Over the last 24 and a half years I’ve been relatively lucky that my skin has never been a major issue for me. On the whole I’d say it’s clear with occasional blemishes and, if anything, can get a bit shiny towards the end of the day. I know I’m lucky as skincare problems can be some of the most powerful in changing moods, impacting confidence and also overall mental health. At this stage you might be thinking A) why therefore, is there a whole blog post all about ‘is milk bad for my skin’? and B) and more specifically, what the heck does ‘milk’ have to do with it?
Back in March when the whole country and world when into lockdown, the one positive I took out of not going into work and socialising as much, was that I could give my skin a big old rest from make-up, stress and congestion of city life. I thought it was a real win as I’ve never quite been able to get away with non-make-up days at work.
Other than working from home (which I’ll admit was a big change and something we’ve all had to adapt to) and moving out of London for lockdown (which I thought would only be a good thing for my skin!) I didn’t change too much about my normal routine. I was still running, boxing and yoga-ing – therefore sweating etc. I was still eating a balanced, healthy vegetarian diet. I was still getting lots of sleep (if anything, a bit more due to the lack of commute.)
Therefore, I wasn’t expecting any changes to my skin…
But, during lockdown I’ve had the worst skin I’ve ever had. Suddenly I found I had spots, bumps and red marks all across my forehead, around my nose, along my cheekbones and around my mouth. It was painful, sore and quite frankly hit my morale badly. I completely appreciate that this isn’t as bad as what others go through, but I just couldn’t work out why I had this sudden change!
I tried a lot of products to try and soothe my skin, reduce redness and get rid of the blemishes including acid-based toners, micellar waters and targeted spot treatments. None of them worked that effectively and I became pretty miserable. I couldn’t wear make-up as my skin hurt to touch, I felt self-conscious on video calls with work colleagues and some days had to turn my camera off completely because of the lack of confidence I had. Not a nice feeling!
I thought it could have been the warm weather and exercising/sweating – but this wasn’t different to my normal routine. I thought it could have been stress – but my workload wasn’t necessarily different to pre-lockdown. The ONLY thing that changed (and it took me about 2/3 months to realise) was that I’d started drinking lattes every day, as G and I treated ourselves to a coffee machine.
When I first suggested to G that this may be the reason for my skincare changes, he thought I was mad – how could one latte per day make a difference to my skin? I also thought I was a bit ridiculous.
Well, I don’t drink much milk – I have a tiny amount on my Weetabix in the morning 5 days a week, but that’s it. Usually I drink about 4-5 cups of green tea or lemon/ginger a day and wouldn’t have milk in anything else. Drinking an extra latte a day was therefore the only thing I could think of that was a ‘change’. After trying everything else I thought it was worth cutting back just to see if my skin cleared up.
And guess what? My skin cleared up COMPLETELY.
It got me digging to see if this was an actual thing and to answer the question of ‘is milk bad for my skin?’ On the whole there’s no ‘official’ link between dairy and acne but there are a lot of theories and articles about it (read more here)– which makes me think I’m not alone. There is also a sense of agreement on the web that acne and skin problems can be irritated by dairy even though specialists don’t know what the underlying connection is…
What I’ve learnt is that cow’s milk contains proteins (whey and casein) which stimulate growth and hormones. When we digest these proteins, they release a hormone called IGF-1 (not that we need to get into specifics). Anyway, this hormone is known to trigger breakouts apparently. Sometimes the hormones in milk can also interact with our own hormones, confusing our body’s endocrine system and signalling breakouts. Voila!
Whether that’s ‘evidence’ or ‘fact’, I’m not sure. But what I do know is that there is a LOT of anecdotal evidence out there (like I’m giving now) that swear by the fact that cutting back milk helps curb breakouts. That’s partially the reason I wanted to write this blog post – as I wanted to share my personal view in case it can help someone else with their skincare battle. But I’ll hold my hands up – I’m no expert!
I also want to caveat that there is a lot of discussion around this being a ‘myth’ and after doing some reading up it’s clear that skin is such an individual thing that there isn’t a right/wrong answer. If cutting milk out of your diet helps your skin – great, but there may be other factors at play… Equally if your skin is fine and you drink milk regularly – that’s fine too (G and I are complete opposites because he can drink as much coffee, eat as much cereal and snack on milkshakes all he likes and it doesn’t affect him in the slightest!)
Dr Megan Rossi, a dietitian and gut health specialist, says that “while it’s been suggested that dairy products play a role in developing skin conditions, such as acne, the current evidence is actually very limited and conflicting. It’s important to note that most of the studies done so far are observational studies, which can be a useful place to start, but are pretty weak in terms of take-home messages. In fact, there are a number of variables that could be affecting the results – it could be that people who drink more milk eat less dietary fibre and more added sugars. These types of stats make it impossible to determine if one thing causes the other.”
Facialist Debbie Thomas says we need to consider both diet and lifestyle when it comes to skincare – “Yes, dairy can be a trigger to some, but not all acne is caused by it. However, acne is usually more likely to be caused by sugar, stress that’s sending hormones loopy, or underlying conditions, like polycystic ovary syndrome.”
So, you’ve heard it here from me and the experts, and I suppose that the overall conclusion is a bit of an anti-climax as I’m not really giving a clear answer to the question of ‘is milk bad for my skin?’ BUT I hope this blog post helps shape some thoughts and make you consider ALL options when you have a sudden breakout. Don’t jump to conclusions but instead think about all the things that you’ve changed in your lifestyle, diet, sleeping habits, beauty products etc. Cut those back one by one to see what it is that is having the effect and you’ll quickly realise how sensitive your skin can be to the most unexpected things. Whether it’s your new washing powder, a different fabric pillow case, a new diet or fitness regime. Skin is a powerful and reactive part of our bodies – we need to look out for it and give it some love!
One thing I’m yet to discover for my personal regime, is ‘is ALL milk bad for my skin’? I’ve got some almond and soya milk on there way so I’ll let you know how I get on.
On another note, now that my skin has calmed down I’ve been trying some new products (I didn’t want to try them whilst I was in the middle of this so I’ve been holding off). A new blog post is definitely due as they’ve been fantastic and just what I needed to build up my skincare confidence again! Whilst you’re waiting for my update on NEW products, read about some of my classic ‘all time’ faves here.
Let me know if you’ve had any issues with milk and skincare, or if you know of any products that can help balance it out.