It's assumed that after swapping out a meat- and dairy-heavy diet for one that's vegan, you'll experience a myriad of benefits, from more energy to clearer skin. Byrdie's features editor Amanda Montell had the opposite experience, however. "For the first three months I went vegan, I broke out like crazy, literally like never before in my life, but it's hard to tell if that was 100 percent diet-related or not. I cut out (most) hyper-processed food three or four months in, and now my main diet staples are bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, beans, vegetables, fruits—stuff of the earth! And I haven't had a breakout since."
So, what's the deal here? Can going vegan actually cause breakouts? Ahead, experts explain how going vegan can potentially affect your skin.
Meet the Expert
Can Vegan Diets Cause Skin Problems?
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. Brooke Alpert, MS, RD, CDN agrees with Montell's suspicion that her increased processed foods intake was likely the culprit for her breakouts. "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 Dr. Marie 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."
The Possible Skin Side Effects
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 result in clearer skin: "Some studies have shown that milk is linked to acne, although it is unclear why. 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
"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.
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.
The Final Takeaway
Vegan diets can be great, but they are not without their challenges. As with any style of eating, it's important to eat 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 nutritionist or dermatologist can help.