Best Vegan Acne Treatments & Products
While most people find giving up meat, dairy, and eggs improves the appearance and complexion of their skin, acne and breakouts do happen - especially when you’re first making the shift from omnivore to vegan.
It’s frustrating to deal with pimples at any age, especially when you’re giving up so many foods, like dairy, that tend to be culprits behind troublesome skin.
Thankfully, most acne can be handled and prevented at home - all you need is a healthy diet, adequate intake of water, and a solid skin care regimen that includes products to cleanse, soften, and protect your skin.
Animal ingredients can slip into products under the guise of misleading names, or companies might test their products on animals in cruel, painful, and sometimes fatal experiments.
When it comes to skin care, finding and purchasing cruelty-free products is paramount.
Lucky for us - and the animals - vegan, cruelty-free skincare products are available for every step of your routine.
By following the steps and using any of the suggested products below, you can reduce your acne and prevent further breakouts while using products that are friendly to the animals, your body, and our planet.
1. Eating & Supplementing for Clear Skin
In 2010, the scientific journal Skin Therapy Letter published a study that showed a relationship between diet and acne based on six clinical trials.
While a vegan diet cuts out many foods that can exacerbate acne, sufferers should be aware of the vegan-friendly foods and supplementation issues that can influence the clarity of your skin.
Behind dairy products, high-glycemic foods like white bread and pasta had a huge effect on the occurrence of acne.
In fact, the study above showed that the acne of boys on a higher-protein, low-glycemic index improved by a dramatic 50% - the same result you would get from a topical acne treatment.
To see lasting results without having to apply harsh chemicals and acne treatments to your skin, try cutting back on sugar and high-glycemic foods like white bread, breakfast cereal, and potato chips. While these foods can certainly be vegan-friendly, they may not be skin-friendly if you’re prone to acne and breakouts.
Supplementation can also play a role in skin conditions like acne.
Vitamin B12, one of the most frequently discussed supplements in the vegan diet, is critical for brain and nerve health and must be supplemented, as it cannot be consumed through a plant-based diet.
In some cases, new vegans might consume more than is recommended to ensure that they are meeting this requirement and keep their bodies healthy.
However, in the case of acne, more B12 isn’t necessarily better - in fact, it may be impeding your journey to healthy skin.
In fact, scientists have found that too much vitamin B12 may actually promote acne, as the bacteria responsible for pimples and blemishes begin pumping out inflammatory, acne-causing molecules in the presence of the vitamin.
While it’s critical to supplement B12, remember that more isn’t always better - be sure to consume only the amount of vitamin B12 needed for your body, age, and level of activity. For more information on b12 supplementation, please read our in depth guide.
On the flip side, zinc deficiency, which is more common in vegans than you might think, can also lead to troublesome spots.
Zinc is important for healthy skin because it transports vitamin A and regulates your body’s hormonal balance.
If you’re low in zinc - which you might be if you’re vegan, as the zinc in plants is harder to absorb than animal-based zinc - your cell renewal isn’t as efficient.
This means skin cells stick together and clog pores instead of sloughing off the body, and result in pimples.
By adding a zinc supplement to your diet, you can start to see improvements in the condition of your skin and the amount of breakouts you experience. Keep in mind that too much zinc isn’t good either, so shoot for the exact recommendation for your age, gender, and activity level, and be sure to take your zinc with food, as taking it on an empty stomach could cause nausea.
Next, you’ll want to make sure you’re consuming enough water.
While not as glamorous as acne products or changes in your diet, remember that 70% of your body is made of water, which carries nutrients and vitamins throughout your body and flush toxins and waste products out of your body.
Your skin is a large organ whose role is to remove waste products from inside and protect against dangerous things on the outside, so the function of this organ is compromised when you don’t take in enough fluids.
When toxins, bodily waste, and bacteria are trapped inside your skin without adequate hydration, this can lead to acne.
The Institute of Health recommends women drink 9 cups of water per day, while adult males should consume 13 cups - this comes out to about 11 glasses of water every day.
If this sounds like a lot, consider filling a jug of water and keeping it with you at your desk or in your backpack, and switch out soda and sugary drinks for water.
Your body - including your skin - will thank you for it!
