glass of milk and chocolate chip cookies, dairy products

Q. I have acne and it seems that every time I eat anything with sugar I break out. It also seems that milk makes me break out. Is this all in my head or does diet make a difference for complexion?

A. It is not in your head. Dermatologists used to assure their acne patients that diet didn’t matter, but sophisticated research now establishes that foods like sugar and refined starches (carbohydrates) that raise blood glucose and insulin promote acne (Bodo Melnik, Dermato-Endocrinology, Jan/Feb/March, 2012). The amino acid leucine, abundant in milk, also contributes to the biochemical processes that underlie acne. The current recommendation is to eat more vegetables and fruits, and avoid dairy products and highly refined foods. That may not clear up a breakout overnight, but with time that dietary pattern should help make acne easier to control. It is also better for heart and brain health.

There are also some topical remedies to try. Many readers have found that Milk of Magnesia applied to the face overnight and removed with a gentle cleanser in the morning can be helpful for acne. Here is one mother’s testimonial:

“My daughter’s skin cleared up after she started using MoM, and I was convinced that it worked when her only occasional breakouts were all along the edges of where she applied it – her hairline and around her lips. She ran out of MoM while I was out of town and now we have proof – her forehead completely broke out before we got to the store for more!

“Her skin with MoM is so smooth that her friends ask her what she uses. They have all tried expensive treatments like Proactive without the results she gets from MoM.”

Other readers have reported that using Pepto-Bismol in a similar way may be helpful. Perhaps the salicylates in Pepto-Bismol have some activity.

Join Over 120,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

Each week we send two free email newsletters with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies and a preview of our award-winning radio show. Join our mailing list and get the information you need to make confident choices about your health.

  1. NAN

    I have suffered from acne my entire life (I am now 40)–I had been on Accutane TWICE, once in my teens and again in my mid 20’s, but my acne always came back.
    I now watch my diet closely and have given up gluten 2 years ago and have noticed clearer skin. I also drink 2 tsp of apple cider vinegar diluted in 8 oz of water every morning (which helps digestion as well). 2 x per week I do a facial scrub which consists of lemon juice mixed with baking soda to make a paste, then I “scrub” it on my face (gently) and let it sit for 2-3 min then rinse.
    IF you use this scrub you will need to work up to it as it can be powerful and leave you red and “raw” if you don’t (I’ve notice it has helped lighten the brown spots on my skin as well–due to the lemon juice. I also use other topical products but can’t name them on here…all in all I’ve found the combination to work the best and I my skin is the best it’s ever been!

  2. sdw

    When I quit eating gluten; my roseacea went away. Now when I accidently eat something with gluten in it; I figure it out quickly when my face breaks out or I get a migraine the next day. Restaurants, food samples at Costco and any sort of processed food are problems. I have to stick to fresh fruit, vegetables and protein.

  3. Jean J

    When I was in college, I had a terrible case of acne. We found ourselves filling up on milk because the food was not the best. My roommate visited a dermatologist who told her to give up milk. As soon as we did, we found our skin clearing up.

What Do You Think?

We invite you to share your thoughts with others, but remember that our comment section is a public forum. Please do not use your full first and last name if you want to keep details of your medical history anonymous. A first name and last initial or a pseudonym is acceptable. Advice from other commenters on this website is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. Stopping medication suddenly could result in serious harm. We expect comments to be civil in tone and language. By commenting, you agree to abide by our commenting policy and website terms & conditions. Comments that do not follow these policies will not be posted.