A few weeks ago I wrote an article giving one of our readers diet advice on how to adjust paleo diet to clear up breakouts. Today I’d like to give some advice for vegan and vegetarian acne.
I get asked a lot why if you’re vegan or vegetarian you’re still getting acne and breakouts, even if you’re on a healthy plant-based diet?
I’ve even met people that their skin actually got worse or they develop acne after making the diet change to being a vegan or vegetarian.
There’s a lot of confusion on this one because many people are told all their skin problems and acne will disappear once they become a vegan or vegetarian.
In the natural health circles there’s expectations that all vegans and vegetarians should be skinny, have perfect skin, and be the symbol of health – but this just isn’t true, nor realistic.
There’s no guarantee a vegan or vegetarian diet is going to give you clear skin, just like there’s no guarantee a paleo, whole food, caveman, low fat, low carb, whole food diet, or any other diet is going to cure acne either.
The reason why is because if you don’t address the cause of your breakouts and acne, and make the necessary adjustments, the diet you’re on might not be of any help.
I am telling you this because I was a vegetarian for 25 years. A strict vegetarian for 25 years. And, for 4 years out of those 25 years, I was a raw vegan as well. I was a vegetarian for 2/3 of my life (a really long time!). And, at different times during those 25 years of vegetarianism, my acne was at its worst, and also, at its best.
How my skin went from being at it’s worst, to then completely clearing up, and being at it’s best, all the while being on a vegetarian diet – was because I realized along the way that being on a vegetarian diet just wasn’t enough to heal my skin. I had to make further changes and improvements to my diet to clear up my skin.
In 2010, when I got off of a vegetarian diet, everyone warned me my acne was going to come back, but it didn’t. And in fact my skin continued to improve.
I’ll admit I was nervous changing my diet, not only because it was such a massive lifestyle change, but because the last thing I wanted was the acne coming back. But at the same time, I was certain it wouldn’t because I knew what in my diet, skin care routine, and lifestyle gives me terrible breakouts and acne, and a lot of that had nothing to do with being a vegetarian or not.
When it comes to food and acne, it’s more about specific acne trigger foods (both healthy and unhealthy), and healing and balancing the underlying health condition causing your acne in the first place.
So with that being said, based on my experience and those of my coaching clients, most people can clear up acne and breakouts just by being on a healthy whole food diet (and versions of a whole food diet including vegetarian, vegan, paleo, low carb, low fat, etc). As long as you’re eating real food – you’re in the right direction.
Most of you will get great results just switching to a healthy, real food diet. Many of you will clear up your skin just from getting rid of processed and refined foods from your diet.
But, there will be some of you that no matter how much real food you eat, and even if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you might still need to adjust your diet further to get skin clearing results.
So here I’ve put together 5 diet tips for vegans and vegetarians dealing with acne and breakouts. What you need to watch out for and adjust in your diet to get rid of adult acne.
How to adjust vegan or vegetarian diet for clear skin
1- Make sure you’re eating real food
I made this mistake for many years when I first switched to a vegetarian diet – I was eating so much bread and pasta (like at every meal). Bread and pasta most of the time are processed food, with little nutrition, and can make your blood sugar swing all over the place causing breakouts and acne.
Make sure the bulk of the food you’re eating is real, fresh, whole foods like vegetables, whole grains, beans & legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, (and vegetarians can eat eggs).
You don’t want to be eating a diet of bread, cakes, pasta, chips, and vegetarian junk foods – that’s not real food, and that’s not healthy (or good for your skin).
2- Make sure to be eating A LOT of vegetables
Everyone, no matter what diet you are on, needs to be loading up on vegetables, especially if you’ve got breakouts or acne.
If you are a vegan or vegetarian, you’re diet must be plant-based (not bread-based, not pasta-based, or not processed-food based)
And when I’m talking vegetables, I don’t just mean starchy vegetables like potatoes, but green leafy vegetables, colourful vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, fresh herbs, sprouts, seaweed, etc – as much variety as possible.
Acne itself is an inflammatory skin condition, so you need to be eating anti-inflammatory foods like vegetables. This is extremely beneficial for reducing skin irritation, inflammation, and speeding up skin recovery and healing.
