A lot of folks reading this post know just how dangerous dairy milk can be when it comes to clear skin.
But what about almond milk?
Is this dairy-free plant-based alternative up to the challenge of replacing dairy milk, or should you go with a different dairy-free choice?
While almond milk is generally a much better choice than dairy milk for clear skin, you may be surprised to find that almond milk isn’t without its fair share of downsides, too…
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Why Does Dairy Milk Causes Acne?
In my book, Unmasking Acne, I cover at length how dairy is one of the absolute worst food groups when it comes to acne.
I won’t go into full detail here, but it’s important to cover a quick summary so that we can start to get an idea for why almond milk, despite not being the best dairy-free milk alternative, is still much safer for your skin than dairy milk…
1. Dairy Milk Triggers Acne-Causing Hormones
A lot of folks switching to low-carb or keto diets for acne tend to assume that dairy is fine – after all, it’s low in carbs, right?
Well, the truth is, despite being low in carbs, dairy products, and especially dairy milk, are insulinogenic – meaning that they are extremely likely to spike blood sugar levels, leading to the production of a hormone called insulin.
The scientific reason for this is because dairy contains protein (casein/whey) that is particularly insulinogenic, much more so than other forms of protein.
Insulin is one of the single worst hormones when it comes to clear skin, as it triggers a cascading effect of other hormones and compounds that all contribute to the root causes of acne, including IGF-1, IGFBP-3, and IL-1:
- IGF-1 and IGFBP-3 blocks pores
- IGF-1 increases oil production
- IL-1 and IGF-1 promotes inflammation
Typically, we tend to think of carbohydrate-heavy foods like bread and rice to be foods most likely to spike insulin, however, milk has been shown to trigger a larger insulin response than some of the stereotypical worst-offenders, including white bread and white rice1https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9356547/.
This is one area where almond milk will have a clear advantage over dairy milk when it comes to your skin.
2. Dairy Milk Contains Acne-Causing Hormones
In addition to triggering the release of these acne-causing hormones, dairy milk contains high amounts of these acne-causing hormones. In particular, insulin-like growth factor 1, or IGF-1, for short, is capable of triggering a cascading effect of high skin cell production and clogged pores.
All dairy, whether it comes from cows, sheep, or goats, has a single purpose – to help young offspring grow. While this may be beneficial in our infancy, our body becomes less and less equipped to handle high amounts of these hormones as we grow older, and we pay the price with acne.
3. Dairy Milk Is Difficult to Digest
In addition to spiking hormone levels, dairy milk is also extremely difficult to digest for two primary reasons.
First, the protein found in most dairy milk, casein A1, has been shown to cause intestinal inflammation and can potentially increase intestinal permeability, leading to something called leaky gut syndrome. 2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5593102/
Inflammation is one of the root causes of acne – in fact, acne is an inflammatory disease. You see, bacterial acne infections happen on the skin all the time – they’re relatively harmless, and with a properly functioning immune system and skin microbiome, the body takes care of them without you even noticing.
In individuals with acne, one of two things are occurring (and almost always both):
- The body is producing an abnormal number of acne infections (possibly due to overgrowth of skin cells, like we talked about with dairy hormones)
- The body is overreacting to existing and infections and triggering an inflammatory response
Inflammation is what makes a routine, relatively mundane acne infection and turns it into a red, protruding, painful pimple, or cyst. Without inflammation, the visible appearance of acne is either nonexistent or not nearly as pronounced, which is why limiting inflammation is crucial.
Again, this is something that I cover in much greater detail in my book, but for now, I hope this quick explanation can help illustrate why dairy can be extremely dangerous when it comes to your skin and inflammatory acne.
4. Dairy Allergies Are Extremely Common
Some studies estimate that upwards of 70% of the global population is lactose intolerant.3https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/lactose-intolerance/
This may not seem like a huge deal, as many individuals who are lactose intolerant simply deal with the negative reproductions of occasion dairy consumption in stride, however, every time lactose intolerant individuals consume dairy, their body triggers an allergic, inflammatory reaction.
The end result is that both dairy protein (casein A1) and carbohydrates (lactose) are among the worst offenders when it comes to inflammatory acne.
Check out more details in this write-up of dairy and acne.
Is Almond Milk a Better Choice? 3 Reasons Why
Alright, so after that rather comprehensive criticism of dairy milk, it’s safe to assume that almond milk is a better choice for clear skin, right?
Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean that almond milk doesn’t come with its own host of acne-causing problems.
There are still, better alternatives to almond milk which we’ll cover at the end of this article, but for the time being, let’s turn our attention to almond milk and take a look at why it’s better when it comes to your skin.
