Veganism's surprising skin effects

The meat-and-dairy-free regimen may compromise your complexion.

It’s a Friday afternoon in New York City and slim, black-clad beauties are three-deep waiting for facials at Joanna Vargas Skincare. Some will need more work than others — but not for the reason you may think. Genetics and age aside, the condition of your skin often comes down to nutrition. “Being a vegan can be aging,” says Vargas. “I see 27-year-old vegans who don’t have good elasticity. There’s no snap-back to their skin tone because they’re not getting enough protein.”

The fibers that help give skin its ‘snap-back’ resilience, collagen and elastin, are made up of protein, so it makes sense that when you cut eggs, dairy, fish, and meat from your diet you can see the deficiency staring you in the face. “A lot of people eliminate meat and animal products in an effort to be healthier, but you really have to know how to eat right to make being a vegan work for you,” says Susan Blum, MD, MPH, a functional medicine specialist. While mineral deficiencies may also add up to acne, skimping on essential fatty acids and B vitamins can sap radiance, warns Vargas. The good news is that committed vegans can still put their best face forward. Here’s how:

choose substitutes wisely.

Skip overly processed and often genetically modified soy ‘meats’ and soy hot dogs (skin pros say they can lead to breakouts) in favor of organic brands of tofu. “Tempeh is a wonderful choice because fermented soybeans are unprocessed. Or try seitan, which is made from wheat,” suggests Blum.
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get skin-plumping protein.

Blum recommends protein-dense combos at every meal, such as lentils with quinoa, hummus or nut butter with whole-grain crackers, black beans with brown rice, and split pea soup with a whole-grain pita.
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limit complexion-sabotaging carbs.

Simple, processed carbs break down into sugar in the body, which in turn breaks down collagen and elastin.
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banish breakouts with zinc.

This mineral is readily available in animal-based foods, but vegans can find it in asparagus, spinach, almonds, and pumpkin seeds. Tip: Toasting nuts and seeds before tossing them on salads will enhance absorption.
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maintain moisture with flax.

Fend off dry, dull skin by grinding up flax seeds and sprinkling them on veggies and in salads. Bonus: Flax contains zinc and other trace minerals.
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make a get-glow shake.

Blum “prescribes” this beautifying blend to her vegan patients. You’ll score essential fatty acids, B vitamins, antioxidants, zinc, and plant protein in every sip.

Combine and blend these ingredients until smooth:

1 cup hemp or almond milk

¾ cup strawberries

1 banana

1 tbsp ground flax seeds

2 handfuls spinach

½ an avocado

1 scoop pea or artichoke protein

Ice (optional)

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