Because there's zero FDA regulation on the safety of beauty supplements or the legitimacy of their claims, navigating health-store aisles lined with collagen powders and biotin gummies is tricky. The proof behind their promises — clearer skin, shinier hair, stronger nails — is anecdotal at best, which means that every glowing review from a friend or beauty vlogger should be taken with a heaping dose of skepticism.
But if you're hellbent on trying one, and you've talked to your primary-care physician about the safest way to implement a particular ingredient into your routine via softgel or smoothie, keep reading. We've asked the board-certified skin pros our most burning questions to compile a digestible beginner's guide to beauty supplements — no pun intended.
What's the difference between a beauty supplement and a multivitamin?
Dermatologist Hadley King, M.D., tells us that marketing plays a big role in the boom of beauty supplements — in fact, she says, most of them are just multivitamins in disguise. "If you look at the list of ingredients in these supplements, they generally include high doses of the usual suspects, like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, and calcium," Dr. King explains. "While it's true that vitamins and minerals are important for skin health, most people get the nutrients they need from the foods they eat. There's little data to show that either a beauty supplement or a multivitamin — however it's marketed — will improve the health of the skin in an otherwise healthy person without a vitamin deficiency."
Should I be taking a beauty supplement?
Maybe, maybe not. There's just no clearcut answer to the seemingly simple question of whether or not beauty supplements will do a damn thing for you. According to New York City-based dermatologist Marnie Nussbaum, M.D., most oral beauty vitamins have potential benefits for the health of your skin, hair, and nails, but there's little scientific data to back up the claims.
"Each supplement varies in ingredients, efficacy, and potency, and every diet and digestive tract is different, so we can't generalize," Dr. Nussbaum says. "Take collagen supplements: Many claim to increase the skin's elasticity — which sounds great — but once the collagen is ingested in your stomach, it's broken down into smaller proteins and amino acids, and it's unclear how much of these nutrients make it to the skin, hair, or nails. Furthermore, a well-balanced diet rich in protein such as meat, eggs, beans, or dairy likely provides all the collagen you need."
How long will it take to see results?
If you've been tested and found to have a vitamin deficiency, that's the time to discuss a supplement regimen with your doctor — though, again, there's no guarantee of if or when you'll see a difference. "From what researchers know about the internal path of ingestible supplements, the body often funnels the nutrients where they are most needed," Dr. Nussbaum explains. "That may be the skin, hair, or nails, but it could also be internal functional organs, which may not show direct physical results. Generally speaking, skin-cell turnover differs depending on age, skin health, and topical routine. It could likely take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to see changes in hair, skin, or nail heath depending on those factors."
Are there side effects?
Because beauty supplements are not regulated by the FDA, it's important to consult your physician before trying one. "Too much of anything is never a good thing," Dr. Nussbaum warns. "If you have sufficient vitamin levels already, overdoing it with an additional supplement may cause harm. Plus, certain supplements may interact with your daily medications, making them more or less effective, so always consult your primary physician before taking anything."
Which beauty supplements do experts recommend?
Neither Dr. Nussbaum or Dr. King will bulk-prescribe supplements to the consumer at large, but Dr. King says there are a few brands she may prescribe to certain patients. "I might recommend over-the-counter brands like Nutrafol, Viviscal, or Ritual, which are popular supplements that have been demonstrated real results in clinical studies," she explains. Dr. Nussbaum tells us she almost never recommends supplements to her patients. "The real issue with supplements is deciding who needs them," she says. "Most people don't."
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