How Cutting Dairy & Going Vegan Can Get Rid of Acne

Written by: Merilin Vrachovska


Time to read 13 min

How to get rid of acne is an extremely common question.

Acne can be incredibly hard to deal with. It is hard to find the reason for it, and getting rid of it isn't a simple task.

However, certain things are now proven to help reduce acne or worsen it.

In this article, we will dive into how your diet is connected to your skin, and how by changing it, you can reduce and even get rid of your acne completely!

Table of Contents

What Is Acne?

Acne is a skin condition that appears when your hair follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells. It can cause oily skin, whiteheads, blackheads, or pimples, which often appear on the face, back, chest, and shoulders.

Acne can affect people of all ages, even though it is most common among teenagers. It is estimated that acne affects 9.4% of the global population.

What Causes Acne?

Additionally, the following factors may make acne worse:

Types Of Acne

  • Hormonal Acne - It develops in response to hormonal changes, which triggers a process of higher sebum production, and causes inflammation. It often appears on the lower half of your face, chin, and jawline acne.
  • Bacterial Acne - It is caused when excess sebum clogs your body's hair follicles, especially on the face, neck, or chest.
  • Fungal Acne - Fungal acne isn't caused primarily by oil and bacteria in pores; it occurs when an excess of yeast develops in the hair follicles. It can often become itchy and inflamed. It looks similar to bacterial acne but is less common.

List Of The Worst Foods That Cause Acne

1. Dairy

Intake of any dairy, any milk, full-fat dairy, whole milk, low-fat/skim milk, and yogurt, regardless of amount or frequency, was associated with a higher odds ratio for acne compared to no intake in individuals aged 7 – 30 years.

In many studies, dairy was one of the major food groups found to be acne-promoting.

While the exact reason is still not fully understood, there are a couple of theories that we are going to observe below.

Skin-friendly alternative: Plant-based milk such as oat milk, coconut milk, hemp milk, or almond milk.

2. Whey

Studies found that supplementation with whey proteins flares acne; it has a similar effect on the skin as drinking too much milk.

Whey contains high amounts of leucine, glutamine, and casein, which are connected to the formation of acne. (1, 2)

Additionally, the amino acids in whey protein also stimulate the body to produce higher levels of insulin, which has been linked to the development of acne. (1, 2, 3)

Various studies (1, 2, 3, 4) also found a direct correlation between whey protein consumption with acne and acne severity.

Skin-friendly alternative: Plant-based protein powder, low in sugar, and free from artificial sweeteners.

3. High Glycemic Index Foods

The glycemic index (GI) of a food refers to the rise in the blood glucose level two hours after consuming that food.

Studies found that diets with low glycemic index foods aid with the reduction of acne, and foods with a high glycemic index, have significant acne-promoting effects.

Such foods include:

  • Processed foods like corn chips, pretzels
  • Sugary beverages like soda or sports drinks
  • Cheeseburgers, fried food, pizza, doughnuts, cereals
  • Mashed potatoes, french fries

Skin-friendly alternative: There are healthier options with a low glycemic index for nearly anything. Find an alternative to your favorite corn chips, beverages, bars, cereals, etc.

4. Fast Food

Fast food such as burgers, nuggets, sausages, hot dogs, french fries, sodas, and milkshakes may increase acne risk. (1,2) They are also considered foods with a high glycemic index.

While it isn't sure why eating such foods may increase the risk of acne, theories include that it may affect gene expression and alter hormone levels in a way that promotes acne development.

Skin-friendly alternative: Consume more plant-based whole food meals.

5. Refined Grains

Refined grains, also known as "simple," spike your insulin levels quickly, making skin cells grow faster, increasing sebum production, and creating the ideal condition that exacerbates acne.

Refined grains include:

  • White bread
  • Cereals or desserts made with white flour
  • Pasta made with white flour
  • White rice and rice noodles
  • Sodas and other sugary drinks

Skin-friendly alternative: Consume more whole grains like brown rice, oats, barley, quinoa, spelt, rye, wheat, and corn. Unlike refined grains, whole grains offer a "complete package" of health benefits.

6. Sugary Foods

A study found that people who consumed added sugars, cakes, and pastries had a much greater risk of developing acne.

Another study also had the same conclusion; the participants were consuming one or two cans of sugar-sweetened soda daily, which increased inflammation and the risk of acne.

It works very similar to simple carbs; when you consume foods high in sugar, your body makes more insulin to bring down blood sugar.

This research also found a similar connection: increased consumption of glucose-containing foods can disturb the liver's average humoral production, which can exacerbate acne.

This then affects other hormones that can boost oil production in your skin.

Skin-friendly alternative: Make healthier, low-sugar wholesome sweets, or buy healthier options.

7. Alcohol

Alcohol has direct effects on your hormones. (1, 2) Those changes in your hormonal levels can increase and stimulate your oil glands. The increased sebum and oil can block your pores and cause acne breakouts.

Additionally, alcohol, especially if combined with sugary mixers, can contribute to inflammation in your body and make acne worse.

Skin-friendly alternative: Kombucha or sugar-free sparkling beverages.

