Diet, as a cause for acne, has fallen in and out of popularity for at least the past 50 years. Plant-based, low-glycemic, low-fat, dairy-free, omega-3, and even chocolate elimination diets have all been tried for preventing the embarrassing spots that seem to pop up on the faces of young people at the most inopportune times. While research continues to make available new possible associations between diet and skin, one discussion remains the same ― the acne-promoting mechanisms of food seem to be multi-factorial and remain undefined.
Still, research continues to question the influence that dietary factors have on acne development.
A recent cross-sectional study collected the food frequency questionnaires (a questionnaire which asks consumers to share how often they consume specific foods) of 281 young adults (aged 18-25) to determine any associations between numerous dietary factors, including milk, and acne. Results of the study demonstrated that participants with self-reported “moderate to severe acne” had significantly higher dietary glycemic index, total sugar, fruit, fruit juice, and milk consumption than their counterparts with “mild” or “no acne.” Results of this study suggest that diet, including milk consumption, may effect acne.
However, the statistics collected on the serving sizes of milk in this study may lead reviewers to question whether milk consumption can truly exacerbate acne. The differences in serving sizes of milk between the participants with “no acne” and those with “moderate to severe acne” was only 3.2 ounces different (less than ½ a cup). According to the food frequency questionnaires completed by study participants, participants that self-reported “no acne” drank on average 2.4 ounces of milk a day opposed to participants who self-reported “moderate to severe acne” whom drank 5.6 ounces daily. A recommended serving size of milk is 8 ounces or one cup, enjoyed up to 3 times daily.
Interestingly, while the nutritional relevance of milk consumption is questionable, there is noteworthy differences between the total sugar and added sugar consumption between the “no acne” and “moderate to severe acne” groups. Those participants who self-reported “no acne” consumed only 3.2 less ounces of milk than those with “moderate to severe acne” but they also consumed 142 less grams of total sugar and 128 less grams of added sugar (more sugar than about eight 12-ounce sodas).
To date, no randomized controlled trials (gold standard studies which can provide conclusions) can link dairy consumption to acne prevalence. Future studies are needed to determine true causations between diet and acne.
While research tries to determine these complex associations, milk continues to provide nine essential nutrients, including vitamin A, an antioxidant (which has been linked to skin health). A diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, quality protein and low-fat and fat-free milk is still recommended for optimal health and quality-of life ― skin health included.