Vegan Acne: Help, I Had an Outbreak!

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The world of Instagram and other social media outlets can make it seem like going vegan is the ultimate cure-all, helping everything from weight loss to mood regulation to improving overall skin health and complexion.

So, it can be frustrating – even worrisome – to find breakouts or changes in skin’s appearance after going vegan.

However, in reality, breakouts and skin changes aren’t all that uncommon for people transitioning to a vegan diet – or any major shift in the way you eat.

In addition to simply reacting to a sudden change in your diet, there are several reasons why you might see an increase in acne when first going plant-based.

Vegan Acne and DietArticle NavigationHormonal Reaction to SoyVitamin B12 OverconsumptionZinc DeficiencyFood AllergiesHow to Reduce Breakouts After Switching to a Vegan DietVegan Diet and Acne

Hormonal Reaction to Soy

As many new vegans look to replace meat and eggs as proteins in their diet, they may turn to soy to stand in as their new go-to protein.

While soy products are perfectly safe to eat despite some controversy, there is no getting around the fact that the phytoestrogens in soy products can alter the balance of hormones in the body.

In women’s bodies especially, there is a balancing act taking place between androgens (male sex hormones) and estrogens (female sex hormones). The phytoestrogens block the conversion of androgens to estrogen, resulting in a scenario where there are more male hormones than female hormones.

Some studies show that a month on a phytoestrogen-rich diet led to a 20-30% reduction in estrogen and that imbalance can cause hormonal estrogen.

This is important for new vegans to keep in mind, who might be turning to tofu and soy-based meat alternatives to replace the animal products they have phased out.

Vitamin B12 Overconsumption

Any new vegan knows (or should know) that supplementing vitamin B12 is necessary on a plant-based diet, as it can be difficult to get adequate levels of this vital nutrient from plants.

However, taking vitamin B12 can result in breakouts in some people.

Studies find that, in the presence of vitamin B12, the skin bacteria that is commonly linked to acne begin producing inflammatory molecules that lead to pimples.

This means that previously clear skin can start breaking out and getting pimples in people who take supplements or injections for this vitamin.

Unsure of exactly how much B12 supplementation is necessary, many new vegans actually over-supplement this nutrient to compensate for consuming less of the vitamin through their diet.

To reduce or avoid suffering B12-related acne, make sure you are only supplementing as much as necessary for your body.

Continue Reading:A Guide to Finding the Best B12 Supplement for Vegans

Zinc Deficiency

Zinc promotes clear, healthy skin by transporting vitamin A to the skin, skin cell renewal, and carrying out all-important hormone regulation within the body.

When a person is deficient in zinc, skin cells clump together instead of dying and falling off the body like they do in bodies of individuals with adequate zinc levels.

The stuck-on skin cells lead to clogged pores, which are the main culprit for acne and breakouts.

Vegans tend to be at risk for zinc deficiency, as many zinc-rich foods like red meat and seafood are obviously not appropriate for a plant-based diet.

Additionally, vegans can experience a one-two punch for zinc deficiency because the vegan diet tends to be higher in grains and beans than an omnivorous diet.

While grains and beans provide their own health benefits, the phytates in these foods bind up minerals, including zinc, and prevent them from being absorbed by the body.

To make matters worse, the zinc from plants is more difficult for your body to absorb, so with the combination of hurdles, vegans are especially prone to zinc deficiency.

If you have white spots on your fingernails, dry skin, hangnails, frequent colds, hair loss, diarrhea, low sex drive, or acne, you may benefit from a zinc supplement to clear up the skin and keep your body healthy and happy.

Food Allergies

While topical treatments like face creams and washes can help acne sufferers, ultimately, acne develops from inside the body.

Our skin is an organ of elimination, helping us remove waste products from inside the body to the outside.

Food allergies, because they start from inside the digestive system, can have a huge impact on acne and blemishes on the outside of skin.

Going plant-based may lead you to introduce foods into your diet that you hadn’t eaten previously, or eat more of something you used to eat sparingly.

If you have an allergy to certain foods, the reactions might manifest themselves in breakouts and blemishes on the skin as your body fights to remove the “toxins” from inside.

If you’re experiencing acne and skin issues after going vegan, it’s worth it to get an allergy panel test from your doctor.

