Skincare Revelation: Giving Up Dairy


As regular readers will know, my skin is rather temperamental – I suffer from redness, blemishes, flushing, rosacea…you name it, it’s on my face. In order to curb these afflictions, I have been taking an antibiotic called Tetralysal (a tetracycline) off and on (mainly on) for approximately ten years. Tetracycline treats bacterial infections and suppresses inflammation, and I took it happily and without question whenever I had a flare-up – I think I even took it continuously for 6 months once (!!). When I take it my skin looks magnificent – no sign of redness, not a hint of a blemish, basically perfection. However, after a decade of relying on it, I decided that I wanted to give my skin a break – it is, after all, not designed to be taken every day, and I was worried about the impact it was having on the rest of my body (hello, potential stomach ulcers). I braced myself for the worst, as when I had attempted to stop taking it on previous occasions, my skin would flare up again within 2/3 weeks (*insert Brokeback Mountain “I can’t quit you” here*).

It was around this time that I started researching the correlation between dairy (cow’s milk specifically) and acne. I was lactose-intolerant as a baby and although I technically grew out of it (by ‘technically’ I mean that I thankfully stopped projectile vomiting on everyone all.the.time), I always suspected that it might not be the best thing for me. Whenever I ate/drank anything containing a moderate amount of dairy my skin would react, and I would be left feeling bloated, gassy (sorry) and uncomfortable. Yet, that wasn’t enough to stop me, because CHEESE.

Although there is no conclusive scientific link between dairy and acne, there seems to be a large amount of research out there that confirms the theory that dairy, and cow’s milk in particular, has inflammatory properties and can aggravate/cause acne. What is it in cow’s milk that causes inflammation, you ask? Two things: milk sugars (lactose) and hormones (the cow’s naturally occurring hormones – the same ones that turn a calf into an enormous beast…think about that). In addition to dairy-induced skin woes, many people struggle to digest the lactose in cow’s milk, and will experience many of the same symptoms that I experienced – bloating, discomfort, gas…so glamorous.

I came to realisation that not only was I potentially harming my digestive system with all the antibiotics, but I was adding to the aggravation by consuming vast quantities of dairy, even though my body was begging me stop. So two months ago I made the decision to stop taking Tetralysal AND severely limit my dairy intake: no milk (in tea or coffee), no cheese, no yoghurt, and no ice cream. I have not, and will never, cut diary out entirely – mainly because it’s too tedious to read every food label to see it contains dairy, and that is why I chose to eliminate these four easily identifiable diary products to start with.

And so it began. I started substituting cow’s milk with soy milk but then changed to rice milk when my friend Gabby told me how evil soy milk is (also packed full of hormones and sugar). Rice milk is actually surprisingly delicious and I don’t miss the taste of cow’s milk at all – the only downside is that it doesn’t foam, so you can kiss your daily cappuccino/latte goodbye. Anyway, bygones. I have found ice cream and yoghurt very easy to give up – I just think about a great big honking pimple whenever I see them in the supermarket isle and that does a good job of putting me off. However, CHEESE. This is has been rather soul-destroying because cheese is the most delicious thing in the world, am I right? I haven’t been as disciplined as I should have been and I’ve had a few slip ups, but for the main part I think I’ve done okay. For the record, I still eat feta cheese (made of sheep or goat milk) – I’ll never give that up.

Now for the most important part: did it work? Well, dear reader, I am most delighted to inform you that YES IT DID! I noticed a vast improvement after a couple of days, and I have not had a single flare up in two months (by ‘flare up’ I mean pronounced redness across my nose and cheeks, coupled with spots on my cheeks and around my mouth). I have had the occasional spot, sure, but nothing that I wasn’t able to conceal with foundation, and they usually buggered off after a day or two anyway. In addition to getting far fewer spots, the general redness in my face has all but disappeared and the tone of my skin seems more even (although that is probably a result of the fabulous new products I have been using – more on those later in the week) – I couldn’t be happier. My digestive system is much more settled and I no longer suffer with bloating and discomfort, which has been rather life changing for me! I did test my theory two weeks ago by having foamy coffees and milk in my tea again, and what do you know? After a couple of days my skin flared up again…co-incidence? I think not.

