Acne & Dairy-Free SCD

I’ve mentioned a couple times in my updates that I’m giving dairy-free SCD a try. The decision has been a long time in the making. Last October my Naturopath suggested it and I lasted a few weeks. This time I plan on trying it for over a month.

Dairy-Free in the Past
Before starting SCD I had already been dairy-free for over 2 years. No butter, no cheese, no milk, no yogurt for over 2 years. It was a miserable time I have to say! 😉 I was pretty much terrified of dairy because of the many scientific studies and natural health sites saying that it caused digestive problems, cancer and heart disease (along with red meat and fat in general). The first month on SCD without yogurt I was probably lacking in calories. I did end up eating nut butter baked goods earlier than I should have simply because I was always hungry. I was still scared of meat too so really the first month was just a lot of light meals and I lost a few pounds that I really didn’t want to lose.

The SCDiet places quite an emphasis on the homemade 24-hour yogurt and I was both underweight and not responding to probiotic capsules. So I decided to try it and did well with it. I used only organic, hormone-free milk and also tried goat milk thinking that I did better with it. Off and on for the next 2 years I used high fat cow’s milk or goat’s milk to make my yogurt, and ate some SCD-legal raw milk cheeses.

Last November I decided to finally get off the Birth Control pill and work on addressing some hormone and menstrual problems naturally. My naturopath told me how dairy, even organic, can affect hormones and is implicated in endometriosis and that it might be worthwhile to go dairy-free at least to start with. I was also having signs of my liver not doing a good job of detoxing and stopping dairy could help. I did but only for a few weeks. Once my cycle returned and was completely pain-free (yay SCD!) I added the dairy back in. With going off the pill, my acne became worse and has persisted.

Acne History
I first got mild acne in my early teen years that cleared up completely when I started on the Birth Control pill. My late teen years I saw it come back and seemed more difficult to manage. I have never had cystic acne so I always thought I had a mild case of acne, but really it has been quite severe at times with spots all over my face (even though each spot is small). So I started trying all the commercial things like different soaps and cleansers (Nutrogena, SpectroGel, Clearasil etc etc) and even Proactiv which chemically burned my face upon first application (I stopped using it right away). I used spot treatments that worked but didn’t prevent breakouts. My doctor prescribed Retin-A which irritated my skin and made it flake off.

When I started learning more about natural health I tried quite a few natural remedies, usually one at a time. Apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, natural cleansers, selenium, zinc, magnesium, drinking lots of water, taking fish oil, vitamin D, getting sun on my face, avoiding sun, exercising/sweating each day, steaming, probiotics, oatmeal mask, honey mask, yogurt mask, egg mask, avocado mask, coconut oil, and finally a short trial with the oil cleansing method. Nothing worked. Some made it worse.

The more I read, the more I realize acne starts from within and will never ‘go away’ until the real problem is addressed. I’m sure some people can manage their acne with strict cleansing routines using gentle products but it hasn’t worked for me. So, I finally decided I’m going to focus on addressing it through nutrition starting with giving up dairy. Here’s a ‘before’ picture during the two weeks I was trying the oil cleansing method. It actually got a bit worse after this, but has evened out back to this state with the first week of being dairy-free. I also have a bit of ‘bacne’ (acne on my shoulders) which I have never bothered trying to address with cleaning techniques.

My Plan
I was trying to be patient and let hormones balance out themselves while following full SCD but it seems like I need to try something different again. Since going off the pill, my cycle has not been regular and my acne out of control. The fact that these two problems are occurring and both can be related to eating dairy makes that a good place to start with tweaking my diet. I realize there is an expected period of time after stopping the pill for things to return to normal, but I want to try what I can to speed up that process. I have also gotten a lot of advice on what else to try for acne, and will keep those things in mind for later.

I stopped eating all dairy over a week ago (July 26th to be exact) including butter. After one week of that I realized I don’t do well AT ALL without a good dose of saturated fats. I was feeling cold all the time and cranky. Butter has always been the easy fat to use in cooking, baking and just eating on its own so I was having lots of it. I decided to make clarified butter, called ghee, and include that as my one dairy food. No butter, no cheese, no yogurt for all of August now.

