Plant-Based Foods Are Beneficial for Skin Health, Study Says

Vegetables and fruits

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Key Takeaways

  • Fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee, and tea have the potential to improve skin health, many studies show.
  • A new narrative review of 20 studies on plant-based foods shows that the beneficial effects on skin include improvement in hydration, wrinkles, and elasticity.
  • Whole foods, extracts, and supplements have all been reviewed for skin health benefits. Some people use a combination of these if that is what works best for their skin.

A plant-based diet is touted for many things, including a reduced risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. But did you know that plant-based foods, such as vegetables and fruits, can also improve the health of your skin?

"Epidemiological studies have shown that people who generally consume a higher amount of fruits and vegetables tend to have better skin outcomes than those who consume less," says Vivien W. Fam, PhD, RDN, a clinical research scientist in Sacramento, California.

Dr. Fam is one of the authors of a new narrative review study on nutrition and skin health published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

About the Study

Dr. Fam and fellow researchers reviewed 20 previous studies that investigated skin health and the effects of plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, soybeans, coffee, tea, and cocoa. The results were pooled together for a narrative review with some interesting findings.

Lisa Young, PhD, RDN

I don’t think there is 'one' magic food to do the trick but a whole foods diet rich in antioxidants and healthy fats can help over time.

— Lisa Young, PhD, RDN

Plant-based foods are rich in bioactive compounds, including vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, polyphenols, and phenolic acids, which function as antioxidants to reduce inflammation and promote structural support of the skin. Studies also found that nuts contain essential fatty acids, which are also important for skin health.

"I don’t think there is 'one' magic food to do the trick, but a whole foods diet rich in antioxidants and healthy fats can help over time," says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of "Finally Full, Finally Slim," and a nutritionist in private practice.

In the narrative review, the researchers paid close attention to foods that were supported by the most clinical research. They looked at the skin-supporting nutrients in vegetables and fruits in several forms: whole, juice, and extracts.

"Some of the beneficial compounds in fruits and vegetables include vitamin C, vitamin A, B vitamins, carotenoids, and a variety of polyphenols," says Dr. Fam. These nutrients promote oxidant defense, structural integrity, and reduce skin inflammation.

Which Foods Are Good for Skin?

Options high in vitamin C, including mangoes, were associated with fewer wrinkles. "Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps protect your skin from oxidation caused by everyday living including pollution, and sun," says Young. "Foods high in vitamin C include an assortment of colorful produce including broccoli, citrus, red peppers, and kiwi."

The narrative review found that other vegetables and fruits that are good for the skin include tomatoes, kale, melon, oranges, pomegranates, and grapes. Dr. Fam explains that they are all rich in vitamins and polyphenols, but the type and amount of these compounds within each food differ, so their beneficial effects may also differ.

Vivien W. Fam, PhD, RDN

"Clinical studies have shown that frequent intake of almonds meets 20% of one’s total caloric needs, which equates to an average of about 2 ounces, reduced facial wrinkles, and pigmentation."

— Vivien W. Fam, PhD, RDN

That means it's best to get a variety of different vegetables in fruits in your diet, to benefit from an array of nutrients and polyphenols. Nuts, especially almonds, are also good for the skin.

"Clinical studies have shown that frequent intake of almonds meets 20% of one’s total caloric needs, which equates to an average of about 2 ounces, reduced facial wrinkles, and pigmentation," says Dr. Fam.

There's also some research to support soy for skin health. Soybeans contain isoflavones that have a similar structure to estrogen, a hormone that decreases after menopause.

This reduction may contribute to skin wrinkles and dryness. But studies show that using soy extract and drinking soy beverages (equivalent to 15 grams to 25 grams of soy protein per day) may help boost skin hydration.  

Polyphenols in Coffee, Tea and Cocoa

In addition to foods, the researchers also looked at studies on beverage ingredients, including coffee beans, cocoa beans, and tea leaves, which are all loaded with polyphenol antioxidants. They found that all three of these beverages can be beneficial for your skin.

Studies on coffee showed that it lowered skin hyperpigmentation, and improved scaly skin and dryness. "In the coffee studies, decaffeinated beverages containing coffee polyphenols were used and 270 milligrams to 300 milligrams of coffee polyphenols seem to be beneficial for skin," says Dr. Fam. "That may equate to about 2 to 3 cups of coffee."

The studies on tea were done using tea extracts, which contained 450 milligrams to 540 milligrams of tea flavanols. "To obtain this amount of flavanols from brewed tea, depending on the quality and processing of the tea leaves, it may be as high as 10 cups of green tea," explains Dr. Fam. At that level, tea may reduce skin roughness and scaling, and boost hydration and elasticity.

Dr. Fam also notes that the beverages used in all the studies did not include sugar. The addition of sugar may not change the number of polyphenols available in the beverages, she explains, but it does contribute to an increase in simple sugar intake in a person's diet.

Foods vs. Supplements for Skin Health?

Some of the studies in the narrative review looked at extracts or supplements rather than whole foods. Dr. Fam explains that extracts and supplements are used in studies more often than whole foods, which are perishable and therefore challenging to work with. So, what should you choose for your own skin health?

"The question the readers should be asking is 'what works for me and my lifestyle?'" says Dr. Fam. "Some may be seeking whole foods, while others look to enhance their diet with supplements and extracts, or a combination of both along with a skin care regimen that works best for their skin."

Ultimately, the choice is yours based on what works best for your skin.

What This Means For You

Eating plant-based foods, including vegetables, fruit, nuts, and beans, can help reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, but also offers the bonus advantage of keeping your skin hydrated and possibly reducing the appearance of wrinkles. Coffee, tea, and unsweetened cocoa powder offer advantages for your skin as well.


2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dinu M, Abbate R, Gensini GF, Casini A, Sofi F. Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: A systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studiesCritical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2017;57(17):3640-3649. doi:10.1080/10408398.2016.1138447

  2. Fam VW, Charoenwoodhipong P, Sivamani RK, Holt RR, Keen CL, Hackman RM. Plant-based foods for skin health: a narrative reviewJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Published online October 2021:S2212267221014337. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2021.10.024

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD
 Cara Rosenbloom RD is a dietitian, journalist, book author, and the founder of Words to Eat By, a nutrition communications company in Toronto, ON.