These days, there’s no denying plant-based eating is more than just a fad. People decide to go vegan for many reasons—ethical issues, environmental concerns, health reasons, or a combination. But what about vegan diets and acne? Are vegans less likely to experience breakouts than non-vegans, or is that just a myth? Here we’ll tell you what experts know about the impact of veganism on skin, and we’ll discuss the possible benefits and side effects of cutting meat and other animal products out of your diet. Ultimately, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” diet that guarantees you good skin. But there are many things you can do to have better skin, and that includes dedicating yourself to a healthy and balanced diet in general, no matter what dietary restrictions you may have.
Vegan diets have the potential to be loaded with fruits, vegetables, and other whole plant-based foods that naturally support your skin’s health and are beneficial to your body all around. Vegan diets take things one step further by eliminating dairy, a known acne trigger in some people (more on that in a bit).¹ Many plant-based diets also emphasize avoiding refined sugars and processed foods, which are often high on the glycemic index (GI)—another risk factor for acne!²
As far as veganism and acne are concerned, going plant-based may lead to the following potential benefits:
Studies have linked the consumption of dairy products to skin congestion and acne in some people. One study demonstrated that women who drank two or more glasses of skim milk per day were 44% more likely to have acne than the other women in this study.³ Cutting dairy products out of your diet is one possible way to help decrease breakouts.
Many plant-based foods are rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin E, beta carotene, polyphenols, and phenolic acids that can lower inflammation.⁴
A vegan diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and plant-based protein boosts antioxidant intake, which is great for your skin and can help lower the risk of certain diseases. Although, it is unclear whether this is directly related to antioxidant intake or to other factors and lifestyle choices.⁵ Antioxidants like beta-carotene may also help fight free radicals that contribute to signs of aging, including wrinkles, dark spots, and fine lines. Plant-based foods are potent sources of antioxidants, as they contain up to 33 times more antioxidants⁶ than meat and animal-based foods. Wondering if you can just take supplements instead? It is recommended to consume a diet high in antioxidant rich foods like fruits and vegetables rather than taking antioxidant supplements, as they have not been found to be as beneficial.⁷
Evidence supports eating a whole-food, plant-based diet can help keep your skin looking young.⁸ Think: fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins, beta-carotene, phenolic acid, and polyphenols, nuts and legumes rich in mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, and polyphenolic-rich beverages. These may potentially improve hydration, firmness, elasticity, and oxidant defense. They may also help reduce hyperpigmentation, fine lines, redness (erythema), and inflammation.⁹
If you’re eating a vegan diet, skin problems can still happen—especially if your diet is lacking the nutrients, fats, and minerals essential to skin health. If you’re making the switch to plant-based, it’s vital to ensure that all of your nutritional bases are covered so you can feel—and look—your best. Vegan and omnivorous diets high in trans fats, saturated fats, and refined sugars may negatively impact your skin and overall health. The following side effects may be associated with vegan diets:
Vitamin B12 deficiency: Vegan diets may lack B12,¹⁰ the vitamin found in foods like milk, cheese, meat, fish, and eggs. Some symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency that affect the skin can include hyperpigmentation and vitiligo.¹¹
Iron deficiency:¹² Red meat, shellfish, and poultry are high in iron, and iron deficiency can cause anemia, which can lead to pale skin and sometimes itching. Vegan sources of iron include tofu and beans.
Zinc deficiency: Zinc is another mineral found in meat, seafood, and dairy. Symptoms of deficiency that affect the skin include dry, scaly, red patches of skin on the face. To ensure you’re getting your zinc on a vegan diet, eat plenty of nuts, legumes, and seeds.
When you’re eating a vegan diet, ensuring you’re getting all your vitamins, minerals, and nutrients is critical, which is why many vegans add supplements to their daily routine. It is important to note that some supplements can interact with certain medications so have a discussion with your primary care provider prior to adding in any new supplements to see if they are right for you.
If you’re wondering whether going vegan will help reduce acne breakouts, the truth is research is still limited. So far, studies have shown that acne patients were more than twice as likely to have a non-vegan diet,¹³ but there’s still not enough evidence to prove that plant-based diets lead to less acne. Diets rich in fresh whole fruits and vegetables can be great for the skin, but some people find that transitioning to a new diet, whether vegan or not, can coincide with increased breakouts.
