From biotin to folic acid, there are hundreds of beauty supplements on the market which claim to give you glowing skin, stronger nails and shinier hair. Just like sheet masks and hair oils, they have become a mainstay in our routines, as Mintel reports that 38% of women (compared to 29% of men) are likely to take vitamins, minerals and supplements daily.
Like all things in the beauty industry, supplements have evolved, and chunky pills have made way for transdermal vitamin patches. Take Vitamin Injections' Hair & Nails and PatchMD's biotin patches for hair growth, for example. Resembling mini plasters, each patch (usually made from cotton, cellulose or medical silicone) delivers a vitamin-enriched hit through the skin and into the bloodstream.
Many people will be familiar with how they work thanks to the popularity of nicotine and birth control patches. Similarly, 'beauty patches' aim to provide a targeted treatment for specific skin, hair and nail needs. While this isn't exactly a new form of shuttling focused nutrients into the body, these smart patches are piquing the interest of skincare obsessives and hair and nail experts worldwide. So can they really make a difference to your hair, skin and nails, or are they just another gimmick?
According to Bianca Estelle, skin specialist at bea Skin Clinic, there are benefits of adding beauty patches to your current routine. "In regard to some vitamin supplements, the tablet or capsule must pass through our digestive system, and sometimes we absorb little of the active ingredients," she says. Bianca adds that for many people, transdermal patches are a good alternative to traditional supplements. "They bypass the digestive system, so their contents tend to reach the bloodstream."
Despite this, the benefits of beauty patches are still widely up for debate and the consensus from the professionals is to be sceptical. Dr Vincent Wong of Renova Clinic suggests that some patches might not be as great as consumers are led to believe, as they can be less efficient compared to other administration methods.
"It would be highly unlikely that daily vitamin requirements can be reached through transdermal patches, so this must not be seen as a 'quick fix'," Dr Wong says. "The human body is designed to absorb nutrition through our diet, so the best way to absorb vitamins and minerals is by eating the right type of foods," he explains. "Salmon and chia seeds are high in omega 3, for example, which has been linked to hair health." Pros also rate omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, vitamin B3 and vitamin A.
As you might expect, beauty patches are most effective when used to boost a healthy lifestyle and skincare routine. Dija Ayodele, aesthetician and founder of the Black Skin Directory, believes that skin-targeted patches specifically can be used to help prolong and maintain the benefits of skin rejuvenation treatments such as LED light therapy (a favourite among clients with acne, as the combination of red and blue light works to neutralise bacteria) as well as microneedling, which some experts claim can be helpful in boosting collagen.
"There is some evidence which shows good quality patches are able to penetrate the outermost layer of the skin and create micro-channels from which topical ingredients like hyaluronic acid can pass through to deeper layers of skin," she explains.
Dija continues: "Like all things skincare, the consumer does have to exercise patience when using them as they do take some time to take effect. Additionally, to see the most benefits skin-wise, you should already be following an active skin health management programme (or skincare routine) as treatment patches are complementary. They are not and should not be the only skin treatment."
When it comes to hair health, Dr Sharon Wong, a consultant dermatologist who specialises in hair and scalp disorders, also thinks it’s important not to expect too much from beauty patches. This is because it's hard to know how much of the nutrients absorbed through the skin actually make it to the required place. "Even if there is evidence supporting the role of the active ingredients in these patches, we don't know how much are absorbed into the bloodstream," she says, "not to mention how much ends up in the hair follicle to have an effect." While Dr Wong mentions that beauty patches are unlikely to cause harm, she advises being cautious about any hard claims regarding their effectiveness.
Ultimately though, do beauty patches pass the user test? I've taken supplement pills, including Imedeen Hair & Nails and Perfectil Original (which contain zinc, biotin and B vitamins) for a while. I reap the benefits when it comes to my nails especially, which are a lot stronger and longer. But the problem is I sometimes forget to take these supplements daily. I was intrigued by the Hair & Nails patches by Vitamin Injections, which combine vitamins B12 and B6 as well as biotin and folic acid, components said to help with skin, hair and nail maintenance. Would I see similar results or would they fall short of their claims?
I realise that, like oral supplements, you have to apply a patch to a hairless area of skin every day, such as the wrist or inner elbow. Despite my initial fears, I did see consistent, positive results over the months. Luckily, each patch adheres to the skin with a medical-grade adhesive so they didn't budge on me. I actually forgot to peel off the patch one day and didn’t realise that it was still in place until I'd had my shower the next morning. They have a slight smell which is difficult to put your finger on, but you can't feel them on the skin at all.
As you might have guessed, beauty patches aren't magic. My nails continued to grow as long and strong as they did when I had been regularly taking my oral supplements, but I did have two nail breaks. They don't come cheap, either. Depending on which brand you go for, traditional oral supplements are affordable, especially if you shop an own-brand range. The ones I tried are priced at £59.99 for 32 individual patches, which many may argue is quite steep.
Overall, I think the main benefit of beauty patches is standing in as a good alternative for those who don't like to take supplements in pill form but are looking for something to boost their hair, skin and nail routine, or those who simply want something easy to pack on holiday. My verdict? I would definitely incorporate them into my beauty rituals in future, but like everything, it pays to do your research before you part with your hard-earned cash. It might also be worth visiting your GP or a qualified dermatologist (always check their credentials on the General Medical Council register) if you are experiencing issues with your hair, skin or nails, as they can offer expert advice on how to take better care of them in general.