3. Developing a Skincare Regimen
Good skin starts with proper skin care - it’s essential to a clear, blemish-free face!
Each of the following steps will play a major role in keeping skin healthy.
Because your skin encounters so much sweat, oil, makeup, product, and pollution throughout the day, it’s important to create your skin care regimen and stick to it daily, so you can erase whatever breakouts are already there and keep new ones from popping up.
If you don’t already have a skin care routine, you can follow the basic outline below.
First Things First: Determine Your Skin Type
The type of skin you have will determine a lot about your skin care regimen - how frequently you should cleanse, the power of your products, and the brands you should use to stock your medicine cabinet.
Knowing your skin type can mean the difference between clear, healthy, and hydrated skin, and skin that’s too dry or oily.
Not sure what your skin type is?
Use the guide below to find the description that most closely matches your skin.
- Normal Skin
Normal skin is all about balance - you experience neither an excess of oil nor dryness or flakes. Skin feels supple, smooth, and well-hydrated. This type of skin can use nearly any product on the market, regardless of strength.
- Oily Skin
Get a shine on your forehead, cheeks, and chin by midday? You have oily skin, which is characterized by grease on your t-zone, which creates shine and can make makeup run. Large pores are also common with this kind of skin. This type of skin needs oil-free products but can handle a harsher product, as it doesn’t tend to be sensitive.
- Dry Skin
On the flip side, dry skin usually feels tight and can be dull and flaky. People with dry skin usually have very small pores. This type of skin is thirsty and requires lots and lots of moisture. You can use more hydrating products and those that contain oil but make sure not to choose anything that’s too harsh, as it can irritate skin and cause further dryness.
- Combination Skin
Lastly, combination skin is the most common and can exhibit qualities of the above skin types. Generally speaking, skin is oily in the t-zone - forehead, cheeks, and chin - and normal to dry elsewhere. Look for products that are specifically marketed for combination skin to avoid healing one part of the face while irritating another.
Once you know what type of skin you have, you can move forward with purchasing and using your products.
All skin types should follow this basic routine for easy skin care.
Step 1: Wash
Think for a moment about everything your skin comes in contact with each day - sweat from your workouts, layers of makeup, sunblock to protect your face from the sun’s rays, even just pollution in the air.
If you do nothing else on this list, make sure you cleanse your face at least once a day - this is the foundation of a successful skin care routine.
Ideally, you’ll wash your face twice per day, always making sure one of those times is right before you go to bed.
When you go to bed without washing your face, you’re getting all that dirt, makeup, and oil on your pillowcase and essentially rubbing your face in it all night.
This will counteract anything else you’re doing to care for your skin, so make sure to go to sleep at night with a fresh face!
While washing your face may seem like a simple, straightforward task, you’ll want to make sure you’re doing it right to get the most out of the time you spend on your skin.
- Wet your skin with warm water
- Use only your fingertips to gently apply your cleanser (cloths and sponges can irritate skin and exacerbate acne)
- Rinse the cleanser with warm water
- Pat dry with a soft towel but DO NOT RUB!
Choosing a Vegan Face Wash
If your breakouts are bumps on the skin that aren’t red or painful, a salicylic acid cleanser can speed up cell turnover and clear blocked pores.
Inflammatory acne, which presents as red, puffy, and painful, responds well to products with benzoyl peroxide, as this reduces the bacteria responsible for acne.
Of course, you don’t want anything too harsh or drying, so antibacterial soaps and bar soaps you’d use on tougher areas like your back or feet aren’t good choices here.
Desert Essence - Thoroughly Clean Face Wash
Made from healing, nutrient-rich desert botanicals like jojoba, aloe, and tea tree oil, this cleanser is our top choice for face washes. While the formula is gentle on skin thanks to the natural ingredient list, it leaves skin feeling clean and fresh, and helps manage oil. This wash is good for most skin types from sensitive to oily, and is also extremely affordable.
Alba Botanica - Acnedote Deep Pore Wash
A foaming liquid wash with 2% salicylic acid, Alba Botanica’s Acnedote wash is great for people who has non-inflammatory acne that isn’t red or puffy. Ingredients like aloe and chamomile help even skin tone and clean dirt, oil, and makeup out from pores, leaving skin clear, soft, and smooth - not tight or dry. However, some users note that this vegan acne product makes dark marks worse.
