If you find yourself breaking out from dairy milk, you’re not alone.
Dairy, and more specifically, dairy milk, is one of the worst food groups when it comes to acne. Dairy can also cause a plethora of digestive issues for anyone with lactose intolerance.
But what about milk alternatives, like almond, soy, coconut, hemp, oat, and flaxseed milk?
Believe it or not, these milk alternatives could be doing more harm than good for your skin.
In this article, we’ll break down a few things:
- Why you should avoid conventional dairy milk if you have acne
- The best skin-safe milk alternatives
- The worst milk alternatives for acne
You might be surprised that certain milk alternatives aren’t any better than dairy milk when it comes to your skin’s health. In fact, many plant based milk alternatives are loaded with sugars that can trigger inflammation and ance breakouts.
Table of Contents
Why you should avoid dairy milk if you want clear skin
In the eBook included in the Clear Skin Resource Kit, I break down several reasons why dairy is linked to acne:
- Dairy contains hormones, like IGF-1, that clog and block pores
- Most dairy triggers a large insulin (an acne-causing hormone) response. It’s double trouble for hormonal acne
- Protein found in dairy (casein) can damage the digestive system in some people
- Dairy is high in calcium, which prevents zinc, a crucial nutrient for clear skin, from being absorbed
- Many people are allergic or intolerant to dairy, which can cause inflammatory acne
While some dairy is better than others on these issues, milk is one of the worst.
- Milk triggers a huge insulin response – insulin contributes to hormonal acne
- Most milk contains high amounts of casein A1 protein, which can damage the gut and cause acne
- It’s extremely high in lactose and whey, which can trigger acne in certain individuals
Overall, milk is one of the worst drinks you could have if you’re trying to get clear skin.
While raw, grass-fed milk from sheep or goats is likely to be tolerated better than pasteurized cow milk, it’s still not a good choice.
Luckily, there are some much better options when it comes to dairy-free milk substitutes for acne-prone skin.
The best dairy-free milk substitutes for acne-prone skin
Before we begin, let me just say this: quality counts when it comes to dairy-free milk substitutes.
If you’re buying coconut or almond milk with tons of added ingredients and sugar, it’s not going to matter how organic or high in vitamin E it is. It’s still likely going to trigger a large hormonal release that’ll make your acne worse.
Always go for sugar-free, natural milk alternatives with the least amount of added ingredients as possible.
Coconut milk is an amazing substitute for dairy-milk as long as it meets a few criteria:
- No added sugar
- Minimal added ingredients
- Organic and cold-pressed, if possible
Coconut milk is low in sugar, low in inflammation-causing omega-6 fatty acids, and high in skin-clearing nutrients, including magnesium (26% DV/cup), potassium (142%), and selenium. It’s also a great source of high-quality saturated fats, which are a much better fuel source than carbs and sugar when it comes to acne-prone skin.
The fat in coconut milk is also a great way to eliminate harmful bacteria and lower inflammation, two additional benefits for acne.
On top of that, most coconut oil is gluten-free, soy-free, and unlikely to cause any issues to your gut or digestive system. Coconuts are among the safest, most digestible plants you could possibly eat. Although soy is promoted as a healthy meat alternative there are many examples of soy actually being an acne trigger.
You can make your own coconut milk or purchase high-quality, unsweetened coconut milk online (I prefer the powder) or at most grocery stores.
Bottom line: Coconut milk is not only a safe choice for acne-prone skin but also a food that could help clear existing acne.
Macadamia milk, much like coconut milk, is an extremely safe choice when it comes to dairy-free milk substitutes for clear skin.
The reason for this is simple: macadamia nuts themselves are an extremely safe, easy to digest, and low-carb food that is unlikely to trigger inflammatory or hormonal acne. They’re rich in healthy monosaturated fats and very low in inflammation-causing omega-6 fatty acids (unlike a lot of other dairy-free milk substitutes).
There are only two caveats to macadamia milk: sweetened macadamia milk should be avoided and individuals with allergies or intolerances to tree nuts should opt for something else.
It may be hard to find macadamia milk, but if you can, it’s one of the best options out there.
Bottom line: Macadamia milk is extremely safe for your health and your skin
Almond milk is another solid choice for acne-prone skin, but not quite as safe or beneficial as coconut milk.
