Skin gets dry when it lacks enough of the components that make up its structure. Since many of these components come from diet, it makes sense that diet changes can affect your skin. But why do some vegans experience dry skin specifically?
Vegan dry skin can come from a lack of specific fatty acids, proteins, vitamins, or minerals in your diet. Some of the most important nutrients to monitor are omega-3 fats, zinc, iron, vitamin C, and vitamin A. Below, I’ll cover which foods and supplements will help you get the levels of these nutrients you need.
I’ll also be covering vegan moisturizers. And lastly, I’ll explore whether new vegans may actually be “detoxing” and whether that could be the cause of your dry skin issues.
Ensuring You Get Fatty Acids
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are among the most vital components of healthy skin. The bad news for vegans is that our diets naturally contain less of these fats than omnivore diets. And that can lead to dry skin.
Why are these fatty acids so essential? Well, your skin’s epidermis acts as a barrier against the outside world. This barrier consists of fatty acids, ceramides (lipid molecules), protein, and cholesterol.
Since omega-6 fats are quite common in vegan diets, the nutrient you really need to focus on is omega-3 fatty acids.
Most non-vegans get their omega-3s from seafood, fish oil, and oysters.
There are plant sources of omega-3s, such as walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds. But honestly, even if you eat flaxseeds every day as I do, you still may want to supplement for more omega-3s as a vegan.
Here’s why: The form of omega-3s found in plant foods is not the form your body actually uses. It’s a precursor that your body has to convert. And studies suggest the conversion rate is quite low. (source)
What you want is a vegan DHA/EPA supplement. DHA and EPA are the final, usable forms of omega-3. It’s what people get when they take fish oil supplements. But in vegan supplements, it’s sourced from algae instead (which is actually where the fish get it from).
I’ve tried a few different vegan DHA/EPA supplements over the years, and they’ve all been okay. But my favorite is what I take now.
It’s actually a simple 3-ingredient multivitamin made specifically for vegans. It includes vitamin D and vitamin B12 along with the omega-3, which is perfect because I was already taking those vitamins separately. Now, I just take one supplement to cover all three nutrients. I wrote more about that multivitamin here.
Lack of Collagen and Elastin
The main structural component in your skin is protein, so naturally, you’ll have to include plenty of protein in your diet to meet your skin’s needs, too. The most important skin proteins are collagen and elastin.
For your face, in particular, collagen and elastin are essential. You can notice a deficiency in these proteins when your face loses its elasticity and suppleness.
To combat this issue, increase the amount of organic protein in your diet. Tempeh (fermented soybeans) and seitan (wheat protein) can help your skin keep its collagen and elastin levels high.
Other foods that contribute vital protein to your skin are chickpeas or hummus, quinoa, whole-grains, black beans, and lentils.
Supplementing Minerals That Vegans Are Low In
Vegan diets are sometimes low in minerals that are vital for the skin, such as zinc and iron.
These minerals are common in meat, so they can be common causes of vegan dry skin for people who recently became vegans.
Seriously, if you struggle with acne, you need to go read this blog post. It took me years of studying and experimenting on myself to learn what I share in that post.
If you’re on a vegan diet, chances are you’re not getting enough zinc, so you probably should take zinc supplements to bring your zinc levels up.
Personally, I take 22mg of zinc picolinate each day—it’s one of the best-absorbed kinds by your body. Here’s the one I take every day (Amazon link).
An iron deficiency also has adverse effects on your skin (source). The symptoms of iron deficiency include pale and dry skin. Your skin may even get itchy and could get damaged from excessive scratching.
While plant-based diets usually contain plenty of iron, it’s harder for the body to absorb than the kind found in animal-based foods, so using iron supplements can help you increase your body’s iron stores.
Other Causes of Vegan Dry Skin
There are a few additional reasons why you might have dry skin on a vegan diet. Do any of these apply to you?
Processed Food Can Hurt Your Skin
Lots of processed foods and fried foods are vegan, but they’re also harmful to your skin. If you’re mostly consuming junk food, even if it is vegan junk food, you might be missing out on some essential skin-promoting nutrients.
Your Skin is Sensitive to Chemicals
While there isn’t much research to support this claim, some vegans maintain that their skin is sensitive to chemicals found in everyday household and skincare products.
