There are many reasons why people seek out skincare supplements, including diminishing the visible signs of aging, repairing skin damage – and achieving the look of overall healthy skin.
But with so many products on the market today, how can you determine which hair, skin, and nail supplements are right for you?
This guide is designed to arm you with as much information as possible so you can determine which skincare supplement is best for your needs, including input on whether these products work or not.
According to experts, some skincare supplement manufacturers claim to “fix” certain conditions, so it’s important to be mindful which companies you buy products from. One of the experts we interviewed noted that skincare supplements are not enough alone to improve the skin – so it’s also important to remain hydrated and eat a healthy diet that includes rich antioxidant fruits and vegetables and omegas.
In an effort to help you make the best decision, we’ve included a list of beneficial ingredients in beauty supplements so you can look for them while making your choice; as well as healthy foods that contain these ingredients that you can incorporate into your diet. We’ve also included five specific skincare supplement products that earned at least 4 out of 5 stars based on Amazon reviews.
Keep in mind that this article is not intended as medical advice. Taking skincare supplements might have an adverse reaction for some people, so it’s important to talk to your medical provider, first.
What Are Skincare Supplements?
Generally speaking, skincare supplements are products that claim to improve the condition of the skin – usually the face, said Elizabeth Marquez De La Garza, a former laser spa owner who operates the Elizabeth Beauty Health & Wellness Blog.
Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are all examples of supplements that people take in order to achieve better-looking skin, addressing issues such as anti-aging, acne control and hydration, she noted.
“Flawless, plump, hydrated, radiant skin is the goal,” De La Garza said.
In contrast to the terminology as it is written, there is truly not a dedicated class of treatments that can claim to be a true “skincare supplement,” even though the mechanisms of action and targeted focus can have benefits for maintenance and potentially as treatment for the skin, hair, and nails, according to Dr. Neal Bhatia, Director of Clinical Dermatology at Therapeutics Clinical Research in Southern California.
“That being said, there has been strong interest by patients as well as in medical education to stay updated on innovations that incorporate alternative medicine…this includes teachings in medical school classes and working with patient initiatives including directed interactive programs and social media,” Dr. Bhatia said.
He noted that supplements usually include vitamins, cofactors, and other ingredients such as antioxidants that make a variety of claims, ranging from anti-aging, improving inflammatory mechanisms, and strengthening the integrity of the skin.
“However, unlike prescription agents, many of these claims can be exaggerated to improve market share without the same oversight or can gain favor among patients who choose to listen to Dr. Google rather than their own physicians,” Dr. Bhatia said.
Skincare supplements are dietary supplements that combine several ingredients; for example, specific vitamins, minerals and even proteins like collagen to nourish and support the skin from the inside out, explained Victoria Hussey, a Health and Nutrition Coach and a Fitness Nutrition Specialist through the International Sports Sciences Association.
“Many of them claim to keep your skin hydrated and protect the skin from the signs of aging and skin cancer,” Hussey said. “They focus on increasing antioxidants, collagen, as well as repairing skin damage. Many foods contain these vitamins and minerals naturally if supplements are not something you're interested in.”
Why People Seek Skincare Supplements
Those who seek out skincare supplements are typically looking to correct a condition they may perceive as a flaw, De La Garza noted.
“Most people seek out skincare supplements to improve their skin, which includes increasing collagen and improving not only the texture of the skin, but the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” Hussey said.
According to Dr. Bhatia, many patients choose to either replace or augment their treatment plans with supplements for reasons including:
- If their prescriptions are too expensive
- If they are seeking a more “natural” approach to management
- If they are looking for maintenance
- Because there is a demonstrated medical benefit
“However, the key to successful incorporation of supplements is moderation – more is not often better; and as is often the case, not disclosing the use to one’s physician can lead to problems that could have been prevented,” Dr. Bhatia warned. “Two relevant examples are the increased risk of bleeding with ginkgo biloba in patients having surgery, and the alteration of laboratory testing from taking biotin supplements before the tests are drawn.”
Do Hair, Skin and Nail Supplements Actually Work?
The real question that has to be asked is: what is the definition of “work,” Dr. Bhatia said.
“When patients start taking supplements, is there an endpoint that is trying to be achieved? Or is maintenance of daily health the goal?”
