How 'health signalling' is fuelling the rise of the skin supplement

supplements for skin
Should you be taking a skin supplement?Kristin Vicari for Harper's Bazaar

Step inside a health food shop – or, really, any high-street supermarket or chemist – and you'll find rows and rows of pills promising everything from better joint mobility to shinier hair, stronger nails and clearer skin.

Welcome to the age of the skin supplement. The popularity of ingestible beauty and wellness boosters is rising, with the category growing an average of 13.8 per cent each year since 2015, and beauty-specific supplements growing faster than the wider category.

Today's beauty arena has created the perfect environment for inside-out supplements for skin to thrive: now, presenting as fresh-faced and radiant is the the ultimate health-signalling humblebrag. Where showcasing your pro-level make-up skills was the beauty goal of five years age, now it's far more satisfying to shine a spotlight on your natural and (seemingly) effortless glow.

Meanwhile, advances in the supplement space are allowing brands to bypass challenges such as potency, preservation and absorption, meaning the best skin-boosting pills can actually deliver on their promises – a far cry from the sponsorship-soaked supplement gummies of the influencer age.

It seems that now, almost any aesthetic concern can be tackled from the inside out, with as little effort as it takes to swallow a daily capsule. Of course, a well-rounded diet and balanced lifestyle are the foundations for everything from shiny hair to glowing skin, but a supplement can provide a targeted boost.

“Supplements work by providing the taker with an additional provision of nutrients that their body may require for certain functions,” explains registered nutritionist Clarissa Lenherr. “For those who may not be able to get all the nutrients they need from their diet, this can be a great way to avoid low levels or nutritional deficiencies.”

“When it comes to nutrition and skin, I believe that your diet and lifestyle choices should always be the first things you look at. However, I fully appreciate that there are things that are out of people's control or difficult to manage, such as stress, or that diets can be limited in certain nutrients (for example, being vegan or vegetarian). In these instances, supplements for skin health can be helpful,” she adds.

“When we eat nutrients or take supplements, the body distributes them to the priority organs – such as the heart and liver – before anywhere else in the body,” says Lorraine Perretta, head of nutrition at Advanced Nutrition Programme. “If you do not have a nutritious diet, the nutrients you eat will all be used up by these essential functions and there will be less to support skin health. For skin super-health you need to ensure you have plentiful amounts of nutrients in the body – and supplements are a good way to top up what may be lacking in your diet, ensuring that key nutrients can work in the skin.”

The key to supplement success? According to Perretta, it’s all in the synergy. “All the vitamins and minerals in your body work together, and if you do not have one of the vitamins necessary to carry out a specific process, the body struggles to complete the activity. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the body has a good variety of all the nutrients needed, and we can support optimum levels in the body with supplements,” she says.

Supplements for skin: where to start?

According to Perretta, multivitamins and probiotics are a good starting point for anyone new to supplements. “On top of that, you would include additional supplements to act as boosters for concerns you specifically want to target. For example, perhaps you would use a retinol serum if you were concerned with the signs of ageing. With supplementation you could add a vitamin A skin supplement to your capsule regime to tackle your concerns from the inside out.”

Which skin supplements show promise?

Collagen supplements have proved especially prevalent in recent years and, according to Lenherr, there may be tangible benefits to taking them. “Collagen is one of the supplements I do consider with clients who consult with me on their skin health,” she says. “Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, one of the key components of skin, and plays a role in structure, elasticity and hydration. One randomised, double-blind placebo study showed that after eight weeks of taking collagen, participants experienced increased skin moisture, and after 12 weeks saw decreased collagen disintegration.”

However, there are limitations to the powers of taking collagen internally. “When creating supplements, there are a number of things that need to be considered: bioavailability of the nutrient, delivery method, absorption and utilisation of the individual," adds Lenherr. Of course, every body is different, and our ability to absorb, utilise and benefit from a supplement will vary from person to person.

Absorption issues are especially prevalent with collagen, meaning a sub-standard supplement likely won't deliver any noticeable benefits. The solution is to choose a product containing a hydrolysed form. “Hydrolysed collagen peptides have shorter chains of amino acids than collagen obtained from food sources,” explains Lenherr. “This makes them easier to digest and absorb into the bloodstream.” Scan the back of your bottle carefully before investing: a company using hydrolysed collagen will state it loud and clear.

