Whether a teenager or an adult, if you have acne, you’ve likely scoured the internet for evidence-based strategies to clear it. Encouragingly, one of the most impactful strategies is also one that’s most in your control. According to a 2022 study published in Clinics in Dermatology, the elimination of animal products, the introduction of plant foods and vitamin B12 supplements may have a protective role in skin diseases, like acne. So, can going vegan help with acne? Let’s find out.
A whole-foods plant-based vegan diet can improve acne for several reasons. While uncontrollable factors like genes, hormones and environmental factors influence acne, an inflammatory diet also plays a role. Acne is partly the result of excess sebum production, caused by increased insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and increased activity of androgenic hormones. It is also caused by inflammation, high levels of a certain bacteria and hyperkeratinization of certain follicles.
- 1. Increased fiber intake helps stabilize blood sugar
- 2. Reduced consumption of saturated fats decreases inflammation
- 3. Increased intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants fight inflammation
- 4. Probiotics and prebiotics in plant foods reduce inflammation
- 5. Increased soy consumption fights sebum production and can help reduce acne-promoting visceral fat
- Try going vegan for acne before trying antibiotics
1. Increased fiber intake helps stabilize blood sugar
Acne frequently occurs with syndromes associated with insulin resistance, so there is a strong association between insulin and acne. Many plant-based foods (likely the polyphenols in them) can improve this by reducing overproduction of insulin and stabilizing blood sugar.
According to a 2017 review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, diets with a low-glycemic load – meaning rich in plant fibers and low in processed foods – have been associated with an improvement in acne. It balances carbohydrates with fiber, which slows digestion and the release of sugar into the bloodstream. This may be a result of controlling insulin levels or modulating the gut.
Specific foods shown to have a positive impact on insulin sensitivity in some studies include berry extract, olive leaf, berries, grapes, red wine, cinnamon and green tea. As turmeric has been shown to be antimicrobial, anti inflammatory and antidiabetic, these qualities would likely improve acne through stabilizing blood sugar. Plants from the genus Vitex have been successfully used to treat hormonal acne, such as chasteberry fruit, hops, red clover, ginseng and licorice root.
2. Reduced consumption of saturated fats decreases inflammation
Additionally, animal-based and friend foods are typically high in saturated fats, which may cause an increase in IGF-1. These products also have much higher levels of leucine, which has inflammatory effects.
3. Increased intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants fight inflammation
In contrast to animal-based foods, the polyunsaturated fatty acids found in plant-based foods have anti-inflammatory effects. Eating fruits and vegetables protects and alleviates acne due to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. A plant-based diet rich in polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) has been shown to reduce acne, potentially due to modulating microbiota, inflammation, insulin resistance, and hormonal activity.
4. Probiotics and prebiotics in plant foods reduce inflammation
The bacteria in our gut regulate our immune system, break down food, provide us with essential nutrition (biotin and vitamin K), and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Probiotics have been shown to improve acne and reduce side effects from taking antibiotics. This may be due to reduced oxidative stress and reduced inflammation. Plant foods also provide prebiotic polysaccharides.
5. Increased soy consumption fights sebum production and can help reduce acne-promoting visceral fat
Soy products help reduce acne incidence. This is because the isoflavones and phytoestrogens in soy fight sebum production. Replacing dairy with soy may also help improve acne indirectly by reducing visceral fat, which can otherwise contribute to acne.
Try going vegan for acne before trying antibiotics
Evidence indicates that plant-based foods and supplements may serve as viable alternatives to the current initial standard of care for moderate acne, such as antibiotics. Using whole-foods plant-based diets as a first line of defense in treating acne is preferable to oral and topical antibiotics. This is because chronic antibiotic use may have detrimental effects on the microbiome, such as promoting antibiotic resistant bacteria in one’s skin and gut. Plant-based diets offer safe and effective alternative treatments.
Plant-based foods may target multiple factors that contribute to acne, such as promoting insulin resistance, microbiome modulation and sex hormone balance. Diets high in plants – especially those rich in fiber and polyphenols – and low in simple carbohydrates provide a natural intervention and should significantly improve acne.
So, can going vegan help with acne? Yes. Whole-foods plant-based vegan diets fight acne through increased consumption of fiber, reduced consumption of saturated fats, increased consumption of polyunsaturated fats and antioxidants, and increased soy intake. These properties help regulate insulin and stabilize blood sugar, reduce inflammation, fight sebum production, promote a healthy microbiome, and discourage acne-promoting visceral fat.