We know by now that diet, sleep, and exercise affect the way we look—big time. Too much dairy and sugar? Expect to wake up with a pimple or two. And after a late night out (and knocking back a few cocktails), it’s obvious that your complexion isn’t as glowy as it is when you’ve gotten a solid eight hours of sleep and hit the H2O hard.
Cosmetics companies are getting smart about adding nutrients to their formulas, and beauty vitamins are getting serious buzz amongst the health and wellness set. There are even superfood smoothie blends that claim to turn back the clock with anti-aging antioxidant ingredients. But do these vitamins and nutrients actually work? Here’s what you should be taking for shiny hair, clearer skin, and stronger nails—and what you should skip.
The go-to ingredient that’s found in almost every beauty vitamin formulation, biotin has long been associated with long, strong tresses. The body needs biotin, also known as vitamin B7, to metabolize fats and proteins. Because it’s partially responsible for new cell production, biotin gained a reputation for hair and skin health. But unless you’re severely deficient, there’s very little evidence that proves it encourages hair growth or younger-looking skin.
Vitamin E is right up there with biotin on the list of beauty vitamins that most people know about—it seems like any moisturizer or multivitamin worth its salt lists the antioxidant on its ingredient list. But vitamin E has a downright dangerous side. True, it does have antioxidant abilities, but it seems that taking it in supplement or applying it topically to the skin can have negative side effects. In 2005, researchers from Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions found that taking high dosages of vitamin E increased mortality rates (yikes!) and had zero impact on skin and hair. And the topical vitamin E oil that’s supposed to fade the appearance of scars and help skin heal more quickly? One study proved it actually made them worse and caused skin rashes in nearly 33 percent of people who participated in the study.
There’s a reason beauty editors everywhere love retinol products—they really work. Retinol is one of the most powerful anti-aging and smoothing ingredients around because it encourages cell turnover and the growth of new skin cells. And topical retinol is derived from vitamin A … so we should be taking a vitamin A supplement, right?
Nope. You’re probably already getting enough of this nutrient from your regular diet, and studies show that taking too much can make your complexion dry and negatively affect liver function. Best to stick to the night creams to reap the benefits of retinol.
When taking orally zinc can help calm redness, boost healing, and even tame acne flare-ups—but again, popping a pill only works if you’re already deficient in the mineral. Most of us eat enough in the form of meat, dairy, and tree nuts like almonds, so, unfortunately, isn’t that magical anti-acne supplement we dreamed about all through high school.
Don’t worry—it’s still possible to eat your way to beautiful skin! Try adding a scoop of dietary collagen to your morning smoothie. Yes, collagen is the structural protein that gives skin a youthful firmness, and supplementing with it helps skin repair and retain hydration.
Grab a formula that contains antioxidants and hyaluronic acid, too, like Reserveage’s collagen powder. According to Registered Dietitian Brooke Alpert, “The science backing [Reserveage] is really impressive; I also love how it’s a specific formulation of collagen shown to be most effective in the skin. Even better is that this collagen has no smell or taste like many of the other ones on the market and additionally it dissolves really nicely into any liquid, so it’s easy to consume!”
A healthy, functioning gut is necessary for good digestion, optimal nutrient absorption, and even maintaining mental health. But it might be even more important to nourish gut bacteria (the probiotic microbes that live in the stomach and small intestines) in order to get clear, beautiful skin.
Probiotics have been proven to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Some skin conditions like chronic acne and rosacea have been linked to long-term inflammation, which might be why patients with these skin issues respond so well to a probiotic regimen.
Instead of reaching for vitamin E for moisturizing and skin-soothing, whip out the omega-3s. Research proves that omega-3 fatty acids—either in pill form or when ingested through food—improve your complexion’s texture by reducing inflammation and decrease symptoms of dryness. When taken regularly, omega-3s can even help treat chronic psoriasis, a skin condition that occurs in nearly 3 million people a year.
The best way to make sure your food and nutrition are working for your beauty benefit? Eat organic, wholesome, healthy meals with ingredients you can pronounce. Simple as that! And if you need a little extra help, try out the three supplements above. Stay healthy, stay gorgeous.