“Those two studies, on which all our dogma on diet and acne is based, are basically full of flaws,” says Valori Treloar, a dermatologist and certified nutrition specialist in Newton, Massachusetts, who wrote a recent book on food, lifestyle and acne called The Clear Skin Diet (Cumberland House Publishing). “Frankly, I don’t think either would be published today because the standards were not rigorous enough.” Both studies, she says, were too small in subject numbers and too short in duration. More important, neither controlled any other aspect of the diet, so the researchers had no idea what else the subjects were eating.
In her book Treloar and her coauthor, naturopath Alan C. Logan, recommend a diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties that appear to protect against acne.
Dairy is also under new scrutiny. In 2005 researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health published a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology that showed an association between consumption of dairy products and acne. Using data from more than 47,000 women followed in the Harvard-administered Nurses’ Health Study II, researchers found that those who consumed more than three servings of milk per day were 22 percent more likely to have suffered from acne as teens. With skim milk, the numbers were even more pronounced: Those who drank two or more glasses per day were 44 percent more likely to have experienced acne bad enough to warrant a trip to the doctor.
F. William Danby, an assistant professor of dermatology at Dartmouth Medical School and one of the authors of the study, cautions that while the data show a link between dairy and acne, they don’t definitively prove that milk gives people pimples. “It’s going to require a few more years of research,” says Danby, “but there are good scientific reasons to believe that it is actually cause and effect.” Milk and dairy products, he explains, might trigger breakouts in a number of ways, most notably because they contain the same hormones that can lead to acne in humans. Even organic milk contains these natural hormones.