My breakouts left my face as soon as dairy left my system
Once upon a time, lattes were my love language. They were the midday pick-me-up I turned to when offices were still a thing. They were a bonding activity I shared with coworkers between meetings. The abundance of coffee shops mere minutes from our office were lingering oases—little slices of respite I could waltz right into to get a straightforward, fuss-free “latte, please.”
Granted, I never thought I’d be the kind of person who’d give up milk. But like many other things, my dairy consumption is just one of the many things that the pandemic turned on its head.
It started with the stomachaches. Like many other millennials, good coffee was the only thing I really looked forward to in the thick of this pandemic-spurned work-from-home setup. It kept my brain alive and my willpower in check, so I helped myself to a good two or three cups per day. Roughly six months into the pandemic, cup three started spelling bad news. Gut grumbles, persistent pain and extended toilet time were the first signs, but I was steadfast. As far as I was concerned, nothing was going to get in between me and milk.
When the breakouts manifested, I thought it was just another period-related issue at play. My monthly visitor has the tendency to bring skin trouble with it—but it didn't take long to rule that out as a potential trigger. Unlike my typical pre-period zits, the irritation didn’t quit. As soon as one pimple healed, another would take its place. I was red, itchy and breaking out on my cheeks and around my chin for months.
My fear of venturing outside led me to every cause of action under the sun. I did my research. Overhauled my skincare routine. Changed my shampoo and washed my pillowcases. And like any millennial in a pinch, I turned to Instagram for help.
And then, I recalled a friend’s struggle with adult acne—and how her dermatologist restricted her dairy intake. Having tried everything else, I threw my hat in the ring.
A study published in 2005 found a positive correlation between acne and dairy consumption in teenagers. Another from 2016 concluded that skim milk (and not full-fat) has acne-inducing effects. However, like most studies available online, these studies only focus on teenagers. What about us adults?
The body's glycemic index may have something to do with it. Milk and dairy products cause an increase in insulin production, and high insulin levels can lead to inflammation and acne. Another theory on the table: lactose sensitivity. Between 65 to 70% of the world’s population experiences lactose intolerance or allergy. One of the many ways this sensitivity could manifest is an acne breakout.
In my experience, the skin trouble stopped shortly after I put a cap on my dairy drinking.
I started with the biggest (and most painful) compromise: my daily coffee. I started taking my coffee black. Needless to say, it was a sad week, and I turned to almond milk not long after. The milk replacement soon trickled down to cereal, granola and smoothies. I weaned myself off of cheese, too. And then, my seemingly never-ending breakout cleared up, leaving only a few marks in its wake.
Fast forward to the present: I still eat cheese, butter and ice cream, but avoid regular milk like the plague otherwise. I substitute the milk in my coffee with nut and oat milks. It's its own kind of (admittedly, first-world) struggle—especially financially, with oat milk costing between P200 to P300 a carton. Something that feels a lot like heartbreak builds in my chest when I think about all the cafes I once loved but can no longer frequent when it's safe. But alas, some trade-offs are worth it—especially when they mean less tummy trouble and clearer skin days.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver