acne

Does Eating a Plant-Based Diet Really Improve Your Skin?

Does Eating a Plant-Based Diet Really Improve Your Skin? | Writing Between Pauses

When it comes to advice about getting clear skin, I take everything with a grain of salt.

There has always been lots of advice to help clear your skin. When I was in middle school, everyone swore that if you stopped eating potato chips, you’re skin would clear up. Then, throughout high school and college, there was always some solution someone offered me: try this, stop eating that, find out if you have any allergies.

The truth is for some people there is no miracle cure for acne. No matter how much I avoided potato chips in middle school, I still had acne. No matter how much I tried the things people suggested for my skin, very few of them caused any real difference.

I have noticed a huge improvement in my skin since cutting dairy, which was a huge challenge (and one I still struggle with because, I love cheese), but that took actual months to see any sort of change—and the change was incredibly gradual. (You can read my posts about quitting dairy here and here.)

Lately, I’ve seen a ton of posts claiming that switching to a plant-based, or essentially vegan, diet can improve your skin. This sounds like a lot of claims I’ve had repeated to me over and over again (about cutting carbs, or not eating greasy foods, or eating less sugar) about improving your skin through diet… and I was of course immediately suspicious.

Today, I wanted to talk about the claims for a plant-based diet and improving acne.

You Don’t Owe Anyone Clear Skin

First and foremost, here’s something to remember: none of us owe anyone clear skin. It’s ok to have acne. Acne is just a thing that happens. I spent a long time trying to improve my acne—trying just about everything and damaging my skin in the process. (You can read about my acne journey here.) It was only really recently that it clicked for me that, just as I don’t owe anyone a body that looks a certain way, I don’t owe the world clear skin—and at the end of the day, people who know and love me aren’t judging me for having “bad” skin.

This is all to say: if you’re here, reading this post feeling desperate about your skin, just remember you don’t owe it to anybody. It’s ok to want clear skin for yourself—that’s your right—but if nothing is working, it’s ok to throw in the towel. It’s ok to love your skin, and everything it does for you, even if you have acne.

The Evidence is Wrapped in Diet Culture

I’m going to avoid linking to most of the articles I read—and the reason is because a lot of the information I found, including those from registered dietitians, is wrapped up and packaged in diet culture.

A prime example is one of the top results when you google “does eating plant-based improve skin?” isn’t an article about skin, necessarily; it’s an article about the “health benefits” of eating plant-based, or vegan, and it starts off talking about losing weight and different diets in comparison to eating plant-based or vegan.

This is not great.

I am automatically suspicious of any expert who starts an article listing various diets she recommends to clients for “health” and “weight loss”. Most leading experts now understand that you can be healthy at every size. (Christy Harrison’s podcast Food Psych is a great one for more information on this!)

It is concerning that many people frame eating plant-based as a “diet”. Yes, eating more fruits & vegetables is better for our bodies—but that doesn’t necessarily always lead to losing weight for some people. Even worse, many of the articles asserted that eating plant-based improved your skin because “you lose weight”. Listen, vegans are a lovely bunch, but even they know that eating vegan won’t necessarily lead to weight loss (and it doesn’t have to to be a good and valid way of eating).

This was a red flag for me. Is diet culture seeping into skincare? Honestly, yes: both are wrapped up in societal ideas of what our bodies and skin should look like. Already, people will talk about eating clean and using “nontoxic” (or “chemical free”) products in the same breath. Using “clean” skincare isn’t inherently better than anything else, just as eating “clean” isn’t a better way to eat. When you try to apply diets to skincare, you get into a slippery slope of diet talk—and, whew, I don’t really want any of us to go there.

There’s No Statistical Evidence

There is no research data, currently, regarding whether a plant-based diet improves acne. At this point in time, all the information I found was purely anecdotal from RD’s who had commented to magazines and websites. Without statistical evidence, there really is no way to say something for sure… so it is concerning to see so many people recommending eating entirely plant-based to improve acne.

Without some kind of science to back up a statement, I’m not going to take someone’s word for it—especially when their word is often wrapped up in framing one way of eating as inherently better, or more moral, than another (or frames their evidence in diet culture). Veganism, and eating plant-based, is great; I’m going to keep repeating that because it’s true. It’s better for the environment; it is more nutritious than eating more processed foods (although one isn’t better than the other inherently); and it can help you feel good.

But can it improve your skin? I haven’t been able to find a single study, besides the word of a few dermatologists and nutritionists that are not cited.

Genetics vs. Environment

What determines what our skin is like?

Here’s a pretty good guess: look at your parents. Have they taken care of their skin? Do they smoke? If the answer is, they take care of their skin and they don’t smoke, then that’s pretty much genetically what you’re going to look like. If one of your parents had bad acne as a teenager, you have a 50/50 chance of also having bad acne at the onset of puberty. And if your parents are oily-skinned or look young into their late 30s and 40s, then, guess what, that’s probably what your skin is going to be like.