Another promising beauty supplement ingredient is vitamin C, which “contributes to collagen formation, supporting healthy skin strength. Plus, its antioxidant status can help protect your skin from oxidative stress,” says Lenherr.

“Vitamin C has dozens of roles in the body – immunity, energy, mood, and many more – but the skin receives it last,” adds Perretta. “This means that if you do not have enough supplies of vitamin C in the body, it cannot fulfil its important roles within the skin: maintaining collagen, brightening and acting as an antioxidant.”

Finally, vitamin E may deliver noticeable improvements to the skin, especially when it comes to fighting external aggressors. “Like vitamin C, vitamin E is an antioxidant, which can help to reduce free radical damage (from sun exposure and pollution) that impacts DNA, skin, cells and connective tissue. Therefore, vitamin E can play a protective role with skin. However, be cautious not to take too much, as it can reduce blood clotting.”

Probiotics for skin

Probiotics are booming, and their benefits don’t stop at the gut – but how exactly can they influence the appearance of our skin on the outside?

“When we have dysbiosis in the gut (a bacterial imbalance), we are more likely to develop inflammatory conditions, and an increase in inflammation in the body has been linked to higher incidence of skin conditions,” explains Lenherr. “Additionally, bacterial imbalance in the gut can impact other bodily collections of bacteria, including the skin microbiome. For example, overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, a condition referred to as SIBO, has been linked to rosacea and acne.”

Perretta believes probiotics to be an incredibly exciting and emerging ingredient in the world of skincare supplements.” A lot of new research is driving interest in the area, and our understanding of how probiotics influence the skin is evolving all the time. Previously, it was thought that probiotics only impact the gut, but we now know that they can affect much more – including the skin.”

The gut microbiome relates to the varying microorganisms, including bacteria, that reside in the digestive tract. “Having a diverse, healthy gut microbiome not only encourages better absorption of nutrients but is linked to overall skin health. Specific strains within the gut can target different mechanisms in the skin, and bacteria supplements can use this understanding to specifically target skin concerns,” says Perretta. For example, Advanced Nutrition Programme’s Skin Youth Biome contains four bacterial strains to target the signs of ageing, while Skin Clear Biome tackles acne and breakouts using four completely different strains.

However, not all probiotic supplements are created equal. “Working with living bacteria is always a challenge – they need to be kept alive until they reach the area of the gut where they are needed,” she adds. To achieve this, the bacteria must either be acid-resistant (as some strains are) or coated in a protective capsule. It’s also tricky to find effective probiotic supplements that are vegan-friendly, as most bacteria need to be fed on dairy products.

The best skin supplements to invest in now

For treating acne, psoriasis and eczema: Artah Skin Clinic

Founded by nutritional therapist and ex-athlete Rhian Stephenson, Artah has swiftly become the supplement brand you'll find on the shelves of the most clued-up wellness seekers. Skin Clinic is the brand's hugely acclaimed beauty supplement. It's billed as a bit of a 'do it all' powerhouse, but we've found it especially effective at treating inflammatory skin issues, namely acne and eczema. The combination of collagen precursors, gotu kola, CoQ10, zinc and lycopene brings a distressed skin barrier back into balance, calming those hard-to-treat hormonal breakouts and smoothing texture in the process. The collagen boost is really the icing on the cake.

For top-to-toe rejuvenation: LYMA The Supplement

Introduced to the market as a pill to optimise your entire body, Lyma's investment-level supplements are indeed worthy of their wide-reaching praise. Each of the ten patented and independent peer-reviewed ingredients is deigned to tackle a different modern-day concern: there's ashwagandha for insomnia and turmeric for inflammation, nootropics for brain performance and a host of beta-glucans, antioxidants and proteins for your skin, nails and hair. Be prepared for commit for at least three months: this isn't a quick fix, but a long-term transformation.

