We’ve all heard of taut-skinned celebs crediting their flawless complexions to drinking water, eating well, oh, and popping freeze-dried placenta pills. Riiiight. And also, yuck. So, when 2018 brought an explosion of “ingestible” beauty products and supplements: pills, gel caps, gummies, powders, and drinks all promising to brighten and smooth our skin, and thicken our hair, our first thought was a skeptical one.
Fortunately, the human placenta is not on the menu, but instead, we’re seeing seemingly healthy (and harmless) things like oral vitamin C, lycopene, collagen, and probiotics from major beauty brands. The idea behind them is simple: “Topical treatments can only go so far; they’re skin deep,” says Francesca Fusco, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. Beauty supplements take an inside-out approach, boosting the body’s own ability to make more skin-plumping collagen, calm inflammation, and protect against sun damage, she says.
Sounds great, right? But the million-dollar question still remains: Do they really work? We asked top skin docs to walk us through some of the buzzier supplements and tell us which ones are worth trying—and which they find hard to swallow.
What are they? Collagen is a protein that gives skin its plump, supple look. As we age, we make less of it, and that’s when wrinkles and sagginess appear. Sigh. Collagen supplements—powders to mix in liquid, gummies, or drinks—are said to make up for what we’ve lost.
The experts say: Skip them.
A woman can dream, but there’s just no evidence that taking collagen supplements means your body will make more of it, or deposit collagen in the places you want it, like wrinkles, says Fusco. Your best bet still remains a topical retinoid (like retinol) that has been proven to boost collagen production from the outside-in.
What are they? They’re natural-ish ingredients (think vitamin C, green tea, pomegranate) that protect against free radicals, unstable molecules that come from UV rays and pollution. Once they get into the skin, they look to latch onto your cells and do some damage. Antioxidants take the hit instead, stopping free radicals before they can do harm.
The experts say: Try them.
Taking antioxidant supplements may really help your skin, says Fusco, who suggests looking for one rich in vitamin C, a tried-and-true (and well-studied) antioxidant. It not only fights free radicals, but it’s also needed for collagen production. Try Kora Organics Noni Glow Skinfood Dietary Supplement Powder, $55, which contains a blend of vitamin C-rich superfruits.
What are they? Good bacteria (yeast and live cultures) that help keep your gut healthy. But, wait, bacteria can help skin? Yup. It turns out, inflammation in the intestines can lead to inflammation throughout the body, including the skin, says Zeichner. And skin inflammation has been linked to everything from sensitivity to wrinkles. By adding good bugs to your GI tract, you can dial down skin inflammation.
The experts say: Try them (if you’re prone to certain skin conditions)
Zeichner says there is some research that suggests probiotics can help with cranky skin issues: rosacea and redness, eczema, and even break outs (if you’re one of the lucky ones still getting them). Look for those that contain the well-studied strains lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Try HUM Gut Instinct, $25.
What are they? Because slapping on sunscreen can be a hassle, there are now pills and drinks that claim to protect your skin cells from UV damage from the inside out.
The experts say: Try them (but do NOT toss your regular SPF)
Here’s the deal: These supplements are really no different than oral antioxidants (see above), which can prevent damage from free radicals. So, yes, they are worth trying, but they shouldn’t replace traditional sunscreen, stress both experts. The most promising research is on a brand called Heliocare, which contains a fern extract. Fusco recommends it to her patients who are super sensitive to the sun. Try Heliocare Daily Supplement, $30
What is it? Forget pH-balanced water, bubbly hydrogen water is the trendy new H2O. The theory is that hydrogen atoms rev up the mitochondria in your body. To bring it back to high school science, that’s the powerhouse of your cells. “So, drinking hydrogen water may be the equivalent of recharging your cells’ batteries,” says Zeichner. The result: less inflammation, less cell damage, and slower skin aging.
The experts say? Skip it.
Save your cash and drink regular water for now. While hydrogen-infused water is not harmful, there are only a few very small studies, and none of them make the case for younger-looking skin, says Zeichner.
Hair and nail vitamins
What are they? Vitamins, minerals, and botanical blends said to make your hair thicker, longer, and shinier, and harden flimsy nails. They’re usually made with a blend of ingredients including biotin, zinc, vitamin C, iron, copper, and selenium, and botanical extracts such as saw palmetto and curcumin.
The expert says: Try them.
“This category may work best of all and is definitely worth trying,” says Fusco. Shedding and thinning hair and thin nails are often a sign of a deficiency, and can easily be treated with a vitamin supplement, she says. Dermatologists admit the science behind them isn’t so strong, but there’s a ton of anecdotal evidence (read: happy customers). Try Nutrafol, $88, for hair, or Phyto Phytophanère, $60, for hair and nails.