1. Almond Milk Doesn’t Contain Growth Hormones
Unlike dairy milk, almond milk contains no growth hormones, like IGF-1, that are likely to trigger the overgrowth of skin cells and sebum oil that can lead to acne.
Almond milk, being entirely plant-based, does contain its fair share of anti-nutrients that can lead to acne (we’ll cover this in further detail soon), but in moderate consumption, it’s a much safer choice than dairy milk, which is loaded with growth hormones, for this reason alone.
2. Almond Milk is Low-Insulin
Additionally, while dairy milk is likely to trigger a large insulin response (remember, insulin is one of the master hormones behind acne), almond milk usually triggers an extremely small insulin response.
I say “usually” because it’s extremely important that you avoid almond milk without added sugar.
Sugar is among the absolute worst offenders when it comes to insulin-driven hormonal acne because it triggers an immediate, rapid, and large insulin response from the body upon consumption.
This takes a naturally low-carb, low-insulin, skin-friendly drink like almond milk and turns it into a perfect concoction for causing hormonal acne.
3. Almond Milk Contains Prebiotics That May Aid Digestion
Almond milk is also high in prebiotics, compounds that can help beneficial fungi and bacteria in the digestive system grow.
Studies show that prebiotics may increase the efficacy of oral probiotics by essentially acting as a “feeding” source for these beneficial bacteria.4https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6041804/
Research on the gut microbiome is still in its infancy, however, it’s worth noting that if you can tolerate almond milk, it may be a useful tool in aiding digestion.
Downsides of Almond Milk For Clear Skin
All-and-all, almond milk is a considerably better choice when it comes to clear skin than dairy milk. Still, that’s not to say it doesn’t have its fair share of downsides: primarily its high omega-6 fatty acid content and frequent almond allergies.
1. Almond Milk is High in Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Much like casein A1, the protein found in dairy, almond milk also contains compounds that make it considerably more likely to cause inflammation-driven acne – namely, omega-6 fatty acids.
Here’s a quick summary from my book regarding omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids:
In the world of fats, none are more important for how our body handles inflammatory responses than polyunsaturated fats, and more specifically, two types of polyunsaturated fats – Omega-3 and Omega-6:
- Omega-3 Fats: Anti-inflammatory. More Omega-3s means less inflammation, which means less acne
- Omega-6 Fats: Pro-inflammatory. More Omega-6s means more inflammation, which means more acne
Your body needs both fats to thrive. Omega-6 isn’t completely evil – it’s necessary for brain development, hair growth, and a well-functioning immune system, it’s just that too much omega-6 can lead to chronic inflammation. Basically, you need to balance the amount of omega-6 fatty acids you eat with omega-3 fatty acids, otherwise you’re likely to trigger large inflammatory responses.
While most foods contain a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6, almond milk’s polyunsaturated fatty acids are almost entirely omega-6 fatty acids.
In fact, one cup of almond milk has as nearly as many inflammation-causing omega-6 fatty acids as some deep-fried french fries or potatoes chips. 5https://www.caltonnutrition.com/say-no-to-nut-milks/#:~:text=This%20means%20that%20you%20are,6%2C540%20mgs%20of%20omega%2D6.
2. Almond Allergies Are Extremely Common
In addition to omega-6-driven inflammation, almond milk is also very likely to trigger allergic reactions or intolerance.
Tree nut allergies are among the most common on the planet, which means that if you’re sensitive to tree nuts, almond milk may be causing an inflammatory response each and every time you drink it.
In conjunction with the high omega-6 content, this makes almond milk a relatively high risk for inflammatory acne.
Better Dairy-Free Alternatives to Almond Milk
It’s worth repeating one more time that for the vast majority of people, almond milk is still a better choice for clear skin than dairy milk, whether it’s cow, goat, or sheep dairy.
Still, if you’re in the market for a dairy-free milk alternative, there are two places we can turn that are a lot safer for your skin: coconut milk and macadamia nut milk.
Coconut milk and macadamia milk take the benefits of almond milk, including its low impact on blood sugar levels, no added hormones, and prebiotic benefits, and builds on it by being easy to digest and low in omega-6 fatty acids.
Both coconut milk and macadamia nut milk contain practically no omega-6 fatty acids, and both coconut and macadamia nut intolerances and allergies are extremely uncommon.
Still, it’s important that no matter what dairy-free milk alternative you go with that you avoid dairy-free milk with added sugar because it makes dairy-free milk considerably more likely to trigger insulin-driven acne.
If you’re looking for more info, you can see our Full Breakdown of Dairy-Free Milk for Clear Skin.