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Acne Health Center

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Can Foods Make You Break Out?

The links between your diet and your skin may surprise you.

Dairy and Acne

There's no definite link between dairy and acne, but there are theories about it.

In an article he wrote for a medical journal in 2008, F. William Danby, MD, a skin expert who promotes the possible dairy-acne connection, explained how the two may be related. Milk contains components related to the hormone testosterone that may stimulate oil glands in the skin, setting the stage for acne.

Karcher has heard similar stories. “I’ve had patients who said they stopped dairy and their acne got better. You can have a totally healthy diet without dairy. If a patient feels that is a possible problem, there’s nothing wrong with trying it as long as they’re followed by someone to make sure they’re getting a balanced diet.”

“In my skin-care practice, I’d often take people off all dairy products, which is kind of unheard of for RDs to do, but it made a huge difference,” says Carmina McGee, MS, RD, a dietitian in Ventura, Calif., who has a special interest in skin disorders.

Although studies have shown associations between dairy and acne, they don’t show cause and effect, and they don’t prove that dairy causes acne. Anecdotes from people who've quit dairy also don't mean that the same will be true for you.

Dairy is an important source of calcium and vitamin D, which your bones (and the rest of your body) need. So if you cut back, do so with care:

  • If you find that your skin clears up after you cut out dairy, see if you can have a little without breakouts. Some people can drink small amounts of milk and stay acne-free, Treloar says.
  • Or try different kinds of dairy. Nonsweetened yogurt from cows, or dairy from other animals such as goats, may be more tolerable for your skin.
  • Replace the calcium that you would normally get from dairy by eating other foods such as calcium-rich leafy greens (like kale and mustard greens), broccoli, and sardines, McGee says.

Balance Your Fats

Different fatty acids in the foods we eat can support inflammation or dampen it. And too much inflammation inside your body can show up on your skin, Treloar says. Ages ago, omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3s were evenly represented in the human diet. But we tend to get a lot more omega-6s now.

You can address this imbalance, Treloar says, by:

  • Using less vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, and even canola oil.
  • Buying beef and eggs from animals that ate while roaming in pastures, rather than animals that were corn-fed.
  • Eating more fish rich in omega-3s, such as salmon and mackerel, and considering taking fish-oil supplements. As always, tell your doctor about any supplements you take, so they can look out for any possible side effects or drug interactions.

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