Vegetables, just like fruit; have so much nutrition, especially skin protecting, and skin beautifying vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
I recommend all vegans and vegetarians with acne and skin breakouts eat at least one green salad every single day, and make sure you’re including vegetables in your lunches and dinner (and if you can, add them to your breakfast too).
3- Careful with soy & faux animal products
Soybeans, and soy products have naturally occurring phytoestrogen. If you’ve got adult acne, chances are you are either sensitive to hormone changes, or some of you might even have a hormone imbalance.
If you know your acne and breakouts are connected to your hormones, I would recommend being careful eating anything made with soy. The reason is due to the naturally occurring estrogen, it can throw your hormones off balance, or cause hormone issues.
Most soy products are not even made from whole soy beans, but soy byproducts. This makes it an extremely processed food, that can also be allergenic, difficult to digest, and full of unhealthy processed ingredients (ever look at the ingredients of a vegan soy margarine – it’s a spread made out of hydrogenated oils and chemicals, nothing in that is safe or healthy, especially not good for your skin).
If you are going to eat any soy food, the only ones I would recommend occasionally eating is tempeh, tofu, or edamame beans.
Don’t eat soy burgers, faux-meat foods, tofu hot dogs, soy margarine, soy milk, soy cheeze, soy yogurt, soy ice cream, soybean oil, soy protein powder, or any processed soy foods. These foods aren’t food, they are health food store junk foods, and can be as detrimental to your health (and skin), and as bad as eating fast food.
4- Watch your carb intake, including fruit
This is the most challenging one for all vegans and vegetarians, because for the most part, a vegan or vegetarian diet can sometimes end up being a very high glycemic or high carb diet, which isn’t always the best for some of you with acne or skin problems (for some people, high carb has absolutely no effect on their skin, for others it can cause breakouts and acne).
If you recently switched to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle and you’re skin has gotten worse (and you’re not eating flour, bread, pasta, and soy every day), my recommendation is to look into the carbs you are eating and try to find ways to cut down the sugar load.
For me, while I was on a vegan and vegetarian diet, this was how I got rid of my acne – I was seriously “mindful” how much carbohydrates I was eating. I obviously didn’t cut them out, but I saw how certain foods that had a lot more naturally occurring sugars (like tropical fruits, dried fruits, and foods made with flour) were messing up my skin.
If any of this rings true to you, my recommendation is to start first by cutting all flour from your diet for at least a couple of weeks. If you’re still having breakouts and acne; then I recommend doing experiments decreasing quantities of fruit or whole grains in your diet.
If you decide to cut down on fruit to see how that affects your skin, I suggest starting with cutting down the amounts of high glycemic fruit you are eating. You can either cut down the quantities or switch to lower glycemic fruits (like eat apples, pears, and berries instead of eating mangos and pineapple). Do this for at least a few weeks to see how your skin responds.
If after a few weeks of decreasing the fruit in your diet, you notice no improvements, then add the fruit back in, and try experimenting with lowering the quantities of whole grains.
Everybody’s bodies reacts differently to different types of sugars and carbohydrates, so it’s important to do experiments cutting down on one type of carbohydrate at a time, for at least a month or so, to see how your skin responds. For some of you, you might notice that if you eat too much fruit you get terrible breakouts, for others it could be coming from grains, even whole grains. For others it could be a combination of the two.
5- Try cutting dairy products out of their diet
Obviously if you’re vegan this doesn’t apply to you (but I don’t want you replacing animal milk with soy milk, cause that’s just as bad for your skin).
If you are vegetarian and you have breakouts and acne, it could be coming from dairy products in your diet.
Best to cut out all animal milks, cheese, yogurt, kefir, creamers, ice cream, butter, ghee, whey protein powder, etc. Even raw animal milk products. I suggest cutting them all out of your diet.
You can still eat eggs, just cut out the animal milks and products made with animal milks (always read the ingredients, cause even the tiniest amount of dairy can mess up your skin).