Dr. Bhatia noted in the case of the use of Nicotinamide supplements for patients with photodamage and actinic keratosis, there were measurable endpoints of lesion recurrences that were studied.
“The same would not be possible for taking iron or biotin to maintain nail and hair health unless there was onset of brittle nails or hair loss, so the term ‘work’ is difficult to measure,” said Dr. Bhatia, who added that the key to managing expectations for taking supplements is to ask patients what they have heard, what their goals are, and to make sure that the risk-benefit ratio is understood.
“The adage starts from taking vitamin C when we have a cold,” Dr. Bhatia hypothesized. “We take 1 gram because what we now know is that taking any more just goes to waste, but with most of these supplements we do not have adequate study data to support a dosage or duration regimen.”
According to Hussey, skincare supplements are not enough alone to improve the skin.
“They can certainly help increase the body’s nutrient intake to assist in promoting healthier skin; however, there are many other factors involved,” she said.
First and foremost, eating a healthy, well-balanced, whole food based diet – which includes rich antioxidant fruits and vegetables and omegas – provide the building blocks for healthy skin, Hussey noted.
» For Further Reading: Best Foods for Healthy, Clear, Glowing Skin Recommended by Experts
“What you eat can absolutely affect your skin,” said Hussey, adding that it's important to avoid foods and drinks with preservatives, additives, and artificial ingredients.
“Another important factor for healthy skin is proper hydration – most people do not drink enough water daily,” she said.
The proper amount of daily water intake is half of your body weight in fluid ounces daily, and more if you are active or live in a warm climate.
“For example, a 120-pound person should drink 60 fluid ounces of water daily,” Hussey advised.
Additionally, she said there are other variables that can adversely affect skin such as smoking, prolonged sun exposure and not properly protecting your skin from the sun.
“Sleep is also essential for the skin; it's called beauty sleep for a reason,” Hussey said.
While skincare supplements can help the texture and appearance of the skin, “in my opinion is not enough on its own,” she added. “Just as you cannot out exercise a bad diet, you cannot expect to have healthy glowing skin if you are consuming foods such as simple carbohydrates, refined sugars and any artificial ingredients. We are what we absorb.”
According to De La Garza, “we all have beliefs of what works and what doesn’t.”
“We also each have our own beliefs of what is acceptable to go on our skin,” De La Garza said. “My responses are to avoid chemicals as much as possible and heal the skin through natural and homeopathic means. That said, anything that does not have proven consumer satisfaction, FDA approval and anything that is not a natural ingredient are also reasons to avoid a product.”
Most Effective Ingredients in Hair, Skin and Nail Supplements
Dr. Bhatia emphasized that taking supplements should be taken as seriously as taking prescriptions, “and there should be a genuine need that is trying to be met – not just taking them ‘because it sounded like I should.”’
He noted that the following factors should be considered:
- A good multivitamin that can maintain good skin integrity
- Antioxidants that can improve wound healing
- Barrier protection like Selenium and Vitamin C and E
- A supplement with iron/biotin for diseases of the hair and nails
- Coenzyme Q, alpha-lipoic acid and topical retinol for photo-aging
- Polypodium leucotomos extract for reducing risk of sunburn
“And nicotinamide has been demonstrated to be helpful in chemoprevention strategies although it is definitely not a substitute for real treatments,” Dr. Bhatia said.
Hussey offered the following list of ingredients, which are considered effective in skincare supplements:
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that is essential not just for the skin but for overall health. It is usually an ingredient used in skincare supplements because it protects the cells from free radicals by acting as an antioxidant. It also helps create collagen which is a connective tissue that keeps the skin firm. Vitamin C assists in regenerating vitamin E supplies and improves iron absorption.
Dietary sources of vitamin C are green leafy vegetables, broccoli, parsley, potatoes, peas, citrus fruits, black currants, kiwi, mango, bell peppers, strawberries, papaya, asparagus, cauliflower, limes, and lemons.
“The amount that is safe to take daily orally based on most research data is up to 10 grams, however, caution should be used because 2 grams or more can cause diarrhea,” Hussey noted.
Vitamin A, which is a fat-soluble vitamin, is another ingredient commonly used in skincare supplements because it is the most usable form of retinol or retinoic acid. It supports immune function and wound healing, stem cell differentiation, red blood cell development and the synthesis of proteins.