Our skin is like any other organ. There are things we can do to help it work better and there are some things we can’t. Some of us, genetically, have weaker hearts (or congenital defects), and some of us have heartier organs. Some of us are just going to have skin that is more difficult than others—and there is little we can do about it.

Sometimes, that’s the bad thing about skincare. Our skin isn’t quite as absorbent as we think it is (and despite what those MLM scaremongering graphics say, very little of what our skin absorbs gets to our bloodstream) and even with the best skincare regimen out there, there are some things we just cannot change. That’s an unfortunate fact.

This is all to say: you can’t necessarily eat anything to make your skin different from how it’s going to look genetically.

If you have hormonal acne, it’s entirely possible that dropping certain food groups might help—although it’s no guarantee. I’ve had good luck with quitting dairy, but I still get the occasional hormonal cyst; that’s because, genetically, I’m just prone to them. It sucks, but it’s facts.

It will probably benefit you, health wise, to eat more plant-based and vegan foods. Will it change your skin overnight or even within 6 months? It’s possible, but again, no guarantee.

Beauty Review: Alba Botanica Acne Patches

Beauty Review: Alba Botanica Acne Patches | Writing Between Pauses

Back when I was in middle school, Clearasil came out with these acne patches—little clear, round patches that you could put over zits and pimples with the intention to help them heal faster. They definitely worked, because I used them somewhat religiously for at least 2 years. But then they stopped making them, I stopped looking for them, and I never thought of it again.

However, in the past few years, tons of brands have come out with things that are very similar. And as it turns out, you have been able to buy essentially what Clearasil marketed for years in the pharmacy—it just wasn’t marketed to teenagers. Cool!

Sometimes, physically covering a pimple is the best way to keep yourself from picking on it—I know that’s true for me. I really wanted to try some of these “new” (to me) patches, but often found the cost prohibitive on the ones my friends said really worked. I asked tons of beauty groups and they all recommended K-beauty brands—which is fine and good, but so expensive to order sometimes.

Alba Botanica is a drugstore brand—you can find it at Target—and they sell “Acnedote Pimple Patches”. I looked at them in Target, then backed off at the price. $10, for a set of 40 patches. That felt like quite a bit. (I just looked at the Target website and they are $6 on there—but recently Target has made clear that there are things that are more expensive in store than on their website. So make sure to scan everything with the Target app and get price matches done!) I decided to pass.

10 minutes later, I found the exact same thing in TJ Maxx. For $4. Score.

So, here’s the real question: are acne patches worth it? Do they still work as well as I remember them working in middle school?

The answer is, yes and no.

I had two larger pimples on my chin that I wanted gone, so I slapped a patch on them and left it on overnight. In the morning, both pimples had large whiteheads. I remember this happening when I was younger; if nothing else, the patch would make the pimple get a head so you could pop it. However, I’m at an age where i know that’s not a good thing to do. However, when I peeled off the patches, it peeled the thin skin off and popped them for me.

So I was left with two big scabs.

Yeah, not sure that’s an improvement.

Do Acne Patches Work?

The two scabs did heal pretty fast after that, as I babied them. I decided to try these patches with some smaller whiteheads that popped up around my temples (thanks to my glasses rubbing) and they were much better at getting rid of those overnight, without a damaging scab in its place.

Basically, I think there are two really good ways to use these patches:

  1. To stop yourself from worrying a large pimple (such as a cyst)

  2. To get rid of small comedones

However, my big warning is: these patches do help make zits more “poppable”, which is debatably a good thing. If you have a big cyst, sometimes you just want to be able to pop it so it will stop hurting. In that situation, these are miracle workers; they help drain the inflammation and create a head, so you can get rid of the cyst faster. For comedones, they really do get rid of them overnight.

Are these worth it? Yes. I’m going to keep testing them out throughout the next few months, and try to find other brands to test alongside, but I do like them—even though my first experience was a little negative. I think, as with any beauty product, you have to keep your expectations realistic, especially in terms of what it achievable and what isn’t.

6 Months Later: An Update on Quitting Dairy

6 Months Later: An Update on Quitting Dairy | Writing Between Pauses

It's been 6 months since I wrote my post about quitting dairy. It feels like a long time ago, but yep, only 6 months. 

Even though I wanted to be completely dairy free by now, I'm still not. My biggest struggle has been replacing butter; I don't like butter substitutes because while butter isn't the healthiest substance in the world, it's void of hydrogenated oils, which are actually worse for you than trans fat. As well, coconut oil, the preferred vegan cooking replacement, is hydrogenated and actually 82% saturated fat; one tablespoon is 11 grams of saturated fat, and the limit suggested by the American Heart Association is 12g of saturated fat per day. (To read more about how fitness blogs and fake health experts have mislead most of the public about coconut oil, click here.)

