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

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Nutritional Supplements and Your Skin or Eating Your Way to Better Skin October 20, 2010

I’ve been debating a long time about how to approach this subject on my blog.  Though I definitely think that the subject needs to addressed I’ve never been quite sure how to approach it mainly because the scope of the subject is so large.   But I finally decided that it is time to take the plunge and write this post.

There are quite a few things that need to be mentioned here.  One is the issue of a healthy diet and how to affects your skin.  Another entirely separate issue is that of supplements, in pill form or drink form, that claim to address all sorts of skin issues from acne to aging.   I actually already wrote two posts debunking the idea that you can drink collagen in order to get smoother skin (see my posts Can You Drink Your Way to Firmer Skin?  and Taste Test) and have even addressed the issue of diet and acne in an earlier post, but I felt it was time to delve a bit deeper into the issue.

 

Healthy Diet = Healthy Skin?

 

Everyone of us already knows that in order to stay healthy we should, ideally follow, a healthy diet.  At the very least we should reduce our intake of fast food, fatty foods, and excessive amounts of sugar and processed foods.  So if we follow a healthy diet will this be reflected in our skin?  Many experts would say yes.  But just what are we supposed to eat in order to maintain a youthful glow?  Well that opens up a lot of room for debate.   One of the biggest advocates for eating a certain diet in order to get and then maintain beautiful skin is Dr. Perricone.  His books are widely available if you want to check out his ideas and food plans. 

In an article for her Beauty Bulletin – The Best Foods for Beautiful Skin – Paula Begoun recommends eating berries, salmon, walnuts, whole grains, and yogurt (among other foods) in order to maintain healthy skin.  Much of that advice is reflected in Chapter 4: Beauty and The Buffet of celebrity esthetician Kate Somerville’s book Complexion Perfection!.  Somerville, like Begoun, tells her readers to eat salmon, whole grains, and berries.  Additionally, Somerville also recommends eating black beans, almonds, flaxseed, and sweet potatoes (plus other foods).  A one day sample menu for healthy eating is even provided in her book.

But my favorite advice about diet and your skin comes from Dr. Amy Wechsler’s wonderful book The Mind Beauty Connection.  (I highly recommend this book if you want to better understand how stress and lifestyle choices affect your skin)  Chapter 7 of the book is entitled The Beauty Buffet and Bar: Optimum Diet Choices for Beautiful Skin, and the chapter does an excellent job in explaining why certain foods may positively impact the appearance of your skin and how a healthy diet can help the health of your skin.  While rereading this chapter of Wechsler’s book for the writing of this post I was struck by both the logic and insight of what she wrote time and again.   I think it is a good idea to share some quotes from the above mentioned chapter (pages 167-169): 

There is no magic pill, potion, formula for beauty.  Too many things coalesce in our bodies to produce either the results we want or don’t want. … There is … plenty of scientific proof about eating certain foods to support your skin and health, while avoiding others that can sabotage your beauty goals.  Don’t panic:  The point is not for you to do anything too unrealistic, such as suddenly savor wheatgrass juice or spoon flaxseed oil in your mouth every morning.  …  Remember, this isn’t about going on a specific diet.  It’s ultimately up to you to make modifications in how you eat so you can move over to a lifetime of healthy eating – and limitless beauty.  As with any healthy eating guidelines, the goal here is to supply your cells and systems with the raw materials they need to function efficiently and optimally, inside and out.  You don’t want to give your body any excuse to age prematurely, so you need to be sure that at any given time it has all the resources it requires to stay alive, hydrated, and nourished to the max. 

Nutritional medicine is a rapidly growing area of research that will continue to gain momentum as we learn more and more about the connections between nutrition and health – not just in relation to skin health, but all kinds of health concerns.  In fact, the link between nutrition and diseases like obesity, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease are well documented.  I expect us to learn more and more about the powerful influences diet can have on our skin health and ability to slow down the inevitable decline we call aging and its appearance on our bodies.  Because we know that oxidative stress, inflammation, and, to a lesser extent, genetics, are the chief agers in our bodies, and because they spur chronic conditions that wear us down physically, gaining the upper hand on these as best we can is key.  And if diet can help this in any way, then we should be paying attention.

I also want to note that there is no single approach to optimizing health and beauty, and that diet alone is not the answer.  …  The combination of proven skin-care techniques, relaxation therapies to dampen stress, exercise, restful sleep, and diet are all important and play a part in your looks on the inside and the outside.  It would be impossible to say which of these factors is more important than the other.  They all bear weight, and perhaps which one carries the most depends on the individual, especially as they relate to a person’s genetics and other lifestyle choices.

 

Like Begoun and Somerville, Dr. Wechsler also recommends eating berries, nuts, and salmon, among other foods.  (I am starting to sense a theme here)  Furthermore, Dr. Wechsler is a big advocate of drinking lots of green tea throughout the day and taking a multivitamin.

 

What About Nutritional Supplements?