Have a look at whatever products you’re using and scrutinize the ingredients. Your dry skin might be a result of being sensitive to some of these chemicals.
The obvious fix, in that case, is to get natural products that do not contain chemicals that are as harsh.
Overexposure to the Sun
One of the causes of poor skin health is overexposure to harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays from the sun. Whether you’re on a vegan diet or not, you should be careful not to expose your skin to the sun too much.
If you need to be outside, use high SPF (skin protection factor) sunscreen, or use a hat and long clothing. This especially applies between 10 am and 4 pm, when the sun is highest in the sky.
Could a Lotion or Moisturizer Help?
For a lot of people with vegan dry skin, a moisturizer could be part of the solution.
A “repair moisturizer” will contain a lot of the biochemical components of healthy skin, in their precise correct proportions. When you apply such moisturizers, they can help repair damaged skin. Moisturizers are best when used alongside supplements and dietary changes.
You can talk to a certified dermatologist about the prospect of using repair moisturizer to deal with vegan dry skin. This one (Amazon link) is completely vegan.
More Vegan Moisturizers
Lotions and moisturizers generally don’t contain major animal products. However, many vegans also do not want to use products that get tested on animals.
If you want to learn about some other skincare products that aren’t tested on animals, here’s a list from PETA.
It’s also worth considering that many food-grade oils can be helpful for moisturizing. For example, coconut oil and jojoba oil are vegan, and you’ll find them in many lotion formulas.
Of course, you’ll want to avoid those if you have oily or combination skin, since some oils can clog your pores.
Could “Detox” Cause Skin Problems?
Some vegans claim that their skin gets dry and itchy because they’re detoxing after switching to a vegan diet. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much scientific research on this issue.
Vegans who claim this is a problem say that they have skin issues for anywhere from several weeks to several years after switching to a vegan diet.
Luckily, in most cases, the skin dryness disappears over time if the person sticks to their vegan diet.
What could be behind this phenomenon?
Well, one explanation goes like this: When you first go vegan and start to change what you eat, you will probably lose weight. When you lose weight, all the toxic content stored in your fat cells is released into your blood. In some cases, this release happens faster than the body can handle.
This release can cause temporary inflammation as the body tries to get rid of the extra toxins. The good news is that it is a temporary problem. The bad news is that the body often works to release toxins through the skin, so your skin may be temporarily affected by the detox.
Dealing with Detox
To help alleviate some of the effects of detox, consider eating foods rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C may speed up any “detox” process that is happening.
You can either take a vitamin C supplement or eat foods rich in vitamin C. These include oranges, berries, apples, kale, spinach, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. (Check out my vegan guide to vitamin C for more on this subject.)
Vitamin A also promotes skin health. Vitamin-A foods include kale, spinach, carrots, pumpkin, and spirulina.
That said, I actually started taking a vitamin A supplement to help with my skin, since the form found in plant foods is typically just the “provitamin A” precursor, and your body still needs to convert it.
This is the vitamin A supplement I decided to take (Amazon link). It’s vegan (synthetic) pre-formed vitamin A, made by Solger, a brand I already know and like from my zinc supplement.
Finally, omega-3 fatty acids should help the skin rebuild itself through any detox process. As I mentioned above, I recommend taking a DHA/EPA supplement for your omega-3s. I get mine through Future Kind’s multivitamin (link to my review explaining exactly why it’s the best).
A combination of diet, supplements, moisturizers, and proper detox management can take care of your vegan dry skin before it becomes an issue.
If you struggle with acne, you really need to read my big post on how to clear acne as a vegan. It took me years of studying and experimenting on myself to learn what I share in that post. It’s a lot more than just “don’t eat sugar.” Read it now!
Two More Recommendations for Your Vegan Journey
1. This is the best vegan multivitamin I’ve found in 13 years of being vegan. It has vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3—and nothing else. Translation: It only has the nutrients vegans are actually low in. Read my full review of Future Kind’s multivitamin here (with 10% discount).
2. This is the best vegan starter kit I know of. It’s a bundle of 9 beautiful e-books that help you transition to a healthy plant-based diet—the right way. The advice is spot-on, and it has print-outs and checklists that make it easy to implement. Read my full review of Nutriciously here.
If you found this guide helpful and don’t want to forget any of the tips, save the Pin below to your Pinterest “Vegan Nutrition” or “Skin Health” board!