The Weird Thing That Can Happen to Your Skin When You Go Vegan

beans and salsa

 Urban Outfitters

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. This is what Charlotte Cho expected after dipping her toe in the vegan pond for two weeks. And while she did feel lighter and experienced a more regulated digestive system, her skin took a surprising toll.

Meet the Expert

  • Charlotte Cho is an esthetician, entrepreneur, and founder of Soko Glam. She is also the author of The Little Book of Skin Care: Korean Beauty Secrets for Healthy, Glowing Skin.
  • Brooke Alpert, MS, RD, CDN, is a nutrition expert and founder of B Nutritious. She has published two books: The Sugar Detox: Lose Weight, Feel Great and Look Years Younger Healthy Eating During Pregnancy.

"I started to get small, tiny breakouts in areas of my face that are usually blemish-free, such as my forehead and upper lip," Cho explains in her blog, The Klog. "I do deal with hormonal acne from time to time, but it’s usually cystic and along my jawline. The pimples themselves looked and felt different from my usual breakouts." Cho attributed this to the fact that going vegan left her hungrier than usual and thus ignited her snacking habits. But instead of filling up on healthy plant-based proteins, she reached for processed, quick, "vegan-friendly" snacks, a common mistake made by newcomers to veganism, especially those just experimenting with it for a short period of time like Cho.

Brooke Alpert, MS, RD, CDN, confirms this reaction, saying, "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. 

As clear-cut as it is that eating clean results in better skin, vegan foods don't necessarily translate to healthy foods—French fries are vegan, after all. Byrdie's features editor Amanda Montell knows this all too well. "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."

Montell credits her choice to go vegan primarily to the dairy and meat industry and its contribution to climate change, environmental endangerment, and, of course, its unethical treatment of animals. Making "healthy" dietary choices was not at the forefront of her mind, which accounts for the processed foods she ate while beginning her vegan journey. It's a common mistake—you choose to be vegan for ethic's sake, but putting research behind healthy vegan options takes a backseat. Though, for Byrdie's wellness editor and managing editor for THE/THIRTY, Victoria Hoff, in addition to ethics, her foray into veganism sprouted from her interest in adopting a plant-based lifestyle. 

"I was so inspired by the amazing array of produce available and all the innovative ways I could cook with plant-based foods. Really, I went into it from a plant-based mindset from the beginning and took that quite literally.

"As for my skin, barring a few hormonal snafus, it has been consistently clear since going vegan. It's seriously a no-brainer—whenever I lapse and began to indulge too much in sugary/junk foods, I get dullness and the occasional breakout. When I return back to my plant-based diet, it all clears up and my skin seriously glows."

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