Which Skin Supplements Really Work?

Dr Johanna Ward
By Dr Johanna Ward

Dr Johanna Ward is an award-winning Cosmetic Doctor and GP with a special interest in clinical dermatology and nutrition.


The British public spent over £670 million on dietary vitamins and supplements in 2014 so Brits clearly love supplements.

But do they really work or can we get all of the nutrients we need for great skin from a well-balanced diet? I will endeavour to answer these questions in this blog and address how certain supplements can benefit your skin and give you a metabolic tune-up.

A Bit of the Science

All cells in our bodies need a few vital things to survive: Oxygen, glucose, water, amino acids, nutrients, a blood supply and a waste removal process.

Without oxygen, nutrients, and a waste removal process cells do not survive. Vitamins and minerals form part of the cell’s vital nutrients and allow cells to function, communicate, create (calcium for bone), act as co-factors, help regulate cell membranes (magnesium), stabilise DNA (magnesium & zinc), act as antioxidants (selenium) and help fortify (Vit C & Vit A). Without nutrients, cells cannot function properly and begin to decline. Vitamins and minerals are vital for cells to function optimally.

But can we get them all through a balanced diet or do we need to supplement?

In a perfect world, no one would need to use supplements. But the modern world we live in is far from perfect. Modern life is fast-paced, stressful and on the run. The modern soiling and refining process of foods has left them depleted of nutrients and the toxins and pollutants that we are exposed to every day have meant that we are ageing prematurely and our tissues are being damaged by processes such as free radical oxidization. Add to this the chronic stress that many of us live with, and the poor nutritional choices that we make and it's no surprise that many of us may choose to super-boost our health with specific supplements.

Here’s Why

A balanced, healthy low sugar, low carbohydrate diet is extremely important for overall wellbeing.

However, what most people don’t realise is that the nutrient quality in modern-day foods has diminished significantly.

The soil we use to grow our crops is nutrient depleted due to its high turnover, plants are treated with chemicals and pesticides so they no longer have to nourish themselves, and animals and livestock are artificially fattened, given hormones, and cooped up without the ability to roam free on nutrient-rich pastures.

Which skin supplements really work?

Then there is the refinement process. Foods are so over-processed now that lots of nutrients are lost en route. Ironically many foods nowadays are ‘enriched’ because they are so impoverished.

‘Fresh’ fruits and vegetables often spend weeks on ships and in cargo coming to us, each day losing their vital nutrients. Then the way we cook our foods often blasts away the final bit of nourishment. For example, if you were to boil your vegetables for 10 minutes you are better off drinking the juice left in the saucepan than you are eating the veg.

 

Scary isn’t it?!

Add to this the hectic, stressful lives that we all lead with erratic eating & drinking (or excess drinking) and heavy toxin exposure, and it's easy all of a sudden to see that most people will have one or more vitamin, mineral, or omega deficiency.

I am a passionate believer in the benefit of supplements when taken intelligently and with scientific understanding. They are hugely important to our inner metabolic system and are essential for optimal cellular function.

Wherever possible it is always best to get your nutrients from the foods that you eat but if you can't then supplements are the next best option. Micronutrients help protect, nourish and strengthen us from within. In terms of the skin, they are a fundamental part of maintaining healthy, active and luminous skin.

The skin is a true symbol of the state of our health because it is often the last place to get nutrition. This means that your skin reflects the health (or otherwise) of your inner body and all skin conditions, from psoriasis to acne and ageing, are the manifestation of what is going on inside the body.

Modern, western lifestyles can leave many people short of basic nutrients so supplements can be an effective way of ensuring all the basic, raw requirements of your cells are being met on a daily basis.

Every vitamin, mineral, and fatty acid has different benefits for the skin. I’ve broken it down to give you an easy-reading guide on what does what for your skin:

How effective are skin suppliments?

Vitamin C

Somewhere along the process of evolution humans (along with guinea pigs & fruit bats) lost their ability to make Vitamin C.

It, therefore, needs to be taken daily and sufficiently in the diet. Vitamin C is the golden child of vitamins and the one we know the best.

It is a key vitamin for anti-aging and skin health because It works as an antioxidant to reduce free radicals and is also needed for healthy collagen. Vitamin C helps simultaneously reduce the damage caused by sunlight, smoke, and environmental pollution.

Its non-skin benefits are enormous too: it’s essential for good immune function, endothelial protection, cardiac health, blood pressure stabilisation, and cancer prevention.

Vitamin C is one of the safest and most effective supplements you can take. Did you 20% of the population is Vitamin C deficient? If you are stressed, ill, or doing lots of work/travel then boosting your vitamin C will add to your stamina, performance, and immune support.