The only thing I would ever recommend replacing animal milk with would be a homemade nut or seed milk (not the store bought packaged stuff), or you can drink fresh coconut milk instead.
Whatever you do, don’t replace cow’s milk with soy milk or other factory made milks. As I said earlier, soy products can interfere with your hormones and are extremely difficult to digest – resulting in acne and skin issues (I would say soy milk is just as bad for acne as cow’s milk).
And if you’re thinking of replacing cow’s milk with packaged rice milk or almond milk, I would be cautious with that too – make sure to read the ingredients because many of those packaged milk products are filled with ingredients that are terrible for your skin like hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup. Homemade and fresh is always best.
Here’s another recent video I did for vegetarians and vegans dealing with acne. It’s got even more tips and worth watching.
Great post! Another thing I think is important is finding out your food allergies. Recently I read a post about a woman who was allergic to citrus fruits,and that was causing her acne.
Great point Emma! Thanks for sharing 🙂
I’m 19 I have had severe painful cystic acne for over a year now and before that it was totally clear other than maybe a spot here or there, I tried eating a plant based vegan/vegetarian diet on and off during that time, with limited results.. I’m really frustrated because i have cut out sugar,dairy,wheat,gluten,even most grains from my diet other than maybe some quinoa and buckwheat and mostly organic, I just don’t know what to do anymore any suggestions?
I know how frustrating that can be, I was a vegetarian myself for almost 20 years and most of the time my skin was terrible. What messes up a lot of vegetarian’s skin is the amount of carbohydrates in the diet. Unfortunately a vegan or vegetarian diet can be very high in carbohydrates, and if you have any hormone imbalances or sensitivities (which is probably causing the acne), all the carbs could be interfering with your blood sugar, which in turn is throwing hormones off balance. I recommend working on increasing healthy proteins and fats in your diet and however you can, decrease the carbs.
Just wondering what you think of Oat Milk?
It should be ok, just make sure it’s homemade and no added sweetener (including dried fruit or dates).
Hey! Thank you for a post. Just read another article, telling me that I have to cut down the catlike avocados or nuts… These are so healthy! I don’t understand, do I have to avoid for some week (to make test), fruits or whole grain foods? (And btw what do you think of rice milk?)
Thank you a lot, xx
I don’t quite agree on cutting down the avocado or nuts (unless you’re really eating A LOT of nuts), but otherwise I find avocado and nuts to be fine for the skin (nut butters on the other hand could cause breakouts because it’s easy to eat too much at once, they’re difficult to digest, and many of them are rancid). I would say high sugar fruits or food made from flour would be more of an issue for your skin, and best to cut back on them before eliminating avocado or nuts.
As for the rice milk, it’s ok if it’s homemade and no added sugar or oils. I would stay away from the packaged rice milk.
Hey! Thanks for this post. Maybe will try cutting out flour. I’m a vegetarian struggling with severe acne. I have cut out dairy but it truly didn’t change anything. I didn’t want to have to cut out flour but desperate times call for desperate measures. I do eat a pretty “whole foods” diet and am not one for soy so I don’t know what else to do…
Cutting out flour can definitely help. I’ve coached a lot of vegetarians and vegans and many get great results cutting out flour and flour products like bread, pasta, baked goods etc. Many of my clients can still eat whole grains (like quinoa, rice, buckwheat, etc.), but the processed flour (even whole grain and gluten-free flour) can cause breakouts and skin issues.
Hi, I am a teenager and I have lots of acne on my face I even tried to cut down dairy products nuts oily items but they did not help please suggest me what to do
Unfortunately because you’re a teenager, the breakouts and acne is probably coming from your changing hormones. The best thing you can do is eat a super healthy diet with A LOT of green vegetables, and cut down on sugar and food mades with flour – this can help.
Hi,is whole wheat spelled vegan pasta and the same bread bad for acne? I don’t eat them every day,but still…
Ya I would take a break from the pasta and bread to see if it can helped your skin. If you crave something starchy, have sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, or regular potatoes instead.
Being a guy, I was just wondering if you still would strongly suggest to avoid soy milk?
