Is Veganism Your Skin’s Saving Grace?
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By now, almost everyone has seen the shock documentary What the Health — if you haven’t, it’s definitely worth dedicating a #netflixandchill night to. The documentary, which premiered earlier this year has successfully scared droves into ditching their carnivorous diets. But while the premise of the film is a noble one, pay closer attention to the food you consume, it’s hard to separate fact from extremely exaggerated half-truths.

Kip Anderson, the documentary’s director/producer/narrator, asserts that all animal products are not just bad for you, but deadly. So what, if anything, is safe to eat? And more importantly how does becoming a vegan affect other parts of your life, like say your skin care routine? The skin is the body’s largest organ, after all, and intrinsically tied to your overall health. To help us navigate the confounding world of veganism and its affect on the skin we tapped the expertise of Dr. Tiffany Lester, Medical Director of Parsley Health San Francisco, Dr. Carlos Charles, founder of NYC based dermatological practice Derma di Colore, and Jenné Claiborne (aka Sweet Potato Soul) to let us know once and for all if going vegan will give us the #glowup we’ve desperately been searching for.

The word vegan often conjures images of suburban earthy-crunchy individuals who only drink homemade almond milk and eat lots of hummus. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth (even Beyonce went vegan). Take Jenné Claiborne for example. The vegan chef and blogger lives in LA, shops at Trader Joe’s like the rest of us and loves a good cheat meal every once in a while.

“I became vegan about 6 ½ years ago. I was vegetarian for a few years before then but due to the encouragement of my co-workers I went full vegan. What the Health is scaring people like crazy, which I think is great because I think going vegan for the health aspect is a really good thing for a lot of people,” she says. When asked to define what veganism means, Jenné states, “it’s more than just about the food. It’s fully no animal products in your diet. So no meat, dairy, eggs or even honey.”

What’s important to remember, and What the Health does a poor job of explaining, is that abiding by a vegan diet, does not equate to being healthy. Dr. Tiffany Lester can attest. “As a former vegan I wasn’t always the healthiest, because I could eat potato chips and pasta.”

Approaching your diet holistically is your best bet. “Cutting out processed and fried meats is a good place to start when trying to clean up your diet, since they create AGEs (advanced glycation end-products) in the body which have been linked to skin aging as well as an increase in other chronic diseases,” Dr. Lester says. Dermatologist Dr. Charles agrees. “Our skin is a visual representation of our overall health status, so unhealthy dietary choices are oftentimes evidenced on the skin.” 

Dairy is another food group that should be consumed with caution. “Milk contains an abundance of IGF-1, a growth hormone, that can cause inflammation in humans,” Dr. Lester reminds. And most skin conditions are the dircet result of inflammation in the body. 

If you’re about ready to throw away the pint of Talenti sitting in your freezer or reconsidering that Chiptole chicken burrito you just had lunch, we feel you. But as Dr. Charles states, “the correlation between skin and diet is a complicated one, and not everyone responds the same way to specific foods.” So while cutting meat and dairy out completely might be an instant glow up for one, it may not affect someone else’s skin quite the same. 

So what’s a lady to do?

For starters, keeping fried and processed foods, that includes french fries, fried chicken and deli meats, to a minimum is a good idea. As is eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole-grains and protein — think avocados, nuts and beans.

“More than any lotion or serum, what you put inside your mouth can drastically change your glow. The best type of Botox can be found on the end of your fork. Eating a diet that is high in hydrating foods and healthy fats, such as cucumbers, aloe vera, and avocado, will keep your skin plumped and naturally moisturized,” says Dr. Lester. Beauty truly from the inside out!

To help jump start your new skin care routine, aka your new and improved diet, Jenné shares three of her favorite vegan recipes.

1. Quinoa porridge: perfect for a quick hearty protein packed breakfast.

2. Classic Buddha bowl: a go-to lunch that’s easy to make in bulk and lasts all week.

3. Red bean tacos with peach salsa: a vegan twist on a cult classic.