Do Beauty Supplements Really Work? TZR Breaks It Down
If only a magical pill existed for treating acne and wrinkles… or does it?
Perhaps you've been blessed with naturally crease-less skin and sparkling clean pores — in which case, I'm incredibly jealous. For the rest of us, the struggle for perennially clear and youthful skin remains an elusive process of trial and error. If only a magical pill existed that would nip acne and wrinkles in the bud, once and for all… or does it? Brands launching beauty supplements purport to bring you fabulous skin from within.
As quickly as ingestible powders, capsules, drinks, and gummies are lining the e-shelves of retailers worldwide, beauty consumers are adding them into their regimens. PR Newswire reports that the supplement market's rise is anticipated to reach $204.7 billion by 2026, so chances are you've seen, and have maybe even tried, beauty supplements already. The luxury skin care brand 111 Skin's best-selling product of 2020 — out of its entire line of serums, eye creams, masks, and more — was the Reparative Skin Supplement, the success of which prompted the brand's 2021 expansion of its skin supplement offerings.
Whether you're interested in clearing up acne, fading hyper-pigmentation, filling in wrinkles, or promoting elasticity, there is a supplement (marketed) for that, adding to your existing toolkit of products, facials, in-office treatments, and more. Below, experts weigh-in on the best beauty supplements to try for acne, anti-aging, and general skin health. You should always consult with your treating physician or dermatologist first before taking any supplements.
Beauty Supplements: Inflammation & The Effects On Your Skin
Beauty-lovers are increasingly turning to holistic diet and lifestyle measures to complement their product and treatment regimens such as emphasizing exercise, stress-reduction, and quality of sleep — complementary wellness practices that work synergistically with dermatological regimens and skin care treatments for skin health.
Naturopathic medicine champions a curative approach to health and skin care, as naturopathic doctors aim to empower the body back to optimal health using anti-inflammatory food as medicine and making stress-reducing lifestyle tweaks a priority, often turning to supplements. They do so by healing the gut and reducing inflammation in the body — which is a cause of disease and also a source of inflammatory skin conditions and eruptions like acne, psoriasis, and eczema, as well as aging (i.e., inflammaging). Thus, by targeting bodily inflammation, naturopaths are inherently alleviating one of the causes of aging and breakouts on the body's largest organ: the skin.
"[Certain patients] have imbalances within their body that are difficult to solve with diet alone, and this is when supplements become extremely valuable," explains naturopathic doctor Stacey Shillington, who identifies and treats the root causes of her patients' acne. "Supplements can also add an extra shot of nutrients to the skin which deliver better skin health and a more beautiful glow, even when the skin is [already] healthy."
Beauty Supplements: The Gut-Skin Axis
Any discussion of long-term inflammation requires mentioning the gut and its microbiota (i.e., the microbiome), which plays a central role in the cause and management of inflammation. If you're wondering why something broken down in your gut can impact the appearance and health of your skin, it all comes down to the gut-skin axis.
"The gut, after all, is the second brain," says American and European board-certified plastic surgeon Yannis Alexandrides, MD, who is the founder of 111 Skin and 111 Harley Street. "By nourishing the gut with targeted actives, one is able to influence and even treat certain skin conditions." He believes that after a full skin cycle of 28 days, the effects of your supplements begin to appear on the skin.
"The gut and the skin are very closely connected, and the connection is the microbiome, which is a community of trillions of microbes that live in the gut and on the skin," says Shillington. "Often the health of the gut microbiome will be reflected on the skin." Attention to the role of the microbiome accounts for the surge in popularity of taking oral probiotics, repopulating the gut with beneficial microbes and prebiotics, which "feed" these beneficial bacteria.
"The other connection is how healthy the gut lining is," Shillington adds, going on to explain that a condition called leaky gut syndrome can result from damage to the cells that line the gut. When this happens, molecules inside your gut cross through into your bloodstream, cueing an immune response that causes bodily inflammation contributing to acne, aging, and myriad adverse health outcomes.
