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How Dairy Impacts Skin Health

September 5, 2020

I’m April Likins

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If you eat the USDA recommended two or more servings of dairy every day, it might be affecting your skin in more ways than you recognize. Let’s discuss how dairy impacts skin health, from acne and aging to how you can use dairy to make your own skincare treatments.

From lattes and ice cream to pizza and cheeseburgers, dairy is pervasive in the standard Western diet. It’s both a household staple and a common ingredient in restaurant kitchens. The USDA Federal nutrition policy recommends consuming two to three servings of dairy daily for a healthy diet.

However, large-scale agricultural practices have a major impact on the quality of dairy available. Not all dairy products are created equal. Many farmers administer growth hormones and antibiotics to their livestock, which are then present in the dairy products and travel through the food chain, causing adverse health effects for dairy consumers.

Dairy alternatives like almond and oat milk, coconut and oat yogurt, and soy cheese have become increasingly available. At the same time, complications with skin and digestive health among dairy consumers have increased. These trends disprove the notion that dairy is a mandatory component of a healthy diet. Quite to the contrary, avoiding or reducing dairy in your diet can have some impressive benefits to your skin and overall wellbeing.

Consuming Dairy Can Worsen Certain Skin Conditions

Despite its widespread consumption, scientific and anecdotal evidence suggests that dairy negatively impacts skin health. High-dairy diets can even exacerbate certain skin conditions. By understanding how dairy affects your complexion, you can better set yourself up to achieve healthy, glowing skin.


Dairy is a highly inflammatory food. In particular, consuming a lot of dairy can irritate skin that’s already prone to breakouts. When the body stays in a constant state of inflammation, it has a reduced ability to heal itself. Because dairy comes from pregnant cows and is naturally full of hormones, it can also cause hormone imbalance in humans. A hormone imbalance can display itself with oily skin and acne breakouts. According to skincare expert Dr. Nigma Talib, studies show that teenagers who drank milk experienced more acne than their peers who went dairy-free.


Casein, a protein found in cow’s milk, can be a trigger for eczema. Goat and sheep’s milk products, which do not contain casein, can be a good choice if you have eczema but don’t want to eliminate dairy completely. Of course, even casein-free dairy products can cause the same inflammation described above. General inflammation is another trigger for eczema flare-ups, so for best results, switch to a plant-based dairy substitute.


Eating pasteurized dairy is linked to premature aging. Beneficial digestive enzymes found in dairy are destroyed during pasteurization. This decreases your body’s ability to absorb all of the nutrients in the food. This can lead to digestive troubles and can cause premature skin breakdown.

If you’re lactose intolerant, choosing raw, unpasteurized dairy products can reduce digestive problems. While harder to find,  these less processed products also allow your body to better absorb the vitamins and minerals in milk.

Using Dairy Topically Can Impact Skin Complexion

Despite the adverse effects of eating dairy-rich diet products, there are certain skin benefits to dairy products.  Some types of dairy, in particular plain, sugar-free yogurt, can improve skin complexion and moisture when applied topically. One reason yogurt is so good for your skin is that it contains live and active cultures. These beneficial bacteria act as pre- and probiotics to balance the bacteria on your skin. As a result, your skin will appear brighter, more radiant, and even-toned after a yogurt mask.


When applied topically, the antioxidants in yogurt fight free-radicals. Free-radicals, which come from UV sun exposure, can lead to premature aging and wrinkles. Dairy also contains lactic acid, which acts as a gentle exfoliator to tighten pores and firm skin.

Brighten and Correct Blemishes

The lactic acid found in dairy also lightens discoloration for an even skin tone. A yogurt face mask moisturizes the skin without irritation. After a simple at-home application, your face will be soft and supple. And yogurt doesn’t cause the redness or irritation that’s common from other blemish-correcting treatments.

Make Your Own Yogurt Mask

Yogurt is also able to balance levels of good and bad bacteria on the skin. As a result, a yogurt face mask can help kill acne-causing bacteria for a clear, blemish-free complexion. Although dairy can cause inflammation as part of your diet, yogurt applied topically actually has the opposite effect. A yogurt mask acts as an anti-inflammatory treatment, decreasing facial redness, and minimizing the appearance of breakouts.

The best way to reap the benefits of dairy is to apply a layer of plain yogurt to your face. Leave it on for about 10 minutes before rinsing off with warm water. Yogurt sourced from organic, grass-fed dairies should be used to avoid contact with growth hormones, antibiotics, and other unwanted contaminants. While you can use yogurt alone, you can also add other ingredients to boost the results. For example, add a teaspoon of raw honey for extra moisture or a squeeze of lemon for brightening power.

You can also experiment with essential oils, such as lavender, to increase the calming effect on sensitive or inflamed skin. For best results, and to avoid irritation, apply the face mask before makeup, or after washing your face. You can do a mask once or twice a week.

Ready to Work Together to Improve your Skin and Diet?

As an Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Duke Integrative Medicine trained health and wellness coach, I love helping women create sustainable long-term changes with their health so they can feel their best inside and out. Together we’ll optimize your health utilizing a whole-body approach, working on things like eating more clean whole foods, reducing your inflammation, and lowering your stress so you can thrive and achieve your full potential.

To get started, fill out this form to schedule a complimentary 30-minute health coaching consultation with me.

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