I would like to stress that although this worked for me, it’s by no means an exact science and I am not encouraging you to give up dairy in an effort to improve your skin. All I’m saying is that I feel better and I feel like I look better since I limited my dairy intake, and although there are nutritional implications, I now get my calcium from leafy greens, broccoli, almonds and oily fish instead. Who knows, maybe there will come a time when I decide to give dairy another try, but based on the past two months, I can’t see that happening any time soon – my body just seems to be happier without it.

I’d love to know if any of you have had similar experiences – please let me know!

10 comments on Skincare Revelation: Giving Up Dairy

  • Terri

    Great post. It’s interesting that I was on this eating plan where I wasn’t allowed to consume milk and my skin was so clear. I was so shocked when random people would come up to me and tell me how beautiful my skin was. Oh I could still eat cheese, but only soft cheeses so maybe you can still reap the benefits without having to give up cheese.

    • Camilla (author)

      I can’t believe the difference it’s made! I wish I’d made the connection sooner – I could have saved myself years of swallowing tablets! That is excellent news about the soft cheeses – I won’t need any encouragement there! xx

  • Clara

    It worked for me too! I have been battling with acne since I was a teenager. Diane 35 did the trick for a while… the dermatologist put me on a short course of Roaccutane and I was acne free for 10 years. I am now 37 and tada, acne again! Mild one but I feel like wearing a balaclava! worse, my 3 year old son keep pointing them out …’maman booboo here’!!! Anyway, I decided to go the ‘natural way’. No milk, no meat, lots of greens, neem capsules, yoga and treat my skin with gentle products and quality make up and it’s working. I did struggle to find the right makeup though: Dior works but Avène and La Roche Posay are in my opinion the best for problem skin. I so wish they were available in SA! XX

    • Jules

      You should try placing a small order with a site like Escentual ( They ship internationally and if it’s under R500 you are exempt from customs duties.

      • Clara

        Thank you Jules XX

    • Camilla (author)

      As much as I love dermatologists, I do think sometimes they are too quick to prescribe medication instead of suggesting other alternatives. If I had known that all I had to do was stop drinking milk, I would have done it years ago! I was also put on Roaccutane for about six months it was absolute hell – never again. Our friend Tamsin also swears by neem capsules – she took them for a while when we were all living in London and her skin cleared up completely. I bought La Roche Posay Effeclar Duo about a year ago but it was far too drying for my skin so I gave it to a friend who has oilier skin, and it has completely zapped all of her blemishes – incredible stuff. xx

      • Clara

        I agree but back then all I wanted was my face back and roaccutane was/is the quick and easy way. I wish someone, anyone had told me to listen to my body and stress less about my face and most importantly stop injecting stuff my body would eventually flush out 10 years later in the form of …. acne! 🙂

        note on LRP & Avène: the only makeup/concealer products my skin can tolerate – the couvrance/tolériane range are really really good.

  • Cindy

    I have been struggling with my skin so much – like so much I could dry just talking about it. But anyway, started the whole no dairy thing yesterday so really hoping it works!

    Definitely going to have to give rice milk a try, not having my coffee in the morning is making me super grumpy.

    • Camilla (author)

      I highly recommend it – it tastes really good and I don’t miss the taste of cow’s milk at all. I hope you see the same results that I did – I know how awful it is to wake up and want to cry when you see the state of your skin. Thinking of you and please keep me posted xxx

  • Kayla

    I have oily skin and always get breakouts/flare ups around menstruation time. I’ve tried a good couple of treatments but nothing seems to take it away permanently. Using Diane 35 and Oratane was the pits.
    I’m using Dermalogica at the moment and it’s controlled the oilyness (my skin is balanced and feels good) BUT I still get nasty pimples on my cheeks, brows or forehead. I’m 20 years old now and I thought this would be a thing of the past.
    I am going try this though , who knows 🙂

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