Skin Problems On a Vegan Diet? – Here’s How to Fix Them!

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When you started your vegan diet you were promised eternal health and vibrant young skin. And what you got was problematic skin that is dry, dull and is breaking out constantly. I’m going to tell you some possible reasons for this and how you can fix them!

First off, congratulations on going vegan if you’ve just started! And to those who’ve only developed skin problems after months or years of being on the diet, stick around, because there could be some simple reasons behind it.

When I started eating super healthy, my skin cleared up so well, I would frequently get compliments from people. I don’t think my skin was perfect, but it was far better than it had been. But at some point, I ran into problems while on a vegan diet and I found the solution.

10 Reasons why you have skin problems since going vegan

1. It’s a detox reaction

This is for those who’ve just started a vegan diet, this is mainly for you. Have you ever heard the phrase: “it gets worse before it gets better”?

What I’ve noticed over the years with my own personal experience and many other vegans, is that problems can sometimes get worse when you start the diet, and then you start to heal.

Remember, when you lose weight, you are releasing all the toxins into your bloodstream from fat cells and this can overwhelm the body’s ability to remove them fast enough.

People with candida and lots of bad bacteria in their gut may experience an issue as manifest as the body’s microflora begins to shift.

This can cause a ‘die-off’ reaction and often will manifest as breakouts due to increase number of toxins and inflammation.

This problem usually resolves itself within a few weeks to months.

2. You’re low on Zinc

I’ve already talked about my own experience with acne and zinc deficiency after being on a vegan diet in a previous post. For a while, it had me confused until I figured out why I was getting acne again.

A plant-based vegan diet can be very high in copper and this competes with zinc. A vegan diet tends to be low in zinc as it is, even without this issue.

Acne also happens to be one of the main symptoms of zinc deficiency. I and many others have had success in treating acne after going vegan by just taking a regular zinc supplement.

If you want to learn more about the connection between going on a vegan diet, zinc deficiency, and developing acne, check out my article here.

Assuming you’ve been on a vegan diet for a while, you should definitely try supplementing. Some studies show that almost half of vegans are deficient in zinc.

It’s one of the first things I recommend trying. You’ll notice the beneficial effects within a week or two, but you ought to give it at least 3 months because some spots can take weeks to months to show up.

I recommend this zinc picolinate supplement.

3. Not consuming enough omega 3 fats

Vegans don’t eat fish, and this is one of the best sources of omega 3 for humans. Not many people eat seaweed, and only a few vegans may opt for products high in ALA which can be converted to EPA.

Depending on how restrictive the diet is, this may be one of the reasons for a dry, dull, and rough skin on a vegan diet.

If you want to get a natural healthy glow then consumer products which contain more ALA like avocado, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, etc.

Algal oil is also another great source of omega 3 (EPA and DHA) and can be found in a variety of different vegan omega 3 supplements.

You should start noticing a difference within weeks.

4. Not getting enough protein

Did you know your skin was made out of protein? Of course, you did. You need to get a good amount of essential amino acids on a vegan diet to help build healthy looking skin.

The second reason why protein restriction may cause skin thinning on a vegan diet is that IGF-1 has decreased too much. IGF-1 is important for cell proliferation, and the skin is one organ in the body which is constantly changing and remodeling.

Vegan diets tend to naturally reduce calories and also reduce protein intake. This has been shown to significantly reduce IGF-1 in humans. For people with lower baseline levels of IGF-1, it may drop it too low and cause negative physiological effects.

It’s relatively easy to increase protein on a vegan diet, but there are also vegan protein shakes available.

5. You’ve become too sensitive

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence from vegans who’ve adhered to their diet long term that they become more sensitive to chemicals in everyday skin products and household detergents for cleaning clothes.

Look at what products you’re using whether it be skin serums, makeup, or cleansers even, and look out for any suspect ingredients.

It could also be that since going on a vegan diet, some products are just too harsh now. If you’re using retinoids, maybe try vitamin C serums.

Try being a bit more gentle on your skin. Skin products are fine (I use them myself), but pick good quality products.

Check out my article on how to calm down irritated skin.

6. You may have low levels of vitamin B12

Every vegan on the planet should be taking a vitamin B12 supplement without question. Studies have consistently shown that vegans cannot get enough B12 from diet alone and must supplement it. Yes, it’s good to be natural, but it’s not good to be silly.

Low vitamin B12 can cause skin lesions, hyperpigmentation, lack of pigmentation, pale skin and other abnormalities in the skins general appearance.

Find out which is the best B12 supplement here.

7. You’re low in Iron

If your skin looks dry, damaged, and pale, it could be a sign that you’re running low on Iron stores. Iron is crucially for carrying oxygen to the cells around the body. Other symptoms you may notice are itchy skin which you feel like scratching a lot.

