This Food May Cause Acne & Breakouts — Here's What To Do About It

Integrative Medicine Doctor By Taz Bhatia, M.D.
Integrative Medicine Doctor
Dr. Taz Bhatia is a board-certified physician, specializing in integrative and emergency medicine, pediatrics and prevention, with expertise in women’s health, weight-loss, hormone balance and nutrition. She attended Emory University, the University of Georgia and the Medical College of Georgia.
This Food May Cause Acne & Breakouts — Here's What To Do About It

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There's one so-called health food that might be responsible for tons of breakouts, and this is yogurt—yep, yogurt. The problem is that yogurt is a complex food and can come in many guises. You might be clued into the fact that fruit-flavored or fruit-on-the-bottom yogurts are full of sugar, or that the "light" varieties are full of chemicals and artificial sweeteners—but the pitfalls run deeper than this. So while organic Greek yogurt is still a great health food for many, for some it can cause a worsening of acne and breakouts. How do you know if you might have a sensitivity to yogurt, and what causes this sort of breakout?

Why yogurt might be triggering a breakout.

It's true that yogurt offers your gut (the tube that stretches the length from your mouth to your navel) live probiotics that can help with many digestive issues and can actually help reduce acne breakouts for many people. This is because of the well-researched gut-skin connection that draws a link between your gut microbiome's health and your skin microbiome's health. Essentially, anything you can do to benefit your gut microbiome will likely help your skin as well.

However, these gut-health benefits are mitigated based on two factors:

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1. You're eating the wrong kind of yogurt.

My go-to yogurt recommendation is plain Greek yogurt—not nonfat or fat-free. Why? While it used to be a given that a doctor or nutritionist would always make recommendations regarding dairy to be sans the fat, today most experts know that there's essential value to fat—it isn't bad, and it won't cause weight gain.

On the other hand, sugar is much more likely to be the culprit for your breakouts—and all milk products have sugar, even the plainest and most fat-free. And what happens is when brands remove fat from yogurt, they often will add other flavorings and toppings to make up for it. These are usually loaded with sugar or artificial flavoring.

2. You have a dairy allergy (not lactose intolerance).

This is a much more rare scenario, but there are cases of it. And here’s where a lot of people get confused. People who are lactose intolerant can often eat yogurt without consequence, while those who have an allergy to milk and milk products won't be able to eat this cultured milk. Why? Yogurt is much lower in lactose—a sugar found in dairy products—than other milk products. A milk allergy happens when your immune system overreacts or rejects milk proteins. It's the proteins in milk—whey and casein—that can be difficult for the body to process and thus cause allergy. Milk allergy affects about 2.5% of children under 3 years old and becomes more rare with age. Symptoms of a milk allergy can range from rashes, hives, itching, swelling, and acne—to something more serious like trouble breathing, wheezing, and anaphylactic shock. However, you don't need to have a full-blown allergy to have this dairy trigger your breakouts. Research has indicated that those who consumed large amounts of whey proteins are more likely to have acne.

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What to do if you suspect yogurt is triggering your breakouts:

If you are experiencing acne—blackheads, pimples, or cystic acne—there's no way for sure to tell exactly what caused it. However, it's a good idea to do a complete cleanse from all foods that are likely to cause this sort of inflammation. After you've taken a break, you'll start to weave back in one potential food culprit at a time to see where the source lies (see suggestions below).

Try a two-week elimination diet.

A great way to give yourself an easy detox is to use nondairy smoothies for a couple of weeks. Try one of the following smoothie recipes in the sample menu below for breakfast and lunch, and then have a dinner made of lean protein with salad or stir-fried veggies. This gives your entire digestive system a break, allows your immune system to switch into high gear, and removes all inflammatory foods from your diet. During this time, avoid all dairy products. If your skin clears up, you can try adding back in a small amount of plain yogurt and see if your skin has any recurrence of breakouts.

  • Breakfast: Make a Chocolate Protein Smoothie by combining 1 cup unsweetened rice milk with 1 frozen banana and 2 scoops chocolate pea protein powder. Enjoy!
  • Lunch: Make a Tropical Delight Smoothie by blending 1 cup rice milk with ¼ cup each frozen pineapple and mango, 1 small banana, and 2 scoops vanilla pea protein powder.
  • Dinner: Steamed or stir-fried veggies, or a big bowl of salad. Top with lean chicken or fish.
  • Snacks: For the next two weeks, enjoy herbal teas in between meals.
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Don't miss your probiotics.

Even though you’re taking a break from dairy, you can still get your probiotics in a supplement or by using nondairy yogurt.* Other probiotic-rich foods include kefir, bone broth, sourdough bread, and kombucha, but probiotics can also be taken as supplements.*

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Taz Bhatia, M.D.
Taz Bhatia, M.D.
Dr. Taz Bhatia is a board-certified physician, specializing in integrative and emergency medicine,...
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