Is eating meat bad for your skin?

Laurie longs to learn…Is there any science behind this Mayo Clinic article? I thought there wasn’t a link between food, acne, and/or the appearance of your skin (i.e., meat = wrinkles).

The Beauty Brains respond:

We’re thrilled to have a new voice on the Beauty Brains to answer your question, Laurie. Meet BeautyScientist, a cosmetic chemist from the UK. Here’s what he has to say…

Forget the war in Iraq, forget PC versus Mac, forget atheism – if you really want to get into a heated argument try talking about the pros and cons of a vegetarian diet. While most people are happy to accept moral scruples about eating meat, the trouble starts when you suggest that being a vegetarian is in some way more healthy or has some other practical advantage. Boy does this seem to get some people going.

I should explain that I am not a vegetarian and I have no intention of giving up eating meat any time soon if ever. But I have looked into the facts on the subject with some interest. It turns out that whatever else you might say about it, meat eating is certainly a heavy cost in terms of farmland. You need a lot of space to rear animals, and we could feed a lot more people if we were less carnivorous. I have been shouted down trying to put this point in late night conversations, even though it is both completely true and when you think about it, obvious.

Veggie Tales

But is the vegetarian diet good for you? I have read quite a bit on this and there doesn’t seem to be any particular evidence that it is. Indeed there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of hard data to suggest that going vegetarian makes much difference to you. One wide ranging review paper concludes that: “Overall, the data suggest that the health of Western vegetarians is good and similar to that of comparable non-vegetarians.”

A largish study in the nineties did indicate that vegetarians were less likely to die of heart disease. It didn’t indicate any significant difference in actual life spans though and other diseases they looked at were not affected by diet. A number of studies have found that vegetarians are a bit slimmer, but not hugely slimmer. One survey carried out in 2005 found their average BMI was 22.1 compared to 24.6.

So does the lack of clear evidence that meat eating is either beneficial or harmful stop any arguments? Does it heck! I can remember one person putting it to me that human development was a result of meat eating and that hunting was what made us into the species we are today. He did this so aggressively that I almost expected him to instantly sprint out the room in pursuit of a woolly mammoth, possibly hitting me on the way out for my stupidity in suggesting the meat eating wasn’t necessary for good health.

So when the Beauty Brains suggested a guest post asking if eating meat affects your skin I was instantly interested. The Beauty Brains had picked up on some advice given by the highly respected Mayo clinic. Someone asked what they should eat to have a healthy skin. The advice given was pretty straight forward – just advising a healthy diet, but interestingly suggesting avoiding meat.

Menacing meat?

So is there any evidence that eating meat affects the skin? There are very few pieces of the jigsaw that have come to light so far.

What effect does diet have on skin diseases? Diet has never been shown unambiguously to cause or exacerbate acne. I have my own thoughts on this, but there is definitely no established link between meat eating and acne and the debate is centred on carbohydrates and dairy products. Psoriasis on the other hand does seem to be affected by diet to some extent and a vegetarian diet does seem to be beneficial to psoriasis sufferers. Why this should be isn’t yet known.

Scientists interested in prostate cancer investigated the effect of meat in the diet on the levels of sex hormones in the blood stream. It turned out that cutting out meat and replacing it with tofu slightly lowered the level of testosterone. Sex hormones can affect skin condition, so this gives us a possible link. But intriguing as this paper is, it gives almost no indication what it implies.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

So basically, I cannot find any real evidence that eating meat is harmful to the skin, but there is a slight hint that it might have some adverse effects. So what do I think? My feeling is that we will never find a link between meat eating and poor skin. At the end of the day meat isn’t that big a deal from a nutritional point of view. It might have a bit more protein and fat than vegetables do, but there isn’t anything much that you can get from meat that you can’t get elsewhere. My bet is that you can eat a normal amount of meat without it making your skin any worse.


Timothy J Key, Gary E Fraser, Margaret Thorogood, Paul N Appleby, Valerie Beral, Gillian Reeves, Michael L Burr, Jenny Chang-Claude, Rainer Frentzel-Beyme, Jan W Kuzma, Jim Mann and Klim McPherson (1998). Mortality in vegetarians and non-vegetarians: a collaborative analysis of 8300 deaths among 76,000 men and women in five prospective studies. Public Health Nutrition, 1 , pp 33-41

M. Wolters 2005 Diet and psoriasis: experimental data and clinical evidence British Journal of Dermatology Vol 153 No 4 pp 706-714

Raymundo C. Habito, Joseph Montalto, Eva Leslie and Madeleine J. Ball (2000). Effects of replacing meat with soyabean in the diet on sex hormone concentrations in healthy adult males. British Journal of Nutrition, 84 , pp 557-563

Appleby PN, Rosell MS Health effects of vegetarian and vegan diets. Proc Nutr Soc. 2006 Feb;65(1):35-41.

Alewaeters K, Clarys P, Hebbelinck M, Deriemaeker P, Clarys JP Cross-sectional analysis of BMI and some lifestyle variables in Flemish vegetarians compared with non-vegetarians Ergonomics. 2005 Sep 15-Nov 15;48(11-14):1433-44.

You can follow BeautyScientist on his blog: Colin’s Beauty Pages.