 

More than one well-known skincare expert/source sells nutritional supplements than claim, as already mentioned, to clear your skin or prevent aging.  To name just a few, you can buy supplements from Perricone MD , Murad, and Kate Somerville.  (As an esthetician I do not recommend a certain diet or any supplements to my clients.  That is an area that is well outside my expertise.  If a client does ask me about such issues I recommend that they look at Dr. Perricone’s books or Dr. Wechsler’s book and leave the final decision on what to do up to the individual.)  It definitely is alluring to think that all you need to do is pop a few pills a day, recommended by a skincare expert no less, in order to look beautiful.  Yet let me debunk that idea.  Once again I’ll quote from The Mind Beauty Connection (page 194):

 The Truth About Vitamin C and E Supplements and Skin Vitamins:

What about individual nutrients or special skin-health formulas that claim to improve skin?  These grab-bag concoctions, which are mostly a mix of antioxidants, are hugely popular.  However, there’s minimal proof of payoff, at least right now.  Oodles of isolated antioxidants like vitamins C and E and phyto-chemicals like those found in green tea have been dazzling in the test tube.  When fed to lab animals, they have been marvelous at protecting against sun damage, wrinkles, and cancer; making skin softer, moister, and smoother; and halting inflammation and signs of agin.  Those effects almost disappear when single-nutrient pills are tested in people.  Green tea polyphenol pills, for example, protect mice skin from UV damage and skin cancer but do nada for human skin.  In a topic form, however green tea is anti-inflammatory and photoprotective.

In fact, studies of isolated antioxidant pills in humans have overall been not only disappointing but actually worrisome.  Disappointing because the supplements haven’t staved off health trouble.  Worrisome because studies have shown that people with various diseases, from heart problems to liver aliments, who took vitamins A, E, and/or beta-carotene supplements, either to try and stop the disease or keep it from coming back, had a greater risk of dying than those who didn’t.

Punch line: The more research we do on antioxidants, the more it looks like the work best in our bodies when they are consumed with other vitamins, minerals, and probably other components we haven’t even discovered yet.  All of the antioxidants nutrients you need come packaged together whenever you eat a stalk of broccoli or a juicy plum or a slice of multigrain walnut- raisin bread.  Put simply:  Eat whole foods.

 

Need further proof?  During the months I was contemplating how to write this post I came across a great article in the The New York Times by Alex Kuczynski called The Beauty-From-Within MarketKuczynski concisely addresses just these issues:  how Americans love the idea of nutritional supplements and if they really work:

Americans take pills to scrub our arteries, to relax us for airplane flights, to deforest our nasal passages of mucus and to remoisten our tear ducts. We take pills to sharpen our memory, to forget the awful things that have happened to us, to revitalize our libidos and to fall into a stuporous, amnesiac, refrigerator-clearing sleep.

Like children wishing for magical results in a fairy tale, we can now also take pills to make us pretty. These are supplements sold at yoga studios, department stores, hair salons, some dermatology offices and even on QVC; they promise to even skin tone, reduce lines and wrinkles, shrink pores and offer protection from the sun. Along with food and drink that promote external beauty, these are part of what is known as the beauty-from-within industry, and it’s growing fast.  …

The global beauty-from-within market – comprising beauty foods, beverages and oral beauty supplements – totaled $5.9 billion in 2008 and $6.3 billion in 2009, and is projected to be up to $6.8 billion in 2010, according to Datamonitor, a market research company that studies the skin care market. (To compare, the global skin care market – which includes cleaners, moisturizers and anything you apply to the surface of your skin — is projected to reach $65.7 billion in 2010.)

 

Kuczynski tried the supplement Glisodin and didn’t see much of result with her skin.  She also interviewed two experts for her article (of course when I saw that one of the experts interviewed was Dr. Wechsler I was very happy):

Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University… is the queen of skepticism on the purported beauty benefits of supplements. “Lecture time,” Nestle said. “If you eat any kind of reasonable diet you will not have deficiencies that can be addressed by vitamins. All you are going to do is pee them out.”

The irony, she said, is that people who have little need for supplementary vitamins and minerals are the ones most predisposed to take them. “People with disposable income to spend on vitamins, who are interested in their health and well-being, these are the people who need them the least,” she said. And people who care about their skin enough to take beauty vitamins are also probably wearing sunscreen and using moisturizer. “It is very hard to demonstrate health in people who are already healthy,” she said. And it is also difficult to gauge improved dermatological health in people who already practice good skin habits.

The chief problem with beauty supplements,  said [Dr. Amy Wechsler, a dermatologist in Manhattan], is that no matter how effective the delivery system, very little nutrients can reach the skin from a pill. In other words, my skin wasn’t going to look as poreless and pure … Lady Gaga’s, just from popping a pill.

“It is very American to put hope in a bottle,” Wechsler said. “And it is also very American to try to sell that hope.”

 

Bottom Line:  Eat a healthy diet, destress, and practice good skincare habits and routines.   Don’t expect great changes from a pill. 

Further reading:  Though I did not incorporate this article into my above post it does tie in perfectly with the theme:  The Truth About Beauty Beverages:  Do Certain Drinks Deliver Beauty Benefits – Or Is That Wishful Thinking?  Experts Weigh In  –  Web MD

 

 
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