I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a house with a medicine cabinet filled with creams and supplements, each with the same claims: to reverse the signs of aging, moisturize, reduce wrinkles, and tone the skin.
Whether topical or oral, these creams and supplements are still all over the shelves today and the market for anti-aging is growing as our population continues to grow older.
The market is there, but are the products all they claim to be?
The supplements that littered the shelves of my parent’s medicine cabinets are known as nutricosmetics or nutraceuticals. These are the dietary supplements that have been developed for use in the beauty care industry, such as for altering the appearance of skin.
The market for nutricosmetics is colossal and it is growing as it is projected to reach $7.93 billion by the year 2025 (1).
This is no surprise, as we know that the general population is getting older, and with that comes the want to look younger. Therefore, the market for these anti-aging products is growing every day.
It can be easy to fall prey to claims and advertising schemes, but there is research to back up many of the supplements out there today.
How Our Skin Ages
Much of the aging process is due to time, as we get older in age, our skin follows. We can also attribute the way we age to our genetics. In a sense, our aging process is predetermined and hard-wired into our DNA.
However, not all of the aging process is out of our control.
Diet and sun exposure play a huge role in the aging process.
This is where much of the available supplements come into play. By providing our body the necessary nutrients, we can prevent and reverse some signs of aging, and that is exactly what we are trying to do.
Because we know we can use supplements to prevent aging, the market has skyrocketed. However, there are so many marketed today to improve the health and integrity of the skin, which are actually doing what they say claim and have the research to back it up?
Here’s a quick look at the ones we are going to cover in this article.
7 Helpful Supplements for Skin Health
Next, we will work on highlighting the top supplements for skin health today. While the list may surprise you, these supplements have been tested and shown efficacy in many clinical trials, as you’re about to see.
Collagen was discovered in the 1930s and has since been found to be the most abundant protein in the human body. Over time and with the exposure to the sun it breaks down leading to wrinkles and undesirable signs of skin aging.
It can be found in plant and animal sources and is most popularly extracted from bovine, porcine, and marine animals. Collagen from marine animals is not only more readily absorbed in the body but also has the lowest amount of biological contaminants (2).
How should I supplement with collagen peptides?
When supplementing with collagen, typically collagen peptides (or hydrolysate) are used. These are fragments of the proteins and have been found to provide the building blocks for collagen and elastin proteins as well as stimulate the production of collagen and elastin.
Elastin is another important protein that is found in the skin (2).
There is an abundance of clinical studies showing that collagen can be an effective oral supplement to promote skin health.
In varying studies, it has been shown to reduce signs of aging, improve skin elasticity and reduce the appearance of wrinkles, and improve skin moisture.
Collagen has been thoroughly studied and has been shown effective in a number of clinical trials.
While more studies are necessary to address the appropriate dosage, this supplement is promising for the reduction of skin aging signs.
It plays a key role in mitochondrial function, and without it, we experience extreme fatigue and organ dysfunction. Thankfully, when we have it in high enough quantities, it can protect the body from oxidative stress and stimulate metabolism (3).
Humans are able to synthesize it on their own, so coenzyme Q10 is not a vitamin or essential nutrient we must consume to maintain our bodily functions (2).
CoQ10 is found in many food sources such as meat, poultry, eggs, cereal, dairy, fruits, and vegetables with its highest content in meat and dietary fats (2).
Supplementary ranges are from 30-150mg/day and no daily requirement has been established (2).
It has been studied as a dietary supplement for skin health since 1999 where it was found to prevent damage from photoaging (2).
A clinical trial testing its efficacy in promoting skin health was conducted just last year. Researchers found that supplementation had anti-aging effects and reduced wrinkle and microrelief lines in the skin and improved skin smoothness.
These results are promising for the use of coenzyme Q10 in preventing or reversing skin aging (4).
Clinical trials using dietary supplementation of coenzyme Q10 are important tools to study the use of it in preventing the aging of the skin.
While more clinical trials with larger sample studies are necessary, these results are promising and corroborate the proposed effects of coenzyme Q10 on skin health.
Carotenoids are fat-soluble pigments that are naturally found in fruits and vegetables. They are responsible for the red, yellow, orange, and green pigments that we find in plants and there are many types that exist, all with various functions in the human body.
Beta-carotene is an example of a carotenoid that has been heavily studied for its positive effects on skin health.
The body cannot generate beta-carotene on its own, so it must be consumed our diets to reap the benefits. Beta-carotene is specifically responsible for the orange pigment we see in fruits and vegetables and is found in carrots, pumpkins, squash, sweet potato and cantaloupe.
These sources contain anywhere from 3-22mg per 1 cup serving. Supplement forms typically contain about 1.5 to 15 mg per capsule (2).
Beta-carotene is an antioxidant, meaning that it is able to find and remove free radicals from our bodies. These free radicals can occur from natural bodily processes, like oxidation of fatty acids, or from environmental damage such as pollution and sun exposure.
When free radicals are present, our bodies undergo oxidative stress, which can have a myriad of negative health effects on our bodies.
The use of antioxidants to scavenge these free radicals and reduce oxidative stress is not new, and neither is the study of antioxidants in skin health. Beta-carotene has been studied for its use in anti-aging and skin health since the 1970s.
That being said, the study of beta-carotene in skin health increased drastically in the 2000s and various clinical trials show its efficacy. It has been shown to protect against sunburn and ozone-induced pro-inflammatory biomarkers.
In addition, supplementation at 30mg per day for 90 days showed a decrease in wrinkles and skin elasticity in those with skin damage from the sun (2).
