What happened to my skin after a month of no dairy
Think cow’s milk is impacting your skin? You need to read this.
I’m not going to lie: when my editor suggested I use myself as a case study for this story, my first reaction was to refuse. I’m a latte a day kind of girl – you couldn’t pay me enough to quit milk. As for a month without so much as a wedge of brie or the occasional Magnum? Imagine asking Kylie Jenner to stop taking selfies, then multiply her horror by 10.
But I have friends who say their skin is at its best when they switch from skim to soy, and I’m the first to admit my complexion isn’t always the clearest. So I decide to put their treatise to the test for four weeks. I filled the fridge with almond, oat and macadamia milks – sorry, mylks – started ordering soy lattes, abstained from soft cheese (except, ahem, on two or three occasions when wine was involved) and said a firm no to all ice-cream offers. Not the most fun I’ve ever had.
As for my skin? One month later, it looks EXACTLY THE SAME. It was time to turn to the experts.
The truth about dairy
Neither the dermatologist or dietician I spoke to suggested ditching dairy altogether. “People believe that when they cut out dairy their skin gets better, but usually they’ve changed their whole diet,” says Gabrielle Maston, accredited practising dietician at Changing Shape and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia. “They start drinking more water and eating more fruit and vegetables, which could also contribute to their skin.”
Dermatologist and spokesperson for the Australasian College of Dermatologists Dr Adam Sheridan refers to recent research. “There is no evidence to show that dietary factors such as dairy cause acne, but there is increasing evidence that it may influence it to some degree,” he says. “It is thought that regular dietary dairy may stimulate acne via raised Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) production. IGF1 stimulates sebaceous gland activity in the skin and predisposes to blocked and inflamed sweat ducts and pores (blackheads).”
Skimming the stats
While results like these don’t necessitate ditching dairy completely, studies suggest there may be a case for steering clear of skim. “Skim milk has been consistently associated with acne,” Dr Sheridan says, adding that dairy foods that drive a rapid increase in blood glucose and insulin levels (looking at you, ice-cream and milk chocolate), may also be party to the problem.
The pros of keeping dairy in your diet
“Milk protein is the highest absorbing protein we have – it’s on par with eggs,” says Maston. “if you’re looking to keep lean muscle on or stay satiated, it’s your best option.” It’s also a cheap source of high quality protein compared to meat.
The trouble with dairy alternatives – think soy, oat, coconut and nut milks – is that they aren’t natural sources of minerals like calcium, which dairy products are rich in. Always choose fortified versions – which have added calcium – and avoid any with added sugar. “Oat milk and some of the nut milks are higher in sugar than dairy, and soy milk, unless you buy low fat, is higher in fat,” says Maston. “And they don’t have nearly as much protein.”
How to eat for good skin
If cutting dairy isn’t a fast-track to a flawless complexion, what is? “High fibre, low GI diets with elevated Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratios (such as a Japanese diet) are shown to be beneficial,” Dr Sheridan says, adding that high GI foods “are a known culprit” when it comes to congestion.
Maston agrees. “Reduce the amount of sugary and fatty foods so you don’t gain weight, which will play around with hormone levels and can trigger acne,” she says. She suggests drinking plenty of water and eating more fruit and vegetables as well as avoiding processed junk.