Giving Up Dairy for My Skin

Or, a facial dermatitis update.

Warning – this post will feature a picture of my lips looking fairly flakey, split and gross. I thought it was important to show a before and after so you can see the difference giving up dairy has made to me, but also wanted to warn those who don’t want to see it!

So, some time around Summer last year, I suddenly developed dermatitis around and on my lips – they were dry, sore, flakey and split, and I’ve been on a quest to sort it out ever since (honestly, I can’t really believe how long this has been going on.) You can read my original post here, but a summary of what had happened up to that point was that the doctor seemed pretty sure it was an infection, antibiotics had no effect, then my dental hygienist suggested dermatitis/eczema, stamped my feet a little to try steroid cream.

Unfortunately, after the relief that steroid cream gave me (normal lips! Lipstick!) the problem returned within a week of stopping using it. And obviously, continually applying steroids to your face, especially around the delicate lip area is not a good ideal.

To make matters worse, I also started to develop another dry, sore, split patch near my eye. Back to the doctors I went, and saw a different GP, who to be honest I felt was the first one to actually take this seriously. I know that it’s only a couple of small patches, and a lot of other people have things a lot worse, but this is my face, and it’s really been getting me down.

She agreed that I needed a referral to a consultant, and suggested we started with an immunologist to test for allergies. Meanwhile, whilst I waited for the appointment to come through, I should continue with my ‘lip diary’ (my Evernote is basically full of pictures of my mouth, with lists of products used and what I’ve been eating!) and try to spot any patterns.

I have noticed, for example, that sweat seems to really irritate my mouth – but working out is pretty essential so I’m not too sure what to do about that. Also if I wear any lipstick at all, even on a ‘good lip day’, my lips will be super flakey after a few hours. Most lip balms also seem to irritate, but oddly my skincare products seem to be fine so I’ve stuck to using a regular moisturiser on them instead of a balm.

The one thing that had been suggested to me repeatedly that may help was cutting out dairy – it seems to be a well known inflammatory, and irritant of skin conditions.

The only problem is, I blooming LOVE cheese. Milk I can cope without, butter, ok it’s a shame but I can deal, yoghurt I wasn’t a massive fan of anyway, but cheese?! Food of the gods!

However after an afternoon giving a workshop where my lips got progressively worse during the day and by the end were so angry looking I wondered how anyone could listen to a thing I was saying without being distracted by them (I’m fully aware that most people don’t even notice, or just think, ‘oh, her lips look a bit sore’) and my eye was stinging like crazy, that enough was enough and I cut out dairy completely.

A month later there was a big difference – the patch under my eye disappeared completely, and my lips were by no means completely healed, but there were a lot more good days than bad, and they haven’t actually split again since ditching the moo-juice.

Here are the aforementioned pics – one taken on a bad day pre-giving up dairy, and one taken today. Still dry and uncomfortable, and a little red around the outside, but nowhere near as bad.

Dermatitis lips giving up dairy eczema

The other unexpected benefit I’ve found has been that my nails have become so much stronger! I really wasn’t expecting this as dairy is meant to be good for them, but generally I have the weakest, bendy-est, peeling-est, breaking-est nails ever. They’re now basically like talons (ok, slight exaggeration, but seriously, so much better and for the first time I found myself having to cut them all down as they’d gotten too long!)

Finally my immunology appointment rolled round, and I had a long chat with the consultant (really nice after lots of 5 minute GP appointments) who to be honest seemed to be slightly flummoxed by my condition! He went ahead and did a series of pinprick tests where allergens were applied to my arm in a numbered order so they could tell which they were, and then my arm was scratched with a small blade. If anyone has had this suggested to them and has been worried about it – it doesn’t hurt at all, it really is just a little scratch.

I then sat for 20 minutes to wait and see what I was allergic to…

allergy testing dermatitis eczema giving up dairy


As you can see, my arm was completely clear. No reaction – not even to dairy! Argh! (The red patch you can see is the ‘control’ using histamine). I had a short chat with the consultant again, and he decided to refer me on to a dermatologist, as it looks like my issue is with an irritant, rather than being an allergy (i.e. it’s an irritation that has built over time, rather than a histamine reaction to something.)

That night I decided to go cheese crazy and see what happened – we ordered a giant Pizza (Oh my god, after 6 weeks of no cheese it tasted soooooooo good!)

The next day, my lips flared up like crazy. Oops.

Since then, with a little experimentation, it seems like if I keep my system clear of dairy, I can tolerate a little here and there (but not pizza style quantities!) and I tried some sheep’s cheese, which seemed to be ok too. However if I have too much, or have it over continuous days, it’s flare up city again. Fortunately the patch under my eye hasn’t returned either, which I’m grateful for as it really stung whenever my eye watered.

So now, I just have to wait till the end of June for my dermatologist appointment (whilst constantly calling them to check for cancellations!!) and try and keep things reasonably under control.

It’s still getting me down (especially when I look at my lovely lipstick collection – my face just doesn’t feel finished without it, and although I can occasionally wear it for a couple of hours now things are a little better, I miss being able to swipe on a bright lip every day without thinking about it.) and to be honest I do worry that it’s taking so long to sort, especially with my wedding coming up next year, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my next blog about this will be telling you that the dermatologist has figured it all out, and my face is finally back to normal again!

  • Fingers crossed you get it sorted Emily!

    On the calcium thing … I read that the calcium in dairy is not quite the same as calcium in dark green vegetables. And the whole idea of drinking gallons of milk for the calcium was actually a marketing campaign by the dairy industry. Scientifically speaking we should be getting the majority of our calcium for dark green vegetables instead for stronger teeth, nails and bones.

    Ahhh…the joys of politics in the food and nutrition industry.

    • Emily_Jayne

      Thank you!

      It’s so strange, isn’t it? We eat plenty of veg (mmm spinach!) anyhow, but I haven’t upped my intake since quitting dairy and yet my nails are so much better – it obviously doesn’t agree with me, even if it isn’t the actual cause of my skin woes!

  • Calonyr11

    Just read this post. Wondering if you ever tried going off gluten as well. This pretty much looks just like my lips after being “glutened”really badly. If the exposure is prolonged or particularly bad, I even start to react to dairy and non gluten grains even though I normally can eat them justfibe when successfully eating gluten-free. I’d love to hear more!