On the plus side:
- Almond milk is high in skin-clearing antioxidant vitamin E
- Unsweetened almond milk is low in sugar and high in healthy fats
- May contain prebiotics that helps feed the gut microbiome
On the downside, almond milk is a little higher in omega-6 fatty acids (which can trigger inflammatory acne, especially for people with oily skin) and is more commonly attributed with digestive issues. Sensitivities and intolerances to almonds are fairly common.
If you have a hard time handling certain tree nuts, almond milk can make acne worse.
Sometimes almond milk is fortified with really high amounts of vitamin B12, which has been linked to increased acne1https://www.sciencealert.com/common-vitamin-linked-to-higher-risk-of-acne (and is probably the reason your multivitamin is giving you acne).
Making your own almond milk at home using sprouted or raw almonds your most healthy option if you are going to consume nut milk. Still, the majority of unsweetened almond milk will be fine for acne-prone skin. Rude Health Almond Milk is my preferred brand. It contains only two ingredients: organic almonds and water.
Bottom line: if you tolerate almonds and other tree nuts, almond milk is a great alternative to traditional cow milk for acne-prone skin
For further information, read the detailed writeup on almond milk’s impact on acne.
Even though cashews aren’t exactly one of the safest nuts for acne, cashew milk is a pretty great choice for acne-prone skin.
On the plus side, cashew milk is:
- Low in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids (0.4g/cup)
- Has very little vitamin B12, unlike most other milk substitutes
- Is low in carbs and high in healthy fats
On the downside, cashew milk is:
- High in phytic acid, which can prevent nutrients from being absorbed
- Fairly high in calcium, which can make it harder for your body to absorb zinc
Some people also have a hard time digesting cashews and other nuts – if this is the case, don’t try cashews.
Bottom line: Cashew milk is a pretty solid and safe choice when it comes to dairy-free milk alternatives for clear skin
The worst dairy-free milk substitutes for acne-prone skin
Not all of these cow milk alternatives are absolutely horrible for acne. Some of them are still much better than cow’s milk for acne-prone skin. If you can, stick with the alternatives above if you’re trying to eat a diet that leads to clear skin.
A better choice than milk from cows?
A good choice for your skin overall? Probably not.
Sheep and goat milk is better than cow milk for a few reasons:
- Lower in lactose – it’s less likely to cause an allergic reaction
- Much lower in casein A1 protein – less likely to cause gut/digestive issues
- Hormonally closer to human milk – goat and sheep milk is a better fit when it comes to hormones than cow milk
Still, goat and sheep milk is not safe for acne-prone skin for a few reasons:
- It’s still full of hormones, including IGF-1 and added growth hormones from farmers
- It’s still high in calcium, which can prevent zinc absorption
- It still has some lactose, granted not as much
Overall, you’re much better off going with a plant-based, dairy-free milk alternative like coconut milk or almond milk.
Oat milk actually isn’t the worst choice when it comes to dairy-free milk alternatives. In fact, some people might tolerate it just fine.
Still, there are a few downsides:
- Most oat milk contains trace amounts of gluten from processing. If you’re sensitive to gluten, this can be an issue.
- It’s pretty high in carbs (20g/cup) without a whole lot of fiber – this can lead to insulin spikes and hormonal acne
These aren’t enough to make oat milk public enemy number one, in fact, it’s probably a better choice for most people than cows milk. Still, when there are alternatives like coconut milk or almond milk available, it’s a no-brainer to go with these safer options.
Bottom line: Oat milk isn’t a horrible choice for ance-prone individuals, unless you are sensative to gluten or carbs.
On the surface, hemp milk looks like a decent alternative to dairy milk for acne-prone skin. It’s low in carbs and high in nutrients like magnesium. Hemp milk is also plant based, which makes it a great alternative for vegetarians and vegans.
Unfortunately, hemp milk is extremely high in inflammation-causing omega-6 fatty acids.
A single cup of hemp milk has over 3.0g of omega-6 fatty acids.
Consuming too many omega-6s without enough omega-3s (found in fish) can lead to chronic inflammation – a condition where the immune system fires off an inflammatory response for minor threats, including acne. This takes a relatively harmless acne infection and turns it into a bright, red, protruding pimple.
Even though hemp milk is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation, they’re high in the wrong type of omega-3s, ALA. Your body is very inefficient at breaking down ALA omega-3s into usable omega-3s, which is part of the reason why plant-based and Vegan diets can lead to acne.
