Although the skin is one of the only organs visible on the outside of the body, it shouldn’t be nourished only from the outside. More than ever, science supports the fact that nutrition has a lot to do with the health and appearance of skin. The reason is that all skin cells are formed with nutrients that are obtained far beneath the surface. To remain in top shape, your skin needs the right nutrients: antioxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamins C, E, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, and other key nutrients.

Most nutrients can be obtained sufficiently from the food you eat. However, due to factors such as busyness or some other reason, sometimes it’s hard to regularly feed your skin the way you should. Supplements should never be considered a substitute for a healthy, balanced diet. However, they may help support our nutritional needs when our bodies need a little extra support. There is a lot of discussion about the validity of skincare supplements, and whether they’re really necessary. Just how safe are they, and do they work? Let’s find out.

What are skincare supplements?

Various skincare supplements spilling from bottle and in blister pack

Vitamins, minerals, and other supplements are taken as a dietary boost to improve overall health or to support a specific organ or system. Beauty or skincare supplements contain the vitamins and minerals, and other micronutrients that are known to specifically benefit skin health.

While many beauty and skincare supplement companies claim that their products are more potent because they are “nutricosmetics” or “nutriceuticals.” Know that these two terms are marketing terms only–they have no meaning in terms of actual efficacy, and are not recognized by the FDA. So, if you’re already taking supplements that contain the nutrients found in products marketed for skin health, you don’t probably don’t need to replace it with “beauty pills.” 

Do skincare supplements work?

This is the question you came to see answered. However, the answer is not that simple. 

There are many factors to consider in order to understand how supplements affect your health and appearance. Most skincare supplements on the market can be split into two main categories: those intended to reduce or improve visible signs of skin aging, and those intended to improve the appearance of acne. Though all skincare supplements claim to make your skin more youthful and clear, some products are superior to others in terms of quality.

There are some things you should look for to determine whether or not the supplement is safe and effective:

  • Bioavailability – the factor determining the how well the nutrients from the supplement are able to be absorbed and utilized by the body after ingestion
  • The stability of the compounds–they must be properly formulated in order to prevent degradation or oxidation
  • Delivery system–some nutrients are better in liquid form, others powdered, and others are fine as pressed tablets or in capsules
  • Third-party GMP (good manufacturing practice) certification
  • Evidence-based research behind the nutrients
Skincare supplements should be formulated correctly and in the correct delivery system for maximum bioavailability.

All of this means that you need to read labels very carefully–not only the main vitamins listed on the front, but also all the other ingredients and information on the back.

Unless the supplement contains whole food ingredients or drugs, they do not qualify for FDA approval. Similar to cosmetics, the FDA requires that supplement manufacturers ensure product safety and that the products are not adulterated. However, they do not oversee them or have an approval process like they do with food and drugs.

Because supplement safety can be hard to determine, many people decide to use capsule fillers to make supplements at home using herbs and other natural ingredients. While this can be a very affordable and convenient option, it is important to know what you’re doing if you do decide to go this route.

Skincare supplement ingredients to look for

Here are some of the micronutrients you are likely to see in a product marketed as a skincare supplement or beauty pill:

  • Beta carotene and other carotenoid antioxidants. Vitamin A is an essential skin vitamin because it boosts cell and collagen production. However, Vitamin A itself can be harmful to overall health when taken in its final form, in large amounts. Therefore, its precursors are safer and more effective, since they can be stored and converted by the body when needed.
  • Even though many skincare companies are trying to convince you that vitamin E is the best ingredient for youthful skin, we recommend caution when taking it in supplements. Since Vitamin E is so abundant in the foods we eat, supplementation with it is often unnecessary. Over-supplementing with Vitamin E may cause issues with blood clotting and other health risks, so be cautious with how much you take.
  • Biotin (Vitamin B7) is usually found in traditional hair, nails, and skincare supplements, but it can be bought as a stand-alone pill as well. There is evidence of Biotin’s effectiveness. Studies suggest that this ingredient can promote hair growth and strengthen nails. However, too much can lead to reactions like skin rashes, digestive distress, insulin release and kidney problems, and other health issues.
  • Hyaluronic acid is often used for topical application, but it can also be taken in the form of a pill. Although it’s getting quite a lot of buzz lately, and is well researched for overall connective tissue support, quality and bioavailability can be an issue. Most hyaluronic acid on the supplement market is derived from GMO sugar beets, which is not as bioavailable as the pharmaceutical grade version, which is derived from rooster combs.
  • Collagen has made quite a name for itself when it comes to products intended to promote a youthful appearance. Some studies show that it improves laxity in aged skin, however the jury is still out with how effective supplementing with collagen actually is for helping the body actually produce more collagen on its own. We recommend choosing collagen sourced from organic, grass-fed cows whenever possible, and taking it with a high quality Vitamin C.
Sardines and other small wild caught fish are preferred sources for fish oil supplements.
  • Fish oil seems to be the champion of skincare supplements, with research linking it to improved skin hydration, which leads to a glowing complexion. There is also evidence that it helps with acne management. Be sure the supplement you choose is sourced from wild caught small fish such as anchovies and sardines, rather than farmed salmon or other larger fish. You also want to check that the supplement contains a healthy essential fatty acid balance. (Learn more about this as a NAA Member or CNAP Student)
  • Coenzyme Q10 is believed to have positive effects on the skin. A 2005 study has shown it helps reduce the signs of aging, while a 2011 research concluded that it combats free radicals and plays a significant role in preventing damage to proteins, lipids, and DNA.

Bottom line

Skin is an organ of equal relevance as any other, and it needs to be taken care of just as seriously as you’d care for your heart or other internal organs. That’s why you can’t just apply any product or take any skincare supplement to nourish it. Look beyond the marketing buzzwords and do your due diligence when shopping for skincare supplements.

Skincare supplements are not a substitute for fresh fruits and veggies!

And always remember–skincare supplements are NOT a substitute for a healthy diet, rich with fresh fruits and vegetables and other whole foods!

It’s also always best to consult with your licensed natural health provider before adding supplements to your regimen, and for personalized recommendations.

Do you want more education on how to talk to your clients about nutrition topics like this (and still stay within your scope of practice)?

Our Certified Nutritional Aesthetics Practitioner® Training Program teaches you just that. Learn more about the structure and curriculum, and start today here.

About the author:

Guest author Caitlin Evans

Caitlin Evans is a bookworm, writer and recreational dancer. When she is not trying to find the meaning of life and the Universe, Cate is researching and writing about various health and well-being related topics. Connect with Caitlin on Twitter


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