Probiotics and Prebiotics
The human gastrointestinal tract is home to thousands of species of bacteria known as the microbiome. It sounds a little scary… but actually these bacteria are the good bacteria that help us to maintain our health.
Lately, pre and probiotics have become popular for the treatment and management of GI disorders like irritable bowel syndrome. However, more recently, they have been found to have an effect on human skin. This is known as the “skin-gut” axis.
So, what are they exactly?
- Prebiotics are the precursors to these good bacteria in our bodies. They feed the bacteria that they need to grow. They often appear in the form of fiber and resistant starches and thus are present in many fruits and vegetables.
- Probiotics, on the other hand, are live strains of these good bacteria that we take to add to our microbiome. A common probiotic food we often hear about is yogurt.
So how can adding to the bacteria in our guts help our skin?
Well, it turns out they are not just affecting the bacteria in our gut, but they are also affecting the microflora present on our skin. The skin microflora has been found to have biological and immunological properties, meaning that they pose an alternative to antibiotics to changing the microflora of the skin.
Antibiotics kill bacteria, both good and bad. With pre- and probiotics, we can swap out the bad for the good while preserving the remaining good bacteria (5). Pretty ideal.
Prebiotics have shown to be useful for the prevention of acne when used topically, however research on prebiotics remains limited.
On the other hand, studies in humans have shown that oral probiotic supplementation can protect against UV radiation from the sun and improve skin dryness. These studies are preliminary in nature and more research is necessary to determine the dosage and strains of bacteria that are useful for human skin.
Research is ongoing for the area of the skin microflora and its effect on various other skin diseases such as acne, rosacea, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and even some cancers.
Stay tuned, as this research is coming in strong and this work is promising for the use of pre- and probiotics in skin health (5).
Essential Fatty Acids
Eicosanoids, essential fatty acids, or polyunsaturated fatty acids. These are all names that can be used to describe omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids.
Another common name for these is linoleic and linolenic acid, respectively. These are considered essential fatty acids because we need them for our bodies to conduct normal physiological processes; however, they must be consumed from the diet, as our bodies are unable to produce them on their own.
These essential fatty acids (EFAs) are responsible for cell signaling and regulating inflammation in the body.
When we are exposed to excess ultraviolet rays from the sun, sunburn results. Sunburn is dangerous because it causes damaging inflammatory effects to the skin.
The oral supplementation of omega-6 fatty acids in protecting against sunburn has been studied and it was found that it could protect against sunburn and suppress the resulting inflammatory effect (6).
In cross-sectional studies, high dietary intake of EFAs has been shown to decrease the appearance of aging by reducing skin dryness and wrinkles.
Randomized control trials studying a mixture of EFAs have also been shown to decrease wrinkles, skin inflammation, heal dry skin, and improve skin elasticity (6).
While we know that dietary consumption of EFAs from whole foods and mixtures of EFAs in supplement form have a positive effect on skin health and aging, more studies need to be conducted on the efficacy of individual EFA supplementation and dosage that is effective for skin health (6).
Green tea has been consumed as early as the 9th century. It is actually derived from the leaf Camellia sinensis, a species of an evergreen shrub.
It is filled with polyphenols that are revered for their positive biological effects on human health.
The majority of its polyphenols come from catechins, specifically from epigallocatechin-3-gallate or ECGC. ECGC is the most widely studied catechins of green tea and its effects on skin health (7).
Photoaging, which we have described above, is the major environmental factor contributing to wrinkles, altered skin pigmentation and dryness through exposure to UV rays. Through various mechanisms, these catechins actually work to inhibit photoaging and improve skin quality (2).
What About Biotin?
You may be surprised by this list, as it does not contain one of the most common supplements associated with skin health, biotin.
Biotin, or vitamin B7, is an essential nutrient that we need to get from exogenous sources (sources outside of our own body, like food). Biotin is important for skin health, but it has not shown efficacy in the supplement form for healthy individuals (8).
Our body uses biotin for the integrity of our hair skin and nails. While it is an essential nutrient, it is very rarely deficient in our diet.
For this reason, supplementation with more biotin is often not necessary for us to reach the levels we need in our bodies.
While biotin has been shown to improve the integrity of our skin when we have certain underlying diseases, it has not been shown to improve skin quality in healthy individuals (8). Therefore, supplementation for the natural process of aging has not been shown effective.
I Thought There Were More?
While this list is not exhaustive in terms of the supplements for skin health, it does list ones that have been most thoroughly studied with clinical trials.
That being said, there are a few other bioactive food components that have been shown to improve skin health as well. These include:
- grape seed proanthocyanidins
- milk thistle (silymarin)
- cocoa polyphenols
These have all been found to improve skin health by acting as an antioxidant, promoting collagen and elastin and preventing inflammation in the skin.
These will likely become important areas of study in the coming years for the area of skin health (2).
The Bottom Line
While there are important factors that we cannot control when it comes to skin aging, such as genetics, there are factors we can control.
Consuming a healthy diet, staying hydrated and avoiding sun exposure are three of the best ways to maintain healthy, youthful-looking skin.
A balanced diet with five servings of fruits and vegetables per day is a great way to meet your dietary needs of many important vitamins and minerals for skin health.
In cases where you cannot get enough of certain vitamins and minerals, supplements may help you get there. It is important to remember that supplements are just that, supplements.
In cases where sun exposure has caused aging of the skin in the form of wrinkles and dryness, the aforementioned supplements may help to rejuvenate the skin and reverse some of these signs of aging. However, it will not reverse our body’s natural aging process that occurs through genetics and time.
*It is advised that you chat with your doctor before beginning any new supplement regime. Some of these supplements may interact with other medications you may be taking, and some have side effects not listed in this review.
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