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.