You’ll be armed with information about what causes reactions in your body, so you can avoid foods that cause skin problems, and eat more of the healthy vegan foods that your body doesn’t have any aversion to.

How to Reduce Breakouts After Switching to a Vegan Diet

Luckily, suffering through acne and other unpleasant skin conditions isn’t a requirement for leading a plant-based lifestyle. In many cases, skin can be cleared up through making changes to diet, supplementation, and keeping a good daily skin care regimen.

1. Changes to Supplements

Supplementation is an important part of any vegan diet, but consuming too much or too little of any vitamin or mineral can lead to nutritional issues that result in acne.

Vitamin B12

Every vegan should take a good B12 supplement, but in this case, more isn’t better.

When supplementing with vitamin B12, be sure to take the right amount of the vitamin for your age, gender, and activity level. Most adults ages 14 and up only need about 2.4 mcg per day, while pregnant and breastfeeding women need 2.6 and 2.8 mcg daily, respectively.

Taking more than the recommended amount may cause the bacteria on the skin responsible for acne to begin producing molecules that lead to pimples, while too little will lead to neurological issues, so it’s best to hit this one right on the money.


On the flip side, adding a zinc supplement to your diet may help clear up frustrating acne, as well as any other deficiency-related side effects.

Adult men should aim to consume 11 mg of zinc per day, while adult women only need about 8 mg. (more info on zinc dosage here.)

​Always make sure to take your zinc supplement with or after food, as taking the mineral on an empty stomach can lead to nausea and vomiting.

2. Changes to Food

When first switching to a vegan diet, it might be easy and tempting to simply replace any meat, eggs, and dairy products with soy-based alternatives.

While soy is perfectly healthy in reasonable quantities, a day filled with tofu, soy-based seems-like-meats, and copious amounts of soy milk might lead to a hormone imbalance in the body which can cause acne and breakouts.

If you find yourself consuming larges amounts of soy products as you transition from animal products, consider swapping out some of your soy products for other plant-based foods.

Almond or coconut milk are soy-free dairy milk, while beans or seitan can stand in for tofu in an entree. Consider reducing the amount of soy products you consume each day.

When introducing new plant-based foods into your diet after pledging to go vegan, you may also wind up consuming foods that cause an allergic reaction in your body.

If you’re struggling with acne after giving up animal-based foods and have introduced lots of plant-based foods into your diet, talk to your doctor about running an allergy panel at your next appointment.

This brief test will let you know which foods react negatively with your body so you can avoid them and clear up any frustrating acne.

Your doctor may also place you on an elimination diet – this whittles the diet down to basics and slowly reintroduces foods so you can pinpoint the exact foods that cause issues in your body.

Some common foods and food groups might be wheat, gluten, nightshades, or FODMAPs. Your doctor will be better able to pinpoint any foods causing acne that aren’t cleared up by changes in supplementation or elimination diets.

3. Developing a Skincare Routine

Lastly, a good skincare regimen is a key pillar to keeping acne at bay, whether it’s caused by diet or otherwise.

You can get started keeping breakouts at bay by using a basic acne skin care routine.

  • check-square-oFirst, get to know your skin type. Do you have dry, flaky skin that tends to be dull, or do you have shiny oil patches on your forehead by the afternoon? Determining your skin type is the foundation of building an effective skin care routine, as it will determine what products and techniques you use to keep skin clear.
  • check-square-oUse a face wash that is suited to your particular skin type, and use this to cleanse your face one to two times daily. Take extra care not to rub your skin, as this can cause irritation and exacerbate breakouts, and pat skin dry with a soft towel.
  • check-square-oNext, moisturize. Your first thought when it comes to curing acne might be to dry your skin out, but this will only make the problem worse. All skin requires moisture, so make sure not to skip this critical step. To help seal in moisture, use the product while skin is damp after rinsing your cleanser. If you have oily skin, you can use a lightweight, oil-free moisturizer to keep skin healthy and clear.

Always be sure to remove makeup before bed and wear sunscreen when you go out during the day. Following these simple tips will keep your face clean, healthy, and free from blemishes.

For a full step-by-step daily routine to help treat your acne, along with our favourite products, please see our vegan acne treatment article.

