Does Diet Really Affect Acne?

H. R. Ferdowsian, MD, MPH; S. Levin, MS, RD


Skin Therapy Letter. 2010;15(3):1-2. 

In This Article

Dairy Products

Migration studies have demonstrated that as populations shifted toward a more Westernized diet, either through relocation or a local cultural change, the prevalence of acne increased. This trend was observed in Canadian Inuit[12] who increased their consumption of soda, beef, dairy products, and processed foods, as well as among Okinawan Japanese[13] who decreased their starch intake and increased their total animal product intake. Authors of a large case-control study[14] evaluated the association between milk and acne in the adolescent diets of more than 47,000 nurses. Among participants who had been diagnosed with severe acne as teenagers, those with the highest level of total milk intake (>3 servings per day) reported having acne more frequently, when compared with individuals with the lowest level of intake (≤1 serving per week). This association was strongest (a 44% increase) for skim milk intake, suggesting fat content was not the determining factor for acne risk. Researchers hypothesized that the hormones found in milk played a role in acne risk. Two large prospective cohort studies examined the association between diet and acne among 9–15 year-old children, including 6094 girls15 and 4273 boys.[16] For girls, there was a significant association with acne severity for all categories of cow's milk (total, whole, low-fat, skimmed, and chocolate). For boys, the association was significant for total and skimmed milk. Girls were approximately 20% more likely to experience severe acne if they consumed ≥2 servings of milk per day, when compared with girls who consumed ≤1 serving of milk per week. Boys were approximately 16% more likely to experience severe acne if they consumed ≥2 servings of milk per day, when compared with boys who consumed ≤1 serving of milk per week. A study from 2005 showed that components of milk, other than lipids, have insulin-stimulating abilities.[17] Insulin drives insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which in turn increases testosterone and decreases the production of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). Another study observed a positive correlation between levels of IGF-1 and acne.[18]


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