Step inside a health food shop – or, really, any high-street supermarket or chemist – and you'll see rows and rows of supplements promising everything from better joint mobility to shinier hair, stronger nails and clearer skin.
The popularity of these 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 a perfect environment for inside-out beauty products to thrive. We're all turning our focus to 'health signalling' – the buzzword set to dominate the post-pandemic beauty industry. Where showcasing your pro-level make-up skills was the beauty brag of 2019, now it's far more satisfying to shine a spotlight on your natural, healthy and (apparently) 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 hair 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.
Beauty supplements: 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 skin-specific vitamin A 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 total regeneration: Lumity Day and Night
These multifaceted supplements aim to provide an entire menu of beauty benefits, from stronger nails to longer hair and even a more stable sleep pattern. The morning softgels feature skin-boosting 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 clearer, brighter skin: The Nue Co Skin Filter
Specifically designed to boost skin radiance, these smart supplements 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 healthier hair: Wild Nutrition Food-Grown Skin, Hair and Nails
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 acne and breakouts:111 Skin Clarity Beauty Dose
111 Skin’s highly specified supplements are ideal for targeting surface-level skin issues. A powerful option for acne-prone skin, these Clarity capsules work first to balance the gut’s microflora, which in turns benefits the skin’s microbiome, then acts on calming and clearing upset skin, using sulphur-rich MSM to bring down inflammation, zinc to regulate oil production, and vitamin C to brighten.
For restoring balance: Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Beauty + Immunity Supplement
Aurelia was an early pioneer of probiotic-powered topical skincare, so it makes sense that their ingestible supplements are a success, too. These vegan immunity boosters contain strains of bacteria shown to increase hydration, regulate melanin production (so inhibiting pigmentation development) and support skin’s elasticity. A dose of zinc brings an immune-system boost, rounding off these hard-working capsules.
For a glow boost: Sarah Chapman Skinesis Overnight Facial Supplement Duo
This nighttime double-act of omegas and vitamins works to feed the skin cells during the crucial regeneration period. Vitamin A, biotin, niacin and fatty acid-rich flaxseed oil all feature in these well rounded supplements for nutrient-deficient skin.
For reducing inflammation: Oskia Lactoferrin+
Oskia’s latest Brit-produced supplement spotlights the inflammation-reducing, immunity-boosting powers of lactoferrin: a glycoprotein found naturally in our tears, saliva and white blood cells, and a crucial component of a healthy immune system.
Supplementing lactoferrin levels can have benefits beyond a stronger immune system: studies carried out by the brand delivered a 38 per cent reduction in inflammatory acne lesions, as well as significant boost in beneficial gut bacteria.
For collagen: Ingenious Beauty Ultimate Collagen
Ingenious Beauty's collagen skin supplements triumphed in independent clinical trials, and have been shown to reduce fine, feathery lines while increasing hydration and elasticity within the skin. The Ultimate Collagen capsules blend fish-derived collagen with cell-protecting antioxidant astaxanthin and hyaluronan to keep tissues hydrated.