As with most things in life, the reality is a bit more complicated. While a vegan diet most often results in eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, for some it can lead to an uptick in consuming foods that are less than friendly to the skin.
We asked a dermatologist and a registered dietitian to tell us all about the ways going vegan can potentially impact your skin—both good and not-so-good. Read on for what they had to say.
Meet the Expert
Can Vegan Diets Cause Breakouts?
As clear-cut as it sounds that eating clean will result in better skin, vegan foods don't necessarily translate to healthy foods—French fries are vegan, after all. According to Alpert, there are a couple of dietary culprits in particular that could be undermining your skincare routine. "Chances are, [if you're breaking out after going vegan], you replaced meat from your diet with more sugar or refined carbohydrates. Eating more carbohydrates and sugar can directly influence acne production," she explains.
"Foods that are high in refined carbohydrates like bread, pasta made of white flour, and white rice (AKA high glycemic diet) are associated with acne," adds Hayag. "On the other hand, foods rich in antioxidants and vitamins like nuts, dark leafy greens, and fruits could lead to improved skin health. There is no direct link between these foods and better skin health, but they all contribute to improved health overall, which can ultimately help keep your skin healthy."
Other Possible Side Effects of Going Vegan
Going vegan has the potential to impact your skin in both positive and negative ways, and it all depends on what you actually eat. As we've already established, not all vegan foods are created equal, health-wise. In addition to potential breakouts from processed foods, you may have deficiencies to contend with. "Vitamin B12 and iron deficiencies are relatively common in vegan diets, which can negatively affect the skin and contribute to problems like hair loss and dark circles under the eyes," says Hayag.
On the more positive side, nixing dairy can actually result in clearer skin: "Some studies have shown that milk is linked to acne, although it is unclear why," says Hayag. "It may be due to hormones in the milk contributing to inflammation. This can clog your pores and lead to acne. For this reason, going vegan may improve breakouts that may be related to consumption of milk."
How to Treat Diet-Related Breakouts
Eat a Variety of Nutritious Foods
As you could probably guess, the best way to reduce the chances of your diet causing or contributing to a breakout is to simply eat as balanced and nutritiously as possible. "For vegans, it’s vital to eat a variety of foods and avoid a repetitive diet that can lead to nutrient deficiencies," says Hayag. Everything in moderation, of course, but if you're relying too much on processed foods and sugar, that's when you may start to see negative skin side effects and increased breakouts.
Speaking of diet, be sure you're also consuming enough H2O. Dehydration can lead to dry skin, which may provoke excess oil production that can clog pores. Keeping hydrated also aids the immune system which could help fight acne by helping to ward off infections.
Keep a Food Diary
If you're breaking out and you're not sure whether your diet could be the culprit, consider keeping a food diary. "A general piece of advice in terms of diet-related breakouts, is to keep track of what foods you are eating to try to pinpoint and eliminate what specifically may be contributing to the acne," suggests Hayag. If breakouts persist even after elimination make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist.
Fight Acne With Exfoliating Acids
It may take a while to figure out what you're eating that's causing the breakouts. If you're looking to combat acne in the meantime, dermatologists suggest exfoliating acids like BHAs to kick bacteria, dead skin cells, and excess sebum to the curb.
The Final Takeaway
Whether you choose to go vegan for the animals, the environment, or because you simply want to adopt a plant-based diet, going vegan is a great move for many. As with any style of eating, it's important to eat the less healthy foods in moderation and to pay attention to what your body needs. Vitamin deficiencies and breakouts due to an increase in processed food consumption are possible with a vegan diet, but if you keep track of what you're eating and how it impacts your skin you can likely put a stop to these issues. If you're really stumped, a dietitian or dermatologist can help.
Aghasi M, Golzarand M, Shab-Bidar S, Aminianfar A, Omidian M, Taheri F. Dairy intake and acne development: A meta-analysis of observational studies. Clinical Nutrition. 2019;38(3):1067-1075.