Beauty Supplements: Treating Acne
"My favorite supplements for skin health are those that support the liver," Shillington says. "Acne patients are notoriously poor detoxifiers, and supporting the liver and the organs of detoxification makes a huge difference in helping the body process toxins and excess hormones." This is why potent antioxidants like glutathione, the so-called master antioxidant, and its precursor in the body — the more easily absorbable N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) —have been popping up in skin care supplements lately.
"Glutathione is produced in our cells, reduces oxidative stress in the body, and is critical for us to detoxify optimally, as it is part of the liver's phase two detoxification process," Shillington says of the supplement, which she describes as one of her favorites. Some studies have also linked lower levels of glutathione in the skin to worsened cases of acne, with acne patients' greater degree of oxidative stress indicating potential mitigation from antioxidants. "Age, stress, environmental toxins, and poor diet can all reduce the levels of glutathione in the body." As a testament to this merger of beauty and wellness, the Los Angeles-based aesthetics bar Alchemy43 — which primarily focuses on skin treatments — even offers a glutathione injection on their treatment menu.
Diindolylmethane aka DIM
For hormonal acne, patients are often prescribed Spironolactone, a diuretic with anti-androgenic effects. DIM (or sometimes Indole-3-Carbinole, which is the precursor to DIM in the body), can be thought of as a supplement alternative that is derived from cruciferous vegetables. "Not only does DIM help metabolize excess estrogen in the body, but it also acts as an androgen blocker," Shillington says of the active. The hormonal effect may also be useful for preventing lingering post-breakout marks; as Shillington points out, high estrogen levels exacerbate hyper-pigmentation.
Zinc is another popular pick that is frequently found in supplement blends for treating acne and breakouts. "Zinc is an important mineral for reducing inflammation in the skin and promoting wound-healing," Shillington shares, stating that it is most effective for severe acne unless your body already possesses it in adequate amounts.
Turmeric extract, derived from the root of curcuma longa, is yet another supplement that can help patients cope with acne due to its high concentration of anti-inflammatory curcumin. Board-certified dermatologist Purvisha Patel, founder of Visha Skincare, finds that it is beneficial when taken orally for the treatment of inflammatory cystic acne. "With deep, cystic acne, oral turmeric at 400 to 600 milligrams per day is recommended," she advises.
As for pesky hyper-pigmentation that often comes post-breakout, amla — a vitamin C-rich extract from the juice of the Indian Gooseberry fruit — is a traditional Ayurvedic active used for hyper-pigmentation that is starting to show up in our beauty supplements.
Beauty Supplements: Anti-Aging
CoQ10 aka Ubiquinol
"For aging skin, I love using CoQ10. Preventing the signs of aging is all about supporting the mitochondria, and CoQ10, also known as Ubiquinol, is one of the best mitochondrial supports out there," Shillington says. It helps to think of mitochondrial support as "charging the battery" of the skin cell, fueling all its intended functions from repair, to turnover, to replacement.
Vitamin A — the name for a group of fat-soluble retinoids that include the dermatologist-beloved topical ingredient, retinol — is another popular pick for promoting younger skin from within. "Vitamin A is an essential nutrient that increases cellular turnover, supports the immune system, and infuses the body with antioxidants," Alexandrides says of the versatile vitamin that is included in his line of supplements.
Shillington instructs her patients to incorporate vitamin A into their diets from food sources. "Foods that are high in beta-carotene (orange foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash) will deliver vitamin A, which helps with cellular regeneration in the skin," she says, which lessens signs of aging like wrinkles and crepiness.
Ceramides are one of the glue-like materials that adhere our skin cells into a matrix, and they play an especially important role in supplements for aging and dryness. They make up a critical component of our natural moisture barrier — playing a "Saran Wrap" like function that holds moisture in and keeps external pollutants and aggressors out. As Shillington notes, "Taken orally, there is some evidence that phytoceramides (i.e., ceramides extracted from plants) can help boost the skin's level of ceramides and increase hydration. Ceramides do reduce as we age, so if you suffer from dry skin, they might really help prevent dryness that comes with aging."
