You probably aren’t shocked to hear this, but these days, you can take supplements for pretty much anything. The Food and Drug Administration defines a “dietary supplement” as a vitamin, mineral, herb, amino acid, or other dietary substance that’s used to increase a person’s intake of a certain ingredient. The most common supplements are vitamins: You might take fish oil supplements for heart health; vitamin D in darker winter months when we’re exposed to less sunlight; or vitamin B-12 supplements if you’re vegetarian and lacking this nutritious element found in meat products. And we’ve probably all taken a vitamin C supplement (or, at the very least, considerably upped our orange juice consumption) when we’re trying to knock a cold.
But did you know there are also supplements that could help you maintain healthy skin? Unlike other skincare products that generally are applied topically, dietary supplements are consumed orally. They come in the form of pills, liquids, or powders. But do they actually work?
Vitamins and minerals are what make natural skincare remedies effective, so it seems to make sense that an easy alternative could be to extract those beneficial properties and concentrate them in a pill or powdered drink. But with names like “Inner Beauty Powder” and “Moon Juice,” it’s easy to be skeptical of these supplements’ effectiveness. Despite your (and our!) skepticism, it is true that — when used properly — some supplements can actually provide very positive results for people looking to boost their skin health.
So what are some of the potential benefits of skincare supplements? Read on!
Skincare supplements can… protect against signs of aging and skin cancer
Antioxidants are present in supplements but also in many of the natural and healthy foods we eat — berries, dark leafy greens, nuts, even dark chocolate! They’re what give anti-aging products their time-defying properties. Vitamins C and E, in addition to selenium, are known to guard the skin against damage from ultraviolet rays from the sun. The consequences of UV ray exposure range from heightened signs of aging to dangerous forms of skin cancer.
Antioxidants actually speed up the skin’s natural repairing process, so they’re thought to reduce discoloration and wrinkles… while also making our skin more resilient to future damage. Vitamin A, also known as retinoic acid or retinol, is another common ingredient in anti-aging products, but the topical version does make you more sensitive to the sun in the short-term. When vitamin A is taken at 10,000 IU daily, it’s been proven to help soften rough and bumpy skin, such as keratosis pilaris on the arms. It works by decreasing cell turnover and preventing excess buildup of skin in areas we don’t want.
Coenzyme Q10, alpha-lipoic acid, and flavonoids in green tea and chocolate are all also believed to have anti-aging properties and protect against cancer.
Nicotinamide, also known as niacinamide, is a form of vitamin B3 that may help our body enhance its repair of DNA in skin cells that have been damaged by sun exposure. It also appears to protect the skin’s immune system from UV radiation by providing our skin cells with extra energy when they’re repairing themselves post-sun exposure. Clinical trials have shown that niacinamide can reduce the appearance of sun damage and reduce the incidence of skin cancers such as squamous and basal cell carcinoma.
Skincare supplements can… keep your skin hydrated and smooth
Antioxidants like glutathione, vitamin C and resveratrol, as well as marine collagen, biotin, and omegas 3 and 6 are just some of the ingredients found in skincare supplements aimed at smoothing and softening skin. These supplements focus on increasing collagen and human growth hormone production to smooth wrinkles and soften skin from the inside out. Experts and developers of these products argue it’s impossible to attain the same results when applying treatments topically, like in a lotion or oil.
Skincare supplements can… combat hormonal acne
If you’re struggling with acne related to menstruation or other hormone imbalances, maca root is known to regulate the endocrine system to stabilize hormones. In addition to reducing the appearance of hormonal acne, maca can actually reduce fatigue and the impacts of stress, giving you more physical and mental energy overall. Vitamins B6 and B12 can help treat symptoms of PMS, including acne. Zinc, turmeric, and evening primrose oil all are commonly found within skincare formulas as they have anti-inflammatory properties that can ease the effects of hormonal, cystic acne, which is often painful and stubborn. When taken in excess of 500 mg twice daily, turmeric has been shown to improve acne, folliculitis, and other inflammatory processes such as arthritis.
Supplements can… treat a myriad of skin ailments
These are just a few of the skin conditions that supplements have the potential to help prevent and protect against.Biotin is a supplement which dermatologist routinely recommend for hair and nail health and growth. Antioxidants can also help with acne related to stress. Milk thistle, alpha lipoid acid, and chlorella may help clear up breakouts related to your diet, though more research needs to be done.
All of these supplements can offer affordable, over-the-counter alternatives to harsh prescription acne medications, but it is important to consult with a professional to make sure the manufacturer you’re buying from uses effective formulas and dosages.
If pills, powders, or liquid supplements aren’t your thing, many of these vitamins and minerals occur naturally in many foods that are good for your anyway. If you’re looking for vitamin B6, try fish, organ meats, starchy vegetables, or fruit. For vitamin B12, try meats, dairy products, or fortified cereal. Many fruits, nuts, and fish are high in vitamin E, and berries and leafy greens are a great way to work more antioxidants into your diet.
The bottom line on skincare supplements
The most important thing to remember when it comes to skincare supplements is that they are not medications. Instead, think of them as a way to increase the nutrients you take in through food and drinks on a daily basis to help you maintain healthy skin and prevent problems.
At the end of the day, some of the most basic things you can do to maintain healthy, clear skin are still maintaining a regular skincare routine, keeping a healthy diet, protecting yourself from the sun by always wearing sunscreen, and refraining from smoking. But if you still need a hand keeping those pesky breakouts at bay, supplements might be something to try. Just remember to keep your dermatologist or doctor in the loop to avoid any adverse interactions with other medications, and to make sure your acne isn’t a symptom of a more serious underlying condition.
Dr. Betty Yan, a dermatology resident at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine (SIU), helped contribute to the accuracy of this story.