Do You Need Dairy-Free Skincare? Here’s Why You Might.

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Each year, thousands of people go dairy free to resolve skin issues. From acne to eczema, I’ve received and read countless clear skin success stories from the elimination of dairy. And many dermatologists now recommend trialing a dairy-free diet to patients with skin issues. But do you need dairy-free skincare products too?

I promised in Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook 2nd Edition to address the topic of dairy-free skincare online. And I’ve got not one, but two helpful posts for you! This post includes must read information on skincare and allergen concerns. After absorbing this knowledge, you can jump over to my Best Dairy-Free Skincare post (coming soon!) for some recommended brands.

Dairy-Free Skincare - the reasons and science behind why you might need it and tips for how to find it!

Do You Need Dairy-Free Skincare? Maybe.

Dairy is one of the top foods consumed in Western nations, but it’s also used in many non-food products, like skincare. The following section includes some valid reasons why you might want to consider dairy-free skincare.

Dermal Irritation is Possible

If skin prick tests are used to identify food allergies, then it stands to reason that food allergens can cause localized skin reactions. You might think that reactions would only occur on broken skin. But skin reactions have been noted in several cases when a food allergen simply came in contact with the skin. The symptoms can include a general reddening or rash, wheal-and-flare responses, and/or itching.

Allergens in Skincare Could Cause a Food Allergy. Seriously.

I’ve seen the argument time and time again that food protein molecules are too large to be absorbed through skin into the bloodstream. It’s true that there doesn’t seem to be immediate or whole protein absorption. And I have yet to see a report of an anaphylactic reaction to a top food allergen via skin absorption. But that doesn’t completely rule out a connection.

Allergy researchers at Monash University found that food in skincare products is linked to the development of food allergies. The studies thus far have looked at direct cause-and-effect associations between repeated use of skincare products containing wheat, oats, peanut oil, and goat’s milk on eczematous skin.

“Goat’s milk, cow’s milk, nut oils and oats are common ingredients in ‘natural’ cosmetics. While unlikely to be a problem for most people, repeated application of these to broken or eczematous skin may lead to a severe allergic reaction when the food is next eaten,” said Professor Robyn O’Hehir, Director of Allergy, Immunology and Respiratory Medicine. “Food is meant to be eaten, not rubbed into inflamed skin.”

Possible Ingestion is a Concern

Small amounts of a skincare product could be incidentally ingested, particularly with lip products or hand lotion. This might pose a risk for those with a severe food allergy. Consider if the product might go near your mouth at any time.

Ethical and Environmental Issues Still Hold True

If you limit or avoid dairy for social reasons, you might want to avoid it in your skincare too. Certified vegan brands are not only dairy-free, but they’re also free of all animal products. And no animal testing can be used for the development of products that are certified vegan.

Tips for Finding Dairy-Free Skincare

First, it’s important to understand that skincare labels do not have the same stringent labeling guidelines as food. The following is from the Other Dairy-Free Concerns chapter in Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook 2nd Edition:

Lotions, sunscreen, soaps, makeup, and other skincare items frequently contain food-based ingredients, including milk in various forms. Since topical applications of food allergens are of less concern than their ingestion, labeling isn’t quite as stringent. Yet some people do have reactions to these products when applied, and others prefer not to support the dairy industry for environmental or social reasons. In the United States, the FDA does require cosmetic manufacturers to list the ingredients on the product label, but “trade secrets” (including certain fragrances) do not have to be specifically listed.

Also, they don’t have to call out allergens, and the ingredients do not have to be in “plain English.” You will usually see a lot more strange chemical-sounding ingredients listed. So a little more sleuthing is often required to identify allergens in skincare. Here are some tips to help you locate dairy-free skincare products that work for your body.

Read the Label

As mentioned, U.S. companies do have to list the ingredients, so the label is a good place to start. They tend to sound more foreign than food ingredients, with various chemical compounds. But in some cases they are easy to decipher.

Contact Customer Service

If the flashbacks to high school chemistry are too much to handle, contact the brand’s customer service. There will usually be a customer service phone number or website on the package. They can help you to convert the labels into plain English, or at least tell you if the product possibly contains any allergens.

Dairy-Free Skincare - the reasons and science behind why you might need it and tips for how to find it!

Look for Vegan Products

It’s rare to find skincare products that are labeled as dairy free, but vegan is a becoming a popular label. Vegan products should be made without milk, and they tend to contain “natural” ingredients that are easier to decode.

Try the Patch Test

Even if you feel “safe” with the product, dermatologists often recommend doing a mini patch test of a new-to-you product on your elbow. Wait for 24 hours to see if a reaction occurs before liberally applying it.

Sensitive Skin Claims Should be Taken at Face Value

It’s impossible to make a skincare product that won’t irritate someone’s skin. Even topical eczema treatments can exascerbate symptoms, and some actually contain cow’s milk or goat’s milk.

Don’t Get Hung Up on Natural Labels

Natural and organic products are some of the worst for containing food allergens. In fact, goat’s milk and buttermilk are two commonly found milk ingredients in “pure” lotions and soaps. Also, people with sensitive skin sometimes react even more to “natural” skincare. Just because it’s certified organic doesn’t mean it will be your holy grail for clear skin.

But Simple Ingredients Can Simplify Things

Starting with single ingredient products or those with short ingredient lists can limit the amount of potential irritants and help you to pinpoint an irritant if your skin does react. And it’s easier to identify allergens if there aren’t many ingredients!

Dairy-Free Skincare - the reasons and science behind why you might need it and tips for how to find it!

Dairy-Free Skincare Brands

Stay tuned! I’ll be sharing a post very soon with some of our favorite brands and those often recommended by dermatologists.

About Author

Alisa is the founder of GoDairyFree.org, Food Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living, and the new cookbook, Eat Dairy Free: Your Essential Cookbook for Everyday Meals, Snacks, and Sweets. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.

18 Comments

  1. I’m very careful about making sure my skincare products are gluten free, but I had not really considered them needing to be dairy free. I will from here on out!

  2. Very interesting! I knew that was true for gluten but had no idea that dairy could also cause an allergic reaction when applied to the skin. You learn something new everyday!

    • Technically, you can have a contact reaction to anything, and this is a different type of reaction than a gut one. But with inflammation or broken skin, it’s a different story.

  3. It’s crazy all of the places dairy creeps up. And as someone who was recently diagnosed with quite a few contact allergies, I totally believe that there could be a connection here!

  4. Thank you so much for this article. This is such a wonderful topic and I really appreciate you sharing the information you gathered and your wealth of information when it comes to dairy 🙂

  5. I spend so much time reading labels! There’s so much to decipher and fine print to read, but it’s important to stay on top of it all for good health.

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