It started with a few small spots on my chin in elementary school. Back then, a couple zits didn’t seem like a huge deal—I figured it happened to everyone as they got older, and it was perfectly normal. But as the years went on, my acne only got worse, and looking in the mirror every morning felt like a gamble. How bad would it be today?
By high school, I was in and out of the dermatologist’s office on a regular basis, always leaving with a new prescription in my hand. I’m hardly the first teenager to deal with severe acne, but it seemed like nothing I did had any effect. Antibiotics, topical creams, birth control, even a few cortisone shots when my skin was inflamed and painful to touch—no matter how much money I spent on expensive skincare treatments, my breakouts just kept coming back.
When I was thirteen, my dermatologist told me that my skin should clear up within two years. Fifteen came and went with no signs of improvement. As I approached my high school graduation, my skin did calm down somewhat, yet the promise that my acne would disappear when I left my teenage years behind never materialized. I remember waking up on my first morning of college and sitting in front of my little mirror at my desk, painstakingly covering my chin with a layer of concealer.
Eventually, I simply gave up. I begrudgingly accepted that acne would just be something I lived with, that I would never leave my house without feeling self-conscious about my skin. I wore a full face of foundation every day, knowing that it was probably clogging my pores and making the problem worse, but I didn’t want anyone aside from my family and my roommates to see me without makeup.
A little over a year ago, one of my close friends and I decided to go vegan after watching several environmental documentaries. I hadn’t eaten any beef, chicken, or turkey in months, and I rarely ate seafood or eggs—I figured the change wouldn’t be too dramatic, and I was right. After an easy first week, I felt like I could continue this lifestyle indefinitely. I didn’t go vegan in hopes of curing any ailments, but I did reap one unexpected benefit.
Within a few short days, I noticed that my skin was looking a lot better, despite the fact that I wasn’t trying any new products. And by the end of the week, my face was completely clear. I was shocked—was this a fluke? Or was I cured? When I continued waking up each day and seeing no new breakouts, I realized that my dietary changes must have had something to do with it, and after doing a little research, it seemed that dairy had been causing my breakouts all along.
Although there are many people who can consume cow’s dairy without seeing any effects on their complexion, studies show that there is a link between acne and dairy. A 2007 study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that participants who drank milk regularly were more likely to struggle with acne, and a 2017 study conducted by Oslo University Hospital replicated those findings. Researchers believe that for some people, acne could be an indicator of a casein sensitivity, one of the primary proteins found in milk.
When I figured out that ditching dairy was the key to keeping my skin clear, I had even more motivation to stay vegan. If that’s what it was doing to my outsides, it couldn’t have been good for my insides. For the past year, I’ve been breakout-free. Of course, I still get an occasional zit when I’m stressed, and unfortunately, I do have some scarring—thankfully, it’s slowly fading as time goes on. For the most part, my skin looks better I ever thought it could.
Whenever someone in my life asks for skincare advice, I always recommend cutting out dairy first. But there are a few vegan, cruelty-free skincare products I keep on hand to exfoliate, moisturize, and zap the random blemishes that pop up from time to time.
The Body Shop Vitamin E Cream Cleanser: This soothing cleanser is super hydrating, and the Vitamin E oil works as an antioxidant—this ingredient blocks free radicals that could otherwise damage the skin and cause acne.
The Body Shop Vitamin E Nourishing Night Cream: I find that I only need a little bit of this moisturizer on my cheeks, chin, and nose to heal any dry patches. My skin is still quite sensitive, and this product does not irritate my face or clog my pores.
The Body Shop Tea Tree Squeaky-Clean Exfoliating Face Scrub: I admit, I’m a huge a fan of The Body Shop—all of their products are cruelty-free, and they have a clearly labeled, exclusively vegan skincare line, so shopping there gives me peace of mind. I use this scrub about twice a week, and it leaves my skin feeling so clean and refreshed! It’s the best scrub I’ve ever tried.
Radha 100% Pure Tea Tree Oil: Just a small drop of this can dry up a blemish. I love knowing that there is only one ingredient, so I’m not using mystery oils or fragrances on my skin.
If you’ve been struggling with persistent acne, giving up dairy certainly can’t hurt. With so many delicious plant-based alternatives available, making the switch has never been easier!
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Photo: Pexels, The Body Shop