Collagen is perhaps the buzziest ingredient on this list, which research links to improved hydration and dermal density in the skin. Collagen is used in everything from our joints, bones, ligaments, and tendons, down to the cellular level, but naturally decreases with age. When we take ingestible collagen, our bodies are able to replenish some of its lost stores — including, to some degree, those in our skin. "The best type of collagen supplementation contains bioactive collagen peptides which stimulate fibroblasts in the body to produce more collagen," Shillington explains. "They must be hydrolyzed, or broken down, into small peptides to allow for proper absorption."
Beauty Supplements: The Real Deal?
Whenever perusing the billion dollar industry, it is important to be aware of marketing gimmicks. This is one of the reasons that brand transparency has become a consumer interest — consumers want to buy from companies they can trust.
The ingredients recommended by our experts are research-backed; for instance, Birmingham, AL-based, board-certified dermatologist Corey Hartman recently shared research findings that Zinc supplementation can even help optimize the duration of injectable neurotoxins like Botox and Dysport.
One common misconception that is rampant in the world of supplements has to do with the ingredient Biotin, a common ingredient that is misleadingly marketed. Research links benefits for nails at small doses of 2.5 milligrams in Biotin-deficient individuals — so be sure to check ingredient labels for dosages of what is in your formula, because many supplements far surpass this dosage. This is problematic because, as Dallas, Texas-based, board-certified dermatologist Elizabeth Houshmand points out, excess biotin can be disastrous for acne-prone skin types. Houshmand notes that unless you are actually deficient in Biotin (and most people in the US are not), it can exacerbate breakouts and even interfere with the results of certain lab tests.
Boston-based, board-certified dermatologist Ranella Hirsch, co-founder of Atolla, is adamant that not all supplements deliver what they claim and is particularly skeptical of biased research that is funded by companies standing to benefit financially from the results. "In any reputable journal, this is an obligated disclosure," Hirsch explains.
She also points out that shopping for probiotics "is inherently problematic because there is no way to have living cultures in a product preserved for shelf-life." If you do find a reputable brand, there is the added challenge of ensuring that these live bacteria survive the trip down to your gut — a conundrum that some supplement companies appear to address via encapsulation processes, but plenty of others do not.
When purchasing collagen supplements, Hirsch also points out that "vegan collagen" does not exist, even though companies use the term to point plant-based consumers in the right direction. As NYC-based, board-certified dermatologist Hadley King explains, plant-based "collagen" theoretically provides the body with vegan proteins, such as from algae, that can be broken down into component peptides and amino acids and used by the body to replenish collagen in lieu of sourcing collagen from the animal itself. These supplements often contain collagen-stimulating ingredients, too, and are beloved by plant-based consumers like myself; just know that the research has not been conducted yet, so claims cannot officially be verified. If you decide to try an animal-derived collagen supplement from bovine, chicken, or marine sources, company sourcing matters: King emphasizes the importance of choosing collagen from animals that are grass-fed (when bovine) and that are organically raised.
Lastly, when selecting your supplements, bioavailability is key. As Hirsch reveals, this determines whether or not the body actually absorbs enough of the active ingredient to reach the therapeutic dose (i.e., the amount that the evidence links to benefits). Regarding glutathione and its precursor N-Acetyl Cysteine, know that NAC is typically more easily absorbed by the body than most forms of Glutathione, unless they are liposomal. When selecting a turmeric supplement, the presence of black pepper (which contains piperine), or bioperine, maximizes absorption at rates up to 2000%, according to Lycored Ambassador Amie Valpone, HHC, AADP. In a similar vein, Quercetin is an immune-modulating supplement that is said to aid with the absorption of Zinc into the cells, so in theory it would increase the bioavailability of your supplemental Zinc. These are all things to consider when shopping for and selecting which vitamins and supplements you spend your money on.
Keeping these tips in mind, here are a few notable beauty supplements to try.
We only include products that have been independently selected by The Zoe Report's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.