Whether dairy or milk give you acne has long been a vexed question So we went straight to a skin-and-nutrition expert to get the definitive answer.

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It’s almost impossible to complain about a breakout without someone urging you to give up drinking milk or eating dairy – most people at some point have heard that the stuff has something to do with spots rearing their ugly heads. But what’s the truth behind this persistent factoid?

We asked consultant dermatologist and nutritionist Dr Thivi Maruthappu, who confirms that “one of the commonest questions I get asked in my clinic is whether breakouts are due to dairy.” Her answer, as you can see in this video, is a qualified “it might – but it’s not that likely.”

@getthegloss Does dairy or milk give you acne has been a long debated question🥛. So we went straight to a skin-and-nutrition expert @Dr Thivi - Dermatologist to get the definitive answer. Here's what you need to know #milkacne #spottreatment #doesdairycauseacne #acnetreatment #acnecauses ♬ Storytelling - Adriel

Why can dairy give you spots?

The reason that milk (of any farm animal), and by extension dairy, can cause breakouts is not lactose or milk fat, it’s hormones. “Milk contains a naturally occurring hormone called IGF-1 [insulin-like growth factor 1] that can trigger spots in some, but certainly not all, people,” says Dr Thivi. In other words, some of us are particularly sensitive to this hormone, in which case it’s best avoided. The majority of people have no problem with it at all, however.

Is any dairy taboo if it triggers your acne?

No. The hormone is particularly prevalent in skimmed milk, but much less so in whole milk,” says Dr Thivi. That’s because, it is thought, the fat content in whole milk keeps the effects of the hormone in check, which is not the case in no-fat and, to an extent, low-fat or semi-skimmed milk. There are people, however, who are sensitive enough to IGF-1 to suffer from any cow’s milk they try.

In her book ‘Skin Food’, Dr Thivi also says that research suggests that the problem for those sensitive to IGF-1 tends to occur when they drink more than two glasses of (skimmed) milk per day.

Milk-derived dairy such as cheese, yogurt and kefir, she says, contains significantly lower levels of IGF-1 than any milk and is therefore much less likely to trigger breakouts.

Should you cut out milk if you get lots of spots?

You could try four weeks of an exclusion diet, replacing milk with dairy-free alternatives, to see if it helps your breakouts,” says Dr Thivi. If it makes no difference another of the many cause of acne may be at play, such as hormonal acne not triggered by milk, genetics (no, acne doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy or lazy), stress or the wrong skincare approach (you may be better off with prescription skincare such as spironolactone). As Dr Thivi says, “diet actually doesn’t play that big a part in acne; hormones and genetics are much more relevant.”

So now you know!