Even guys should avoid the soy milk! It can really mess up your skin regardless of gender. Soy milk is made out of soy byproducts and many times has hydrogenated oils, sweeteners and preservatives added. I don’t consider it a health food.
You’ve recommended cutting out soy products as well as dairy. Is it possible to meet daily minimum calcium needs of 1,000mg with just calcium rich dark leafy greens and high calcium beans? Considering 1/2 cup (85g) Kale contains about 61mg calcium but only 30mg is absorbed due to the high amount of oxalates in plant foods.
If you’re eating a lot of greens, vegetables, and a variety of beans, legumes, nuts/seed, and some whole grains you should certainly reach your daily requirement of calcium. All these food are also super rich in magnesium, which boosts your absorption of calcium, more so than dairy products.
All this is new to me. I’ve been a vegetarian for six months now and everything is going well, except my face (my lower jawline to be exact). This is so annoying. I eat relatively healthy; grains, almond milk, pastas, carbs, nuts, veggies and so forth. After reading your article, it looks like to need to eliminate grains, almond milk, pasta and carbs?? (well at least test to see if its the contributing factor). I’ve also transition from spring water to alkaline water; not sure if this may be a concern. Prior to living a healthier lifestyle, my face was spotless. Any more tips you can give is greatly appreciated.
The breakouts you’re getting on your jawline sound to me to be hormone-related, and unfortunately a high carb diet such as the one you’re on isn’t helping (that’s why you’ve been getting breakouts since switching to a vegetarian diet). I recommend swapping the pasta, breads and flour products with vegetables – this will help a lot, plus following the other direction in the blog post. The more vegetables you eat, especially green leafy vegetables, the better!
Low selenium caused my acne. Now I eat 1 Brazil nut a day.
The switch tov vegetarian diet is a great choice! Vegan even better! I did it to take a stand against factory animal farming, which inflicts severe animal abuse and suffering. It’s common to get acne when switching to vegan because all the toxins come to surface during the cleaning process. Trust me your skin will clear up when you commit to abstain from dairy Go vegetarian to help end animal suffering, your skin and conscious will clear up.
Hi Natasha, I am very skinny and have high metabolism and I lose weight very easily. I also suffer from constant acne on my face. I think you can guess where I’m going with this… All of your suggestions (and what I’ve seen on other websites) are essentially asking me to cut out higher calorie foods from my diet. I already cut out dairy last year, and I can’t fathom going vegan and eating mostly vegetables, because it will result in me losing a tremendous amount of weight I can’t afford to lose (I already struggle to maintain my weight). Do you have any suggestions about how to address this conundrum? Or am I just doomed to always have an acne-ridden face until my 40s when my metabolism finally slows down?
Have you thought of getting your thyroid checked? This weight loss could be caused by an imbalance in thyroid hormones and should be investigated xx
It’s not always easy being on vegetarian or vegan diet and having acne (I know, I was a vegetarian for over 25 years and had bad acne). I would recommend focusing your diet on vegetable and fat/protein sources like beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut meats, etc. With the beans, legumes, nuts, seeds – try soaking them in water overnight before cooking or eating them. This will make them much easier to digest and can interfere less with acne. Eating larger portions and more frequently can also help to increase your daily calorie intake.
Hi Natasha,i am 32 years and never had acne before, for more than one year i switched to vegetarian food and from time to time i eat small amounts of fish. Sjnce i switched my face is all the time invaded by pimples and not the tiny but the big and painful ones under the skin.how is that possible? instead of improving it’s worse as in i’ve never had it before.oh and forgot to say i even gained more weight than before.
It sounds to me the acne (and weight gain) is hormone related, and triggered by the vegetarian diet. Unfortunately vegetarian diet can be high in carbs, which for a lot of woman can throw their hormones off causing the acne and weight gain. To fix it, reduce the carbs (even healthy carbs), and work on increasing proteins and fats in your diet. Exercise too can help with balancing hormones and blood sugar, which will in turn help your skin. I know it can be incredibly frustrating when you’re trying to eat healthy and suddenly everything seems to backfire and be worse. I’ve been there myself!
