Skincare Mistakes 101: How Sugar & Dairy Can Cause Your Acne

Word is getting out that the link between food and acne is no longer a myth and that they hold a degree of truth. So do the top two contributions to our diet, sugar and dairy, count then? Based on our research, we definitely think so!


Sugar is everywhere and it is delicious. From desserts to soda to fruit and even bread, sugar may make up a good “sneaky” portion of our diet but it’s also a viable energy source to keep our bodies functioning. Sugar is mostly found in a lot of processed carbs like white bread, cakes, donuts, cereal, and the like. And...let’s be honest with ourselves: we tend to overeat those.

To understand the relationship between sugar and carbs, let’s backtrack for a bit. Carbs are split into two groups: simple carbs and complex carbs.


Simple carbohydrates are quick burning fuels that give the body a burst of energy. These simple carbs typically consist of sugars like glucose, fructose, sucrose, and maltose. To give you some perspective, fructose is a sugar that’s found in fruits and honey, but is also used for flavoring candy and soft drinks. At a molecular level, these sugars resemble somewhat like sentient hexagons that are easily broken down by our body’s digestive system. Some examples of simple carbs include cupcakes, cookies, donuts, soda, juices, and everything else that sweet tooths in the world can’t resist.


Complex carbohydrates (also known as starches) are also sugars that provide fuel to the body but they break down slowly throughout the day. This helps the body retain energy and keeps us feeling full for a longer period of time. At a molecular level, these complex carbs are a cluster of hexagonal sugars kept together into chains. Some examples of complex carbs include starchy veggies like broccoli, spinach, and sweet potatoes, whole wheat or whole grain bread, legumes, pasta, and rice.

Complex carbs in general are what we should gear towards for maintaining a healthy diet, but simple sugars are when we start to notice interesting things in our body, which can most likely lead to acne and breakouts. Since simple sugars are easily digested in the body, the body releases insulin to combat the sudden spike in glucose, which then causes a burst of inflammation to spread all throughout the body. Remember that your body experiences inflammation to protect itself from infection, illness, or injury.

Essentially eating simple sugars is like pouring gasoline into a fire, which burns uncontrollably fast and dies down just as quickly as it started.

The scary thing about overeating simple sugars is that excess sugar molecules can really damage your skin’s collagen levels through a process called glycation. This process allows the sugar molecules to “eat” away the collagen and elastin on your skin, so to speak, which can eventually create uneven skin tone, fine lines, and wrinkles.

Here’s the thing though: I’m not trying to scare you into cutting off sugars for good. Sugars are essential sources of energy that our body needs and sometimes, we all deserve to treat ourselves to a slice of cake every now and then.

What you can do instead is to reduce the current amount of sugar you eat on a regular basis, and swap out processed sugars for natural sugars to reduce spiking your insulin levels.

For example: if you normally drink tea with two spoonfuls of sugar, gradually switch to one spoon of sugar, then one-two spoons of honey. And if you’re bold, you can start drinking your tea without any sugar in it.

But if you’re looking for some delish sugar alternatives, here are some of our faves:

Manuka Honey

Raw honey

Coconut Sugar

Maple syrup

Pitted Dates


Just like sugars, dairy is also a blessing and a curse to a good portion of mankind because it’s so darn delicious and dangerous. And note that I said “a good portion of mankind”.

For some of you, drinking dairy isn’t an issue and you can drink milk or eat cheese and happily go about your day. But for others, it can be a target of food sensitivities that can cause a wide range of issues such as bloating, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, gas, and even acne.

Let’s explore deeper:

The two components to milk that may act as culprits are: high levels of insulin and dense amounts of hormones.

Milk is found to have high levels of insulin due to the proteins & the lactose (sugar found in milk) stimulating more insulin production to the body.


A glass of milk can contain anywhere up to 60 different types of hormones. One of them is called IGF-1 (Insulin Like Growth Factor 1), which is also a hormone found naturally in our bodies by the time we reach adolescence. This growth factor hormone is responsible for our oily skin, acne & fluctuating hormone levels such as androgen [testosterone] and estrogen.

To put things in another perspective, when we ladies get our monthly gift from mother nature, we also experience a fluctuating of hormones which also causes inflammation in our bodies. So either way, as long as we drink milk, we’re also receiving the same hormones into our bodies which may or may not have an adverse effect.

Before you consider investing in skim milk or a low-fat milk, know that these two types might actually increase acne production more so than full fat milks. These two milks contain whey & casein proteins that release a hormone similar to IGF-1 which can be speculated as main culprits for acne and breakouts. But again, reiterating that the effects of milk can vary from person to person.


The good thing about today is that there are lots of alternative milks out there that can deliver some of the essential nutrients of milk but without all the discomfort and acne. Since acne is a result of inflammation, it makes sense to look for foods and drinks that can help calm it down.

One drink you can consider trying is turmeric tea, black pepper and honey, which are great ingredients for their anti-inflammatory properties and work together to reduce the growth of acne-causing bacteria in your body.

But if you insist on drinking milk (and if you’re not allergic to nuts!), you can consider drinking nut milks. Here are some of our favs:

Almond milk

Macadamia Milk

Coconut Milk

Oat milk

So everything mentioned in this article is moreso to help you become more aware of your body and how it reacts to the foods and drinks you take in. When there is acne, there could be many underlying reasons as to why your pimples got triggered. So if you’ve done all that you could, from over the counter acne spot treatments to cutting skincare products to reducing stress, perhaps food could be something to consider to help your body from the inside out. But that doesn’t mean you should completely cut out every single sugary or milk-based food or drink out of your diet; eat in moderation and have fun experimenting expanding your palate! At the end of the day, food is energy and an essential part of our lives.

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