Does Eating Dairy Really Cause Cystic Acne? The Answer Isn’t So Simple

a woman holding a glass of milk while looking at the camera

If you struggle with stubborn, hormonal acne, you might already know about the supposed link between cystic breakouts and certain foods. One theory is that high-glycemic foods, such as sweets and white bread, can trigger hormonal breakouts by fueling the body’s inflammatory response (after all, acne is an inflammatory condition). Another theory is that dairy can trigger cystic acne. I’ve helped so many clients with persistent hormonal breakouts in my 30 years as an esthetician, and questions about dairy have come up again and again. The answer isn’t so simple—not all dairy is created equal, and research on the topic is a little sparse.

In this post, I’ll explain the link between dairy and cystic acne. I’ll also provide a game plan for what to do if you suspect dairy could be making your breakouts worse.

Why Hormonal Breakouts, and Why the Chin and Jawline Area?

When we talk about the possible link between dairy and breakouts, we’re specifically talking about hormonal (cystic) breakouts. Cystic blemishes are those hard, often painful, bumps that never come to a head. They just sit there and can seemingly take forever to go away.

It’s incredibly common to get hormonal breakouts on the chin and around the jawline. Hormones trigger oil glands, of which there are many in these areas. Since hormones are fat soluble, the body will use these glands as an avenue of excretion for fat-based hormones.

What is the Link Between Dairy and Hormonal Breakouts?

Experts hypothesize that, since the majority of milk comes from pregnant cows (and some cows in the U.S. are given additional growth hormones), the hormone levels in milk may play a role in excess sebum production, which promotes acne. In other words, the consumption of certain dairy products may influence the hormones that trigger oil production in the skin to ignite the breakout process.

It’s important to note that dairy is not the cause of hormonal breakouts. A combination of internal factors like genes and hormonal fluctuations is ultimately to blame. You’re either predisposed to acne, or you’re not. That said, external factors (like dairy) can definitely be triggers that make breakouts worse and more difficult to manage.

Got (Skim) Milk? Not All Dairy Products Are Created Equal

If you’ve been reading all this thinking, “But I can’t give up cheese!” I get you—and I have some good news! Although there isn’t a ton of research about the link between dairy and cystic breakouts, what we do have shows that only specific types of dairy seem to have an impact (statistically speaking). Specifically, milk is what continues to get called out. Even more specifically, the strongest link seems to be between skim milk and breakouts. Low-fat dairy in general is thought to be more likely to trigger breakouts than full-fat dairy products. (Cheese lovers, rejoice.)

Now, this isn’t to say that it’s impossible for full-fat dairy products to stimulate breakout activity. As I said, the research is sparse, and a lot of what we know is anecdotal. This is why it’s really important to experiment for yourself to try to get a sense of what does or doesn’t work for your skin.

What to Do If You Suspect Dairy Is Triggering Cystic Breakouts

If you suspect dairy could be an acne trigger for you, try cutting it out of your diet completely for three weeks to see if there’s any improvement. If you tend to get cystic breakouts around your cycle, start cutting out dairy as soon as your period ends to see if it impacts the next one.

Once you’ve established a baseline, try slowly adding in different types of dairy. Adding them in one at a time will make it easier to pinpoint if a certain type of dairy is more problematic for you than others. It can also give you a good sense of your personal tolerance. For instance, some people can consume moderate amounts of dairy without triggering their breakouts. Other people might be able to tolerate very little.

I know this process seems tedious, but if you’re dedicated to getting to the bottom of your hormonal breakouts, it’s worth it. My career as an esthetician has taught me that sometimes, anecdotal experience is the best. No two people are exactly alike. Research is a great tool to guide you, but it’s so it’s important to test things out for yourself.

Speaking of which, here are my other tips for dealing with hormonal breakouts. One of them is to spot-treat blemishes without drying out the rest of your skin, which can make breakouts worse. One of my favorite ways to do this is with the Chin Breakout Treatment Kit.

Remember That the Cause of Breakouts Is Incredibly Hard to Pinpoint

Finally, I want to leave you with a reminder that it’s difficult to isolate a single cause or trigger for breakouts. Acne is incredibly complex, and while I hope this post gets you closer to banishing yours for good, dairy is likely only one piece of the puzzle. I’ve mentioned in this post how powerful anecdotal information can be—here are 11 common causes of adult acne as I’ve observed them in my time as an esthetician.

Disclaimer: Content found on and, including text, images, audio, or other formats were created for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website or blog.


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  1. Thank you for posting this. I love dairy foods, so this is an excellent article for me. I learned a lot. Keep on posting!

    Posted By: Aesthete House  | 

  2. I’ve also found dairy to be triggering many inflammatory responses in my body – gut ache, acne/cystic acne on my jawline, rosacea, etc.
    I’ve been struggling for years to reduce several spots of dermatitis on my forehead. I’ve seen a dermatologist about it, where I was initially told it was solar keratosis and had them burned off multiple times (both in office and at home treatments). However they kept coming back! Eventually I insisted on a biopsy, and it came back as dermatitis. In the end I was prescribed a heavy treatment cream, which after 7 months of consistent use has done nothing to eliminate my spots. After research and connecting the dots, I’m now moving onto eliminating dairy from my diet to see if that may be an underlying cause of my recurring, persistent dermatitis. In your experience, have you found dairy to be related to dermatitis?

