Is Dairy Causing You to Break Out?
by Amber Katz
One writer forgoes fro-yo on the quest for a clear complexion.
First, a confession: My skin has been a veritable mess for the past three years. I escaped my teens with only a few instances of mild acne, only to be besieged with a cystic invasion along my jawline years later. It was massively uncool and anyone who's had to deal with acne knows the emotional toll it takes. It got to the point where I would spring out of bed, run straight to my bathroom, wash my face, and then immediately apply makeup so I wouldn't have to see the screaming red spots. Most of it was situated in a little aggressive constellation of grossness on my right jawline, so I'd tend to avoid even turning my face so I wouldn't have to confront it. In the past few years, I've been to four dermatologists who've put me on various antibiotics and topical prescriptions, all of which helped, albeit temporarily. I've been on and off antibiotics for my skin several times in the past three years.
But I noticed a marked difference when I dumped dairy. It was not easy; I've been known to say that a meal isn't even worth it if it doesn't involve cheese. Of course, there are times when it'll creep back into my diet, like that one time I found myself inconveniently starving at a fondue restaurant. I dipped a couple cubes of bread into the cheese and promptly broke out on my chin-within 24 hours. My highly scientific assessment? Frankly, dairy was doing to my face exactly what the milky, cloggy, thick substance looks like it'd be doing to one's system. But don't take my word for it. I talked to some dermatologists, aestheticians, and a physician to get their opinions on Dairy Decision 2014. It turns out the group is a house divided regarding a correlation between acne and dairy, but they dropped some knowledge about their respective stances, ingredients those with acneic skin should incorporate into a regimen, and tips to avoid pimple eruptions.
Could casein be the culprit?
Says Dr. Frank Lipman, integrative & functional medicine physician and founder of Eleven Eleven Wellness Center, "Classic symptoms of dairy sensitivity and allergies are mucus production, respiratory problems, digestive symptoms (such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation), fatigue, joint pains, and skin problems ranging from rashes to acne." While ingesting dairy can irritate those with a lactose intolerance (which affects 10% of adults), "another lesser-known problem is difficulty digesting casein-a protein found in cow's milk. When casein isn't properly digested, it gets into your blood and the immune system reacts, causing inflammation which can then lead to acne."
A hotbed of hormones
Dr. Lipman notes that there are over 60 hormones in a glass of milk. "The process of pasteurization eliminates many of the beneficial components of milk, and homogenization creates fats that are foreign to most human digestive systems," he explains. Dermalogica global education director Annet King agrees that the hormones in milk could lead to acne. "Newer research shows that milk dairy boosts male sex hormones (testosterone or androgens). It's not the fat content; rather, it is due to the hormones found naturally in milk, together with the added hormones given to dairy cows to produce milk," she says. How? "These hormones bind to your sebaceous glands and one study indicated they turn up your oil production by as much as 60%. As our oil glands are super sensitive to androgens, the result is a thick, sticky type of sebum, which clogs your pores (sebaceous follicles), leading to more pimple development."
You might be able to identify a hormonal breakout by where it falls on the face. "Breakouts around the chin and jawline are representational of reproductive and hormonal systems. Since our dairy cows are given growth hormones, the body may use this area to remove the excess hormones," says aesthetician Renee Rouleau. "There are a greater number of sebaceous glands in the face and since hormones are fat soluble, the body will use these glands as an avenue of excretion for fat-based hormones."
Don't stock up on the silk milk yet
Drs. Elizabeth Tanzi, Neal Schultz, and Lisa Airan, in addition to aesthetician Joanna Vargas,
all maintain that the there's not enough evidence to positively link dairy to acne. Says Dr. Schultz, "The studies to prove a correlation between dairy and acne just aren't there and there are too many people with acne in whom dairy just doesn't have a worsening effect." That said, Dr. Airan advises that if you're noticing a direct relationship between dairy and acne, you should eliminate the latter from your diet in all its forms for one month in all of its forms, allow the skin to calm down, and then re-introduce slowly to see if acne develops. It's thought that dairy contains components related to testosterone which stimulates oil glands in the skin. Oil is the true culprit in the production of acne and anything which reduces oil production reduces acne."
Whether or not dairy is the issue, you'll have to do a whole lot more than cut out milk to battle acne. Dr. Schultz stresses the importance of following a twice daily skin routine consisting of cleanser, toner, spot treatments, and moisturizers. King reminds us to change our linens and dry our faces with gentle, bacteria-free paper towels. Vargas
points out that applying the products downwards on the face encourages lymphatic drainage,
which promotes clearer, vibrant skin.
Only after you've started to get serious and diligent about your skin care can you make an accurate judgment on how your diet may play a role. Then, try the good ol' process of elimination. Sadly, that might mean avoiding the ice cream truck for a few weeks this summer. May the Force be with you.
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