Also, just because a food is vegan doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you—or your skin. Vegan diets can be high in simple carbohydrates that are often high on the glycemic index (GI) and may trigger breakouts in some people.¹⁴ High-GI foods include white rice, white potatoes, sugar, and white bread, which can be common in vegan diets. The body breaks down high-carb foods quickly, causing a rapid spike in blood sugar. This can lead to increased oil (sebum) production and inflammation, both of which may contribute to breakouts. Vegan diets can also easily lack certain vitamins and minerals essential for your skin’s health, like zinc, iron, and vitamin B12 (as mentioned above).
On the other hand, vegan diets automatically omit another category of food that may cause acne for some. Yep, you guessed it—dairy! One study demonstrated that participants with acne drank a higher amount of low-fat/skim milk.¹⁵ Long story short: Going fully vegan won’t necessarily help reduce your chances of breaking out. But certain principles of a vegan diet can be good for your skin and overall health, like trading the simple carbs for lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Just be sure you’re also getting all those essential vitamins and minerals that non-vegans usually get from animal products.
Professional guidance from Curology’s licensed dermatology providers can help you determine the proper care for your skin. Founded in 2014 by a board-certified dermatologist, Dr. David Lortscher, Curology is dedicated to providing accessible, effective treatments to help maintain your skin’s health. Curology is proudly vegan and cruelty-free—our products are never tested on animals.
Becoming a member is simple. You tell us about your skin, and one of our licensed dermatology providers will work with you to examine your skin, assess your skin goals, and provide custom treatment options. If Curology is right for you, we’ll prescribe you a personalized prescription formula containing a mix of proven ingredients chosen for your unique needs such as tretinoin, azelaic acid, or clindamycin. You’ll also receive other Curology products to complement your treatment plan.
We’re here for you anytime you have skincare-related questions.
Vegan diets take things one step further by eliminating dairy, a known acne trigger in some people. Many plant-based diets also emphasize avoiding refined sugars and processed foods, which are often high on the glycemic index (GI)—another risk factor for acne! Going plant-based may reduce acne, inflammation, protect your skin with the help of antioxidants, and help reduce the signs of aging.
If you’re making the switch to plant-based, it’s vital to ensure that all of your nutritional bases are covered so you can feel—and look—your best. Vegan and omnivorous diets high in trans fats, saturated fats, and refined sugars may negatively impact your skin and overall health. Vegan diets can be associated with vitamin B12, iron and zinc deficiency, so ensuring you’re getting all your vitamins, minerals, and nutrients is critical.
Long story short: Going fully vegan won’t necessarily help reduce your chances of breaking out. But certain principles of a vegan diet can be good for your skin and overall health, like trading the simple carbs for lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Just be sure you’re also getting all those essential vitamins and minerals that non-vegans usually get from animal products
Juhl CR, Bergholdt HKM, et al. Dairy Intake and Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of 78,529 Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults. Nutrients. (2018 Aug 9).
Conforti C, Agozzino M, et al. Acne and diet: a review. Int J Dermatol. (August 2022).
Can the right diet get rid of acne?American Academy of Dermatology Association. (n.d.).
Vivien W. Fam, PhD, RDN, et al. Plant-Based Foods for Skin Health: A Narrative Review.Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2022 March 1).
Antioxidants: In Depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (n.d.).
Carlsen, MH., et al. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Nutr J. (2010).
Antioxidants: In Depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Ibid.
Solway J, McBride M, Haq F, Abdul W, Miller R. Diet and Dermatology: The Role of a Whole-food, Plant-based Diet in Preventing and Reversing Skin Aging-A Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (2020).
Fam, V., et al. Plant-Based Foods for Skin Health: A Narrative Review. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2021).
Neufingerl N, Eilander A. Nutrient Intake and Status in Adults Consuming Plant-Based Diets Compared to Meat-Eaters: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. (2021).
Langan RC, Goodbred AJ. Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Recognition and Management. Am Fam Physician. (2017 Sep 15).
Neufingerl N, Eilander A. Nutrient Intake and Status in Adults Consuming Plant-Based Diets Compared to Meat-Eaters: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. Ibid.
Stewart TJ, Bazergy C. Hormonal and dietary factors in acne vulgaris versus controls. Dermatoendocrinol. (2018).
Baldwin H, Tan J. Effects of Diet on Acne and Its Response to Treatment. Am J Clin Dermatol. (2021).
LaRosa, C., et al. Consumption of dairy in teenagers with and without acne. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2016).
Nicole Hangsterfer is a licensed physician assistant at Curology. She obtained her masters in physician assistant studies at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern in Chicago, IL.
Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C