How Can Soy Help Skin? Here’s What an Expert Says

Whether you are team tofu, love edamame, or take your latte with plant-based milk, you probably know about the protein-powered health benefits of soy. But did you know it contains skin-supporting compounds, too?

Research shows that eating soy may leave your skin feeling more hydrated and may help reduce fine lines (yes, seriously). A September 2023 clinical study, published in Nutrients and conducted on postmenopausal women, found that participants who consumed 30 grams of soy protein every day for six months experienced an increase in skin hydration and a decrease in wrinkle depth and pigmentation.

Curious what this means for you (and your complexion)? Mark Messina, PhD, MS, director of nutrition science and research at the Soy Nutrition Institute Global (SNI Global), is breaking down the trial’s findings in simple terms—so you can spend more time snacking your way toward healthy, hydrated skin.

The science behind soy and skin

Previous clinical research and trials have suggested that soy isoflavones might favorably affect skin health, Messina says, and yet relatively few health professionals are aware of this benefit. That’s why SNI Global—the scientific organization leading the way in soy and health research, education, and advocacy—and the United Soybean Board decided to fund a clinical trial dedicated to soy and skin.

The study suggests that the high content of isoflavones in soy is likely what makes it so skin-supportive, Messina says. You’ll find isoflavones in many plant-based foods, but they’re particularly concentrated in soy. These naturally occurring compounds are commonly classified as “plant estrogen”—and although they function in different ways, they do mimic estrogenic effects in the skin.

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According to Messina, “there are several ways in which isoflavones could benefit skin health” in addition to activating estrogen receptors in the skin. They may exert antioxidant effects, “which could inhibit the damaging effects of free radicals” on your skin, and they help stimulate the synthesis and concentration of things like collagen and hyaluronic acid—you know, ingredients found in all your favorite skin care.

Collagen, the main protein in skin that provides structure, decreases with age, so supporting its synthesis is particularly important in postmenopause. According to the study, a strengthened collagen network may help smooth fine lines.

The same goes for hyaluronic acid, which is “an important component of the extracellular matrix of the skin and acts as a biologic humectant…to draw and retain moisture,” Messina says. The research shows that “soy may increase the skin’s natural levels of hyaluronic acid, which would increase skin hydration and contribute to a reduction in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.” Hello, hydration.

Who can benefit from soy

If your interest is piqued, but you’re wondering if soy may help your skin, that’s fair. The short answer, according to Messina? Yes, probably.

Still, Messina wants to be transparent about the study’s limitations. The trial’s 44 participants had lighter skin tones, but “there is no reason not to think that isoflavones would also be efficacious in postmenopausal women with darker skin.”

And while the study involved postmenopausal participants, “one of the prior studies that produced the most impressive results found that the consumption of 40 milligrams per day of isoflavones benefited premenopausal Japanese women,” he says. “It may be that both pre- and postmenopausal women benefit from isoflavones.”

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How to add more soy to your diet

With all this research backing the skin-supporting benefits of soy, you may be ready to add more of this plant-based protein into your diet. Messina recommends aiming for two servings a day (like two glasses of soy milk or a cup of tofu) to ensure you’re consuming enough isoflavones.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to creative soy-centered recipes. Try a satisfying tempeh bowl with lemon miso dressing at lunchtime, a berry banana smoothie for a quick and delicious snack, loaded soy-based crumble nachos (um, yes please) for dinner, or lemon tofu cheesecake for dessert. So next time you hit the grocery store, make sure soy foods are on your list. Your hydrated skin will thank you.

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