Vegan Diet and Acne

As with any lifestyle change, shifting to a plant-based diet can be a shock to your body, and any changes or food intolerances can result in acne on even the clearest skin.

If you do get acne after cutting animal products out of your diet, don’t panic!

Give your body a few weeks to adjust to your new eating style, and you might see it clear it up on its own.

However, if the issue is from food allergies, hormone imbalances, or a poor skin care routine, it may not simply go away on its own.

11 thoughts on “Vegan Acne: Help, I Had an Outbreak!”

  1. Thank you so much for this helpful post! I am 26 years old and recently went vegan about 3 months ago. I half asian and half white and always had pretty good skin… up until now! I break out around my forehead and chin area, which I never had before! They do not go away! I eat raw foods, no soy, drink 3L of water per day, and excerise daily. I am an RN, go to school full time for my BSN, and I would say my stress levels are definitely tolerable. I want my old skin back! I will try adding zinc supps to see if it helps. Anything else!?
    Thank you!!!

    • I am experiencing the same thing! I’ve had perfect skin my entire life and even avoided the dreaded Teenage Acne throughout puberty. One month into being vegan and I’ve got the worst skin ever. I made the change for ethical reasons so won’t go back but I’m 32 next month and really have no idea how to manage bad skin :-/ I’ve cut out Soy and it’s drastically reduced the breakouts but I’m still getting the odd pimple on my chin and forehead.

      Did the zinc supplements work for you? I’ve also experienced drier and sagging skin under my eyes which happened overnight (might be an age thing but my mum at 53 still had flawless skin)…I’m black so this is really odd for me. Lol. Any help would be so appreciated.

      • I think the fact that you made drastic improvements by cutting out soy is a huge win. If you are getting the odd one here or they, I’m not sure I would worry about it as much. Everyone gets an odd pimple from time to time.

        Before making any major changes that may affect your health, I would advise speaking to a professional who can look at your current situation in full and better advise you.

        Good Luck!

    • Hi! did this work?! I’ve had similar experiences. Interested in how to clear up my face. Wondering if the zinc is a good supp for the fix? Would love any insights as to what has worked.

      Thank you!

  2. Hi, i googled ‘vegan forehead zits’ and came to this site. I got the same thing with zits on my forehead that i’ve never had before. What helped me was drinking Organic Apple Vinegar Cider (with the mother) every morning and evening with lemon juice and warm water. The pores in my skin started opening up and my skin felt much more cleaner and the zits dried up and disappeared within a week. I do cycle a lot but i still never had zits like this before. Hope this helps someone.

  3. This is me right now!! I do take a B12 supplement and I am thinking I need to reduce that and add a Zinc supplement. I would love to know if the Zinc supplement worked for you? I too have usually always had nice skin but since I have become vegan I have had like a few huge pimples on each cheek and a bunch of little acne on my forehead. Thank you for the information! I was starting to feel hopeless.

  4. Same for me, I am an absolute mess. I had come to the conclusion that maybe cutting out the estrogen in dairy products is what is messing me up and I have started taking flax as a supplement in my diet because it’s suppose to mimic estrogen in the body. I’m not taking b12 and I’m not eating tons of soy. My milk substitute is oat so I don’t think it’s that. I will start taking a zinc supplement too and see if helps. My skin is so bad at the moment but it also seems consistent with my monthly cycle. I am bad around ovulation and then again when my period starts. I’m sure it’s something to do with estrogen and dairy. These spots are DEFINITELY hormonal.

  5. I’m on my fourth week as a vegan and my acne has become terrible since starting the diet! I’ve always had pimples, but never this bad. I don’t even think at the height of my hormones as a teenager my acne was this bad. I have cystic acne all over my face, in places I’ve never had it and this is absolutely not a coincidence. I’m 51 and my skin should be clear at this point! Argh.

  6. I have been vegan since last August and shortly after going vegan I started getting a lot of spots, I’ve never had this problem in the past. I cut down on my vit B12, added a vit D, magnesium and iron supplement. Haven’t tried Zinc yet, but I have switched my normal moisturiser with a simple witch hazel gel and already my skin is starting to get back to it’s old self, this was about after 2 weeks of using it twice daily instead of moisturiser.


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