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Does Skim Milk Cause Acne?

The National Dairy Council denies that milk intake causes acne. In my 3-min. video National Dairy Council on Acne and Milk, I profile what a study of 47,000 women supported by the National Dairy Council and performed by the Harvard Nurse’s Health Study found on the matter. As published in the official Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, the conclusion reads: “We found a positive association with acne for intake of total milk and skim milk. We hypothesize that the association with milk may be because of the presence of hormones and bioactive molecules in milk.”

Association does not necessarily mean causation, though. From the accompanying editorial in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology:

“The papers… from the Harvard School of Public Health establish an association between milk consumption and acne. But how could milk cause acne? Because, drinking milk and consuming dairy products from pregnant cows exposes us to the hormones produced by the cows’ pregnancy, hormones that we were not designed to consume during our teenage and adult years. It is no secret that teenagers’ acne closely parallels hormonal activity…So what happens if exogenous hormones are added to the normal endogenous load? And what exactly is the source of these hormones? Consider that, in nature, milk is consumed from a mother, whether human or bovine, until weaning occurs. Normally, the mother then ceases lactation before the next pregnancy occurs—so that consuming milk from a mother pregnant with her next offspring is not a common occurrence. We’ve all seen nature films of animals chasing their offspring away to encourage weaning at the appropriate time. Further, in nature the offspring consumes only the milk of its own species—but both of these natural rules are broken by humans. Viewed objectively, human consumption of large volumes of another species’ milk, especially when that milk comes mainly from pregnant cows during the human’s normally post-weaned years, is essentially unnatural.”

The Harvard Nurse’s Health Study found that the association between milk intake and severe physician-diagnosed teenage acne was even more “marked for skim milk than for other forms of milk.” This may be because there is so much more estrogen in skim milk. Researchers found 15 steroid sex hormones in commercial milk right off the shelves, and the highest levels were found in skim milk, compared to 2% and whole (see my 4-min. video Hormones in Skim vs. Whole Milk).

As detailed in my 2-min. video Skim Milk and Acne, further studies of both adolescent girls and boys found the same link between milk intake and acne. This doesn’t appear to be an issue with bovine growth hormone injections or added steroids; it’s just what milk contains naturally. As a commentary in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology noted: “It should surprise no one that milk contains such a heavy complement of growth-enhancing hormones. Milk is, after all, specifically designed to make things grow.”

The restriction of cow’s milk consumption could have a beneficial effect on more serious epidemic diseases as well, concludes a recent review I profile in my NutritionFacts.org video pick–see above.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

Image credit: Lotus Carroll / Flickr

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at NutritionFacts.org.

66 comments

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1:10AM PDT on Sep 13, 2013

While i can say my skin cleared up when I cut dairy out of my diet. I used to have such bad skin at one point i had a perscription for oral acne medicine! In addition to acne dairy can also cause numerous other health problems such as SIDS ,colic, bone fractures , anemia , migraines ,water retaining, and more ,for more info i strongly recommend the book 'death by milk' , i don't know who it's by .

11:46AM PDT on Apr 11, 2013

Sorry about that! I had a typo so I posted again, I would remove it if I could! oops. Well, while I am back .. good luck to everyone! persistance is vital!

11:45AM PDT on Apr 11, 2013

I too have been considering what parts of my diet are causes or irritating my acne for years. Of course we've all heard of chocolate and fatty foods, but I never though something as healthy as milk could be causing it. I've done a lot of research on it since hearing about this effect and surprisingly found out that skim milk is the worst and I have been drinking it since I was a kid! It is definitely a good idea to do as much research and read as many articles as you can on why and how milk causes acne. Keeping out anything that irritates your skin is a key to being constantly clear.

11:43AM PDT on Apr 11, 2013

I too have been considering what parts of my diet are causes or irritating my acne for years. Of course we've all heard of chocolate and fatty foods, but I never though something as healthy as milk could be causing it. I've done a lot of research on it since hearing about this effect and surprisingly found out that skim milk is the worst and I have been drinking it since I was a kid! It is definitely a good idea to do as much research and read as many articles as you can on why and howmilk causes acne. Keeping out anything that irritates your skin is a key to being constantly clear.

7:16AM PDT on Mar 21, 2013

Milk is overhyped and some doctors claim every child should drink two glasses of it per day. I wonder if anyone drinks that much.

6:36AM PDT on Mar 21, 2013

I also read the article regarding children's weight issues and skim milk. OK then, I'm going to give it a try and take my teenage daughter off the stuff for a few weeks and see if there's a difference. I'll definitely post back on here somewhere, so you guys can know whether her weight and/or skin has improved! I'll hope for the best, but expect the least....

5:38AM PDT on Mar 21, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

3:46AM PDT on Mar 21, 2013

http://foodmatters.tv/articles-1/how-many-pus-cells-are-in-your-milk About pus in milk

3:44AM PDT on Mar 21, 2013

My comment was cut and I didn't think to save it.
What was most important of it was my experience with Scandinavia ,where I live currently.
They are the top consumers of dairy products in the world, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. All these 3 countries also score highest in breast cancer and other cancerous illnesses.
They drink milk like it's water or coca-cola for the western world... It's amazing and yet terrifying of how ignorant people can be...

3:41AM PDT on Mar 21, 2013

Just recently have I came across a lot of articles and interviews about milk. One of them was shocking, something no one wants you to know and relate it to milk. Milk is a pus! It's an animal body fluid that is actually a pus. In addition to that, there's kind of a glue in milk (when you pour milk in your glass, and drink, there's a whitish trace on the glass - that's glue), and in fact, this glue is extracted and used commertially - to stick labels on bottles, cans, etc. Do you still consider this is a natural thing to consume if you're older than a year? No other species on earth as it gets into adolescence drinks milk, not even one. Just humans. And guys, why are humans disgusted by the idea to drink human milk? In fact, cow's milk and human's milk is identical. These two have the most common structure. And yet we're disgusted by human's milk... Interesting.
Anyway, after the many FACTS (not assumptions!) about milk, I would never ever again put any dairy in my body. I used to love dairy, cheese especially, I suffered more than 10 years of severe acne problems. For the last 5-6 months when I significantly reduced the consumption of dairy (and 1 month since I eliminated it completely from my diet) my skin is clearer and brighter. In addition, I also feel a lot healthier and without any stomach issues and pains (which I used to have almost every day).
And I don't even mention the abuse of animals, the GMO hormones they are injected with, the product that is so processed

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