    Posted By: Vanessa Eves  | 

    • Dermatitis is can often be linked to allergies. You may want to try eliminating dairy or taking an allergy test to see if this could improve the dermatitis.

      Posted By: Ella Stevenson  | 

  3. I totally agree that it’s the hormones.

    There are studies that show a arise in plasma estrogen and progesterone after drinking milk.

    Pregnant cows can have 10x more hormones in the third trimester than after pregnancy.

    In nature, it is not common to drink milk from a pregnant animal.

    Posted By: Gigglesford II  | 

  4. Does Lactose free milk also cause cystic acne ?

    Posted By: Nikki  | 

  5. Does the chin and jaw line also include the neck? I seem to get the cystic acne on my neck just under my chin when I have dairy, but I don’t usually see the neck listed as a problem area with dairy so I am wondering if acne on the neck could also be from dairy products? Thank you!

    Posted By: Laurie  | 

    • Yes, the neck most definitely is a part of the jawline and dairy can cause cysts in that area.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

  6. Has anyone tried taking lactose pills to prevent cystic acne? I’ve tried and I don’t get cysts, however it seems to cause digestive issues.

    Posted By: Kate  | 

  7. I am sooo glad I ordered the Anti-Cyst Treatment!
    I am 45 & for most of my adult life, I’ve gotten at least one acne cyst regularly with my cycle – ugh. Truthfully, I purchased this because I had never seen a product that was specifically created for cystic acne. My thought was, if it turned out to be half as good as the testimonials, I would be happy.
    It arrived yesterday, I applied it ONCE, & it has worked wonders! Woke up this morning w/significantly reduced redness on ALL spots AND the scab is GONE on the newest one! This stuff is amazing & it only takes a tiny amount! I almost can’t wait for a new one to begin to see how it does! Well… almost 😉 I am incredibly impressed!
    So glad I took the plunge & bought the Basic Collection too, I have very oily skin & hours after using it my face feels so nice. My only regret is that I didn’t purchase the Balancing Skin Tonic with it.
    Thank you for creating & sharing your wonderful products with us! I am so very grateful to you Renée!

    Posted By: Kim  | 

    • Thank you so much, Kim!! Stick with us, we’ll take good care of your skin!!

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

  8. Hey I am 27 and have had bad acne once before in my life when I was 24. Then I had gone on antibiotics and creams from the dermatologist and it cleared up. But left my fair skin more sensitive and irritated as before. So 6 months ago(27 yrs old) when I started getting horrible acne mainly on my cheeks and jaw, I was hesitant to go back on antibiotics and harsh creams because of the extreme sensitivity of my skin. I went to the health food store where I was recommended a total body cleanse (cleansesmart) while taking it my acne cleared up but as soon as I stopped it started again. At first I thought It was something in the cleansesmart pills that cleared my acne. Then through research and realization. I realized it was because the cleansesmart program told me to restrict things like dairy, gluten, and sugar in order for them to be effective which I did. Also it was easy because the cleansing pills reduce hunger and craving. As I researched online I read more and more about dairy being the culprit and it made sense. So with acne popping up again instead of doing another cleanse I decided to try cutting out all dairy. And surprised it worked! Kind of sad because it was my favorite food group but at least I found the culprit.Now my question is why at 27 would dairy all of a sudden give me such bad acne when it hadn’t the rest of my life??? Also to note which may answer my question is that as I am getting older my skin is becoming more and more sensitive, red, irritated and itchy. Even without dairy consumption, the pimples go away but the flared up skin doesn’t. I’m pretty sure personally I might have mild rosacea as well. But see no benefit in going to a dermatologist when they will just put me on a bunch of stuff that masks the symptoms and destroys my skin.

    Posted By: Ashley  | 

    • Great question, Ashley. The reason why dairy is NOW an issue for you is simply because your body is changing. I hear this ALL THE TIME from clients. It’s very common that your skin and body can completely do one thing and out of the blue, it just switches gears. So for now, and do know that it won’t be forever, your skin just isn’t responding well to dairy. As for your sensitive skin, take our Skin Type Quiz to get products recommended to help manage it and get it looking its best. And of course, check out our Anti Cyst Treatment for times when you overindulge in dairy.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

  9. Is it a bad thing that my cysts happen to form on my inner thighs I tried a cream and warm cloths to bring them down cus I heard the warmth of the cloth will help the cysts go down I hear people get them on there chins and cheeks is it bad that mine form on my inner thighs (worried)

    Posted By: chrissy  | 

    • If your thighs touch together when you walk, the friction could cause some bumps. Generally ice is better to reduce inflammation for cysts.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 

  10. I have suffered from cystic acne for quite some time and just came across your site after hearing about the dairy correlation from another source. However would you say that it’s the dairy component that causes the acne or the fact that a lot of the cows that produce the milk have been given extra hormones and growth factors and thus drinking milk that isn’t organic causes the acne. I want to try out and see if this is the case and is what is causing my acne around my jaw line but I love love love yogurt.. So I buying organic yogurt and milk would have the same result as cutting out dairy in general that would be great! Thanks for your thoughts!

    Posted By: Kristin  | 

    • You’ll just have to experiment, Kristin but most people who are intolerant to dairy cannot even eat organic dairy. I would first recommend cutting out all dairy for two weeks and then maybe slowly work it back in once you see how your skin responded to no dairy at all.

      Posted By: Renée Rouleau  | 


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