Dietary sources are pumpkin, squash, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, eggs, sweet potatoes, red and yellow peppers, green leafy vegetables, mangos, and melons.
“When taken at 10,000 IU per day, it has been shown to soften bumpy dry skin,” Hussey said. “Vitamin A is also helpful in protecting vision.”
Vitamin E is an oil-soluble vitamin that plays a role in cell signaling and protects the skin from free radical damage. It also acts as an antioxidant and is essential for skin health. Vitamin E also keeps your vitamin A stores up.
Dietary sources that are rich in vitamin E are vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, avocados, seeds, tomatoes, apples and carrots.
“The vitamin E family contains 8 antioxidants; 4 from tocopherols, which are fat-soluble alcohols; and 4 from tocotrienols, which are vitamin E compounds,” Hussey noted.
If taken in doses less than 2000 milligrams per day, there should not be any side effects.
“Only minimal side effects were found in adults that take vitamin E supplements in doses less than 2000 milligrams per day,” Hussey said.
Vitamin D is fat-soluble and can be obtained from the sun because our skin can synthesize this vitamin. It is a common vitamin that is deficient in people with little to no sun exposure, as well as those that have fat malabsorption syndromes, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney failure, or seizure disorders.
“There is research that suggests that people with acne are likely deficient in vitamin D,” Hussey said.
Dietary sources of vitamin D can be obtained from salmon, sardines, mackerel, egg yolk, vitamin D fortified foods and of course the sun.
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for both wound healing and bruises. It assists in the blood clotting process and cell signaling in bone tissue and is also a co-factor in amino acid metabolism.
“Since vitamin K helps to clot the blood anyone taking blood thinning medication or medication for any blood disorder should consult with their physician first,” Hussey advised.
Dietary sources of vitamin K are green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils, kelp, peas, lentils, lettuce, and parsley.
Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, is a water-soluble vitamin essential for healthy skin, as well as your brain, nervous system and blood cells. It assists in DNA repair, facilitates cellular signaling and can help to control cholesterol levels.
“The reason it's usually found in skincare supplements is because research has shown it can reduce the appearance of aging skin,” Hussey said.
Dietary sources are found in mushrooms, tuna, asparagus, halibut, sea vegetables, salmon, whole grains, lentils and lima beans.
Vitamin B5, also known as Pantothenic Acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that can prevent water loss from the skin thus improving skin hydration.
“It can also improve the skins barrier functioning,” Hussey noted.
Dietary sources of vitamin B5 are found in mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, seeds, greens, tomatoes, berries, eggs, squash, cod, split peas, lentils, avocados, sweet potatoes and whole grains.
Prebiotic, probiotics and digestive enzymes improve gut health which is essential to healthy skin.
Prebiotics are compounds that are not digested but fermented by microflora to stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract; probiotics are live microorganisms that help to restore the beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract; and digestive enzymes support the breakdown of carbs, fats, proteins, fiber and lactose to support nutrient uptake from foods.
The important digestive enzymes are Protease, Lipase, Amylase, and Gelatinase.
“I highly recommend the use of prebiotics, probiotics and digestive enzymes daily,” Hussey advised.
Protease breaks down proteins and peptides; Amylase breaks down starch and glycogen; Invertase digests carbohydrates; and Bromelain derived from the stem of pineapples has anti-inflammatory properties and plays a role in the reduction of bruising and swelling.
» For Further Reading: Probiotics 101: Their Benefits, How They Work, & Foods That Contain Them
Folic acid assists in the use and breakdown of vitamin C and B12. Vitamin B12 also helps with the formation of healthy nerve cells and red blood cells.
“Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin, and dietary sources are beans, citrus fruits, whole grains green leafy vegetables, beets, cauliflower, lettuce, and asparagus,” Hussey said.
Choline, although not technically a vitamin, is an essential water-soluble nutrient that is usually grouped with B complex vitamins. Choline assists with cellular structure, nutrient transport and metabolism.
Dietary sources of Choline are eggs, liver, and cruciferous vegetables.
Omega Fatty Acids
Omega Fatty Acids are essential because they are the building blocks of healthy cell membranes. They are polyunsaturated fats that help produce the skin's natural oil barrier and are critical in keeping the skin hydrated.