8. Meat

Like dairy proteins, meat activates excess sebum production and inflammatory mechanisms, which promotes the development of acne. To find the exact connection, check out the study.

Another also found that acne is more prevalent in meat-eating versus vegetarian countries.

Further research supports the exact correlation between meat and acne, and it keeps the idea of restricting meat consumption (together with dairy products and sweets) to reduce cystic acne formation.

Skin-friendly alternative: Increase intake of plant-based proteins including seitan, tempeh, lentils, beans, green peas, hemp seeds, chia seeds, nutritional yeast, spirulina, quinoa, nuts, and nut butter. Eat more protein-rich veggies like broccoli, spinach, asparagus, etc.

Dairy And Acne

Numerous studies found a connection between acne and any dairy, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese; there was a noticeable increase in acne in individuals aged 7–30.

Why Does Dairy Cause Acne?

There are many theories for why dairy causes acne.

Dairy has been found to stimulate the production of hormones that can cause excess oil to be created and secreted by oil glands.

Another hypothesis is that increased consumption of leucine-rich animal proteins, predominately milk proteins and meat, causes inflammation inside the body, which may promote the development of acne.

This is because milk contains precursors to testosterone and other androgens, which influence the hormone receptors in the skin, and can turn on the process that causes acne.

Furthermore, about 68% of the world's population is lactose intolerant. Lactose is the natural sugar present in milk, and after infancy, it becomes more difficult for humans to break lactose down and digest it.

With that said, lactose-intolerant people can experience acne breakouts due to a lactose sensitivity or allergic reaction.

How To Get Rid Of Acne Fast?

There are a couple of very powerful things you can do to get rid of your acne. Try to implement as many changes to see faster results:

Change Your Diet

A comprehensive dietary strategy can be beneficial in the reduction of acne.

Increase the consumption of vegetables, legumes, and fruits and reduce (or remove) all animal-derived foods.

Maintaining a healthy diet, and avoiding dairy products and food products with a high glycemic load, can seem like nothing. However, it has the potential to bring incredible results.

For example, Brian Turner, a bodybuilder struggling with severe painful cystic acne, saw incredible results just after a month of cutting all dairy and whey protein from his diet.

He saw immediately that no new cysts were appearing, and after a couple of weeks, he could see the redness and inflammation start going away.

You can watch more about his story here.

Another unique example is Cassandra. In her YouTube video, she shares her journey on how going vegan helped clear her acne and how cutting dairy and meat improved her skin within three months:

Improve Sleep

Poor sleep and sleep deprivation could significantly impact endocrinological regulation as a whole, which could consequently trigger acne development.

Cortisol (the stress hormone) also increases due to poor sleep and stressful conditions, stimulating inflammation and promoting acne.

That's why improving your sleep is essential and another important factor in getting rid of your acne.

Reduce Stress

Emotional stress and its influence on acne severity have been underestimated until recently.

However, there is more and more evidence that psychological stress is an essential factor in acne and that stress can trigger and worsen acne.

Adopting stress-reduction techniques can significantly reduce acne severity. To tackle your stress levels and reduce them, you can consider trying out some of the following proven methods:

Use Clean Skincare Products

Using pure non-comedogenic skincare products is a massive step in getting rid of your acne.

Wash your face with lukewarm water and a mild facial cleanser. Use non-comedogenic hair products, sunscreen, and make-up.

Vegancuts offers Premium Discovery Beauty & Skincare Boxes each month with 100% natural and pure ingredients that are paraben-free and free of harmful chemicals or toxic ingredients.

Have A Simple Skincare Routine

Avoid using too much make-up, cosmetics, and skincare products. Create a simple skincare routine, and always remember the following tips:

  1. Wash your face with lukewarm water and a mild facial cleanser.
  2. Do not wash affected areas of skin more than twice a day - when you wake up and before you go to bed. Frequent washing can irritate the skin and make symptoms worse.
  3. Avoid using abrasive exfoliant sponges or brushes, which can also irritate your skin and cause acne to flare.
  4. Remove make-up before going to bed. Even non-comedogenic make-up can cause acne to worsen if you regularly forget to remove it and sleep in it.
  5. Wash your hair regularly and try to avoid letting your hair fall across your face.

Avoid Squeezing or Picking Your Skin

Avoid touching your face with your hands, your phone, and your hair, and try to avoid squeezing acne.

While it can be tempting to pop it, when you do it, you often push pus, dead skin cells, or bacteria deeper into your skin.

Once it happens, you increase inflammation and can often experience more unnoticeable acne, scarring, and pain.

Proven Foods That Can Help You To Get Rid Acne

Various studies concluded that low-glycemic foods might help reduce acne. Such foods include:

1. Fermented Food

Lactic acid bacteria are a group of microorganisms classified by their ability to produce lactic acid through fermentation. Lactic acid has potential anti-acne effects.

Lactic acid is found in pickled vegetables, sourdough bread, sauerkraut, kimchi, and fermented soy foods like tofu, soy sauce, and miso.

