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Can Ice Cream Cause Skin Breakouts?

By Ian Kenney

Sometimes, upon further study, well-worn facts are found to be myths. Other times, what was once considered myth turns out to be true. The relationship between diet and acne has traveled the complete arc, appearing as established fact in 1950s dermatology textbooks only to be discounted under scrutiny in later years and finally gaining new credence in the 21st century.

Dietary Villains

Two food types once implicated in the development of acne vulgaris were sweets and dairy products, which made ice cream forbidden for acne sufferers. While early studies were largely anecdotal, a comprehensive analysis of studies conducted since 2005 by H. R. Ferdowsian, M.D., M.P.H. and S. Levin, M.S., R.D., published in "Skin Therapy Letter" in 2009, found causative indications between dairy, in particular, and acne inflammation.

Teenagers and Milk

Among the studies Ferdowsian and Levin reviewed, several showed positive correlation between milk products and severe acne outbreaks. One such study surveyed more than 9,000 girls and 4,000 boys between the ages of 9 and 15. Girls who consumed more than two servings of dairy per day were 20 percent more likely to develop severe acne compared with those who consumed less than one serving per day. Boys in the high-consumption group were 16 percent more likely to develop severe acne.

Hormone Response

A likely culprit in acne linked to ice cream and other dairy product consumption is the production of insulin-like growth factor 1, or IGF-1. IGF-1 is produced in organ tissues in your body and the bodies of other mammals, according to the book Handbook of Growth Factors Volume 2 by Enrique Pimentel. Dairy producing cows also have IGF-1 that is identical to human IGF-1. If they have been treated with human growth hormones they have an increase in circulating IGF-1 -- and so will you when you consume this milk or products made from it. The body’s insulin response to dairy prompts increases in free IGF-1. It’s termed a hormonal cascade. IGF-1 stimulates unregulated tissue growth. Tissue growth in the follicle traps the sebum that causes acne lesions. IGF-1 may also increase your risk of cancer, according to the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine.

For the Record

The American Academy of Dermatology maintains a stated position that links between diet and acne are unfounded. The ADA contends that no food, not even greasy pizza, sugary snacks or ice cream, causes or exacerbates acne. However, every person's body and system reactions are different. The ADA notes that if you believe that certain foods cause your acne flare-ups, you should avoid those foods.

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