Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Is A Vegetarian Or Vegan Diet Bad For Your Skin? April 12, 2012

I’ve been a vegetarian for over 20 years, and have no plans to start eating meat any time soon, so could that mean I am hurting my skin instead of helping it?  Truthfully I didn’t think that the lack of animal protein in my diet was hurting my skin at all until I read the following post from esthetician Renee Rouleau on her blog:

From working with skin hands-on as an esthetician and skin care expert for over twenty years, I have to say that I most definitely have seen similarities in the skin of people who have a vegan diet versus those who are not. What I have noticed is a dull, tired, sallow look to the skin, similar to that of a heavy smoker’s skin, as well as a premature loss of skin tone. By no means am I knocking someone’s choice to live a vegan lifestyle, I’m simply sharing my observations and thoughts.

Because a vegan diet consists of mainly fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains, those that follow it may have trouble getting enough protein—the building blocks for skin. Protein is an essential component that makes up cells in the epidermis, including collagen and elastin fibers to keep skin firm and smooth.

Many vegans rely on beans and soy as their main source of protein, but protein that comes from fish, poultry and meat may be more complete and therefore make for a better effect for the appearance…

Now I am not going to argue with Rouleau’s hands on experience and observations about how people’s skin who follow a vegan diet looks because of her experience and expertise (and on a side note, the more I read of Rouleau’s blog the more I like her and her advice, usually), but I can go by my experience being a vegetarian for a long time and I certainly can research this topic – which I did.  Though Rouleau mentions specifically an issue with vegan’s skin, vegan’s do not eat any animal protein or any food derived from animal sources like eggs, dairy, or honey, I chose to tackle this question by looking at both a vegetarian (a vegetarian will eat dairy, honey, and eggs) and vegan diets as well.

I found it really interesting that a lack of animal protein in someone’s diet would influence how their skin looks since you can get enough protein in your diet from dairy, eggs, and legumes (not to mention certain grains as well like quinoa).  Making a statement that a person needs animal protein in their diet for good skin – is that just an anti-vegetarian or vegan bias?  I have to admit that the minute I read Rouleau’s post I got a little defensive about my vegetarian diet and how my skin looks, and I really wanted to research this topic further.

Yes, Protein Is Important But You Don’t Need Meat

A well balanced diet is key to both having and maintaining great skin, but a well balanced diet means that you eat a wide variety of foods from many sources not just animal sources.  I looked through my various books at home and searched online in order to see if others agreed with Rouleau’s statement that consuming animal protein was necessary for building collagen.  I only found one other source that said the same thing.  Mostly my research yielded the similar lists of foods that promote great skin and good health like a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, nuts, olive oil, lean protein like fish, poultry, tofu, and legumes, and whole grains.  When it comes to building collagen in the skin, in particular, New Beauty suggests eating the following foods:

Boost your body’s collagen with the following eight foods:

1. Water-rich vegetables like cucumber and celery have a high sulfur content, which is important in collagen production. Collagen can’t be produced if sulfur isn’t present.
2. Fish creates stronger cells. Fish is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. Skin cells are surrounded by a fatty membrane that protects them. When the cells are healthy, they are able to support the structure of the skin.
3. Soy blocks aging. Whether sourced from soymilk, cheese or tofu, soy contains genistein (plant hormones that serve as antioxidants), which prompts collagen production and helps to block enzymes, like MMPs, that can age the skin.
4. Red vegetables are a natural form of SPF. Tomatoes, peppers and beets contain the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene protects the skin from damage while increasing collagen levels, acting as a natural sun block.
5. Dark green vegetables, rich in vitamin C, like spinach and kale, rev up collagen production. In topical products, vitamin C stabilizes messenger enzymes that break down collagen. It also prevents weak collagen by protecting against free radicals.
6. Berries ward off damage. Blackberries and raspberries scavenge free radicals while simultaneously increasing collagen levels.
7. White tea supports structure. According to research conducted by Kingston University and Neal’s Yard Remedies, white tea may protect the structural proteins of the skin, specifically collagen. It’s believed to prevent enzyme activity that breaks down collagen, contributing to lines and wrinkles.
8. Orange vegetables, like carrots and sweet potatoes, are rich in vitamin A, which restores and regenerates damaged collagen

So while an animal protein does show up on this list there are plenty of other options as well for building collagen.  Dermatologist Nicole Rogers, MD, on WebMD, answers the question about what to eat in order to prevent wrinkles thusly:

Question:

What kind of foods should I include in my diet to prevent wrinkles?

