Style & Beauty

Do Skin Supplements Really Work? Here's What Dermatologists Say.

The market is saturated with beauty pills and powders that claim to boost your skin care routine. But do you need them?

Ads for new wellness supplements are everywhere: Glowing skin! No more acne!

There’s The Beauty Chef, where you can buy Inner Beauty Powder for $70. The Nue Co. sells a powder called Skin Food and Prebiotic that promises to boost skin’s collagen production for $55. HUM nutrition sells a variety of specialized supplements and Moon Juice sells powders and capsules and “dusts” that do everything from clear acne to promote glowing skin.

We believe in feeding your body (and skin) for optimal health, and the science is there to support the benefits of plants, vitamins, minerals and micronutrients (both topically and internally),” Amanda Chantal Bacon, the founder of Moon Juice, told HuffPost.Skin care starts on a cellular level and what you put into your body matters and shows up on your skin.”

The message is alluring, and the products themselves are packaged nicely enough to earn a spot on your vanity. But despite their near ubiquitousness, do these skin care supplements even work? The dermatologists we spoke to offer helpful guidelines.

There’s not a lot of data to back up the efficacy of beauty supplements

Although supplements make up a multibillion-dollar industry in the U.S., the data to support the use of most of these products is sketchy at best,” said dermatologist Hadley King. “Beauty supplements are basically rebranded multivitamins.” Most people get the nutrients they need from food, and barring no vitamin deficiencies, the supplements don’t improve the skin of otherwise healthy people, she explains.

David Lortscher, dermatologist and founder of Curology, agrees that food is the best route. “Supplements are not necessary for achieving healthy skin. The most conservative advice is to obtain beneficial vitamins and minerals from a healthy diet,” he said. Lortscher also warns of the safety concerns regarding high doses of vitamins and supplements, and the interactions they can have between each other and prescription medications.

King too warns of possible side effects, saying that fat-soluble vitamins can accumulate in the liver and cause damage, and some scientists believe high doses of antioxidants could lead to increased cancer risks.

Despite her skepticism, King sees some potential benefits of supplements, depending on the individual and whether the supplement has the studies to back it up. “None of us eats a perfectly healthy and well-rounded diet every day, and even when we do, we may not absorb all of the nutrients, particularly as we age,” she said. But ultimately, King recommends discussing a regimen with your doctor and testing blood levels to check for deficiencies first.

Supplements are a self-regulated market, so be extra careful when reading labels

Nigma Talib, a naturopathic doctor who has her own line of supplements (with clients like Kate Bosworth, Sienna Miller and Penelope Cruz), warns that not every supplement is a good choice. “There’s a lot that goes into making a supplement safe and effective for the consumer,” she said, warning of people who have “jumped on the wellness bandwagon” without having the clinical experience or research to back a good product.

Consumers have to make sure they are doing their own research, rather than assuming a product is safe just because it’s on the market. “The supplement world is a self-regulated industry meaning companies are responsible to meet the standards outlined by the FDA,” said Sarah Greenfield, a registered dietitian at HUM.

To find the best products, Lortscher recommends checking products for the black and yellow USP Verified seal, the blue and white NSF seal, or the CL seal of approval on the label. Talib also suggests avoiding supplements with fillers, binders, artificial ingredients and colors, along with asking for a Certificate of Analysis and an inspection of heavy metal contamination.

“Look for companies that display their ingredients and nutrition facts panel in a way that is easy to read. Look for actual research that backs claims instead of just pretty pictures. Also look for credible experts that are involved with the company. If they have vetted the product and believe in it, that is a good sign!” Greenfield said.

Of course, the ingredients are important, too. “I choose my ingredients based on clinical experience and synergy of the ingredients to work together,” said Talib, alluding to a symphony sounding more beautiful than a single instrument. “Putting the right ingredient amounts with various combinations is key to a safe and effective supplement.”

If you want to try the trend, these supplements could help your skin

For those who spend a lot of time outdoors, Lortscher likes Polypodium leucotomos. It’s found in Heliocare and can help to combat sun damage. (He warns that it’s not a replacement for sunscreen, and other protection methods must still be taken.) Lortscher also suggests vitamin D for acne-prone skin. “Preliminary evidence suggests that there is a connection between low vitamin D levels and acne severity and incidence. Although there is no firm evidence that D3 helps acne directly, it may be worth a try,” he said.

Talib recommends a combination of vitamin A, zinc, selenium, lysine, hyaluronic acid and MSM to help with immune thyroid function and encourage optimal collagen levels.

King’s favorites include research-backed supplements that promote hair growth. Viviscal uses a marine-based collagen, and Nutrafol has anti-inflammatory, stress-adaptogenic, antioxidant and dihydrotestosterone-inhibiting properties. She also likes Ritual, a women’s multivitamin company that uses science to back up its products.

And for acne and skin cancer prevention, King recommends nicotinamide (a form of vitamin B). “One study showed that a nicotinamide supplement reduced the rate of new squamous cell and basal cell skin cancers by 23% compared with placebo after one year among patients at high risk for skin cancer. It also reduced the risk for developing actinic keratoses, a common pre-cancer of the skin,” she said.

In the end, while the majority of the dermatologists we spoke to don’t see supplements as necessary, they can be helpful ― as long as it’s what you need. Talk with your doctor, check for deficiencies, and should you decide to pick up a supplement, take the advice of the experts and find a company that has studies and quality ingredients to back up its claims.

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