I plan on posting an update halfway through August. I’ll also try to post some examples of what I am eating for a day doing SCD without dairy. I only eat nuts in small quantities and not every day too. Hopefully I’ll see some changes in my skin and I’ll also make note of any changes in my digestion. In September I will reassess if I want to try adding dairy back or if I want to give it a bit longer. If I do start back on it, I will try butter first for 2 weeks, then yogurt for a month, then raw milk cheese, then raw fluid milk (not SCD-legal) and try not to overindulge in anything.

So far I have been feeling pretty motivated. It helps that on Twitter right now, over two dozen people have joined in an “August Primal Challenge” about following a diet very similar to SCD, eating cleanly, exercising, and supporting each other. Also with the upcoming cooking class on meat & seafood, I’m hoping I’ll be busy creating delicious meals and won’t even notice that I’m missing the dairy.


I have been following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet since January 2008 to recover from Celiac disease. As part of the diet, I don't eat grains, sugar or potatoes and prepare all my meals from scratch.


  1. It is so weird that you still have skin trouble after all you’ve done for your diet. My deepest sympathies!!! I wish I had some great insight to share with you – but it sounds like you’ve tried SO MUCH already.

    As you know, I’m with you on the dairy-free train this month. I have to say, it is hard getting enough protein snacks without cheese! (and especially without hardboiled eggs and nuts, which I’m also off for now.) Glad you made some ghee… hope it keeps you satisfied. 🙂

  2. @Sarah Yeah it’s weird too since my diet has changed so much. Some believe a clean gluten-free plant-based diet is best, but my acne was bad on that. Then a primal/SCD diet my acne was still bad. Dairy was not a constant but I’m hoping it’s something that might make a difference now.

    Snacks are hard! I’ve had 2 hardboiled eggs each day but it’s hardly enough.. I will need to get more creative I think. The ghee is delicious!

  3. I am very interested to hear about what you are eating with this no-dairy, low-nut style of SCD! I try to keep nuts to a minimum because I find having them daily or in large quantities sets off endometriosis symptoms, and since going no-fruit I lack snack ideas lol.

    Acne is SUCH a struggle! I’ve had it ever since I hit puberty and like you, have tried the myriad different recommendations. It’s too early to tell, but since cutting out fruit about 10 days ago, things have calmed down (not disappeared, but calmed down). I hope the dairy is your answer! It feels incredibly frustrating having done so much work on your diet, and repairing your gut, and yet some things just won’t go away. Good luck!

    • I know this is a long time after your comment. But I was wondering how much cutting out fruit helped you, I was thinking of doing the same. It seems like there is not much to eat though…

  4. Congrats on doing this, I hope you get results. If this works for you, I’ll be forwarding it to my sister!

    I think I’ve said before, my lifelong acne disappears when I avoid foods I’m allergic to. For what it’s worth, I react to ghee just like butter, it causes breakouts, for me. I go to great lengths to get plenty of (saturated) fats from organic meats. Fatty cuts slow cooked in a crock pot for 12 hours makes the fat really soft and tasty.

  5. Hi Kat,

    I was actually put on the birth control pill specifically for my acne and oily skin when I was in my early 20’s. Stayed on it for 12 years…yikes!! Big mistake. Anyhow, I’ve been off it for a few years now, and my acne mostly remained under control. However I was plagued with constant jawline acne that could sometimes be quite painful. Low and behold, it seems to have disappeared since I cut out gluten. On the dairy front, I seem to do ok with anything that’s predominantly fat ie. butter, ghee, cream and maybe small amounts of cheese (still experimenting). I do not seem to tolerate SCD yogurt or kefir. So I’m guessing maybe my issue is with casein, because the fermented dairy doesn’t have any lactose left. Good luck with your dairy free trial. Love to hear how it goes for you.

  6. Hi Kat, Thank you so much for your blog! I have been following SCD for about 2 months now after a Dr. I took my daughter to suggested it. She and I had similar symptoms so I am following it faithfuly. We went gluten free in Jan ’10, but in May we started to have gluten like symptoms with other foods. Anyway, my daughter is only 11, and she was getting quite a bit of acne on her face and arms. The Dr., a holistic M.D., said that it was from malabsorbtion of fat. The digestive system needs to heal more to do that. I will say that she has been dairy free as well since Feb. The Dr. Told us to take Cod Liver Oil and it seems to have helped a lot. I think you are on the right track with dairy, I would keep it up and I would recommend Nordic Naturals Cod Liver Oil and following SCD strictly. I look forward to your progress.