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin so any excess consumed will be excreted in the urine. Daily consumption of vitamin C in the diet is a must. Foods rich in Vitamin C are kiwis, citrus fruits, grapes, and capsicums. If you can't consume enough Vitamin C then a supplement can help boost levels and ensure that your daily essential intake is being met. Poor Vitamin C levels will result in dry skin, dry hair, easy bruising, poor wound healing and poor collagen function.

I advise a daily intake of up to at least 500mg per day of Vitamin C in supplements (up to 2g). This is above the NRV but remember NRV’s are set as the minimum requirement to prevent disease. They are not set at the optimal level to maintain and promote health which is why it is perfectly safe to consume levels above the NRV. This is not the case for all vitamins but is certainly the case for Vitamin C.

 

VITAMIN D

Vitamin D is one of the most important supplements to take. Basically, if you don’t live near the equator you will not be getting enough. Also known as the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D aids calcium absorption and helps with skin problems such as psoriasis. It’s also another vitamin that enhances collagen production and skin elasticity.

Vitamin D exists in very few foods and is mainly synthesised in the presence of sunlight. 60% of people in the UK are Vitamin D deficient during the long winter months so a supplement is hugely beneficial. Vitamin D is also cardio-protective, anti-inflammatory and protects against degenerative disease and cancer. Public Health England has advised that all UK-based adults and children take a daily Vitamin D supplement, at least during the winter months (September to April).

Most Doctors nowadays agree that NRV levels of Vitamin D are hopelessly low and suggest supplementing in higher doses e.g 1000 – 4000IU per day. The best time to take Vitamin D is in the morning and the best form to take is D3 because it is the most bioavailable form.

 

VITAMIN E

Research shows that Vitamin E works, rather like Vitamin C, to reduce the effects of the sun on the skin through its potent antioxidant action. Recent studies have shown that taking 400IU of Vitamin E reduced the risk of sun damage and the production of cancer-causing cells. Foods rich in Vitamin E are avocado, brazil nuts and oily fish.

 

VITAMIN A

Vitamin A works to support growth and bone development, vision, reproduction and the development and maintenance of skin tissue. If your Vitamin A levels are low you will see it in your skin – it will be dry and flaky. Optimising Vitamin A can have a huge benefit on the skin. Vitamin A is fat-soluble so can be stored in the body and can accumulate. It is important to not take too much Vitamin A over a long period of time. Take it with meals because it is fat-soluble.

Topical Vitamin A can also be applied to the skin with great benefit. It is often used to treat acne and acne scarring and it is also associated with the reduction of fine lines and wrinkles. It is the wonder vitamin of dermatology and anti-ageing. It is often found in topical skincare products by the name of retinol. The strongest form is called Retin A or retinoic acid and is only available on prescription. Topical Vitamin A can make you photosensitive so make sure you use a daily sunscreen.

 

BIOTIN

Biotin (B7) is the single most important Vitamin B for the skin. Biotin forms the basis of skin, nail and hair cells and deficiency (even mild) can cause dermatitis and hair loss. Bananas, eggs and rice all contain biotin. Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin so it's very difficult to take too much as any excess will be excreted in the urine. I recommend a daily intake of at least 50mcg of Biotin.

 

VITAMIN B COMPLEX

I recommend Vitamin B complexes (the 8 Vitamin B’s) to my patients when they have acne. Vitamin B can help eliminate bacteria in acne and helps to balance out testosterone levels. Vitamin B deficiency can also cause acne so making sure your body receives enough Vitamin B can help prevent and treat acne. Vitamin B’s can also help those with stress-induced breakouts because they help address adrenal gland imbalance.

 

SELENIUM

Selenium is a powerhouse antioxidant that can reduce inflammation and erythema (redness) of the skin by limiting free radical damage. The amount of Selenium in foods is reliant on the soil that plants are grown in and these days this is very variable. Selenium is also a good mineral for acne sufferers to supplement. It is found commonly in meats, wholegrain cereals, garlic, eggs and seafood. 26% of UK men & boys are selenium deficient and 45% of UK women & girls are selenium deficient. Anyone on a strict diet eg. gluten-free or vegan/vegetarian may not get enough selenium. A supplement can easily correct this.

 

ZINC

Zinc is an essential mineral associated with clearer skin and the reduction of acne. Zinc helps the skin by reducing oil production. It is a cofactor for over 300 cellular processes. It encourages skin cell renewal and aids skin healing and repair. There are no body stores of zinc so it needs to be taken daily in the diet or as a supplement. Ideal food sources are oysters, lean meat and poultry. It is an ideal mineral to take as a supplement if you eat meat infrequently or are vegetarian or vegan.

