- A vegan diet rich in fruits and vegetables can offer a range of benefits for your skin.
- Common skin complaints, such as acne, fine lines and inflammation, have been proven to improve following a vegan diet.
- Whole, plant-based foods are critical to achieving radiant skin: vegan diets based on junk or processed food will provide no benefit.
Your skin is a reflection of your internal health–it’s as simple as that. While a regular skin care regime contributes to a radiant glow, it’s what you put into your body, and do to your body, that is the real game-changer. An inside-out approach to beautiful skin includes plentiful sleep, frequent water intake, avoiding pollutants and toxins, regular exercise, and critically, a nourishing diet.
While diets targeting the skin have waxed and waned over the years, one approach has remained steadfast–consuming plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Recent research indicates that whole plant-based foods offer hydrating, antioxidant-packed goodness for your skin, and your general health. A plant-based approach also eliminates dairy and refined sugars and grains — helping to heal common skin complaints from the inside out.
What Can You Eat on a Vegan Diet?
A vegan diet is plant-based. Vegans avoid eating foods derived from animals, such as:
- Meat and meat by-products,
- Dairy products,
A plant-based diet is based on whole plant foods, found in nature, that have undergone as little processing as possible. The true test for whole plant-based foods is reading the ingredients on the packet—there shouldn’t be any! Nuts, fruits, vegetables and grains purchased in their whole form haven’t been processed and blended with other ingredients, stabilizers or preservatives. If you’re plant-based, this means the vast majority of your nutrition is oriented whole foods, avoiding refined or processed foods as much as possible.
However, some vegan diets may not exclude processed or refined foods. Nowadays, the accessibility of vegan junk food means veganism can wreak havoc on your skin. The best vegan diet is one that is whole-food plant-based.
How Can a Vegan Diet Benefit Your Skin?
A plant-based diet has far-reaching benefits for skin. An impressive array of common skin complaints can be significantly improved with a plant-based diet, such as:
Vegan diets are dairy-free. There is now significant evidence that dairy is linked to skin congestion and acne. The growth hormones present in dairy can aggravate the skin, or throw your own hormonal levels out of balance, causing breakouts. Skim milk consumption appears to be particularly problematic for skin.
A number of large-scale studies in Korea have also explored the effects of diet on acne, and discovered that those with higher vegetable intake are less-acne prone, while those who eat highly processed foods, meats and cheeses are more likely to have acne. Western-style diets based on high fat, sugar, dairy and meat consumption have been linked to exacerbation of acne in South Korea.
Plant-based diets are anti-inflammatory. Those who follow plant-based diets consistently over long periods of time are likely to have reduced acute and chronic inflammatory markers. Chronic inflammation can simmer for years before appearing as a disease or illness. Skin conditions characterized by inflammation include acne, skin allergies, rosacea, eczema, and atopic dermatitis.
While there are currently few studies exploring the effects of veganism on specific skin conditions, research shows veganism lowers systemic inflammation. This is great news not only for the skin, but for the whole body.
Flaxseed contains natural oils that can help balance oil production in the skin, and reduce clogged pores. The fatty acids and lignans present in flaxseed additionally help to improve the overall appearance of the skin. Wholegrains have also been identified to play a role in reducing sebum production.
- Fine lines and wrinkles
Eating a diet based on fruits and vegetables provides a considerable boost in antioxidant intake. Antioxidants scavenge free radicals which cause signs of premature aging, such as fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation. The more fruits and vegetables you consume, the wider the range of antioxidants you receive. Plant-based foods are recognized to be the most potent source of antioxidants available: they contain up to 33 times more antioxidants than red meat, poultry, fish, meat and eggs.
If you think you can hack a healthy diet by taking antioxidant supplements, think again. Research has shown that your body receives far more benefits when the antioxidant is consumed in food, rather than isolated in a supplement.
Additionally, foods rich in hyaluronic acid, or foods that help promote hyaluronic acid production can also reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
Those regularly consuming orange vegetables, such as squash, carrots and yams increase beta-carotene consumption. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant which not only fights off free radicals, but also bestows the skin with a healthy glow. Vitamin C, found in citrus fruit, apples, kiwifruit and mango also supports radiant skin.
Could a Vegan Diet Cause Skin Problems?
Plant-based diets that are lacking in essential fats, nutrients or minerals can be harmful to the skin. It’s vital to ensure you’re meeting all your dietary needs, otherwise, deficiencies will appear affecting your skin health. For example, foods containing fatty acids, such as coconut and avocado, are vital to preventing dry skin.
Vegan diets high in saturated fats, trans-fats, refined sugars or flours, can also cause common skin complaints to become exacerbated.
Some individuals also find that as they transition to a diet rich in nourishing plant matter, their skin breaks out. This can occur as the skin adjusts to a new diet, and eliminates toxins.
There is considerable evidence that a vegan diet rich in whole, plant-based foods, can help to improve common skin complaints. Fruits and vegetables contain high levels of antioxidants which play a vital role in preventing premature aging, and bestowing the skin with a radiant glow. Vegan diets based on processed junk food or snacks offer little benefit for the skin.
- Carlsen, M. H., Halvorsen, B. L., Holte, K., Bøhn, S. K., Dragland, S., Sampson, L., … Blomhoff, R. (2010). The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Nutrition journal, 9, 3. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-3
- Darvin, M. E., Sterry, W., Lademann, J., & Vergou, T. (2011). The Role of Carotenoids in Human Skin. Molecules, 16(12), 10491–10506. doi:10.3390/molecules161210491
- Elkan, A. C., Sjöberg, B., Kolsrud, B., Ringertz, B., Hafström, I., & Frostegård, J. (2008). Gluten-free vegan diet induces decreased LDL and oxidized LDL levels and raised atheroprotective natural antibodies against phosphorylcholine in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized study. Arthritis Research & Therapy, 10(2), R34. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2453753/
- Goyal, A., Sharma, V., Upadhyay, N., Gill, S., & Sihag, M. (2014). Flax and flaxseed oil: an ancient medicine & modern functional food. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 51(9), 1633-1653. doi:10.1007/s13197-013-1247-9
- Haghighatdoost, F., Bellissimo, N., de Zepetnek, J. O. T., & Rouhani, M. H. (2017). Association of vegetarian diet with inflammatory biomarkers: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Public health nutrition, 20(15), 2713-2721. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980017001768
- Jung, J. Y., Yoon, M. Y., Min, S. U., Hong, J. S., Choi, Y. S., & Suh, D. H. (2010). The influence of dietary patterns on acne vulgaris in Koreans. European Journal of Dermatology, 20(6), 768-772. DOI:10.1684/ejd.2010.1053
- Masaki, H. (2010). Role of antioxidants in the skin: anti-aging effects. Journal of Dermatological Science, 58(2), 85-90. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jdermsci.2010.03.003
- Melnik, B. (2012). Dietary intervention in acne: Attenuation of increased mTORC1 signaling promoted by Western diet. Dermato-endocrinology, 4(1), 20-32. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408989/
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Antioxidants: In depth. Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants/introduction.htm
- Smith, R. N., Braue, A., Varigos, G. A., & Mann, N. J. (2008). The effect of a low glycemic load diet on acne vulgaris and the fatty acid composition of skin surface triglycerides. Journal of Dermatological Science, 50(1), 41-52. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jdermsci.2007.11.005
- Sutliffe, J. T., Wilson, L. D., de Heer, H. D., Foster, R. L., & Carnot, M. J. (2015). C-reactive protein response to a vegan lifestyle intervention. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 23(1), 32-37. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2014.11.001