  7. @Mica Sorry to hear you struggle with it too. I have tried very low-carb SCD, no fruit/honey etc, but nothing so far has helped. I hope dairy-free works.

    @Adam Thompson OK – sigh – I’ll try no ghee for now. I have never heard of someone reacting to it so I thought it was safe. I do have lots of lard and tallow that I rendered, and I’ll stick to fatty cuts of meat. I’ll definitely be using the crockpot more in the coming weeks.

    @Debbie That’s pretty interesting that high fat dairy is fine. I guess I’ll find out when I re-introduce it if butter is ok, but yogurt not.

    @Amy Todd Wow, a Dr. told you about SCD? I used to have malabsorption of fat but seem ok now. I do take cod liver oil but prefer the Green Pastures brand. http://www.greenpasture.org/retail/?t=products

    Hopefully I’ll have some good updates in a few weeks! 🙂

  8. Kat,
    Have you tried digestive enzymes and liver detox? Sometimes when you can’t break down fat
    you can have acne. Zinc and vitamin A deficiency also can be a factor in acne.

  9. @maureen I did take enzymes (both pancreatic and stomach acid supplements) for a long time. I don’t seem to need them anymore and digest fat well. I have taken a lot of zinc and vitamin A (cod liver oil) but I’m wondering if dairy is actually blocking the absorption somewhat. Maybe with dairy-free I will end up with a better nutritional status. I will definitely be adding in zinc and vitamin A in higher doses after a few weeks before I re-introduce dairy.

  10. I wouldn’t give up ghee unless you’re sure it’s a trigger. For most people it is fine — it has no casein or lactose. Only the very most sensitive still react to it. Don’t quit unless you have to! 🙂

  11. I’m not entirely familiar with SCD, but if coconut oil is allowed, I highly recommend it. I’ve reacted to ghee as well. I haven’t tried it recently. I’ve been meaning to do that again, just to see what happens, as I love the taste. But coconut oil has been a great substitute for me.

    Also, when I had hormonal problems, I found that acupuncture worked wonderfully. I didn’t have acne, but I’d screwed up my reproductive system fairly well with years of being on the pill and the acupuncturist I saw told me I had a ton of stuck chi in me that was causing LOTS of other problems. I felt so much better after getting off the pill and doing acupuncture.

  12. @Sarah I’m finding it hard to know if I am sensitive or not to it. I don’t have the usual digestive symptoms to rely on. So ghee’s out for a few weeks until I can re-introduce it and be able to know if I react. I am making some lard and tallow these days so that should help.

    @Deanna Yep lots of coconut oil! I did acupuncture on and off since going off the pill. I did it once a week for the past two months. I stopped for a bit while I see how dairy-free affects me then I’ll probably go back to it.

  13. I’m anxious to hear your results. I too have struggled with acne, hormone and digestive problems for years. I regret taking bc for 5 years. It really messed me up. I was dairy free for over a year when I was doing the IBS diet. But am not anymore. I totally agree that you have to find the root problem. Topical stuff does nothing for me. It can help maintain things, but it doesn’t get rid of the acne. I know mine is caused by hormone imbalance. It was so wonderful to have clear skin when I was pg and actually had good levels of hormones in my body. But after giving birth it was back to the usual acne. Good luck with your experiment. Maybe someday I’ll have to try dairy free again. But not for now…while I’m doing fertility treatments. No major changes or cutting too much out. Just eating as balanced and healthy as possible.

  14. I had bouts of acne on and off for most of my life. It wasn’t until I gave up dairy (and other animal products) completely, that my skin finally cleared. I am now able to manage any very minor breakouts (a single small pimple), with simple over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. What a relief! There are so many delicious alternatives to dairy products, I never feel deprived, and seriously, if you try some of them, you won’t either. Besides, there’s nothing more delicious than clear skin, right? Here are a few of my favorites:

    All of the coconut milk ice cream, yogurt, kefir, creamer, and milks by So Delicious. (Better than dairy imho.)
    Daiya vegan cheeses.
    Follow Your Heart cream cheese and sour cream alternatives
    Dr. Cow Tree Nut Cheeses
    Soyatoo Whipped Cream
    Purely Decadent Coconut Milk Ice Cream

    I hope that’s helpful.

  15. @Mary Well after only 12 days my acne is going away! I’m hoping it clears completely. Will update mid-August.

