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A woman checking her face in the mirror for blemishes.


Is Dairy Bad For Your Skin?

Does dairy cause acne? Learn the truth (and answers to more questions) in our deep-dive look at the link between dairy and acne ahead.

There’s an old saying that insists, “you are what you eat.” Taken literally, it paints an amusing mental image. But the intended, metaphorical meaning is pretty spot-on: What you eat and drink does have a significant impact on your physical health. This is especially true when it comes to the skin—which is why healthy skin habits require taking care of your skin from the inside out. While some foods can help promote healthy-looking skin and hair, others are associated with skin concerns like acne or other blemishes. Dairy products are one such food group.

Whether or not dairy products actually cause acne has long been the subject of contention. Some maintain that you should avoid milk at all costs if you suffer from breakouts, while others insist that milk doesn’t really have any effect on the skin. We’re here to help separate fact from fiction. Ahead, we’re reviewing the link between your diet and your skin. We’ll answer common questions like, “Is dairy connected to causing acne?” We’ve also put together a simple skincare routine to follow if you have acne-prone skin. Keep reading for your in-depth look at the link between dairy and acne.

What Causes Acne?

The vast majority of acne has the same root cause: clogged pores. As a refresher, pores are small openings in the skin that house hair follicles and secrete sweat and sebum, or oil. When the skin produces too much sebum or sebum gets trapped within the pores—typically due to an accumulation of dead skin cells—the pores can become clogged. Ultimately, this can result in non-inflammatory acne blemishes, like blackheads and whiteheads. If the clogged pores also contain bacteria, they’ll get infected. The resulting infection is what causes inflammatory acne, such as pimples and cysts, to take hold.

While the root cause remains the same, there are countless factors that can trigger an overproduction of oil and worsen acne. Common triggers include hormonal imbalances, a damaged skin moisture barrier, stress, and even certain foods. Keep reading to learn more about the link between acne and your diet.

How Does Diet Affect Your Skin?

You probably already know that what you eat (and drink) can affect your skin’s appearance. Drinking water, for example, can help keep your skin hydrated and healthy-looking. But this goes both ways: While plenty of foods can help promote healthier-looking skin, some can stimulate sebum production or trigger breakouts. The worst offenders are high-glycemic foods (foods high in refined sugar and processed carbohydrates). Foods containing hormones, like dairy, eggs, and milk, may also increase the likelihood of developing clogged pores and other blemishes.

Rare Earth Deep Pore Daily Cleanser

Thankfully, you can manage these concerns with proper skincare. To help detoxify congested pores, we recommend washing your face with a mild exfoliating cleanser, such as Rare Earth Deep Pore Daily Cleanser. This top-rated cleanser contains absorbent Amazonian white clay and diatomaceous earth. It deeply cleanses the skin and pores and gently exfoliates the skin’s surface. This best-selling cleanser is suitable for all skin types and can be used daily for fresher, healthy-looking skin.

What’s The Relationship Between Acne and Consuming Dairy?

Animal milk and other dairy products, like cheese and yogurt, contain several essential nutrients, including protein and calcium. Dairy products also have natural hormones produced from the lactating cow (or whichever animal the milk comes from). These hormones can trigger the release of an insulin-like growth factor, or IGF-1. Studies indicate that this substance is strongly linked with acne. Those with high IGF-1 levels are more likely to have widespread breakouts. Interestingly, skim milk (also known as nonfat milk) is linked with a greater incidence of severe acne. Researchers believe this is due to hormonal differences between skim milk and full-fat varieties.I In short, yes: Dairy can worsen your breakouts.

Should You Reduce Your Dairy Intake To Benefit Your Skin?

While there is a measurable link between dairy and acne, that doesn’t mean you have to (or even should) avoid milk products altogether. One study found that you can safely consume as much as two to six glasses of milk per week without triggering or worsening breakouts. And some dairy products, like cheese, don’t appear to have much of an effect on acne at all. Additionally, as we mentioned above, dairy products contain essential nutrients that your body needs to survive, like calcium and vitamin D.

Before cutting your dairy intake, we recommend combating acne with targeted skincare. (It’s also highly suggested to speak to your physician before making any dietary changes.) Below, you’ll find a five-step routine designed for blemish-prone skin. Read on for your start-to-finish skincare routine.

Step 1:

Cleanse To Remove Excess Oil

Your skin secretes oil continuously, so it’s essential to cleanse your skin twice daily to remove this buildup—especially if you’re prone to clogged pores or other blemishes. For a thorough yet gentle cleanse, try Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash. This best-selling face cleanser removes oil and other impurities from the skin’s surface without stripping your natural moisture barrier. The mild formula is perfect for normal to oily skin.

Step 2:

Soothe Skin With Toner

After cleansing, we always recommend applying a toner to help balance your skin and prepare it for the rest of your routine. If you have acne-prone skin, reach for the cult-classic Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion, a Kiehl’s favorite since the 1960s. The refreshing formula contains menthol and camphor and can be used to soothe skin after cleansing. Use it all over or as a spot treatment to help calm and balance oily skin.

Step 3:

Address Skin Concerns

If you have acne-prone skin, there’s a good chance you also deal with other skin concerns like rough skin texture or an uneven skin tone. Inflammatory acne, in particular, can leave behind acne scars or dark marks known as post-acne marks. You can address these concerns over time with a targeted serum, such as Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution. This powerful formula contains activated C, white birch extract, and peony extract. It helps correct dark spots and brighten skin tone. You can use it as a spot treatment to help visibly diminish post-acne marks and other discolorations, or apply it all over after toning to promote more radiant, even-looking skin. It’s gentle enough for daily use and suitable for all skin types and tones.

Kiehl’s Tip: Learn more about what serums can do for your skin in our article All Your Face Serum Questions, Answered.

Step 4:

Target and Treat Existing Blemishes

When a blemish does pop up (because even with the best routine, pimples happen), treat it quickly with a spot treatment, such as Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment. This potent formula stars a blend of powerful acne-fighting ingredients, including sulfur and niacinamide. It helps reduce the appearance of acne blemishes and helps prevent new ones from forming. Apply a thin layer of this effective treatment directly to clean skin once to three times daily as needed for visibly clearer skin.

Step 5:

Lock In Moisture

Breakout Control Acne Treatment Facial Lotion

If you have oily or blemish-prone skin, it’s vital to keep the skin hydrated, as dehydration can trigger the skin to produce more oil (which, in turn, can clog pores). But that doesn’t mean any moisturizer will do: You want to reach for a non-comedogenic, lightweight formula that won’t weigh down or irritate your skin. Try Breakout Control Acne Treatment Facial Lotion, which features niacinamide and salicylic acid. It helps diminish the appearance of existing blemishes (and prevent new breakouts). With regular use, it also helps improve the appearance of dullness and rough texture for clearer, smoother-looking skin.

Kiehl’s Tip: Over-using harsh or drying ingredients can irritate the skin. To help relieve discomfort, reach for a non-comedogenic face oil, such as Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil Herbal Concentrate Face Oil. It’s formulated with 100% naturally-derived ingredients, including Cannabis sativa seed oil and green oregano oil.* Apply a few drops under your daily moisturizer daily or as needed to help strengthen and comfort stressed skin.

*We consider ingredients to be naturally derived if they retain more than 50% of their molecular structure after being processed from a natural source.

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