Beauty supplements what they do and which ones should you take

The truth about beauty supplements: Do they work and which ones should you take?

24th November 2020 | Author: Abigail Beall

Whether it’s beauty influencers and celebrities touting tablets on their social feeds or adverts that claim drinking collagen will keep you young – there is no shortage in the promotion of beauty supplements.

The demand for pills that promise to solve our various skincare, haircare, and body woes has already created a global market worth $2,500 million and this is set to rise almost five-fold over the next decade.

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The theory behind beauty supplements is that they provide a top-up of vitamins, proteins like collagen, amino acids, and minerals on top of your diet, with an aim of improving the health and appearance of your skin or hair.

However, this is only effective if you have a deficiency in the first place, which could be caused by certain diets, lifestyle choices, or medical conditions.

To uncover the truth behind the marketing claims and supplement hype, we spoke to three skincare experts to help us (and hopefully you) understand the science to make an informed decision regarding whether or not to try them, and which you may need.

The truth about beauty supplements

Poor skin conditions can result from things such as a poor diet, smoking, stress, toxins, alcohol intake, and unhealthy sleep patterns. You can also be genetically predisposed to certain conditions, such as enlarged pores or acne.

Most skin supplements contain a blend of Vitamin A, C, E, K, zinc, iron, and copper. “These are all essential to helping your skin stay healthy and youthful” Elena Reva, skincare expert and founder of Dermoi! told mamabella.

Some will also contain hyaluronic acid, or antioxidants like enzyme Q10 and resveratrol. These are all ingredients you might find in the skincare serums, oils, or moisturisers you may already use.

Do beauty supplements work?

“The answer to this question isn’t simply yes or no” added Reva, whose company provides skincare analysis, advice and treatments from home.


Collagen is a protein produced by cells, called fibroblast cells, which help make your skin strong.

As we age, the production of collagen slows down, which can cause the skin to lose its strength and appear to wrinkle or sag.

By the age of 50, we can lose up to 50 per cent of the collagen our skin had in our early 20s.

You can learn more about collagen loss in our guide on how to prevent wrinkles.

Like most aspects of beauty, supplements are not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ and how effective they are depends on the quality of the ingredients, the amount taken and the person taking them.

“Beauty supplements work provided they are the right ingredients and in the right form so they can be delivered to the right place,” Dr Lucy Glancey of Dr Glancey Clinics, aesthetics and cosmetic surgery clinics in Essex and London, explained.

Take collagen, for example, one of the most popular supplements aimed at reducing wrinkles or signs of ageing.

Providing your skin with a top-up of collagen through creams and serums makes sense, so why not take it as a supplement? Turns out it’s not quite as simple as that.

“Collagen is a very large molecule and up until recently, there were many collagen-based supplements that didn’t do much. They couldn’t penetrate the gut barrier in order to get to the skin, rendering the products useless,” continued Dr Glancey.

“More recently, low molecular weight collagen-based products have become more popular. ”

“They are more likely to penetrate the gut and therefore get to the right place where they can do their job, namely the skin.”

So how do you know if you have a collagen supplement, for example, that contains the correct ingredients?

“As with any beauty product it’s important to do your research,” Dr Rekha Tailor, skin expert and former GP told mamabella.

“For instance, with collagen drinks, you need to ingest 6000mg of collagen peptides daily in order to trigger fibroblast activity within the dermis. Anything less and you are very unlikely to see any results, so it’s important to make your investment wisely.”

Another supplement that has been gaining traction recently, and which has additional benefits beyond your skin and hair, is the Lion’s Mane mushroom.

This so-called functional mushroom is part of the shiitake family and is usually found on dead broadleaf trees. It can be used for both food and health benefits, such as promoting restful sleep, and a recent study linked it to helping to heal the skin at a cellular level.

Granted the study was on rats but it showed that applying a gel made from Lion’s Mane mushroom to wounds on their skin helped increase the production of collagen and helped reduce the time it took for the wound to heal.

Other studies, including one published in January this year, found that edible, functional mushrooms can help with weight management and against oxidative stress.

As you can read in our guide to blue light and skin ageing, oxidative stress is caused when there is an imbalance between free radicals – molecules containing oxygen with an uneven number of electrons – and antioxidants, molecules with additional electrons they donate to stabilise the free radicals.

When there are too many free radicals, oxidative stress occurs.

Free radicals are good, to an extent, because they help fight off pathogens which lead to disease. However, if they’re left unchecked – for example, if there aren’t enough antioxidants – they can start to damage the body’s protein, DNA and fatty tissues.

This results in the loss of proteins such as collagen and can make us age prematurely. Edible mushrooms are a source of antioxidants that can help restore this balance.

If you’re not a mushroom fan, we recently discovered mushroom coffee bags from a UK company called Cafe Shroom. You use them like you would a normal tea bag but they come with the added benefit of mushroom extract – without the mushroom taste. Plus you get the benefits of caffeine.

Are beauty supplements or creams more effective?

Due to the nature of how they are used, anything you apply directly to the skin will have an impact on that part of the skin, but not the rest of your body.

It’s also likely to only be absorbed by the upper layers of skin, so it doesn’t penetrate deeply. Supplements are digested and absorbed, so have an equal impact on all of your skin and are more likely to reach the deeper layers of skin.

For example, Vitamins A, E and C, which also have anti-ageing properties for skin, are best absorbed by ingesting compared to applying topically on the skin.

“Vitamin supplements are better for your skin than topical creams as they feed the skin within the entire body, including the deeper layers” adds Reva.

“Nutrition plays a very important role in maintaining optimal skin integrity during the healing process when skin cells become damaged. As supplements nourish the skin constantly and all over the body, they have a longer lasting impact on our skin health than topical products.”

Yet all three skin experts agreed a combination of both topical skincare and supplements would give the best results.

READ NEXT: The science of moisturiser

“It is worth noting that supplements alone are not miracle workers,” stressed Dr Glancey, adding they “work best alongside a healthy and balanced diet and a good skincare regime.”

Reva continued: “Even those of us with a healthy diet should consider using skin supplements, though, as important vitamins are often lost through cooking, storing and refining food products.”

Which beauty supplement should I take?

As with anything concerning your body, if you are unsure or confused about which products to use, consult a doctor or dermatologist.

“In this digital age there is a raft of medical influencers who know very little about the products they promote to their fans,” said Tailor. “Choose products with clinical efficacy and if in doubt, consult a doctor.”

It’s also important to look into the company making the supplements. “Buy supplements from a brand you trust,” said Reva.

READ NEXT: How to prevent wrinkles, according to the experts 

When deciding which brands to stock on her own website, for instance, she chose Advanced Nutrition “because they are clinically tested and approved.”

“Not only do they use the highest quality ingredients, but they also follow Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) guidelines and have developed supplements which target specific skin care needs.”

The last thing to look out for, as with all beauty, is how ingredients are sourced. Many supplements will contain extracts from fish, as an example, so looking for brands that source from those using sustainable fishing practices is worth considering.

We highly recommend the CodeCheck app to help make choosing the best beauty supplements for you easier, and less confusing. It lets you search for all sorts of products, from foods to makeup and skincare – either by name or by scanning the barcode – before highlighting any ingredients you should be concerned about.

It uses a traffic light system to make it immediately clear and you can click on individual ingredients to learn more about what they do.

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