You are what you eat – literally. Whatever you put in your mouth, be it food or supplements, has massive effects on your hair, nail, and skin health. Choosing the right supplements, then, can take you from skin that's blah to skin that's positively radiant.
To help, our experts have shared their insight to help you give your skin the food it needs to shine (in a good way – promise!)
Often, addressing problematic skin starts with addressing issues in the gut.
"You have to feed skin from the inside out," explains Pam Machemehl Helmly, CN, Founder and Chief Science Officer of Wellnicity. "Many folks who have problems with digestion will see it in their skin or in their hair."
Dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe agrees, recommending probiotics, both via fermented foods and beverages like kombucha, miso, kefir, or sauerkraut and via a probiotic supplement.
Dr. NavNirat Nibber, Medical Advisor for supplement leader AOR, agrees.
"This works twofold, first by ensuring that you are able to properly digest nutrients, and second to support your immune function so you aren’t as susceptible to topical skin infections."
All probiotics, however, are not created equal. With over 500 different species of bacteria, it's essential to choose the ones that will be of most help to you.
For skin health, Bowe recommends Bifidobacerium, which has been found to reduce UV-induced sun damage in skin, and specifically B longum which, applied topically, may help with sensitive skin.
She also recommends Lactobacillus for its anti-inflammatory properties, highlighting specific strains like L plantarum, which has been shown to help with wrinkles, elasticity, and hydration, or L rhamnosus, which may protect skin from UV damage. L fermentum, meanwhile, appears to have antioxidant properties – essential for protecting skin from free radical damage.
Fundamental Probiotic (contains L rhamnosus, B longum, and others) | $34.99/30 tablets
2. Collagen Peptides
Collagen is a naturally-occurring substance that helps lend elasticity to skin.
"Our collagen breaks down as we age," explains Helmly. "That is often why we see more wrinkles and some sunken areas on our skin with age. Collagen can help rebuild our skin to be more robust."
Bowe notes that collagen is particularly beneficial for those who have had a lot of sun exposure.
“Ultraviolet rays are one of the worst offenders when it comes to prematurely aging the skin (and one of the main ways it does this is by accelerating the breakdown of collagen in your skin)," she explains. "It’s also particularly beneficial if you live in an urban environment and you are exposed to a lot of pollution, which also degrades your collagen more rapidly.”
The most popular way to add collagen back to your diet is collagen peptides, but the efficacy of ingestible collagen has been questioned by some experts. According to Erin Murphy, Patient Care Coordinator at Restored Plastic Surgery, collagen molecules are quite large and do not penetrate the skin easily, which is why topical collagen masks and creams likely do not restore collagen at all. Bowe, then, found herself wondering whether collagen could survive digestion.
“When I first considered the efficacy of ingestible collagen, I was somewhat skeptical,” says Bowe. “I questioned how such a large collagen chain could first survive our harsh gastric juices, then be absorbed intact through tiny openings in our gut lining, and ultimately arrive into the skin to help smooth and plump our skin’s appearance. I was extremely intrigued by the delivery mechanism and wanted to better understand how this might work.”
She found, however, that collagen peptides are small enough to avoid being broken down in the digestive system. When the peptides arrive at skin, hair, or nail cells, explains Bowe, "they act like stress signals, notifying your body that ‘damage has been done,’ which tells your body that it is time to go into ‘repair mode.’”
Bowe recommends adding collagen peptide powder to coffee, smoothies, or other foods to replenish the collagen the skin begins to lose as we get older. Her favorite is Body Kitchen™ Peptide Fortified Collagen, which contains more effective di-peptides than other brands.
“The highly concentrated formula makes Body Kitchen’s supplements more potent and more effective than competitor products,” she says.
Body Kitchen™ Peptide Fortified Collagen | $39.99/10 ounces
3. Vitamin C
Consuming collagen isn't the only way to increase it in your skin: vitamin C is a powerful anti-inflammatory that promotes the body’s own collagen production.
“Vitamin C is particularly useful for slowing down the signs of aging by reducing fine lines and wrinkles and boosting the skin's pigmentation and elasticity,” explains Samantha Morrison, Health and Wellness expert for Glacier Wellness. “Furthermore, the miracle nutrient also promotes iron absorption, which is crucial for younger, strong hair and nails.”
Murphy agrees, noting that Vitamin C helps promote collagen formation and boosts the immune system – vital for skin protection.
“It also helps to reduce/repair free radical damage, which shows up in the skin as redness, irritation, and dryness.”
Organic India Amalaki (bioavailable vitamin C from whole amla fruit) | $14.22/90 capsules
4. Vitamin B Complex
Several B vitamins can help promote healthier skin, nails, and hair, explains Murphy: B2 and B3 help contribute to the maintenance of normal skin health, while folic acid and B12 play a role in cell division.
Biotin, sometimes known as vitamin B7, is commonly cited for its beneficial effects on skin, nail, and hair health. It works, explains Ryan Bradford of Wonder Labs, by facilitating the biosynthesis of fatty acids.