Earth Science Naturals - Clarifying Face Wash
Best for normal to oily skin, this face wash uses aloe, cucumber, and hyaluronic acid to cleanse skin and control acne. It is a mild, foaming, oil-free cleanser that gently removes oil, dirt, and other impurities from pores. The formula also includes sea kelp, birch bark, and lavender to leave skin feeling clean, soft, and refreshed. Some users note that this is a strong cleanser, so use caution if you have very sensitive or dry skin.
Step 2: Exfoliate
Acne starts deep down in the pore, so regular exfoliation can deeply cleanse and keep pores free of excess skin cells and oil that build up and cause comedones, small bumps on the surface of the skin.
- After cleansing, apply your chemical exfoliant in a thin layer (making sure to apply around the eye area while avoiding the eyelid and lash line)
- Allow the exfoliant to sit on your face for as long as directed on the package
- Then use a wet cotton pad to wipe any excess off your skin
TIP: Generally, people with normal to oily skin can exfoliate daily, while dry and sensitive skin should exfoliate, at most, every other day. If the exfoliant is bothering your skin, use only once to twice per week.
Choosing a Vegan Exfoliant
When you think of exfoliants, you might think of grainy face and body scrubs, but these harsher scrubs may exacerbate acne instead of reducing it, as the texture can cause irritation.
When it comes to exfoliants, you have two options:
- Physical exfoliants - Like scrubs and abrasive pads, physical exfoliants can further inflame and irritate acne prone skin, so it’s suggested that these be avoided altogether, especially while you’re trying to clear up already existing acne.
- Chemical exfoliants - These types of exfoliants use acids and enzymes to keep skin soft and clear with none of the irritating friction of a physical scrub. If at all possible, it's suggested to use these if you have acne prone skin.
Remember: Chemical exfoliants will dry skin to some degree, so be sure not to miss the moisturizing step in your routine to avoid flakes and irritation.
MyChelle Fruit Enzyme Scrub
Suitable for all skin types, this exfoliant uses fruit enzymes, biodegradable jojoba beads, and AHA to gently clarify skin. Bamboo stem powder provides gentle polish without tearing skin’s surface, and the exfoliant includes antioxidants to protect your skin long after your skin care routine is over. One to two times per week, leave a thin layer of exfoliant on the face for 1-3 minutes, avoiding the eye area. The cleanser is non-GMO and free of harsh chemicals and is our top choice for vegan-friendly chemical exfoliants.
Pixi Glow Tonic with Aloe Vera & Ginseng
This exfoliant is formulated with 5% glycolic acid to soften, brighten, and smooth skin. The aloe vera, ginseng, and botanical extracts in this formula nourish and treat, penetrating deep layers of skin to improve complexion from the inside out. Because it’s alcohol-free, it’s non-drying and suitable for all skin types, however, it is on the expensive side, so it may be cost-prohibitive for those on a stricter beauty budget.
Step 3: Tone
Toners and astringents are products used after cleansing to remove excess oil from the skin and provide more blemish-fighting ingredients, like salicylic acid.
- Following cleansing and exfoliating, splash your face with cold water.
- Saturate a cotton pad with your toner and wipe it over your face and neck.
- There is no need to rinse
TIP: Like exfoliant, keep an eye on your skin - if it starts to feel tight or irritated, cut back use until it agrees with your skin.
Choosing a Vegan Toner
While toners can provide extra pimple-fighting power, you’ll want to consider your skin to decide if you need to incorporate a toner into your routine.
- Sensitive, dry, or irritated skin or skin that’s already under stress from acne treatments may not be a good candidate for toners.
- Skin that has just a few blemishes here and there may benefit from a toner or astringent, but it will not clear up a persistent case of acne on its own.
- Toners are a good idea for skin that is very oily and can handle the additional product.
Pick a toner that is low in alcohol, to keep drying to a minimum, and try to find a product that uses natural ingredients like elderflower oil, witch hazel, tea tree oil, vitamin C, and aloe vera.
Stop using your toner if you experience burning or stinging upon application - this usually means the toner is too harsh for your skin.