Additionally, your gut health can be connected with skin inflammation, and a leaky gut can potentially lead to acne. Adding fermented foods and veggies to your diet can promote a healthier gut and skin.

Fermented foods aren't just beneficial for your skin; they also show to be helpful with the following:

  • gut microbiota improvement
  • reduction of the risk of metabolic diseases
  • improvements in postprandial blood glucose and insulin response

2. Berries

Berries, including strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, are an incredible source of low glycemic carbs.

They are also packed with fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants. Adding more foods high in antioxidants and fiber to your diet can lower inflammation, and reduce acne-related swelling.

3. Papaya

Papaya is packed with many vitamins and minerals, and a digestive enzyme called papain that can exfoliate dead skin cells, unclog pores, fade acne scars, and prevent future breakouts!

You can add it to your diet or apply it topically as a mask if you don't like the taste.

4. Lemon

Drinking water helps the body to flush toxins while giving you healthier skin and adding fresh lemon juice can improve it.

Drinking lemon water helps the skin cells detox and forces out impurities and sweat, which often clog pores.

Lemon can also help increase collagen production, block free radicals, and lighten acne scars.

5. Kale

Kale is high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, essential to reducing your chances of acne.

Kale is also packed with vitamins and minerals that help reduce hyperpigmentation and promote your skin tone evening out.

Kale is rich in vitamin C and zinc and can be an effective way to increase your body's levels of vitamin A.

All three vitamins & minerals are essential for skin health and may help prevent and treat acne:

  • Vitamin A encourages the growth of new skin cells while breaking down dead skin cells. It can also regulate the amount of keratin produced by your skin and prevent dead skin cells from sticking together and forming acne-causing blockages in hair follicles.
  • Evidence suggests that zinc may have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which could decrease oil (sebum) production and, therefore, may improve acne.
  • Vitamin C promotes collagen formation that aids in repairing acne scars.

6. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene, converted into vitamin A after consuming them.

This vitamin is highly beneficial to your skin as it creates a barrier that reduces discoloration, inflammation, and clogged pores.

7. Cruciferous Veggies

Glutathione is one of the antioxidants in the skin. In a study, it was found that those suffering from acne had low levels of glutathione in the superficial layer of the skin.

Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts are excellent sources of sulfur compounds needed to build glutathione, so make sure you include plenty of those in your diet.

8. Steel-Cut Oats

Oats contain zinc, which reduces inflammation and kills acne-causing bacterial activity.

Oats are also higher in fiber, and people who include in their diet foods that are rich in fiber see improvement in their acne. And if you have the option, choose steel-cut oats.

They provide 5g of fiber per 1/4 cup serving of dry oats - nearly double the amount of fiber you can get from rolled oats.

9. Legumes

Legumes are one of the leading food groups with a low glycemic index. A study found that acne patients consume fewer weekly servings of legumes than the non-acne group.

Additionally, beans, chickpeas, and lentils are high in zinc, and various studies suggest that eating foods rich in zinc may help prevent and treat acne.

All those factors can indicate that legumes can aid in decreasing skin inflammation.

10. Barley

Barley is another fantastic option that consists of peptide lunasin, and it has anti-inflammatory properties.

It is a powerful antioxidant agent, and studies found that it can play a role in acne treatment, especially when consumed in a patient's daily diet.

How To Remove Acne Scars Naturally?

After acne clears up, the skin attempts to repair the damage and heal the skin by producing collagen.

When it produces too little collagen, people get a recessed scar. Too much, and you'll have a bulging scar.

Unfortunately, when it comes to acne scar treatment, there is usually no quick, easy, and permanent fix to this problem.

The following natural options will take time but are proven to help in various ways:

  • Rosehip Seed Oil - Applying it twice a day can help reduce the appearance of scars and skin discoloration.
  • Aloe Vera - Applying it directly to wounds can heal skin wounds and lower inflammation.
  • Black Seed Oil - It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. A study found that it can speed up and improve wound healing.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar - Succinic acid (present in ACV) was shown to control inflammation caused by acne, which in turn may prevent scars from forming.


Your skin is what you eat. Therefore, everything you eat becomes a part of not only your inner being but the outer fabric of your body.

The healthier the foods are that you consume, the better your skin will look.

Acne can be extremely frustrating and stressful.

But looking into your lifestyle habits, and focusing on eating well, exercising, and getting adequate sleep won't just improve your skin. Still, you will feel better about yourself, in general.

Remember that acne won't last forever; as terrible as it may feel, you can improve it. Just be patient.

If you want to switch to more natural and clean skincare products but don't know where to start, consider trying out Vegancuts!

Each month Vegancuts curates a Beauty Box with clean, non-toxic, vegan skincare and body care products from the BEST conscious, cruelty-free brands.

Each product can benefit anyone trying to use natural, non-toxic, certified organic, paraben-free, and chemical-free skin products!

Merilin Vrachovska

Merilin is a 25-year-old imperfect zero waste advocate, passionate about sustainability, veganism, and living harmoniously with nature. In her free time, she loves developing recipes for healthy & vegan sweets, traveling, and practicing yoga.

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