Does Soy Cause Acne?

Does Soy Cause Acne?

CLEARSTEM and SD Acne Clinic experts discuss how soy causes acne and what to do to prevent breakouts and clear the skin overnight. Read the tips here.

There’s quite a lot of buzz around the soy-skin connection. We have found that excessive amounts of soy can in fact lead to increased acne, both hormonal and topical. So, does soy cause acne? Recent studies suggest a link between soy and acne, indicating that it might trigger breakouts in some individuals. Many wonder if soy causes breakouts, and while not everyone may be affected, those sensitive to soy could experience more noticeable skin issues. As we delve deeper into the topic, we aim to uncover the complexities behind soy and its impact on acne.

Understanding the Soy-Skin Connection

The relationship between soy consumption and skin health is complex, rooted in how our bodies process soy and its components. To understand the soy-skin connection, it’s important to delve into the science of how soy affects the body and, consequently, the skin.

Soy products, such as soy milk, soybean oil, and soy protein, are rich in compounds called isoflavones. These isoflavones, particularly genistein and daidzein, are phytoestrogens—plant-derived compounds that mimic estrogen in the body. When consumed, these phytoestrogens can bind to estrogen receptors, influencing hormone levels and potentially disrupting the delicate balance of hormones.

Hormones play a crucial role in regulating various bodily functions, including skin health. The body’s hormonal balance can significantly impact the production of sebum, an oily substance produced by sebaceous glands. Excessive sebum production can lead to clogged pores, which creates an environment where acne-causing bacteria, such as Propionibacterium acnes, thrive. This can result in the formation of pimples and other types of acne.

Moreover, soy's influence on insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) can also affect skin health. IGF-1 is a hormone that has been linked to increased sebum production and skin cell proliferation. High levels of IGF-1 can exacerbate conditions like acne vulgaris by promoting an environment conducive to acne development. Soy consumption may elevate IGF-1 levels, further contributing to these processes.

In addition to hormonal impacts, soy products contain omega-6 fatty acids, which are known to promote inflammation when not balanced with omega-3 fatty acids. Chronic inflammation is a key factor in the development and persistence of acne. This inflammatory response can lead to redness, swelling, and the formation of pus-filled lesions on the skin.

Understanding how the body reacts to soy at the hormonal and cellular levels provides insight into why some individuals might experience changes in their skin health upon consuming soy products. Balancing soy intake with other dietary factors and maintaining a comprehensive skincare routine can help mitigate these effects. 

Types of Acne Caused By Soy

Hormonal Changes

Did you know that soy is one of the causes of hormonal acne? Tofu, soy milk, and soy protein. Processed soy is plentiful because it’s easily genetically modified and companies can make plenty of it for cheap. It makes an attractive filler agent for both food companies and cosmetic companies because of that feature- it’s a cheap filler agent. This matters quite a bit, because it’s literally everywhere. Check the nutrition labels and you’ll find that soy, soybean oil, and soy proteins are inside everything from lotion, makeup, dog food, protein bars, salad dressings, and other packaged foods. When we eat soy frequently (meaning more than once per week) the phytoestrogens hijack our bodies’ natural estrogen receptors, blocking them from doing their job. In excess, this can lead to estrogen dominance and hormonal acne. 

Here’s how the hormonal acne part works- our bodies rely on a healthy balance of female to male hormones (we will refer to male hormones as “androgens”). The androgens go to their receptors while the estrogens go to estrogen receptors, like designated parking spaces. When the balance is skewed and there is a spike in androgens, acne tends to arise. Well, plants have things called phytoestrogens, and soy in particular has a lot of them. These plant estrogens mimic our natural estrogen, sneaking into their parking spaces, leaving the real estrogens out roaming, not doing their job. Since the phytoestrogens are a fraction of the strength of real estrogen, we are losing that functionality and wind up with more androgen-dominant activity, and thus an increase in breakouts.

Digestive Problems

The second way soy causes acne is via digestive disturbance. This has to do with the fact that it is generally so chemically manipulated  (think “textured soy protein” or “soy protein isolate”). These are highly processed and can upset the body because they are not broken down as easily, or they create inflammation in the GI tract due to unnatural structures being introduced. We recommend sticking to edamame versus the processed stuff, it’s in its natural state and hasn’t been depleted of its nutrients. Processed foods equal inflammation.

Clogs Pores

The third and most common way that soy causes acne is topically. Like we mentioned earlier, soy is a popular filler agent, especially in “vegan skincare’, “organic skincare” and “natural” beauty products. Please remember that natural and “clean beauty” mean absolutely nothing when it comes to acne. Pore cloggers like coconut oil, soy and wheat extract, and even healthy fats like avocado oil are still pore-clogging ingredients when applied topically. Many clean beauty brands are loaded with soy and people experience breakouts from these all the time. Check your ingredient decks for soy, and please cross check the list on our site for the other pore cloggers- this is the BEST way to eliminate breakouts!  

If your products have pore cloggers, we recommend a mandelic acid serum to dissolve the residue these cloggers leave in the pore- most people see changes overnight, with advanced clearing in about a week.

Managing Soy Intake to Prevent Breakouts

Managing soy intake can be a key strategy in preventing acne breakouts, especially for those sensitive to soy's effects on hormonal balance and inflammation. Given the potential of soy isoflavones to mimic estrogen and influence hormone levels, it’s important to monitor and moderate the consumption of soy products such as soy milk, soybean oil, and soy protein.

For individuals prone to acne, a balanced diet that limits high-soy foods can help maintain a healthier hormonal equilibrium. This includes being mindful of not only direct soy products but also processed foods that may contain hidden soy ingredients. Opting for alternative sources of plant protein, like pea protein, and incorporating anti-inflammatory foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can also support better skin health.

In addition to dietary adjustments, adopting a consistent skincare routine tailored to acne-prone skin is crucial. This might involve using products with active ingredients like salicylic acid to help manage and prevent clogged pores and inflammation.

Ultimately, understanding and managing soy intake, combined with good skin care practices, can help mitigate the risk of acne breakouts. It’s important to remember that everyone's skin responds differently, so personalized approaches and, when necessary, consultation with a dermatologist can provide the best results.