What is actually proven to improve acne?
While more research is needed to determine whether going dairy-free can clear up your skin, there is no harm in taking a closer look at the impact your diet may be having. The A.A.D. recommends keeping a food diary and noting when certain foods or drinks seem to trigger a breakout or worsen existing zits. Then, they recommend experimenting with cutting out those foods or drinks to see if that helps.
If you think dairy products in particular are making your skin worse, start by eliminating those that have a high glycemic index, like ice cream, milk shakes and sugary yogurts. But make sure you’re still getting important nutrients, like protein and calcium, from other parts of your diet. “For many people, dairy is a primary source of protein and calcium in particular. So we have to be very cautious about saying dairy causes acne, because dairy may also be preventing osteoporosis and all sorts of things that are a little bit more directly correlated,” Dr. Zaenglein said.
Keep in mind that if you do see any skin changes as a result of cutting out certain foods from your diet, it won’t happen overnight. Based on what she’s seen in her own clinic, Dr. Kassouf said, “you have to commit to at least three months and maybe closer to six to really see a positive benefit.”
Still, keeping your skin acne-free may require more than a diet change, said Dr. Hilary Baldwin, a dermatologist and medical director of the Acne Treatment & Research Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I have never had a patient come to me and say, ‘I gave up dairy and it made all the difference in the world.’”
People with mild acne may benefit from certain over-the-counter products containing the topical retinoid adapalene or the antimicrobial compound benzoyl peroxide, Dr. Baldwin said. But be wary of using too many harsh products, which could include astringents, toners and exfoliants, and products containing alcohol. These can irritate or dry out your skin or make your acne worse, she said.
In fact, according to the A.A.D., acne-friendly skin care is actually pretty simple: Wash your face twice a day (using gentle cleansers, avoiding harsh scrubbing and rinsing with lukewarm water), avoid touching your face, shampoo your hair when it gets oily and remember to remove makeup before going to bed.
However, people with moderate to severe acne may require prescription treatments, Dr. Baldwin said, including topical or oral antibiotics, prescription retinoids, creams that reduce oil production or inflammation, or oral contraceptives. A dermatologist may also recommend lesser-known treatments, like the blood pressure medication spironolactone, which can reduce oil production and acne.
Nutrition is just one of the many factors that may play a role in acne, Dr. Baldwin said. Your genetics, hormones, sleep quality and environment can also influence acne. And in the end, she added, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for everyone.