Omega 3

Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid that helps maintain healthy membranes and is excellent for good brain, heart, and skin function. In particular, it helps dry/inflamed skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis as it helps repair the skin’s barrier function. It is an essential fatty acid. This means that we need to take in our diet daily as the body cannot make it.

77% of UK adults are deficient in Omega 3 and would benefit from an Omega supplement or eating more oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, and anchovies. In the USA Omega 3 deficiency is thought to be the 7th commonest cause of death and accounts for 100,000 preventable deaths per year.

Effectiveness of skin supplement's?

There is now compelling evidence that Omega supplements are one of the single most important supplements we can take. I recommend to my patients to try and take at least 500mg of Omega 3 fish oil a day. If you are vegetarian then the best alternative is flaxseed oil and linseed oil or you could try an Omega 3 from algae. Take with meals for best absorption.

 

HYALURONIC ACID

Hyaluronic acid is made by the body but it's not a vitamin or mineral. In the skin, it sits alongside collagen and elastin and works to keep the skin hydrated and plumped. As we age our hyaluronic acid levels decline and as a consequence, our skin loses its ability to retain moisture. Hyaluronic acid is the ultimate humectant and can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water. Many topical skincare lines include it in their range because it's such a powerful skin hydrator.

But it can also be found in supplement form and I think this is going to be one of the BIG supplements of the future. I am hoping more research gets done to prove its efficacy but I can tell you from my clinical practice that my patients, once they start on this, never want to stop.

 

COLLAGEN

When collagen supplements came onto the market most of us took a slightly jaundiced view. However, consumers happily embraced collagen supplements and drinks and since then a whole host of evidence seems to have appeared in favour of them. Collagen is a protein that declines gradually as we age.

In fact, 75% of our skin is made up of collagen and it starts to decline from our mid to late 20s. So it's a big deal if we can use supplements to help support the skin’s collagen.

It is estimated that we lose about 1-1.5% of our collagen per year, which means by the age of 30 we have lost about 15%, and by the age of 40 about 40%.

The best collagen supplement to take is marine collagen from fish scales. Fish collagen peptides have the best bioavailability due to their smaller particle size compared to other animal collagens. Studies have shown that the skin benefits from taking marine collagen include improved skin elasticity, improved moisture retention, increased collagen production, prevention of lines and wrinkles and improved skin healing (Open Nutraceuticals Journal, 2015).

In another study published in 2015 in The Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, oral collagen supplementation was found to significantly improve the hallmarks of skin ageing. It was found to increase skin hydration after 8 weeks of intake, improve collagen density in the dermis significantly and reduce the fragmentation of the dermal collagen network after 4 weeks of oral supplementation. In the study, all effects persisted after 12 weeks (J Cosmet Dermatol. 2015 Dec;14(4):291-301. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12174. Epub 2015 Sep 12).

 

CONCLUSION

Optimal micronutrition is vital for healthy, luminous skin.

Your skin is a reflection of what is going on inside your body and will reflect your nutritional status. Vitamins and minerals travel preferentially to all the major organs (e.g., brain and heart) and get to the skin only once everywhere else have been nourished. As a consequence, the skin can sometimes suffer from nutritional deficiency.

Whenever I see patients in the clinic with skin problems I advise them to optimize their vitamin, mineral, and Omega intake and to cut out dairy, gluten and other common food allergens. For anyone serious about anti-ageing and skin health nourishing the skin from within is a very powerful approach.

Remember to always use Supplements intelligently and use brands that are manufactured to GMP standards. Always consult your doctor before starting supplements, especially if you have any medical conditions (active or past) or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

ZENii is doctor-led skincare, vitamin, and wellness range that uses the finest quality ingredients. All vitamins and supplements have been designed by leading doctors, nutritionists, and skincare experts and are manufactured in the UK using GMP standards. www.ZENii.com

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Many thanks to the author Dr Johanna Ward who is an award-winning Cosmetic Doctor and GP with a special interest in clinical dermatology and nutrition. She studied English at Oxford University before studying Medicine at Guys, Kings and St Thomas’ in London.

Dr Johanna is an advanced cosmetic injector and laser practitioner as well as training other doctors nationally and internationally. She is often called up in the media to comment about all things ageing, dermatology and nutrition-related. She is the author of the best-selling book ‘Superfoods to Superhealth’ and is currently the resident skin doctor for Women’s Health Magazine.

Thanks to the author

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