For clearer, brighter skin: The Nue Co Skin Filter

Climate-positive wellbeing brand The Nue Co creates supplements that are sustainably made and backed by hefty science.

Specifically designed to boost skin radiance, these smart capsules feed the skin’s fibroblast cells, accelerating collagen production and cell renewal. Vitamin C is blended with oil-regulating zinc and antioxidant grape seed extract.

For better skin (and sleep): Lumity Day and Night

These multifaceted supplements aim to provide an entire menu of beauty benefits, from stronger nails to longer hair, boosted immunity and even a more stable sleep pattern. The morning softgels feature skin-supporting minerals and vitamins, including vitamin C, while the evening softgels focus on renewal and regeneration via vitamins A to E.

For an all-round boost: The Beauty Chef Glow

This berry-flavoured powder combines gut-friendly probiotics with potent antioxidants to keep the skin happy and balanced from the inside out. Niacin supports the skin’s inherent functions, while biotin boosts healthy hair and nail growth. Simply blend into chilled water or juice daily.

For collagen: Known Nutrition Advanced Collagen

Known Nutrition's liquid supplement uses liposomal encapsulation to ensure the fish-derived collagen inside can be absorbed by up to 98 per cent. Vitamin C bolsters the skin-brightening effects, while loyal users highlight hair growth (specifically along the hairline) as a particularly welcome benefit.

For optimal hair growth: Champo Pitta Hair Gummies

The skin on your scalp really wants to be treated with as much care as that on your face. Fusing Ayurvedic tradition with innovative science, Champo’s newly launched hair gummies promise to cultivate the optimal scalp condition for hair to grow at its very best. The brand worked with both trichologists and nutritionists to formulate the blend of B vitamins (including biotin), selenium and zinc, and six plant and seed extracts prized in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, including chia seed oil, which has long been believed to prevent premature hair fall. Take a picture of your hairline before starting, and you may well be surprised at the results once the jar is empty.

For acne and breakouts: Advanced Nutrition Programme Skin Clear Biome

If you've tried all manner of topical products to treat acne, rosacea or a bout of hyper-sensitive skin, it might be time to think internally. Inflammation, which is the root cause of so many aesthetic skin issues, can be quelled by a skin supplement such as Advanced Nutrition Programme's Skin Clear Biome. Knowing that gut health is intrinsically linked to the skin's state, it contains four strains of beneficial bacteria alongside zinc to boost its clarifying capabilities.

For antioxidant protection: Vida Glow Anti-G-Ox

This berry-flavoured powdered supplement (which can be taken neat or mixed with water) is designed to tackle the three main internal causes of premature ageing: oxidative stress, inflammation, and glycation, which decreases the reparative functions of the skin. It's essentially a powerhouse antioxidant complex that will aid sugar metabolism while protecting the skin from free radicals in the air. If you live in a city, or are going through a period of heightened stress, this is a particularly beneficial one to incorporate into your diet.

For healthier hair: Wild Nutrition Complete Beauty Support

This powerful all-rounder contains a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals to boost your skin health as well as hair and nail strength. Antioxidant vitamins C and E sit alongside biotin and stinging nettle, which studies have found to possess strong anti-inflammatory properties. Anecdotally, there's particular support for this one in the hair-growth realm.

For inflammation and acne: Dr. Barbara Sturm Skin Recovery

Dr. Barbara Sturm's brand is laser-focused on building the skin up, rather than taking away from it (that's exactly why you won't find any heavy-duty retinols or harsh exfoliating products in the line-up). Devotees – and there are many – to her anti-inflammatory ethos will enjoy these skin-boosting supplements, which combine antioxidant zinc with vitamin C and a signature dose of vitamin-rich purslane. Anyone suffering with redness, breakouts or a damaged skin barrier will find these particularly beneficial.

For plumping and clarifying: Beauty Pie Collagen Super Powder

Beauty Pie is coming after the supplement market this year – and, with super-nutritionist Kay Ali consulting on formulation, you can rest assured they'll be more than a price-friendly option. Packed with low-weight hydrolysed collagen peptides (sourced from fish) alongside tremella mushroom and biotin, this berry-flavoured powder works to plump skin and strengthen nails.

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