"This helps to improve absorption of other nutrients that support your skin health and development."
Murphy recommends a B complex with a little of everything, to promote "more uniform, clearer, glowing, radiant skin.”
Do be wary of overdoing it on B vitamins, however: biotin and B12 have both been linked to causing acne, especially if you're taking too much, and niacin, one form of vitamin B3, can make skin overly sensitive.
Naturelo B Complex Whole Food Vitamin | $25.60/120 capsules
5. Vitamin A
Most antioxidant vitamins and supplements do wonders for skin, according to Dr. Kim Peirano, DACM, LAc, a Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine with a specialty in Cosmetic Acupuncture.
“If we think of the skin in terms of its basic building blocks – cells, we can think of how to address it with vitamins in a more useful way,” she says.
With that in mind, she recommends vitamin A, a retinoid that can be used either topically or internally to help protect skin from sun damage. Bradford warns, however, that too much of a good thing can have the opposite effect.
"If you have excess vitamin A it can lead to an aggravation of your skin conditions, eventually leading to dry itchy peeling skin."
Seeking Health Vitamin A Drops (used topically or internally) | $17.99/1 fluid ounce
6. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
While those with oily skin might think that staying away from anything called "fatty acids" is the right course of action, the proper equilibrium of omegas can actually help with balancing skin that's either too dry or too oily, according to Murphy.
Omegas 3 and 6, she says, "help to condition the skin by restoring the barrier function, which allows your skin to work in the best conditions."
"All skin types typically benefit from omega-3 fatty acids," adds Helmly. "Not all omegas are created equal so if you tend to have more acne-prone skin you would want to have significantly more EPA in your omega-three fatty acids than DHA. This ratio will have a more beneficial anti-inflammatory effects."
Both EPA and DHA are habitually found in fatty fish, and taking a high-quality fish oil supplement is a great way to ensure you're getting enough of both.
Bio Schwartz Icelandic Ultra Pure Omega 3 Fish Oil (1200 mg EPA to 900 mg DHA)| $16.12/90 softgels
7. Vitamin K
Peirano recommends Vitamin K for people with skin that tends towards redness: spider veins, rosacea, or even stretch marks can be helped by this essential vitamin, due to its importance in helping blood to clot.
“Vitamin K helps to heal wounds," she notes, "so if the skin isn't wounded, it's going to play a little bit of an anti-aging role because it's helping to prolong cellular life and integrity.”
Garden of Life Raw K Complex | $12.98/60 capsules
8. MSM – Methylsulfonylmethane
"Awful name, great supplement," says Murphy of this mouthful. MSM is a natural sulphur compound that helps keratin formation, ideal for improved skin, nail, and hair health.
"It helps the skin retain its elasticity, and it’s a major player in preventing skin aging," explains Murphy.
Bradford adds that MSM may reduce inflammation, itchiness, redness, and swelling, so those with sensitive skin should take note.
Source Naturals MSM | $19.25/240 tablets
9. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is great for those with oily, acne-prone skin: according to Nicole Avena, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, it can reduce the appearance of acne, blackheads, and whiteheads.
"Vitamin D contains anti-inflammation properties that are useful to treat and prevent many oily skin problems," she explains. "As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin D helps the skin fight against oxidative stress."
Since almost half of the U.S. population is deficient in this essential vitamin, it's a good idea to grab a supplement, like the tasty gummies from Vitafusion recommended by Avena.
Vitafusion Vitamin D3 gummy | $65.35/150 gummies
The adaptogen ashwagandha can reduce inflammation linked to spikes in the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol production, explains Bowe, “impacts our oil production. This leads to acne and other skin issues.” Since ashwagandha lowers stress hormones in the body, it can help have a beneficial effect on acne and other stress-induced skin problems.
"Topical application of this antioxidant-rich root has been long used in Ayurvedic healing to help reduce inflammation,” she says.
Himalaya Organic Ashwagandha | $15.15/60 caplets
This newly popular skincare ingredient is a carotenoid pigment that gives salmon its rosy hue. It also has fantastic antioxidant properties and has been clinically shown to make skin look younger, ramp up collagen production, and reduce the effects of the sun on your skin.
Pure Synergy SuperPure Astaxanthin | $28.45/60 capsules
Of course, any skincare product you try is no replacement for a healthy lifestyle. Skin, explains NavNirat Nibber, ND and Medical Advisor at Advanced Orthomolecular Research, is "the key diagnostic indicator for your gut, immune, and hormonal health."
She recommends by starting any protocol for improved skin health by removing any inflammatory food triggers from your diet, like dairy and gluten. Dr. Elizabeth Trattner recommends doing one better and adding skin-boosting foods to your diet, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables, fatty salmon, and beta carotene-rich carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash. Feeding your body healthy foods and supplements will do wonders for your skin's natural glow.
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