On top of that, hemp milk is high in vitamin B12, which can make acne worse2https://www.sciencealert.com/common-vitamin-linked-to-higher-risk-of-acne.
Bottom line: Hemp milk is not a great alternative for acne-prone skin due to its high levels of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids
Rice milk is tricky because it really depends on the type of rice milk.
Most rice milk is relatively low in omega-6 fatty acids, which is a big plus for acne-prone skin. Unfortunately, rice milk is also typically the highest in carbohydrates among dairy-milk alternatives, making it a prime candidate to spike insulin levels and cause hormonal acne.
The plus side of rice milk is that white rice milk, much like white rice itself, is relatively easy to digest. During the process of converting brown rice to white rice, the hull is removed. The hull is what contains all the problematic anti-nutrients that can trigger acne – lectins, phytic acid, etc. Brown rice milk, on the other hand, still contains trace amounts of these compounds, making it more likely to trigger inflammation and acne.
Overall, neither white rice milk nor brown rice milk are great alternatives to dairy consumption.
Bottom line: White rice milk is relatively easy to digest, but high in carbs. Brown rice mlik is more difficult to digest and more likely to lead to inflammatory acne
On the surface, flaxseed milk looks like a good alternative to dairy milk because it’s low in carbs and high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
Below the surface, flaxseeds, and flax milk all have a plethora of problems for acne:
- High in inflammation-causing omega-6 fatty acids (1.7g/tablespoon of seeds)
- High in phytates, an antinutrient that prevents skin-clearing vitamins and minerals from being absorbed
- Can potentially throw off the hormonal balance of estrogen and testosterone, leading to hormonal acne
Finally, the form of healthy, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids found in flax milk, ALA, is not the body’s preferred form. ALA is extremely inefficient to break down into usable DHA and EPA omega-3s (which is why you might want to take a high-quality fish oil supplement).
Bottom line: Flaxseed milk is another plant-based milk alternative that can lead to nutritional deficiencies and hormonal and inflammatory acne
Soy and soy products, including soy sauce, tofu, soy milk, and even plant-based protein powder, is a nightmare for acne.
Soy milk is high in saponin and phytic acid, which are compounds (antinutrients) that can easily cause damage to the digestive system. These compounds prevent crucial skin-clearing nutrients, like zinc, from being absorbed.
Furthermore, soy milk is high in phytoestrogens, which can disrupt your hormonal balance and lead to hormonal acne. Just like dairy milk, soy milk can lead to hormonal acne.
Even though it’s low in carbs and omega-6 fatty acids, soy milk is one of the worst choices when it comes to plant-based milk substitutes.
Bottom line: Soy milk is high in antinutrients that damage the digestive system and impair nutrient absorption, and can lead to hormonal imbalances that trigger acne
In this article, we looked at a couple of things…
First, we talked about why you should never drink dairy milk if you have acne-prone skin:
- Dairy is a nightmare for hormonal acne
- Casein (dairy protein) can damage the gut and cause inflammatory acne
- A lot of people are sensitive or intolerant to dairy without even knowing it
Then, we looked at some better alternatives, including:
- Coconut milk – low in sugar, easy to digest, nutritious
- Almond milk – high in antioxidants, a great choice if you can handle tree nuts
- Cashew milk – very safe choice if you can digest tree nuts
Next, we looked at a few alternatives that you’re better off avoiding if you want clear skin:
- Sheep/goat milk – still contains acne-causing hormones IGF-1
- Hemp milk – high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids
- Flaxseed milk – inflammatory and can throw off hormonal balance
- Oat milk – high in carbs, contains trace amounts of gluten, but not a horrible alternative
- Soy milk – a nightmare for hormonal acne, full of anti-nutrients
Remember, the most important thing when it comes to buying milk alternatives is avoiding added ingredients and sweeteners that cause acne. You can find a full list of ingredients to avoid in the GoodGlow Shopping Guide.
Frequently Asked Questions
Oat milk with added sugar will cause an insulin response and can increase both frequency and severity of acne. If you drink oat milk without any added sugar then oat milk is probably a better option for your skin than traditional cow milk.
If you are suffering from acne almond milk is preferable to traditional dairy. Just make sure the almond milk you buy does not have added sugar. Almond milk products with added sugar have been known to cause acne breakouts.