The most important omega-3 fats are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flax oil, walnuts, fish oils, and algae.
“The reason omega-3s are so important is because the incorporation of them into the membranes of our cells helps to keep our cells more fluid – meaning more hydrated,” Hussey explained.
The important omega-6 fats are LA (linoleic acid), GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), and AA (arachidonic acid).
“It is important to keep a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids because most people today consume too much of the omega-6 fats which can promote blood vessel constriction, inflammation and blood clotting,” Hussey recommended.
The correct ration of omega-6 omega-3 ideally is 1:1 and for reference, most people have a 4:1 ratio, she said.
“It's important to make sure you are getting enough omega-3s,” Hussey added. “The ways to limit this imbalance and reduce your omega-6 intake is to reduce or eliminate the use of corn or safflower oil and reduce or eliminate the amount of meat from animals that eat high amounts of corn.”
» For Further Reading: Do Omega-3 Supplements Affect Aging?
A Green Powder Supplement is another way to add in additional phytonutrients.
Generally speaking, most people do not eat enough fruits and vegetables and definitely do not get them from a wide enough variety, according to Hussey.
“The addition of a green powder supplement can provide much of the needed daily nutrients that are commonly deficient in the average person’s diet,” she advised. “These powerful antioxidants promote healthy skin and overall health and wellness. It is important to find one that is packed with not only fruits and vegetables but omega-3 fats as well.”
She added that it is still important to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables daily to not only increase antioxidant and phytonutrient intake but to naturally maintain the proper balance of fiber in your diet daily.
Best and Worst Candidates for Skincare Supplements
According to Dr. Bhatia, the ideal candidate for taking supplements has realistic expectations of their potential benefits, “not those gleaned from social media or what was overheard among friends at a party.”
Ideal candidates for skincare supplements are those looking to better their skin’s condition, or those looking for preventative routines, said to De La Garza, and individuals who should avoid skincare supplements are those who are taking medications.
“Anyone who is taking a prescriptive of any kind should always consult with their physician before changing their dietary intake and for advice on incorporating any type of supplement,” De La Garza advised. “This is very important. Foods and supplement ingredients may affect their prescriptions absorption or may cause dangerous side effects.”
Myths and Hype Surrounding Skincare Supplements
Perhaps one of the biggest myths surrounding skincare supplements is that they offer a magic fountain of youth inside of a capsule, De La Garza said.
“Our bodies are designed to continually renew the cells,” De La Garza explained. “If we are lacking nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and basic organic building blocks, all of the most expensive supplements and chemicals in the world will not help improve the skin’s condition. Beauty comes from within.”
Some skincare supplements claim that they will fix a certain condition.
“It is my opinion that nothing chemical can replace the organic material that the body needs to heal itself,” said De La Garza, adding that taking a vitamin C supplement, for instance, will never equal eating a fresh, organic orange.
“All products label their products as loosely as possible to stay within the law’s guidelines,” she warned. “The fact is many products stretch the truth and even violate the law in attempts to make bold claims that are either unproven or flat out lies. They just wait to be sued to pack up and run with their winnings. Be careful from which companies you buy from.”
» For Further Reading: How to Safely Buy Supplements Online
Potential Dangers of Skincare Supplements
In De La Garza’s experience, she’s heard stories of people getting food poisoning from taking too many capsules with very high concentrations.
“I recently had a client whose medication was making her gain weight by the higher consumption of papaya she began to consume,” De La Garza said.
“When taking any prescription drug, the individual must be on high alert to not change their diet and to not change their supplement intake at all, without consulting their physician first,” she advised. “It can be dangerous.”
Skincare Supplements: Cost vs. Effectiveness
The price range of skincare supplements can be vast, from as low as $20 to more than $100.
When it comes to consumerism, skincare is the largest piece of the beauty pie, with a 34% share, followed by hair care with 22.9%, De La Garza said.
“The industry is expected to grow to 10.1 billion by 2019,” she noted.
Dr. Neal Bhatia said according to a report by Goldstein Research, a consulting and marketing research firm, the global beauty supplement market was worth about $3.5 billion in 2016 and is expected to reach $6.8 billion by the end of 2024.