Answer:

It’s helpful to ingest foods that are high in antioxidants. These foods can help absorb the free radicals created in your body by UV light exposure, which can break down collagen and create fine lines and wrinkles. Foods high in antioxidants include dark berries such as blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Beans are also high in antioxidants, including red beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans. Also, drinks that may be helpful include green tea, red wine, and coffee, all in moderation of course.

No mention here either of having to eat animal protein.

I also turned to Dr. Carl Thornfeldt in his book The New Ideal in Skin Health to see what he had to say about diet and aging (pages 445-446):

It is well known that a poor diet contributes to exacerbation and severity of skin lesions, preventing proper healing and reducing remission time.  The blame has been directed at many different types of food, and while many of those claims are not valid, a healthy and balanced diet certainly can make a huge impact to one’s skin.  Beginning in elementary school, Americans are taught to eat according to the FDA four food groups that has been upgraded to become the Food Pyramid.  However, most people do not actually follow those guidelines.  To help with overall skin health, the reduction of sugar consumption is critical and should be the first step.  Incorporating at least one additional serving of preferably fresh fruits and vegetables a day is also an effective way to improve overall health that corresponds directly to the health of one’s skin.

Furthermore, Dr. Thornfeldt points out that there is an ingredient that is widely and universally consumed that is ruining our health (and aging us by causing inflammation):

Refined White Sugar is Nutritional Public Enemy #1

The least popular recommendation I make is to avoid refined sugar.  When raw sugar – from sources such as sugar cane or sugar beet – is bleached so that only the pure sucrose is left, it is called “refined sugar.”  Refined sugar is what you would buy in the store as white sugar.  Refined white sugar is nutritional health public enemy #1 because it activates the glycation inflammatory pathway and stimulates excess insulin production by its high glycemic index, which is the speed of raising blood glucose levels, inducing an insulin spike.  This leads to further destructive inflammation.  Corn syrup contains fructose, which consists of a glucose and galactose.  Galactose has a lower glycemic index with slower absorption.  Brown sugar, molasses and honey all contain more complex sugars and proteins, thus improving the relative nutritional value as well as reducing the glycemic index.  (page 450)

In my opinion, and from the reading that I have done, I would call out sugar as a bigger collagen destroyer than not eating animal protein.  I struggle with my own addiction to sugar and keep trying to cut down on my sugar consumption in order to preserve my skin.  It’s hard.

Bottom Line:  in order to keep your skin looking youthful limit your refined sugar consumption and eat a balanced diet filled with lots of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins (from any source), and whole grains.

Further Reading:

My Related Posts:

Image from www.ithappensinindia.com

 

Book Review: Feed Your Face by Jessica Wu, MD November 10, 2011

 

I noticed Dr. Jessica Wu’s book Feed Your Face last year at my local Barnes and Noble and was intrigued, but I frankly I didn’t want to invest in buying the book so I was psyched to see that my local library had a copy.  There was a simple reason why I didn’t want to invest my money in buying this book – there really isn’t any new information in this book.  Now before you think I didn’t like this book let me explain.  I thought Dr. Wu’s book, for the most part, was well written, concise, easy to read, and contained a lot of good information.  They only thing was – there wasn’t really any new information in this book and you had to slog through lots of celebrity name dropping and ego stroking to actually get to the useful information in the book.  I’ll explain.

Check Your Ego At the Door

Dr. Wu spends a lot of her book reminding her readers of a few things:  she is a graduate of Harvard Medical School, she has MANY celebrity patients, and she used to be ugly but now she looks great.  I do have to say that if the one grainy photo included in the book is supposed to make me really believe that Dr. Wu used to look horrible in the past (acne, bad haircut, etc.) she should get a look at one of my photos from high school to really see how terrible one can look (I had an extremely unflattering haircut in high school coupled with grossly oversized glasses, not meant as an ironic fashion statement, and awful acne) and reevaluate her statement.  But I digress.  How many times do I have to read that Dr. Wu attended Harvard Medical School and that she has a large celebrity following?  I found the fact that she constantly harped on these details to be a massive turn off for me.  Neither of those issues made me want to read her book more.  They actually made me want to read the book less.  But the real kicker for me came with the following encounter Dr. Wu related in chapter 5 of the book (pages 99-100):

Not long ago I spent the evening at a charity fund-raiser in West Hollywood.  (One of my patients organized the event, and she was kind enough to snag me a ticket.)  It was a raucous scene –  a welcome change of pace from the buttoned-up medical conferences I usually attend – and I was enjoying the music, the dancing, and the free-flowing Champagne.  Suddenly I caught the eye of a handsome young actor.  I’d seen him professionally (during a routine exam at my office), but the thought of his sweet, shy smile and cool blue eyes still tied my stomach in nervous knots.  He waved and began making his way though the crowd.

