More than 50 percent of us take a nutritional supplement (e.g. vitamins, minerals, probiotics or medicinal herbs) on a regular basis. Some of us pop them with the goal of improving our overall health, and others down them in an effort to improve a specific concern, like anemia or insomnia. And while most doctors will say there’s no substitute for a nutrient-rich, balanced diet, taking a supplement is often thought of as a safety net, filling in nutritional gaps.
Supplements may also, on occasion, be helpful for people who have dietary restrictions that lead to deficiencies (think: vegans or those with a gluten or lactose intolerance); for people who live in sun-starved areas and are thus low on vitamin D; or for those who have a condition that inhibits proper nutritional absorption via diet alone. And supplements can even help round out a beauty regimen for those seeking inside-out options to complement their topical routines.
This latter reason is, in fact, driving the fastest-growing segment of the supplement industry. According to a recent report, the demand for beauty nutrients is increasing so quickly, the market is expected to reach $6.8 billion by 2024, almost double its value just five years ago .
What is a beauty supplement exactly—and do you need one?
The jury’s still out, say most experts, because the category is fairly new and mostly untested. Beauty supplements typically contain nutrients that have been clinically tested and shown to have some benefit to the hair, skin or nails–but the blends themselves are typically not tested, nor are their claims regulated by the FDA.
Thus, benefits from a beauty supplement are, at this point, theoretical. But, like the rationale for taking a multivitamin, beauty pills, powders and gummies may be viewed as backup plans, helping fill in deficiencies. And it’s worth noting that hair, skin and nail are usually the last areas of the body to receive nutrients (your heart, brain and liver get first dibs), so if you are deficient in something, it often shows up first on the outside.
What should you look for in a beauty supplement?
There are hundreds of options in the market today, but these ingredients have been shown in real studies to help skin, hair or nails. They may well be the best beauty supplements that work.
This B vitamin is one of the most popular beauty nutrients because it helps the body metabolize the proteins that skin, hair and nails need to be healthy and strong. Some studies have also suggested it can help accelerate hair growth. There is no recommended daily allowance (RDA) of biotin, but most nutritional experts say an adult needs an average of 30 mcg per day.
Collagen is the protein in skin that helps provide structure and keeps it plump and smooth. It’s also a protein the body produces less with age—which is one reason taking it orally has become popular. There is some evidence that collagen supplementation can improve the skin: one study indicated that subjects who took collagen daily for 12 weeks saw improvement in hydration and elasticity. There is no RDA for collagen, but this study had participants take 2.5 grams per day.
Vitamin C is often heralded for helping to support the body’s immune system. But it’s also a potent antioxidant and has been shown to protect against both skin-aging and skin-cancer-causing free radicals. The RDA of vitamin C is between 65 to 90 mg a day.
Some studies have indicated that taking zinc may help fight acne and other inflammatory skin conditions, such as rosacea. It may also help with protein synthesis (like biotin) and strengthen weak nails. The RDA for zinc is 8 mg per day.
These essential fatty acids do help nourish the hair and skin, and because the body does not produce omega 3s on its own, getting it via your diet or supplements is especially important. There is no RDA for omega 3s, but many nutritional experts say to aim for around 500 mg a day.
Working one of these beauty supplements into your routine, may be as important to your skin as your morning and evening skin care product regimen. So, think of these supplements as your daily vitamin to boost your skin, hair and nails’ potential.
Note: Always check with your doctor before you start taking any new supplement.