This Is What Happened to My Skin When I Ate Dairy for the First Time in 2 Years

When I told my friends and family I'd be going on vacation to Italy this January, one of their first questions was consistently this: You're not going to be vegan, there, right? Indeed, as a well-documented follower of plant-based living, news of my plans to enter the land of burrata, mascarpone, and pecorino for a month pushed my diet to the forefront of everyone's minds—including my own. If my trip had arrived at any other point in my life, I probably would have tried to stay plant-based while in Italy (I've been vegan in Europe before—dirty looks aside, it can be done), but having just gone through a breakup and experiencing a newfound thirst for rebellion, I decided, screw it: For the first time in two years, I'm going to eat all the pizza, gooey pasta, and frothy cappuccinos I desire. And for a month, that's exactly what I did. It was delicious and decadent, and I have no regrets… well, except for what proceeded to happen to my skin.

Skin health experts agree that what you eat shows up on your face, and in the case of dairy, it's rarely good. Dairy is mucous-forming and difficult to digest (thus, why so many people are lactose intolerant), and sometimes, a side effect of that blow to the digestive system can arrive in the form of cystic acne or hard, painful bumps under the skin. "The hypothesis is that since the majority of milk in the U.S. comes from pregnant cows (and some cows are given growth hormones), the hormone levels in milk may play a role in excess sebum production, which promotes acne," explains Renée Rouleau, esthetician to the stars. These hormones in milk occur naturally, and when they react with your own body's cocktail of testosterone and hormones, that's when your sebum production skyrockets. As Rachel Nazarian, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, says, "The process, along with increasing inflammation, worsens or flares acne pimples." So if you're already breaking out (say, due to stress or travel or your period), dairy could make it worse.

My dairy-induced breakouts, which cropped up in the final days of my cheese-soaked trip, could be found along my chin and jawline. Nazarian says that the lower face and outer areas of the face are anecdotally where dairy breakouts most often occur, though there is technically no empirical support for this. Either way, that's definitely where mine decided to show up.

Luckily, I had a pretty good idea of why these big, sore pimples were happening, so I didn't flip out. I just surrendered to the notion that they were the sacrifice I made for a lot of delicious pizza and calmly decided to do everything I could to treat them. And two weeks later, they were almost completely gone. Here's what I did to go from broken-out to clear-skinned after a major dairy bender.