I don’t usually develop crushes on celebrities, no matter how handsome.  After all, I am a doctor, a professional.  I went to Harvard, for crying out loud!  But this man is so charming, so charismatic, so unbelievably dreamy, that he usually travels with an entourage of swimsuit models and Hollywood “It Girls,” all clamoring for his attention.  That night, however, he was uncharacteristically alone.

We exchanged somewhat awkward hellos, and then, to my delight, he leaned forward to whisper something in my ear.  “Could we … go somewhere?” he asked.  He smelled like palm trees and expensive aftershave, a dizzyingly sweet combination.

I thought about my husband, home alone, probably reheating those noodles from last night’s dinner, sitting among a pile of work papers at the kitchen counter, dripping stir-fry sauce on his tie.  But I couldn’t help myself.  I followed the actor as he cut a path through a jam-packed dance floor, past throngs of tipsy partygoers, and led me into a dark, dimly lit hallway near the bathrooms, tucked out of view from the crowd.  All I could hear was the thud, thud, thud of my heart in my chest.  I can’t believe this is happening, I thought.  I can’t believe this is happening!  I held my breath as he leaned in and asked the question I’d been waiting to hear:

         “Um, could you take a look at this rash?”

Come on!!!  Really???!!!   Did the above story really need to be included in this book???!!  I have to say that these types of stories coupled with Dr. Wu’s incessant need to remind her readers of her educational background and current roster of celebrity clients were a huge problem for me with this book.  And that’s a real shame since the book contains lots of valuable information but you have to get past all the superfluous information in the book to get the real facts that can help your skin look its best.

One last thing in this category – Dr. Wu also uses her book as a way to settle scores with, if you are to believe her, is a rather old-fashioned and sexist professional dermatological community.  Dr. Wu takes pains to explain why she prefers to dress in sexy stilettos and skin-tight skirts instead of boring, boxy clothes and how most other dermatologists won’t take her seriously because of her choice of clothes.  Take for example the following (page 340):

There’s nothing more annoying (or more self-confidence-crushing) than being ignored or excluded because of the way you look – whether that’s because you’re a geek in glasses who can’t roll with the cool kids (that was me in high school) or because you’ve embraced your love of Louboutins and, subsequently, people think you’re an airhead.  (Sometimes that’s me now.)  But you know what?  Every year when it comes time to pack for the AAD Conference, I don’t reach for my most conservative duds.  Instead, I pack the hottest thing I own and a kick-ass pair of heels, because when they call the featured speaker to the stage, I can hold my head up high.  There is nothing like that long walk from the back of the room to the podium, the moment when 8,000 doctors realize they’ve flown thousands of miles and shelled out hundreds of dollars to listen (and learn!) from me: the petite woman from the party, the one who just doesn’t look like a doctor.  Knowing that I’ve earned the right to speak as a medical expert (and look damn good doing it) is the best feeling in the world (right up there with graduating from Harvard Medical School and getting paid to examine half-naked celebrity hunks).

Now while I think that a discussion of sexism in the medical community is important and necessary I found it disconcerting that Dr. Wu used her book as a vehicle to try to shame and reproach her fellow professionals.  Isn’t there a better time and place for this?

Having Said All That – What I Learned

It is a shame that Dr. Wu fills her book with so many unnecessary comments because overall her book is interesting, straightforward, and filled with a lot of helpful information.  The premise of the book is that through a healthy diet you can achieve great looking skin.  Is there anything revolutionary about this book and the diet it recommends?  Absolutely not.  The diet Dr. Wu recommends a low glycemic one that emphasizes eating lots of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and making sure you have omega 3s in your diet.  Numerous people have recommended a diet like this for weight loss and a healthy body.  Dr. Wu connects how certain foods directly affect the skin – both positively and negatively which is interesting.  Unlike the book The Clear Skin Diet which extensively quotes scientific studies in the body of the book Dr. Wu summarizes the findings of studies and then lists her sources in the back of the book so if you want you can look them up yourself.  This makes her book quite readable and accessible though not dumb downed at all.