ACURE Toner Rose + Red Tea
Quality ingredients and a great deal, this toner is our number one pick for vegan-friendly facial toners. Refreshing, hydrating, and good for all skin types, ACURE’s toner uses organic witch hazel to purify skin, organic vegetable oil to moisturize, and organic rose and chamomile to soothe and calm skin. The natural ingredients, non-drying formula and great value make it an all-around fantastic product to add to your skin care regimen, without fear of causing further irritation or inflammation.
Town & Anchor - Natural Citrus & Tea Tree Clarifying Toner
This facial toner boasts many ingredients on the natural toning ingredient lineup - vitamin C has robust protective properties that reduce and reverse sun damage, while antimicrobial willow bark naturally exfoliates for smooth and clear skin. Aloe vera provides hydration, so the product effectively cleans pores without leaving them dry or inflamed. This product is great for sensitive skin but is at a somewhat high price point for a modest two ounces of product.
Step 4: Moisturize
It may seem counter-intuitive, but moisture is a fundamental component to clear skin, even for those prone to acne and blemishes.
- Place a small amount of moisturizer into your palm and apply in a thin layer to cleansed, rinsed, and dried skin.
- Use your ring finger to apply the moisturizer around the eye area, but take special care to avoid getting the moisturizer in your eyes.
TIP: Moisture is key to acne-ridden skin, so for most people, it’s best to moisturize twice daily - once in the morning, and once in the evening before bed.
Choosing a Vegan Moisturizer
The trick is to choose the right moisturizer for acne-prone skin.
The right oil-free moisturizer won’t trigger breakouts, and can help with the dryness that comes with treating acne, as well as equally unpleasant side effects like flakes and peeling.
In addition to providing much-needed hydration to thirsty skin, moisturizers also form a protective barrier on the skin’s surface to keep it soft and block dirt and impurities from coming into pores and causing breakouts.
When searching for a good vegan moisturizer for acne-prone skin, choose products that are non-comedogenic, as these are less likely to feed acne.
Juice Beauty - Oil-Free Moisturizer
With essential fatty acids and botanicals of lemon balm, sage, and dandelion, this lightweight moisturizer hydrates and restores skin’s natural moisture balance. Ingredients like organic grape, pomegranate, aloe vera, and sea algae provide deep hydration and promote healthy cellular turnover for bright, blemish-free skin. While this product is on the expensive side, this is a case where you get what you pay for - it snags the number one spot on our favorite facial moisturizers for acne (and safe for vegans too!)
Alba Botanica - Aloe & Green Tea Oil-Free Moisturizer
Making its way onto the list a second time, Alba Botanica’s Oil-Free Moisturizer minimizes the appearance of pores and uses aloe and green tea antioxidants to replenish nutrients and moisture for soft, radiant skin. This moisturizer is good for oily or combination skin, and includes hyaluronic acid to leave skin healthy and soft.
OSEA Blemish Balm
Specially formulated for acne-prone skin that is oily or combination, this lightweight moisturizer reduced inflammation, won’t clog pores, and is made from certified organic ingredients. Users love that it isn’t greasy, and actively heals blemishes while restoring moisture and nutrients to the skin. It uses OSEA’s blend of organic seaweeds, as well as cypress, juniper, and rosemary essential oils, which are all known for antibacterial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties. While this is a quality product, it is at the top of the price range for these products.
By sticking to this routine of easy, simple skin care, you’ll be well on your way to clear, blemish-free skin.
However, while good skin care habits are important to keeping a fresh face, it’s not the only thing that can have an effect on the appearance of acne.
Because acne starts from the inside out, your diet and water consumption also have a big impact on the occurrence of blemishes and pimples.
Treating Acne the Vegan Way
No one wants to deal with acne, but luckily, with the institution of a few reliable, cruelty-free products and dietary changes, you can start to take control and change the condition of your skin.
The combination of eliminating certain foods that contribute to skin irritation, along with a consistent regimen that includes cleansing, exfoliating, toning, and moisturizing, you can attack and prevent acne outbreaks from the inside of your body to the outside.
If for any reason you find that your body isn’t responding to these treatments, it’s best to consult your dermatologist and discuss stronger prescription options.
However, by taking good care of your skin though a daily routine and showing your body care and love through the foods you eat, you can keep your skin clear, healthy, and hydrated so you glow just as much on the outside as you do on the inside.