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Vegetarians & Acne

By Katharine Eliot ; Updated July 18, 2017

Many dermatologists believe that diet doesn't have much to do with acne. It's simply a matter of excess oil and dead skin cells clogging pores, which then become invaded by bacteria. Now, however, it seems that diet may, indeed, influence acne. Vegetarians may think they're exempt from diet-related acne. If you are having breakouts, however, consider adjustments to your diet to determine whether food is a factor.


Dr. Rudolph Ballentine, director of the Center for Holistic Medicine in New York City, says acne may be a sign of zinc deficiency, which is especially common in vegetarians. This is because vegetarians commonly consume large amounts of fiber and phytates--compounds found in whole grains, beans and peas. Ironically, while these nutrients are generally healthy, they can lower zinc absorption in vegetarians. To ensure adequate zinc, increase your intake of zinc-rich foods, such as tofu, beans, seeds and nuts and hard cheeses.

Dairy Products

Cheese, yogurt, milk and ice cream are all difficult for the body to digest. Dairy products are high in fat and contain lactose, which is a form of sugar. Eating high amounts of dairy can slow digestion and irritate the skin. Try reducing the amount of dairy in your diet. Substitute soy milk for dairy milk. If you are concerned about not getting enough calcium, eat large amounts of leafy greens and soy products.

Processed Food

A vegetarian diet does not equal a healthy diet. You can be vegetarian but still have a diet full of processed foods that are high in fat and refined sugar, such as cookies and chips. A study published in 2007 in the "Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology" found a link between acne and processed foods. The study showed that replacing a diet high in processed foods with a diet high in protein and low glycemic foods--such as whole grains, whole-wheat pasta and fruit-- resulted in reduced acne. Try reducing your consumption of processed food and increasing your consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetarian high-protein foods such as tofu, tempeh and beans.

Monitor Your Diet

It will take time, as well as trial and error, to determine if specific foods in your vegetarian diet cause your acne. Start by eating zinc-rich foods and moderate levels of fiber, decreasing dairy, increasing protein and eliminating fatty, high-sugar processed foods. Keep a daily journal of the foods you eat. This may help you determine the foods that are causing your acne.

Consult a Doctor

Consult your doctor if you make any radical changes to your diet or if you are new to the vegetarian diet. Your doctor may recommend important vitamins or daily supplements. Also, consult your doctor if your acne worsens or persists.

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