How Becoming Vegan Changed My Skin

If the old adage is true and you are indeed what you eat, then I used to be a juicy combo meal of soy protein isolate, animal fat, dry milk solids, high fructose corn syrup and Red No. 3. Tasty, I know.

What that means is that like any reasonable adult, I ate vegetables on a regular basis, but they were by no means the cornerstones of my diet. A side salad was a "responsible" addition to my 8-ounce steak and a banana nut muffin was considered a serving of fruit in my book. I ate processed foods regularly and didn't think much of it. Basically, the choice to become a Vegan wasn’t obvious for me. In fact, the idea of cutting out all animal products and basing my diet solely on a whole foods, plant-based intake was, well, kind of out of the question.

However, that’s what I did. I gave up chicken and beef and fish and butter and milk and cheese and all things pretty delicious in this life and started filling my plate with kale and quinoa and lentils and yams and spinach and soybeans. Why? Vanity. It's a powerful motivator.

As a beauty editor, I know that my diet has a direct effect on the health and appearance of my skin and hair. Sure, there is always a cream to clear up acne and a shampoo that can make my hair instantly shiny, but why not take a direct shortcut to glowing skin and glistening hair by changing the way that I eat?

Whole foods, plant-based diets are typically low in fat, high in water-content and evade the pore-clogging saturated fats found in meat and dairy. Also, fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants, minerals and phytonutrients, which are the building blocks for radiant skin and strong hair. 

Also informing my decision to cut out meat and dairy is the evidence that suggests that diets loaded with saturated animal fat and hormone-laced dairy can lead to inflammation of the skin and acne. "There are a lot of hormones in our dairy supply," says Encinitas, CA, dermatologist Heidi Gilchrist, MD, a fellow vegan. "And today, we have access to dairy at unprecedented levels so we are consuming a lot of it. All these hormones don't belong in us and they can really exasperate acne," she says. Not only that, "dairy has a lot of saturated fat and that can cause cholesterol deposits on the walls of your arteries which leads to inflammation and remember, acne is an inflammation disease."

Another great benefit of a plant-based diet is all the fiber you intake and all the toxins you cut out. You see, when your body intakes toxins from processed foods, your skin has to work overtime. Tampa, FL pro athlete and celebrity wellness doctor Tim Bain is the medical director of the Saddlebrook Athlete's Compound and has studied nutrition extensively. As a big proponent of the vegan diet, he says that when the toxins in processed foods overrun the body, organs like the liver, bowel and kidneys are overwhelmed by the intake and therefore the skin has to work overtime in detoxifying the body. "When the skin tries to take on such a significant role in detoxifying, the process can manifest as skin conditions like hives, acne, rosacea, eczema and psoriasis. From a science/testing perspective, we can see this result in blood tests like IgG, ESR and RA factors. A person moving from a processed food diet to a vegan diet drastically reduces their toxin intake, facilitates the detoxifying process, and increases vitamin intake and absorption," he says, which is great news for the health and look of your skin. Need more proof? Just look at the glowing complexion of vegans like Anne Hathaway and Olivia Wilde, heck, even Brad Pitt.

Of course, not only is a plant-based diet good for the skin, it's good for you body. Dr. Bain says there is a definite correlation between the vegan diet and decreased inflammation and inflammatory disease. "Cross-sectional studies of vegetarians and vegans have shown that, on average, they have a relatively low BMI and a low plasma cholesterol concentration; recent studies have also shown higher plasma homocysteine concentrations than in non-vegetarians," he says.

Now of course, it's important to know that when switching to a whole foods, plant-based diet, you have to do it responsibly. "You can't just eat white pasta and fake cheese, you have to do it right. You have to eat whole foods like greens, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes and plant-based saturated fat like coconut oil, as well as take a multi-vitamin and try to incorporate nutritional yeast," says Dr. Gilchrist. If you are eating all these things, you are getting loaded with vitamins and nutrients as well as reaching the proper protein intake you need for beautiful skin, she says.

Lack of protein is what many people worry about when discussing the pros and cons of cutting out meat from the diet. However, through many studies we have seen that protein should only be about "nine to 11 percent of total diet calories. This has long been established as the Recommended Dietary Allowance, which exceeds the minimum protein requirements for virtually everyone," says Dr. T Colin Campbell, author of The China Study and WHOLE: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition. Backed by the most extensive study of nutrition ever conducted and bolstered by dozens of additional studies and cases, The China Study found that a diet based on whole, plant-based food dramatically reduces your risk of a broad spectrum of diseases, including heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer.

So I bet your wondering how my skin has changed since cutting out meat and dairy? Well, it has changed immensely. I no longer suffer from hormonal breakouts and my skin has become extremely radiant. More people have complimented me on my skin than ever before. I was blown away by the improvement, however Dr. Gilchrist was not surprised. "I have been vegetarian for four years and a vegan for three. I have seen in my own skin, as well as patients who make the switch, what a tremendous transformation it can bring."

What do you think? Would you ever consider a whole foods, plant-based diet to save your skin? 

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  • didi

    WHEN you eat is as important as WHAT you eat. try to not to eat after midnight and do not overeat and try to fasting several day in a week. hope it can help you all with your acne.when i get some acne i usually go on 1 day water fasting.acne is usually appear when our skin get too oily.and fasting will help you reduce that.

