Soy milk and other soy products are increasingly common parts of the American diet, especially among vegetarians and vegans. Soy milk cannot cause acne; that responsibility lies with hormones, bacteria, excessive oil production in your skin and too many dead skin cells. But soy might make acne worse in some circumstances. However, more evidence is needed on the role soy plays in acne.
Diet and Acne
For some people, dietary changes can be very effective at clearing up acne, according to the authors of "Prescriptions for Natural Remedies." Some foods trigger hormonal activities that increase inflammation and overproduction of oil that play a role in acne. They can also cause overgrowth of Propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria involved in acne.
Evidence on Soy
Soy milk comes from the seeds of the soy plant, which is a member of the pea family. Soybeans are rich in protein and isoflavones, which are similar to the hormone estrogen. In a study published in the journal "Clinical and Experimental Dermatology" in 2010, researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that the intake of soy products was significantly associated with a lower occurrence of acne in yang-predominant study participants. In Chinese beliefs, yang energy pertains to fieriness — warmth, excitation and activity. On the other hand, yin pertains to water — cold, inhibition and heaviness. Whenever yin and yang are out of balance, illness and disease occurs, according to Chinese tradition.
Despite the findings of this study, an allergy to soy milk and soy products in general can cause skin reactions. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, it's possible that food allergies play a role in adult acne. If you are allergic to soy and suffering symptoms such as pimples, skin rashes, hives or itching, you should avoid all soy foods.
Eliminating Soy in Your Diet
Soy is the only complete plant protein, which makes it very valuable in vegetarian and vegan diets. Many foods for these diets also contain soy as a filler or ingredient. Cutting soy milk and other soy products out of your diet may be challenging, but not impossible. Besides avoiding the obvious soy foods such as soy nuts, soy milk, tofu, miso and tempeh, check food labels to see if soy is an ingredient and avoid these foods. Consume a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and sea plants such as chlorella to get the all the amino acids you need to stay healthy.
Even if you think soy is a suspect in triggering your acne breakouts, there's no way for you to know for sure as you're also consuming other foods. Try a process of elimination: cut out one food you think is a trigger for about eight weeks to see if there are any improvements in your skin. Then slowly add it back in to see if your breakouts become worse. Do this for each food you suspect aggravates your acne. It will give you a better idea of how to alter your diet to clear up acne. Speak to a dermatologist about other ways to fight acne.
- “Prescriptions for Natural Remedies”; James F. Balch, M.D. et al.; 2008
- “Clinical and Experimental Dermatology”; An Investigation of the Association Between Diet and Occurrence of Acne: A Rational Approach from a Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective; M.P. Law; January 2010
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Soy
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Allergy Testing