Nutrition for Vegetarian & Vegan Skin Care

Are nutritional deficiencies the reason your vegetarian & vegan skin care is failing?

Skin conditions are a common complaint I see in my Marrickville naturopathic clinic. Unfortunately, my plant-based clients are one of the groups I see a lot of skin issues with. Today I’m discussing why this is the case.

Getting your skin healthy, glowing, pimple-free can take a bit of time. However, given the correct nutritional support, your vegetarian and vegan skin care can be taken to a whole new level of soft, dewy divineness.

For everyone, not just vegans and vegetarians it is common for skin to go a bit crazy sometimes – be it acne and blackheadsrosacea or the more complex conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.It is important to realise that there is always a reason why you’re seeing changes in your skin. This often means there’ll always be a way to fix it.

It may not happen quickly, but skin healing and repair are possible given the right tools and understanding the contributing factors.

For people who follow a plant-based diet, there are a few important nutrients that you need to make sure are in your diet to help with healthy skin. Some of these can be difficult to get through your diet in the amount you need to repair any skin conditions.

The principles of naturopathic medicine are about getting to the underlying cause of the problem – not just symptom relief. Commonly people are spending huge amounts of money on topical skin treatments with no success. Often the answer to the problems lie inside your body – not on the outside.

Vegetarian & Vegan Skin Care Essentials:

  1. ZINC:
    This is a really important mineral pretty much every part of your body: skin, hormones, digestion, mental health. So not getting enough Zinc is a very real problem for vegans and vegetarians. It is a common deficiency I see in my clinic.

    So if your skin is getting worse because of hormonal changes or perhaps due to poor digestion then ensure you’re getting enough zinc in your diet. Or consider supplementation after speaking with a health professional. Good sources of zinc from plants are pumpkin seeds (1/4  cup per day), sesame seeds (1/4  cup per day), chickpeas & lentils (1 cup per day), some exotic mushrooms, spinach (2 cups per day).

    Plant-based forms of vitamin A are a bit tricky as it comes in two different forms  – retinoids and carotenoids. Both forms have important functions for your health, but you need both in abundance for a healthy functioning body. Vitamin A is essential for cell protection, your immune system, anti-inflammatory processes, vision health. Vitamin A can be particularly important where we see red, hot and infective acne or eczema.

    Vegans and vegetarians get plenty of carotenoids (sweet potato, carrots, leafy greens, tomatoes to name a few sources), but unless you are eating eggs and dairy your retinol intake will be zero. This doesn’t mean you need to start supplementing with Vitamin A (you need to watch toxicity) or start eating eggs. It may mean you need to work harder to get Vitamin A pathway working well as the conversation from carotenoid to retinoid can be as low as 28:1!
    Which means a hella lot of sweet potato!
    Speak with a nutritionist to ensure you’re doing all you can to get all forms of vitamin A on your plate.

    Fats are everybody’s friend. Due to the fat-bashing that has been going on over the past few decades, there is a bit of an aversion to them from many people. But you need them. Especially vegans and vegetarians.

    You need fats to make all your hormones (perfect for acne from hormone imbalances); you need fat to help make happy skin. You need fats for digestion, mental health and reproductive health. Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory so they are supportive of eczema and autoimmune conditions like psoriasis.

    The best forms of Omega-3s for vegans and vegetarians are walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds. I recommend my clients eat at least 1 tbs of two of these every day. Almonds are also fantastic for the skin.

    Yes, cut it – all of it. Processed and all the other natural ones.

    Too much sugar will release a group of hormones called androgens, which are pro-inflammatory and are known to be linked to acne. Sugar also makes your blood sugar unbalanced which is also causing inflammation in the body.
    When I say cut the sugar, I also mean all those “healthy sugars” such as coconut, rice malt, panela, syrups like maple and too much fruit (limit to 2 pieces / day). Reduce those soft white fluffy carbs, and processed grains.

    That means natural, unprocessed foods (and no, vegan donuts are not natural and unprocessed just because they are vegan!).

    Eat an abundance and variety of fresh vegetables – if you’re vegan or vegetarian you should be doing this already. Too often I see plant-baser that are not eating anywhere near enough fresh produce, let alone people who aren’t vegetarian or vegan.
    So pile those plates high with fresh, crunchy, delicious vegetables, healthy nuts and seed, hummus and tahini, plenty of legumes and pulses. Say goodbye to processed fast food that is drenched with pro-inflammatory highly processed vegetable oils and stick to the mantra of “fresh is best“.

Sometimes your skin may need a bit more love than diet alone. I often use herbal medicine alongside nutritional and dietary changes to help my client’s skin detox well, shift infections, reduce inflammation and rebalance hormones. Get in touch if want to learn more about how naturopathic medicine can help you.


Hannah Boyd is a nutritionist and herbal medicine practitioner in Sydney’s Inner West. She specialises in wholefood eating, mental health, plant-based diets and hormone balancing. Book an appointment with her today to help free yourself from food addiction and develop a healthy, balanced approach with your plate.