Here at Health, we're generally pretty cautious about recommending dietary supplements. Even "basic" ones like fish oil and calcium may interact with other vitamins or medications, not to mention that most of us are able to get all the nutrients we need from a healthy, balanced diet. Although rare, there are also risks to consider: Because over-the-counter supplements aren't regulated the same way medications are, some may contain ingredients that can have disturbing side effects ranging from vomiting and nausea to liver damage and cancer.
Still, it's hard to ignore the popularity of internal beauty supplements, which have become a major trend in the industry. Containing ingredients that claim to improve the appearance of skin from the inside out, these products come in the form of powders, pills, syrups, and even cereal bars, and are now almost as ubiquitous as your standard anti-aging cream. Some retailers, including Sephora and Dermstore, even have their own shopping sections dedicated to the category.
I get the appeal: For the past month or so, I've been diligently stirring The Beauty Chef's Glow Inner Beauty Powder and Collagen Inner Beauty Boost into a glass of water each night. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but it does seem like it's doing something—my skin seems smoother and the "eleven" line between my eyebrows looks plumper and less noticeable. And a quick look at the mostly positive reviews for these products confirms I'm not the only one noticing these changes.
Can beauty supplements actually give you better skin?
According to Health's contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, I might not be imagining my slightly glowier complexion. "'You are what you eat' is true," she says. "We make skin cells from the inside out, so what you put into your body—not just onto your skin—is crucial for skin health."
Supplements that contain ingredients such as collagen, hyaluronic acid, and biotin may be beneficial, says Debra Jaliman, MD, a dermatologist based in New York City. "As we age, we lose both collagen and hyaluronic acid, which causes wrinkles and loss of firmness in the skin," she explains. "Some of these [beauty supplements] contain small fragments of collagen, which are easily absorbed especially when dissolved in a liquid, so this adds more collagen to the skin." Meanwhile, supplements with hyaluronic acid may help keep skin looking hydrated and plump.
Which supplements are worth the money?
If you're going to invest in just one, consider collagen. "It seems to have the most research behind it as far as skin benefits," notes Sass. In a previous interview with Health, New York City dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD, recommended looking for a formula that's derived from the skin, bone, fin, or scales of freshwater or marine fish, such as Holi (Youth) The Oceanic Adaptogen ($58; revolve.com), since these molecules are smaller and more likely to get into your bloodstream. Dr. Jaliman is also a fan of Neocell Super Powder Collagen ($43; amazon.com): "It's gluten-free and has collagen types 1 and 3, which support skin, nails, and hair."
Any changes will be subtle, but with continued use, some people "find that their skin is more hydrated and wrinkles improve," Dr. Jaliman tells us. With biotin specifically, you may notice stronger nails and hair, she adds.
Sass points out that probiotics may be helpful, too, especially for those with skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. RMS Beauty Within Probiotic + Prebiotic ($64; anthropologie.com) is a good one, according to Dr. Bowe, since it boasts upwards of 10 billion CFUs and strains of both lactobacillus and bifidobacteria.
How to take them safely
Experts stress the importance of scanning ingredients and dosages on your supplements, and speaking with a doctor or dietitian before taking anything new. "You can get too much of a good thing," says Sass.
For example, a supplement that contains high amounts of vitamin C could cause unpleasant side effects such as diarrhea. High levels of the vitamin have also been linked to kidney stone risk. Sass doesn't recommend taking any antioxidants in supplement form, since they can become pro-oxidants in high amounts.
As with any supplement, you can also shop for trusted brands by looking on product labels for a USP Verified Mark. The nonprofit US Pharmacopeia independently verifies that a product contains the ingredients it says it does.
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Know that they're not a beauty cure-all
Sadly, no supplement has the ability to give you the silky-smooth strands or poreless skin of your youth. "You won't magically look 10 years younger, erase your wrinkles, and have thick, lush hair," says Sass. Dr. Jaliman also warns that deep-set lines and wrinkles won't benefit much from a supplement; for those, in-office procedures with your dermatologist are a better bet.
And while not nearly as exciting as trying out a trendy new supplement, basic self-care strategies go a long way—your stress levels, how many hours of sleep you've been getting, how hydrated you are, and of course, the foods on your plate all show up on your face.
"The big picture of your diet is much more impactful than any one or even a handful of supplements," says Sass. "If you eat poorly and take skin supplements you probably won't see the type of results you're looking for. But in conjunction with a consistently clean, nutrient-rich diet, they may offer some bonus value."
Beauty – Health.com