Will the keto diet cause your skin to break out?

The keto diet might produce great weight loss results, but its effects on skin can be less than desirable. Getty Images

There’s been a lot of buzz around the keto diet (formally known as the ketogenic diet or nutritional ketosis) for its ability to help followers lose weight while still enjoying otherwise “bad” foods like red meat and butter. Delicious as it sounds, however, it calls into question if all that protein and saturated fat is good for your skin.

It all depends on how you interpret the diet, experts say.

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“The take-home message is always that changing to a restrictive diet is going to have bad effects on your skin,” says Dr. Paul Cohen, director of Rosedale Dermatology Centre in Toronto. “It’s good that this diet is high in healthy fats [like avocado and natural oils], but if someone eats a lot of dairy, that could cause problems.”
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In a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, researchers found that the amount of low-fat and skim milk consumed by teens with acne was significantly higher than those who didn’t have acne. These findings only applied to skim milk, however, and not full-fat varieties.

“We know that a high consumption of dairy can have bad effects on the skin, and in general has been shown to cause acne in women more than men. High-fat milk is better than skim, but dairy in general can be problematic,” Cohen says.

Although rare, the keto diet can also trigger prurigo pigmentosa, or as some call it, keto rash. The irritation is characterized by itchy, red pimply bumps on the back, chest or neck, and there are several theories about what causes it, including that when the body goes into ketosis, it can trigger production of acetone in sweat, which acts as an irritant.

Cohen points out that the rash is quite rare and Asian people are more prone to it, however, he also points out that it can be associated with the keto diet as well as certain detergents and chemicals.

The amount of time it takes to see a change in skin after adopting a different diet varies from person to person and can be as quick as one week or a couple of months. To reverse the effects, Cohen says to cut out dairy if acne is a concern.

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READ MORE: Keto diet plan: breaking down the low-carb, high-fat diet

“Generally everything needs to be in balance. In the old days, we used to say don’t eat chocolate or peanuts or pop because they cause acne. But then we stopped being restrictive. Now we know that too much dairy and too many high-glycemic foods like carbs are associated with acne. Anything that’s really extreme can have effects on your skin.”

While Cohen espouses a balanced diet to achieve good skin, he points out that some restrictions can be beneficial for certain skin conditions.

“If you speak to a naturopath, they’ll tell you that gluten, wheat and dairy are bad for eczema sufferers. And a vegan diet, that’s dairy-free, could be beneficial for people with acneic skin.”

He also points to low-glycemic load diets as good for acne sufferers and low alcohol diets can be beneficial for those with psoriasis. In the end, though, he stresses the importance of a nutritionally balanced diet.

“Generally speaking, balance is best for skin. A diet that’s really restrictive isn’t good for anything.”

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