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  • Romi

    For me it was actually quite the opposite. My skin has always been in great shape. I started a plant based, whole foods lifestyle 6 months ago, and now my face is an oil mess (which I never had before), and I get pimples constantly (mainly in my t-zone). When I started I thought it was detoxing, but it's been 6 months and it seems to get worse :( HELP!

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  • Sherry

    I have never written anything online before,because I am 46 years old and my life is mostly uneventful. For the past year I have been seeing a dermotologist every 2 to 3 weeks and still struggled to control the breakouts. Five weeks ago at the suggestion of a women I saw at my son's football game I decided to lay off meat and diary to see if my skin would improve. I have not seen the dermotologist since, and my face looks almost like it did in my 20s & 30s. Overall I have not felt this good in about 5 years. I won't call myself a vegan or vegetarian because I am scared this is a fluke and won't last, anyday now I am expecting to crash and start feeling like crap again,but if I continue to feel this way even if my face breakout I cannot see myself eating meat or dairy again. I had stopped going to the gym about a year ago because it was too much effort for the reward I got (no weight loss, no energy). I am ready to give it another shot, I just have to map out a schedule. If this is how vegans feel all their life... Wow wished I had done this before.

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  • Anonymous

    I've been vegetarian for a year and vegan for 3 months - my skin has transformed! I no longer get monthly outbreaks, it's fantastic.

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  • Jenna

    Sorry to disagree but my 13 month whole food plant based diet has not brought me many good things. I'll start with the good thing, it lowered my cholesterol from 200 to 153. That's great. But that's the only good thing. The bad, Half my hair fell out, my lean body turned flabby with most in my tummy, and I always have digestive issues now from the high fiber, mostly all beans do it to me and some veggies. My diet has been strictly beans, veggies, whole grains, fruits, and small amounts of nuts, seeds and avocado. It's not an enjoyable way to eat for me but my brain tells me it is as I have read all the plant based doctors books and agree with them. I am now adding back in salmon and eggs first to see if that helps. Wish I could sing the praises but many people do not do well on this diet. There is a reason almost every society out there has always had some animal products in their diet, from the Okinawans to the rural Chinese etc.

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  • Lisa

    When I went vegan my rosacea disappeared completely - i never get a flare up. And I guess it shows - someone the other day told me that I "look like i'm glowing" and wanted to know my secret. Fact is, I've never felt healthier and really enjoy being vegan.

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  • jon

    ooooh girl ;)

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  • Katrina Schenfield

    I'm so excited to see this article, Anna! You are lovely! I own my own skin care company and I'm currently a pescatarian and have flirted off and on with veganism for the last few years now. I know that being knowledgeable about skin care and a clean diet have done wonders for my skin. I'm glad you're spreading the word!

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  • Anonymous DC

    Congratulations. I drink green vegetable juice every morning... And I have dropped meats, for the most part ... My skin is radiant too I am told all the time.. So i use fewer cosmetics :) Like you it started out of vanity, but, now I continue because I can only imagine what my liver, stomach, intestines must look like if it is anything like the skin... Trying to keep cancer away, even thought does to seem to run in the family... But neiither does the stress of living in a major city.

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  • Anonymous

    i am a vegetarian for 12 years now and a vegan for 5 months..i've made this change for moral considerations mostly but also for my health..i could not go back to eating animal products...but sadly my acne doesn't seem to get any better, i even think it's worse...can anyone give me an advice please

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  • Joang

    Wonderful article. Can u give us some examples of your typical daily menu

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  • Ainslee

    You look beautiful! I've been toying with the idea of actually going vegan, but I honestly don't think I can last a week. Maybe I could try easing into it. I've long since stopped eating red meat (10 years now!) and it was difficult at first, but I managed so that gives me a bit of confidence about going vegan.

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  • Vegem

    I agree, veganism changed my life. No more arthritis. Faster, stronger and more motivated at gym. cut 5 mins off my marathon time. no more IBS. No more pms. lost 12% body fat, gained 22% bone density (animal protein, esp dairy is very acidic, thus leeching calcium from bones) Not to mention the calm you feel from 1) not ingesting death and suffering a 2) not contributing to death and suffering. Viva la vegans!

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  • Judy Kozlowski

    I have some friends that have been vegan for years and I always admired how healthy they look. I have not yet seen an over weight vegan or a person that's vegan with bad skin or hair. Their eyes look clear, their skin's beautiful and they not under nurished. So there fore, I am working on going vegan. It's a slow process but, I'm getting there!

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  • Nina

    When I was younger and became a vegan / vegetarian, I did it for the animals because i loved them and watched too many PETA videos. However, as I've gotten older, I've adopted the 'eating for my skin' diet. I don't eat meat, however I do eat fish, I stay away from casein (milk) and eat fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and the lovely quinoa! I think Kimberly Snyder's book is a great read on how to eat for your skin. Just cut out the junk and processed "materials" (can you even say some processed foods are even food?) and eat what the earth supplies.

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  • Rosanna

    What a coincidence!! I dropped all meats and dairy as of January this year. I went gluten free since last October. This new healthy living is not just good for your skin, but for your overall well-being. I feel more energetic, more satisfied, work out more.. the best decision of my life (after marrying my hubby!).. Good for you Anna!

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