I did learn quite a few things – like that if you have eczema who should avoid eggs, if you insist on eating a bagel pair it with some fat so that your body digests it more slowly, that almonds will protect your hair from going gray, and if you must have a candy bar have one that contains nuts, like a Snickers, which is better than eating pretzels which are simple carbs and your body just breaks that down like sugar.  Furthermore I learned the importance of eating tomatoes (and I loved that Dr. Wu puts pizza on her list of allowed foods), page 40:

Tomatoes have more lycopene than almost any other food, making them particularly effective at preventing sunburn and UV radiation damage in the skin.  In fact, studies show that eating as little as 20 g of tomato paste per day (about 1 1/4 tablespoons) can reduce the risk of sunburn by as much as 33 percent.

The next time you’re heading to the beach or spending the day in your garden, add some tomatoes to the menu.  You’ll counteract the effects of a day in th sun as well as help prevent wrinkles, age spots, and inflammation (not to mention lower your risk of developing skin cancer).  Even when you’re not lounging poolside, adding more tomatoes to your diet can protect you from the small amount of UV light you’ll inevitably encounter when your sunscreen wears off – or when you forget to put it on!

You can get the same amount of lycopene found in 20 g of tomato paste by eating

  • 1 slice of pizza (with marinara or red sauce)
  • 1/2 cup of V8 juice
  • 6 tablespoons of salsa

Bear in mind that lycopene is better absorbed by the intestines when the tomatoes are cooked.  In fact, the lycopene in tomato paste is four times more “bioavailable” than in fresh tomatoes (meaning it’s four times easier for the body to absorb).  The absolute best source of lycopene (offering the most sun protection) are tomato paste and tomato sauce – so opt for pizza instead of a burger, especially if you are dining al fresco.  Lycopene is also fat soluble, which means you need to pair your tomatoes with a healthy fat to get the maximum benefits.  Try drizzling tomato slices with a splash of olive oil or enjoy them with some avocado.

One more thing: Lycopene may be effective at preventing sun damage, but a diet rich in tomatoes doesn’t preclude the need for sunscreen altogether.  Slather on a minimum SPF 30 every time you’re headed outdoors.

Interesting stuff and well worth reading.

Since I’ve read The Clear Skin Diet (read my review here) the chapter about acne and diet was simply a review for me (avoid sugar and dairy, eat whole foods, etc.).  But there was a curious part of that chapter that didn’t make much sense to me (especially after a client of mine, with whom I was discussing the book, pointed out to me that this had little logic to it) and that was Dr. Wu’s assertion that iodine exposure causes acne.  Now I have read before that excessive iodine exposure will cause acne, but what makes little sense here is that in Japan, where the traditional diet is high in iodine, the national rates of acne are very low.  The Japanese began experiencing acne at the same levels as Americans when they moved away from that traditional diet and began eating a more American diet – high in fat and sugars and low in vegetables and omega-3s.  (See chapter 7: The Former Clear Skin Nation: Japan in The Clear Skin Diet for many more details on this phenomena).  So while it is true that the traditional American diet contains too much salt in it and that excessive consumption of iodine has been linked to acne I feel that singling out Japanese food as an acne culprit (see page 90 in the book) is misguided.

Chapter 6: To Tan or Not to Tan does a good job at going over the dangers of sun exposure and the importance of daily sun protection.  Dr. Wu’s discussion of the Vitamin D controversy (pages 149-151) is well done.  What I really appreciated was the meal plan for her diet outlined on pages 264 – 282.  Though vegetarian options were few and far between (I’ve been a vegetarian for over 20 years so I’m not going change now) I could see how I could tweak the menus for my use.  I just wished she provided some dessert options besides a strawberry drizzled with dark chocolate.  I found Chapter 8: Eating for Stronger, Healthier Hair and Nails thorough and helpful.  And according to Dr. Wu eating almonds prevents gray hairs so with the amount of almonds I consume on a daily basis I shouldn’t have any gray hairs ever.  The book even contains a chapter on how to make your own skin products at home if you are so inclined which is a perfect area to cover with the economy being as it is these days.

Buy It?

Overall I thought this book contained a great deal of valuable information.  The dietary tips, instructions, and menus are logical and easy to follow though you’ll have to cheat once or twice or go crazy.  Certainly this book made me reexamine my diet, and I got to thinking about how much sugar is contained in everyday foods (like your supermarket peanut butter).   This book could be a valuable addition to a home library though if you want a book that truly covers ALL skin issues purchase Simple Skin Beauty by Dr. Ellen Marmur.  If only Dr. Wu had stopped shoving the fact that she went to Harvard and has celebrity clients down the readers throat.  The book could have been a lot better without Dr. Wu trying to prove to everyone how smart, capable, and sexy she is.  In my opinion, address those personal issues with a therapist not your readers.

 

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,079 other followers

%d bloggers like this: