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Vegan Diet and Acne: What You Need To Know From a Vegan Dietitian

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Does a vegan diet cause or prevent acne? Keep reading to find out what the research says in this Dietitian written article!

Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for medical or dietary advice. Always talk to your doctor about any health concerns, if you want to make major dietary changes, or take a supplement. See our Disclaimers for more details.

What is Acne Vulgaris?

Medicinenet.com defines it as “The common form of acne, in teens and young adults, that is due to overactivity of the oil (sebaceous) glands in the skin that become plugged and inflamed.” “Treatments include keeping the skin clean and avoiding irritating soaps, foods, drinks, and cosmetics.” (Note: you can read the full definition at Medicine.net.

Now that we know what it is, what are some dietary components that could potentially affect acne? Are they vegan or not? Lets find out…

Foods that May Contribute to Acne

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive list of all foods that may contribute to acne. It’s also important to note that each individual is different. Certain foods might be associated with acne for some, but not for others. Talk to your doctor before making any major dietary changes.

Milk

Drinking milk could make acne worse for some individuals.

The white stuff has been accused of an increase in the number and intensity of pimples. The cause may be the proteins in milk: whey and casein.

Both proteins may stimulate IGF-1 (a growth hormone) levels, which could promote the growth of acne.

Whey protein consumption may also affect the production of insulin (a hormone that helps control sugar in the blood), which could aggravate acne.

Does This Affect Me as a Vegan?

Nope! Vegans do not consume dairy products because they avoid all animal products.

Chocolate/Cocoa

Whether chocolate/ cocoa products aggravates acne is still debated. Some studies suggest a high intake of chocolate is associated with acne, whereas others debate the relationship.

Again, this one is a big maybe, and the exact mechanisms have yet to be clearly defined. How chocolate/cocoa affects you may vary.

Does This Affect Me as a Vegan?

Yes, if you consume vegan chocolate or cocoa. If you are a big consumer of this treat and have acne, consider eliminating it for a while to see if it helps.

High GI Foods / GL Foods

Graphic showing Examples of High to low GI vegan foods.

Individuals suffering from moderate to severe acne, may have worse acne on a high GI (glycemic index)/ high (glycemic load) GL diet.

The glycemic index (GI) uses of a scale of one to one hundred that is based on the rise in blood glucose level for a particular food. The glycemic load (GL) takes the portion size into consideration.

High GI foods are typically digested and and absorbed quicker than low GI foods, resulting in higher blood sugar spikes.

Examples of higher GI foods include white bread, rice milk, and watermelon. Lower GI food (defined as a GI index of <55 in the study) examples include soybeans, apples, and barley.

The study associated a a low GI/GL diet with decreased IGF-1 (a growth hormone), which is a factor related to acne. Of note, there were several limitations to this study, including length and the exclusion of participants without acne.

Does This Affect Me as a Vegan?

Possibly, there are several vegan foods that range on the spectrum on the glycemic index. However, not everyone will respond in the same way.

Remember, even though a food may be labeled as having a “high GI.” it may still provide beneficial nutrients. For example, the high GI food – watermelon provides the antioxidant lycopene, and a good dose of beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A).

What Can Vegans Eat for To Fight Breakouts?

Disclaimer: We are not claiming any of these foods will cure acne. Adding these foods may or may not have an effect on your acne. Talk to your own doctor.

Vegans already skip dairy, but what can they add to help prevent acne? Lets take a look at the research.

Omega-3 Fats

Graphic showing High Vegan Sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega- 3 Fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, and may help prevent acne development. Vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids called, ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) include walnuts, ground flax seeds, and chia seeds.

However, much of the research on omega 3 fats and acne involves DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), and focuses on fish and fish oil. There are vegan DHA algae based supplements, however, this has not been studied as extensively .

Still, if as a vegan, getting enough Omega 3 fatty acids in the form of ALA is important. And if you want to consider taking a DHA supplement, definitely talk to your doctor first.

Fruits and Vegetables

In one study, females who had a low weekly intake of fruits or vegetables were more likely to have acne.

While not completely understood, fruits and veggies provides beneficial nutrients and contains antioxidant properties. Less inflammation could potentially lead to less acne.

In Conclusion: Vegan Diet and Acne

There has not been a lot of research establishing a connection between the vegan diet and acne or the lack thereof.

Vegans exclude dairy milk products, which may contribute to acne for some individuals. However, other vegan foods may contribute to acne such as vegan chocolate/cocoa, and high GI/GL load foods.

It’s important to remember that every individual is different. So while chocolate may have an effect on your acne, your friend may have no reaction to chocolate.

If you are concerned about your acne, adding certain food foods like omega 3 fatty acids is no guarantee that it will help or not. Furthermore, there are so many other factors that may be contributing to acne aside from diet. Consult a dermatologist for recommendations tailored to your own unique situation.

Did you find this article helpful? Any other questions about plant based diets and acne? Let me know below!

And while you’re here, why not poke around on our blog? We go over other topics such as vegan diets and PCOS and why higher calorie vegan foods (like sweet potatoes) are important!

Sign up for my e-mail subscribers list to keep up with new posts, and may the fork be with you…

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