How Going Vegan Completely Changed My Skin

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I’ve pretty much tried everything to clear up the intense acne scarring leftover from my teenage years. From pricey products to weekly facials and DIY “miracle” fixes, nothing has ever stood up to the challenge of my skin texture. After 10 years of trying and failing, I came to accept that I was stuck with the scars and would need to continue to invest in really good concealers for the rest of my life… Until I went vegan.

To be clear, my decision to change my diet was completely unrelated to my skin issues. I had recently read What The Health, and even though I knew the science in the film was flimsy at best, it scared me into cutting out animal products—including meat, eggs and dairy—from my diet. Within a month, though, people started asking me what I was doing to my skin. “You’re glowing,” my hairdresser balked at my makeup-free face. “Why do you look so dewy,” a friend asked me one night over dinner.

I had to admit that my skin looked the best it had in years. Not only did it seem more moisturized, but the texture (which I’d been battling since the 9th grade) had started to even out. I hadn’t changed my skin care routine at all, so I couldn’t figure out what was making me so glow-y. But then I realized: It must be my new diet.

“Think of your skin as your internal body's sign to the outside,” Lily Talakoub, MD, a dermatologist in McLean, VA, told me when I asked her about the diet and skin connection. “If you're ill on the inside, it will eventually show on your skin.” But what does this mean in relation to going vegan? According to Dr. Talakoub, it’s all about inflammation in the body caused by animal product.

“When the gut is inflamed, inflammatory cells circle in the blood and one of the ways they manifest is on top of the skin,” she explains. This can look like acne or rosacea, both of which are inflammatory skin issues. Steering clear of dairy, including milk, cheese, and ice cream (which, tbh, was really hard at first) can potentially help clear up inflammation-based problems that even the best products can’t seem to crack.

In addition to the whole “no dairy” and “no red meat” thing, the fact that vegans eat significantly more plant-based foods can have a positive impact on skin, too. “When you eat a vegan diet, you're eating a lot more of the healthy unsaturated fats. You're not eating fats from animal products, you're eating other types of good fats like avocados and olive oil,” Dr. Talakoub says. “All of those also decrease the amount of damage to the skin and they decrease free radicals.” Nuts and seeds, for example, are high-protein pillars of the vegan diet and are chock full of Vitamin E, which helps decrease inflammation and increase you body’s natural antioxidant levels.

Aside from my newfound glow and smooth skin texture, I’ve experienced a lot of other benefits from following a vegan diet. My energy is higher than ever, I’m sleeping better, and I’ve dropped a few pounds. That said, it hasn’t exactly been the easiest lifestyle change (yes, I’ve cheated—pizza is just too good for me to say goodbye to forever). So, if you’re not ready to go completely vegan, Dr. Talakoub suggests consuming less dairy, red meat, and pork to help clear up your skin.

And FYI: Cashew cheese really isn’t that bad, especially when it keeps skin blemish-free and radiant.