“This is still a small portion of the overall global supplement market, which is projected to reach $220 billion by 2023,” he said.
As far as effectiveness in terms of price is concerned, it depends on the company, De La Garza said.
“Some companies sell a very low-grade product for a very high price tag because they have a celebrity endorsing the product or because they have a very expensive distribution channel,” she noted.
Other sellers, like physicians who have turned into YouTube stars, sell their own products, with their own brand.
“In this case, the physicians are able to give a high-quality product at a fair price,” De La Garza explained. “In this instance, yes, the higher price means the higher concentration of a certain product. This is not the norm.”
“Normally, expensive just means expensive box and expensive beans and not a quality product,” she added.
5 Skincare Supplements with High Ratings on Amazon
The following five skincare supplements earned at least a 4-star rating out of 5 stars from customer reviews on Amazon. Keep in mind that the following statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
1. Nature’s Bounty® Optimal Solutions® Hair Skin & Nails Extra Strength
This product earned 4.1 out of 5 stars based on 1,938 customer reviews. The cost is $10.29 for 150 soft gels.
This is a multivitamin supplement that contains antioxidants C and E, as well as 5,000 mcg of biotin, which can support skin and hair health. Other ingredients include vitamin A, which can assist with skin maintenance; as well as folic acid, argan oil, and hydrolyzed collagen.
2. Sports Research Phytoceramides 350mg with Lipowheat®
This product earned 4.4 out of 5 stars based on 1,727 customer reviews. The cost is $18.95 for 30 soft gels.
According to the manufacturer, Sports Research, Phytoceramides with Lipowheat® is the first natural ingredient with proven efficacy which moisturizes dry and very dry skin. The manufacturer also noted that clinical studies performed on Lipowheat prove its effect in the hydration of dry skin, and improving associated signs, such as itching and redness.
3. BioSil™ Hair, Skin, Nails, Natural Nourishment
This product earned 4.3 out of 5 stars based on 1,077 customer reviews. The price is $50.39 for 120 capsules.
Ingredients include keratin and elastin, as well as ch-OSA – also known as choline-stabilized OrthoSilicic Acid – which is a clinically proven complex that turns on the fibroblasts in skin and osteoblasts in bone that generate collagen, according to the manufacturer.
4. GNC Women's Hair Skin and Nails Formula
This product earned 4.1 out of 5 stars based on 327 customer reviews. The cost is $18.99 for 120 tablets.
Ingredients include 3,000 mcg of biotin, vitamins A, C, D and E, folic acid, zinc, niacin, and green tea leaf extract. According to the manufacturer, this formula supports beauty from within.
5. 1 Body Hair, Skin & Nails
This product earned 4.4 out of 5 stars based on 431 customer reviews. The price is $19.99 for 60 capsules.
Ingredients include 26 vitamins and minerals, such as a B vitamin complex, vitamin C, biotin, choline, saw palmetto, and B12. According to the manufacturer, “the powerful 26-ingredient formula promotes healthy skin, and supports your body's natural growth functions while helping to support your fight against brittle nail splitting.”
Our skin is our largest organ – and therefore healthy beautiful skin cannot be achieved without paying attention to your nutrient intake as much as you pay attention to your skincare regiment, supplements and topical skincare products, Hussey advised.
“Vitamin and mineral deficiencies and poor gut health will manifest on the skin,” Hussey noted. “Concentrate on hydrating well and eating plenty of the phytonutrient rich fruits and vegetables to keep your vitamin and mineral levels optimal for glowing healthy skin.”
Additionally, Hussey recommends reducing, and if possible, eliminating the consumption of simple carbohydrates and refined sugars; and eliminate altogether any food and drinks with artificial ingredients.
“In closing, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of drinking plenty of water daily, which is at least half your body weight in ounces daily,” she said. “When the skin is properly hydrated it will promote plumper, healthier looking skin which will help with the reduction and appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”
Before you decide to take beauty supplements, keep in mind that the change in physical appearance will take time, De La Garza said.
“Patience is not the only virtue required,” she noted. “Consistency is the other half of the equation. With both consistency and patience the client can achieve a complete change in the condition of their skin.”
De La Garza added that it’s important to research every ingredient, research every company, and research the comments of users online.
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