    @Frannie With the diet I follow I tend to make all my food from scratch at home. So I probably won’t be trying any dairy replacements. I do plan to try making some coconut milk ice creams and such though. But really, nothing replaces dairy! I’m a real milk fan and hope that someday I can have it again without any health problems.

  16. @Kat That’s fantastic news! Homemade coconut milk ice cream is absolutely wonderful! Make sure to add a tablespoon or two of vodka to the recipe and you’ll get a much creamier result! And if you ever decide to try any of the alternatives I suggested, I promise, you won’t be disappointed. 🙂

  17. Hello Kat, I was just going to let you know that I’d had some problems with acne when I started changing my diet, eating more fats, less carbs, etc. And I couldn’t figure out what was wrong so I did some research and found that often times our bodies don’t adequately break down fats, aka, properly metabolize them and one way your body deals with this is by secret the not wholly secreted fats through the skin. The problem is that because they aren’t fully metabolized they attract bacteria more and then you get acne. So, I did MORE research and found that one thing that a lot of people are not getting enough of is B vitamins, especially B5 (also know as Pantothenic acid) which is essential to the metabolizing of fats. From what I have read and understand, B5 helps the body better break down fats and thus decrease the amount of oil secreted through the skin pores. I started using B5 and only took about 2 to 3 grams a day along with a B complex and within a week my acne cleared up. Although it worked for me I’ve read that it doesn’t work for everyone so make sure you do some research for yourself as well. I’m not an expert 😉 I’m no longer taking the B5 on a regular basis although I’m still taking the B complex but I wonder if sometimes due to stress and hormone fluctuation you can use up all your B stores and maybe be deficient and break out periodically? I’m wondering if that’s what happened to me.

    Anyway, just some thoughts and ideas. But please, make sure you go do your own research if you are interested. 🙂

  18. @Jenny @ thelittlebeet Thanks Jenny, You’re the second to point out the connection with not metabolizing fats properly. Also upon looking up B5 and acne, I see a link with androgens. Androgens is one reason I gave up dairy, to help regulate hormones. I don’t do well with large doses of B-complex vitamins but I am recently eating more foods high in them. I notice liver is the food highest in B5, might be why I feel so good when I eat it! I know most women who have been on the pill are deficient in B vitamins, and I have been focusing on getting more. Never thought to try supplementing individual ones. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Thanks for sharing your experience, but why do not the doctors realise that instead of giving you anti biotics etc put you some diet and save public money at the same time.

  20. @Kat

    Kat, any luck with the dairy free. I have IBS-C and I am dairy free and attempting SCD after no gluten, no dairy, no red meat, no soy, no chocolate/coffee, and no unrefined sugar (just maple syrup and honey or processed food for about 2 months. I am still having issues so I decided to look into and try SCD
    With SCD It is hard for me to give up my morning oatmeal, becasue I feel like I need the calories. I have been trying to replace with squash, but I am still including the raw almond butter and dried or fresh fruit which I know i can’t really tolerate.. Any suggestions. I have been having hard boiled eggs or avocado, and some fish.. Help!! How can I cut out that oatmeal and the nuts all together without feeling hungry or weighed down by heavy proteins.

    Also curious about your acne results, because I am also still struggling, but still on B/C… I have been down all the same paths as you trying everything natural/plant based first, some things help a little but never went a way completely

  21. @michelle I did dairy-free a few times for weeks to months at a time. It seemed to help the first few times I did it. Now, I’m doing fairly well on the acne front with only a few spots around certain times in my cycle. I am off B/C and have close to clear skin.

    Getting calories on SCD was hard for me too, and I relied on dairy until my stomach was doing better enough to handle closer to a full SCD diet. I found bananas were helpful for calories and easy to digest. Make the SCD jello with 100% fruit juice for snacks. Avocado is good. Dried fruit is very tough on the digestive system, but fresh is good. I would say fruit helps more with C than vegetables do. To get enough calories it’s really just a matter of eating enough, make sure to eat lots of what you can tolerate.

  22. Hi Kat, very curious about starting the SCD as I have a number of pathogenic bacteria in my gut that seems to be causing my ever persistant acne flareups (even after being Paleo /dairy / gluten free for 3 years, and low histamine for over a year now. Very interested in your SCD a few years on! Many thanks, Rebecca

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