Plant-based vegan diets do tend to contain a lot of iron, but it’s non-heme iron and it’s harder for the body to absorb.

Women on a vegan diet are at greater risk of iron deficiency and it’s recommended that at least get frequent blood tests.

8. You’re a vegan but your diet is bad

You’ve made the jump to a vegan diet but all you’re eating is vegan junk food (yup, there’s a lot of it!).

Many foods are vegan, even fries are vegan. But they aren’t exactly great for your skin or your health.

If you’re eating processed foods on a vegan diet, it’s all the same, it’s processed and probably bad.

You should be eating a diet which is mainly comprised of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. If you do this, your skin will really thank you for it and you’ll be far healthier.

Also, eating too much fruit which is high in sugar and cause massive blood sugar swings can cause acne. Try to limit these foods and focus more on fruits like berries.

9. Hormone fluctuations

There are many plant foods, herbs and such which can have significant effects on the body’s hormones. Some may help regulate hormones, but some may suppress hormones and then when you stop eating them, you get a reflexive reaction where testosterone spikes and causes a breakout.

Certain types of products in the environment can also negatively affect hormones in the body.

10. You’re getting too much sun

You’ve got a new sexy body and looking amazing, and want to show it off. It’s summertime after all!

That’s awesome, but did you know that UV rays are one of the main causes of skin aging?

Protecting your skin on a vegan diet will give you far better results and keep you looking much younger.

Protect your skin by being sensible with sun exposure and protecting your skin and using a high SPF sunblock

A vegan, plant-based diet, cannot undo all the sun damage and neither can it make you superhuman and stop sun damage from occurring – even with all the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants you’re getting.


A vegan diet can help keep your skin young and beautiful if you eat well and look after it. I know many vegans who literally look decades younger than their age because they’ve also looked after their skin.

A vegan diet does not have to result in bad skin, but it can if you make some of these common mistakes. If you pay close attention to the ten factors listed above, your skin problems on a vegan diet will be improved significantly.

Updated and reviewed: July 2019

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  • Thank you so much for another great informative article. I am finding information here I can’t find anywhere else. I did not realize about the correlation between IGF and the skin. I thought it was my imagination that my skin looked better when I occasionally have extra protein from meat and fish. I wonder if just adding more protein from beans is enough to maintain skin thickness as best as possible without having to add non vegan sources? I want to adhere to CR while still achieving enough protein for my skin in the best form it needs. I am unsure of the best way to balance this.

    • It could be… but the best way is obviously to get tested to see what effect dietary changes have on IGF-1 level. There’s always some kind of trade-off to everything though. It’s the same as trying to use CR to slow aging, but also not be too skinny. I think that for some people (not all), IGF-1 may drop too low. It really depends on the individual, so there’s no easy way to answer without objective measurements. And perhaps your own subjective experience.. how you perceive yourself and feel (generally).

      Here’s a study where it showed that lower IGF-1 is linked to higher perceived age.

      Disentangling the effects of circulating IGF-1, glucose, and cortisol on features of perceived age. PMID: 25874752

      “In our study population, a higher non-fasted IGF-1 level was associated with a lower skin wrinkling grade and tended to associate with a lower perceived age, which was mediated for approximately 100 % by skin wrinkling.”

  • Wow! Just saw your reply. You found a very interesting study and I see the pitfalls of going too low with my IGF as well as the dangers of going too high. Did they mention the IGF levels of the people in the study you found? I assume there is a sweet spot at which maximum skin health is achieved that also avoids the dangers of too much cell proliferation. The numbers might be different for everyone too! Yet, thank you for this information and the answer seems to lie with moderation.

  • Thanks for this, Matt!
    My skin has always been really smooth. I became vegan 1 year ago and started taking B12 and spirulina straight away and I also always ate seeds, etc. However, I stopped taking all these 4 months ago, when I ran out of them and just did not buy them anymore. As a result, my skin is really ugly, with breakouts everywhere, blemish and all of a sudden I look older. I know that there is a lot of info out there on vitamins, foods and supplements for vegans, but your post is simple and a eye opener. I just bought all these supplements and foods online while I prepare myself to start eating better again. I’ll keep you posted on the results. Fingers crossed!

    • Hey Lilian! Thanks for reading.

      I hope some of the things I shared here help you. It’s easy to become a bit complacent, as I mentioned, it happened to me over a year ago when I developed zinc deficiency. Other vegans who’ve been on the diet have also mentioned issues with zinc, b12, magnesium and others. But we all have different needs, and most of us will have at least one mineral or vitamin that we simply need more of due to our genetic and biological differences.

      Did you check out my story here about my zinc deficiency? By far, zinc picolinate was the supplement that helped my skin the most. And like you, my skin was full of spots and I felt I just looked older than ever. Fortunately, today, my skin is even better than before.

      Thank you! Please do let me know how things go for you or if you have any questions.

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