Hi. I was wondering if you have any studies or sources for your information regarding soy being bad for your skin? I prefer to take advice with a pinch of salt when all I have is the words of a stranger on the internet to go on. I don’t consume a lot of soy to begin with but there’s a hell of a lot of contradictory information in the wild about it which makes me curious as to where this information comes from?
In moderation, soy for most people should be fine, especially if you are eating whole, fermented soy products like tempeh, tofu, miso, nato, etc., which are much easier to digest. How soy can be connected and trigger acne is allergies to soy, over consumption of soy, and consuming soy products that are difficult to digest on a regular basis. Most people are not aware that soy by-products are in most processed foods (soybean oil, soy proteins, etc). Soy has naturally occuring phytoestrogens. In small amounts, it shouldn’t be an issue. But if you have acne from a hormone imbalance or a reproductive condition, I would be cautious with how much soy you are consuming (best to consult your physician). Soy is also not the easiest to digest and for some people, digestive issues are connected to getting acne breakouts. If when eating soy you get bloating, gas, or constipation, it worth taking a break from it to see if your digestion and skin improves. Sometimes it’s not the soy itself causing the digestive issues, but what you are eating it with (example: making a smoothie with soy protein and/or soy milk with fruit – combining fruit and soy can be a digestive disaster for many people).
As for studies on soy, they are limited and inconclusive. It’s a fact that soy contains isoflavones that have oestrogenic properties. But studies are inconclusive on what is a safe and beneficial amount of soy. A lot of studies on soy are done on cultures that are eating traditional, whole soy foods; not on industrialized societies that are eating processed foods made out soy by-products (which unfortunately a lot of vegan/vegetarian processed foods, spreads, and snacks are full of hydrogenated soybean oil, soy protein isolates, and other soy by-products).
To be on the safe side, eat whole, fermented soy foods, and avoid processed soy products. And make sure your diet has a lot of variety. As with everything, moderation is key.
I’ve been following you on youtube for a while. Possibly 10years. You’re down to earth and honest and thats why I like you.
I myself have been vegetarian for 24 years now and currently vegan for 8 months. The main reason I went vegan was because I have endometriosis and I found the surplus of estrogen in cheese and dairy gave me excruciating pains. Coming off the dairy the pain is much better and more tolerable by far.
However, I’m in a pickle…. I have got myself a low b12 even with supplementing I’m struggling and feeling more and more worse with symptoms every day!
I wanted to know how your pcos had gone on when you went back to eating fish and organic chicken?? Did it affect it in any way?
I’m seriously considering the same route. I eat whole foods plant based cook from scratch everyday rarely eat anything processed and the veganism just isn’t working for .me and knowing I can’t go back to dairy for the pain factor I wonder if poultry will hurt me the same… Only one way to find out I suppose. I’m planning on wild fish and organic free run chicken but would love to know more how you reintroduced meat in more detail ?
Sorry to hear about your challenges, I can definitely relate. It’s now been almost 10 years that I switched to eating meat again, and I have to say my health is very good, I don’t see myself going back to being a vegan or vegetarian. I do much better with a higher protein/fat diet.
I had struggled a lot with the PCOS for many years. Most concerning was my period disappearing for years on end. Raw vegan helped with balancing my hormones, getting rid of acne, and even the cysts covering my ovaries went away. But my period and monthly ovulation only came back regularly when I started eating meat again. When I was first diagnosed with PCOS, I was told I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant naturally. But later on when my monthly period and ovulation came back (after over a decade of almost nothing), I ended up getting pregnant and having two kids naturally without any difficulty or issues conceiving. For me, the issue was all the carbs and sugars in my diet (which were high on plant-based diet), and once I started including meats and fish that issue resolved itself. Plus, like you I had B12 deficiency, which improved as well.
But I will say, it was definitely difficult emotionally, spiritually and mentally to get my head around eating meat again. I was a strict vegetarian for 25 years, most of my life. I didn’t even know how to cook or prepare meat. The whole idea of eating meat was just so foreign to me, and it took a while to feel ok with it.
Let me know what you decide to do. And in the meantime make sure to take B12 supplements or get injections, a B12 deficiency is serious. Wishing you all the best.