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Plant-Based Diet and What it Does for Skin Health

Plants offer many benefits to the skin from protein to protection

Published on 01/01/2018
Mind and BodyNutritionDietFoods for Skin CareHealthy FoodsPlant Based DietGut MicrobiomeWesternNaturopathy
Multiple colorful plant based foods on a plate on a wooden table

A diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients such as phytochemicals is essential for glowing skin, strong nails, and luscious healthy hair. The best way to achieve these nutrients on a daily basis is by eating meals consisting of an abundance of colorful fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds – also known as a “plant-based diet.” A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other whole plant foods can give us the optimal nutrients we need for our skin, hair, and nails to perform their amazing functions and keep them looking healthy.  

What Is a Plant-Based Diet?

A plant-based diet is a diet consisting entirely of foods derived from plants; this means maximizing intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and herbs, and minimizing or eliminating processed foods, oils, and all animal products. Many people refer to a plant-based diet as a vegan diet, although they are not always exactly the same. There are many commercially available “vegan” products that are processed, refined, and offer little nutritional value. Diets incorporating these manmade vegan products are not necessarily plant-based and do not offer the same skin health benefits and protection against diseases.[4] 

Table 1. Examples of Nutrient-Dense, Plant-Based Foods
Food Plant Types Serving Size


Black beans, chickpeas, edamame, kidney beans, lentils, pinto beans, split peas

½ cup


Blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, goji berries, mulberries, strawberries, apples, avocados, dates, grapefruit, plums, watermelon

½ cup fresh berries, 1 medium fruit, or ¼ cup dried fruit

Cruciferous Vegetables

Arugula, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale

½ cup chopped

Other Vegetables

Asparagus, bell peppers, carrots, mushrooms, onions, squash, spinach, sweet potatoes, zucchini

1 cup leafy, ½ cup nonleafy


Chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds

1-2 tablespoons


Almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts

¼ cup nuts or 2 tablespoons nut butter

Whole Grains

Barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, rice (brown or wild)

½ cup cooked

Skin Benefits of Avoiding Animal Products

People consuming a strict vegan or plant-based diet do not consume animal products of any kind, including all dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, butter, etc.), meat, poultry, and fish. In fact, certain animal products have actually been associated with worsening skin conditions. For instance, scientists have shown that avoiding dairy products can significantly prevent and improve acne.[1] One study showed that when people with psoriasis ate a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and avoided meat, their symptoms significantly improved![2]

Table 2. Foods to Eliminate on a Plant-Based Diet and Healthy Alternatives
Food Plant-Based Alternative

Dairy Milk

Almond, soy, coconut, hemp, and rice beverages

Ice Cream

Coconut, soy, almond-based ice cream


Coconut or soy creamer


Nutritional yeast and cashews can be used to create vegan cheese


Tofu, tempeh, jackfruit, portabello mushrooms, eggplant

Eggs in Baking

1 egg = 1 Tbsp ground flax + 3 Tbsp water, 1 egg = ½ mashed banana


Applesauce, vegetable broth

Plant-Based Diets Are Rich in Vitamins and Minerals That Give Glowing Skin

Plant-based foods contain a significantly greater amount of vitamins and minerals than animal products, and thus should be eaten in abundance to help achieve beautiful glowing skin. In fact, a scientific study found that people who consumed a fruit and vegetable smoothie rich in carotenoids (a vitamin A derivative) every day for 6 weeks developed a “food tan,” giving the skin an extra glow.[3] Vitamins and minerals function as co-factors for enzymes and as antioxidants to fight free radical damage; they also keep the immune system strong and help with skin healing. People who follow a strict plant-based diet should consult with their healthcare provider about taking vitamin D and vitamin B12 supplements.[4] 

Table 3. Plant Sources of Vitamins
Vitamin Plant-Based Sources[5]

Vitamin A

Cantaloupe, broccoli, spinach, carrots, yams

Vitamin C

Fruits: oranges, strawberries, kiwi

Vegetables: red and yellow bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, dark leafy vegetables

Vitamin E

Whole grain wheat, avocados, nuts

B Vitamins

B1 – whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds

B2 – enriched whole grains

Niacin – mushrooms, whole grains

Biotin – yams, almonds, soy

B6 – potatoes, bananas, legumes, nuts

B12 – fortified beverages, cereals, and some brands of fortified tofu, may still need to supplement

Vitamin K

Broccoli, kale, spinach, soybeans

Table 4. Plant Sources of Minerals
Mineral Plant-Based Sources[6]


Whole grains, nuts, seeds


Fortified cereals, white beans, lentils, spinach


Whole grains, wheat germ, brazil nuts


Whole grains, fruits, vegetables


Fortified cereals

Plant-Based Diets May Protect Your Skin Against Sun Damage and Skin Cancer

In addition to diligent sunscreen use and wearing protective clothing, a plant-based diet can offer additional sun protection thanks to naturally occurring sun protective compounds. Fruits and vegetables contain a lush supply of phytochemicals and other antioxidant compounds that may decrease the amount of skin damage caused by the sun and reduce the risk of skin cancer.

  • Grapes and berries contain a compound called resveratrol, which is a natural phytochemical that acts as an antioxidant and may decrease the risk of skin cancer.[7]
  • Tomatoes are rich in an antioxidant called lycopene, which was shown by a research article in the British Journal of Dermatology to reduce the risk of sunburns when eaten daily for 3 months.[8] Watermelons are another fantastic and delicious source of lycopene!
  • Beta-carotene appeared to improve signs of photoaging (e.g. wrinkles and sun spots) when consumed daily (beta-carotene equivalent of 6 carrots daily or 1 sweet potato) for 3 months![9]
  • Eating a red delicious apple per day may keep the skin cancer away! Researchers at Cornell University showed that compounds in red apple peels called triterpenoids can kill cancer cells.[10] Another skin glowing antioxidant in red apples, called anthocyanin, also possesses cancer-fighting power.[11]

Other Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

  • A plant-based diet has been shown to significantly reduce the risk factors for coronary artery disease and has been proposed as the only diet capable of reversing heart disease.[12-14]
  • Vegan diets are associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.[15,16]
  • A plant-based diet is a terrific way to lose weight. When researchers compared vegans to meat eaters, fish eaters, and vegetarians, vegans had the lowest body mass index.[17]
  • A plant-based diet is rich in fiber and resistant starches, which has been shown to improve the diversity of the gut microbiome and potentially improve many different diseases.[18,19] Plant-based foods such as berries, seeds, legumes, and whole grains are especially rich in fiber.

Vegan Skin Care

For many people, the next step in adopting a vegan plant-based diet is to transition to cruelty-free, vegan skin care and makeup products. Choosing vegan products offers many benefits:

  • You can avoid animal by-products
  • Vegan products are often better suited for sensitive skin
  • You will be supporting a great cause against animal testing
  • Vegan products usually come in environmentally thoughtful packaging

More vegan skin care review, tips, and tricks will be available in future articles.


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