The other preferred substitute are basically margarine, most of which contain soy. One brand makes a soy-free version that I would describe as being like eating solid oil. It's not good. 

I've started using olive oil again in cooking (ugh, the most expensive mistress!) and most of the week I use avocado or peanut butter on my toast. But every Sunday, I treat myself to buttered toast (my favorite food in the entire world). 

I haven't had milk in my coffee, not even from Starbucks or Dutch Bros, since around October. That's been a big one for me; I love a creamy Starbucks frappucino and i really worried that the almond milk version wouldn't be as good. But gosh, I was wrong. (Also, Starbucks had a toasted toffee almond milk hot chocolate at Christmas that was truly heavenly.) 

The big question I get is, has quitting dairy helped my skin at all? As I wrote in my blog post on my acne journey, I saw a lot of good results with jojoba oil. (I have noticed a lot of texture on my face recently from my super simplified skin routine, so I've added an extra exfoliation during the week; just something to remember if you want to try jojoba oil!) I still get a little bit of acne related to my cycle, but nothing like I used to experience. 

I've also noticed that if I eat something with dairy (like cheese or a lot of sour cream), I tend to break out almost immediately. Like, within hours. Obviously, this is only anecdotal, but it has definitely scared me from "treating myself." (A few times, I've run out of almond milk and had to use Forrest's 2% milk in my coffee; I regretted it every time!) 

It gets easier to go without dairy as time goes on. I don't miss cheese and milk as much as I thought I would; finding replacements for things (like sour cream) has been pretty exciting. I do occasionally still have a yogurt, as I find it doesn't aggravate my skin as bad as other dairy products.

I'm really happy with my decision to quit dairy. I'm going to give it a full year before I decide if it's something I want to do for the rest of my life, or just try to limit for the time being. 

Beauty Tips: Why I Decided to Quit Dairy

Why I Quit Dairy | Writing Between Pauses

For the past 6 years, I've had cystic acne. I've tried just about everything I could to get rid of it: expensive skincare, prescriptions from my dermatologist, rounds and rounds of antibiotics, going on a different birth control pill, quitting birth control entirely. The only thing that really made my cystic acne go away was being pregnant--but that only lasted about 20 weeks! 

After trying just about everything, I had resigned myself to my fate: I'm just someone who gets cystic acne. That's just the reality. I have extremely oily skin, some kind of slightly hormonal imbalance (trust me, I've always been down that road of tests), and that's it. It's just a perfect storm. 

(You can read about my other oily skin essentials here.)

However, after getting involved in skincare, I was talking about my chronic cystic acne in a beauty group I'm in. Another member asked a serious question: have you considered cutting dairy out of your diet? 

And here's the thing: I love dairy. Milk in my coffee and tea, hot cocoa made with milk, cheese, mashed potatoes with butter and cream... I love dairy. It's probably up there on my list of favorite foods. I am also not anti-dairy: if you ethically source your dairy products (which I do!), you can effectively avoid any of the most negative aspects of dairy products. 

However, I also know about the connection between severe acne and dairy. For some people, dairy can make their skin worse because of the hormones in it. (And note: these hormones aren't bad for you, but for some people they are disruptive.) 

This was something I'd always wanted to avoid. Why? Because I love dairy. But I'd done everything for my cystic acne: I double cleanse with oil to help unclog my pores (I recently switched to pure jojoba), I use tea tree oil and black African soap religiously, I buy all the right expensive skincare, and I love a good clarifying skin mask. But I couldn't shake my worst cystic acne related to my cycle. 

It was time. I had to do it. I had to cut out dairy. 

Obviously, making such a huge dietary change doesn't come out of nowhere. When Forrest needed me to cut out dairy for 4 days, I cried.

So I decided to make changes small: I started with my coffee. My dairy creamer was out; I replaced it with an almond-based creamer from CoffeeMate. (Note: it's really hard to find low sugar almond milk creamers. If anyone has any suggestions that also don't have that horrid aftertaste from the almond, please let me know.) 

Next, it was the milk I use; I used Califia Farms unsweetened almond milk for several weeks, but Califia Farms is having some problems, so they aren't available in stores now. I switched to O Organics Almond milk and it's pretty good (except it has a minor aftertaste). 

Next up on my list of things to drop: butter. I love buttered toast and I'm allergic to soy, a major component in many vegan butter alternatives. Finding a butter alternative that is both dairy and soy free is taking more research than I had previously thought it would. 

The thing that's been easiest to drop, surprisingly, is cheese. I don't really miss cheese (although the sprinkle of parmesan cheese on pasta is rough) as much as I previously thought.... except when it comes to pizza. 

Here's to hoping that all this work finally (FINALLY) gets rid of 6 years worth of cystic acne. 

Have you dropped dairy to help your skin? Let me know how it went in the comments!