived in Asia, I rarely ate dairy. Korean, Vietnamese, and Thai cuisine (which I ate an excessive amount of) doesn’t contain much (if any) dairy, and I definitely wasn’t downing whey protein by the caseload.
The realization hit me like a ton of bricks. I decided then and there that I was going to eliminate dairy completely from my diet for four weeks to see if it would make a difference. This meant:
1. No yogurt
2. No whey protein
3. No cheese
4. No ice cream
5. No milk, not even lactose-free
I stopped cold turkey. I replaced my whey protein with vegan protein. I stopped drinking milk and replaced it with oat and almond milk. I stopped eating cheese of all kinds — not even on my pasta or sandwiches. No more pizza. No more ice cream or milkshakes (sob). It didn’t matter if it was organic or non-hormone treated or any of that. I got rid of it all!
This transition wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. To compensate for the slight decrease in protein, I increased my plant-based protein (think lentils, beans, and edamame) and slightly increased my meat intake by a few ounces for each meal. Instead of cooking dairy-laden food, I kept a steady rotation of Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese recipes in my arsenal. (P.S. Chrissy Teigen’s cookbooks are an excellent source of Thai recipes if that’s your thing.)
And slowly but surely, my acne started to clear up. I did not change anything in my skincare routine, as I wanted to be sure that dairy was the culprit and not anything I was using topically. After two weeks, the cysts that were a constant around my chin and jawline started to shrink. By the third week, I just had a small amount of texture around that area. And by the fourth week, coincidentally, the week my period was supposed to start, I had zero acne. My skin was smooth to the touch. It was an actual miracle.
I wanted to extend my dairy-free time just a little bit longer to make sure that that’s what it was, so one month became two, and three … and in this time I’ve had at most two or three random pimples. No more painful cysts, no more uncontrollable breakouts. I am free!
So why is it that dairy can have such a profound effect on hormonal acne? Well, some studies have shown that there is a connection between acne and dairy consumption, but the exact correlation is unclear. Some think it’s due to the artificial growth hormones cows are treated with here in the U.S., some say it’s the growth hormones that are already present in cow’s milk that can aggravate acne, some say it’s a combination of the hormones plus all of the sugar and processed foods in the typical American diet that cause an insulin spike, which in turn can trigger acne. Studies have also shown that skim milk (the kind I was drinking all the time to avoid excess fat) triggers acne more than whole milk. Lots and lots of variables here!
As for me, I’m 100% sure that dairy is no friend of mine. Thankfully, oat milk (aka the BEST non-dairy option) exists.
Have you tried to quit dairy? How has it affected your skin? Let me know in the comments!