You may have noticed supplements such as Imedeen or Perfect Skin at your local drugstore in the vitamin aisle, or even at the cosmetics counter, beckoning with promises of improved skin tone, firmer skin, less visible age spots, acne control, protection from sun damage, clearer pores and even a better tan. Seductive claims all -- we all want to look radiant.
But what's in these supplements? Formulas vary, but some common ingredients are vitamins (such as vitamins A, C and E), minerals (such as zinc and chromium), antioxidants (like lycopene and green tea), omega-3 and omega-6 fats, and amino acids.
According to Dr. Charles Lynde, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Toronto, beauty supplements "work from the inside to try to provide a proper environment in your body, to try to set the stage to be healthy."
Beauty supplements are a billion-dollar industry worldwide, and they are very popular in Europe and Asia. They are just starting to generate some buzz here in Canada. And for us, the jury still seems to be out.
"We don't know," says dermatologist Dr. Sandy Skotnicki-Grant, medical director of the Bay Dermatology Centre in Toronto. "Vitamin C, definitely, there is no doubt, there are scientific studies showing that [applying vitamin C topically] can increase collagen production. But taking it in a vitamin? That study hasn't been done."
Theoretically, there is science behind the fact that if you are missing nutrients, then taking a vitamin pill is not a bad idea to ensure that you are getting all the vitamins and minerals you need. "Your skin is the only organ you can see that reflects your inner health," says cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellet, director of DLK in Toronto. "So if you're not following a good diet, or you're not taking care of yourself, garbage in is going to equal garbage out."
Some supplements are supported with studies and before and after photographs, but there's no way to control for everything that you may be doing to your skin. "There are no unbiased studies, no randomized, double-blind, people-controlled trials that show that taking a pill will improve your skin," says Kellett.
Are there immediate benefits?
Skotnicki-Grant has patients who report improvement in their skin after taking skin-care supplements, but it's all self-assessment. "I have to ask what somebody wants," says Pat Browne, spokesperson for Nordic Selfcare Institute, a Toronto-based company that represents beauty supplement Imedeen. "If you wanted to take this product and suddenly look like Katherine Heigl, then no, that's not going to happen. I think everybody sees benefit; it just depends on what you're looking for."
Lynde advises using supplements in addition to, not as replacement for, your skin-care routine. "I think [supplements work] to some extent for most people. On the other hand, people may not be attuned to noticing subtle changes. I usually tell people to give it a trial of three months, and in that three-month period, most people will start to notice some change." This isn't a "one bottle will do you, you'll see great changes" kind of deal; beauty supplements range in cost from $30 to $100 for a month's supply, so you have to be willing to make a serious investment.
If you don't have that kind of money to spend, what alternatives do you have? "The problem is you can't really say," says Skotnicki-Grant. "I think if you want to be proactive and take a multivitamin, then maybe take extra vitamin C and E, and if you have the money [for a beauty supplement], you can't do yourself too much harm."
Of course, if you are thinking of taking any kind of supplement, you should talk to your family doctor first, especially if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, breastfeeding or taking other medication. And if you have food allergies, take a close look at the packaging, since some supplements can have fish- and tomato-derived ingredients.
Other ways to take care of your skin
When it comes to skin care, there will always be something new to try, something with a lot of hype. And there are many different ways to approach skin care, from simply staying out of the sun and drinking water right up to more radical approaches like Botox or surgery. "Each of them provides different ways of attacking the problem," says Lynde. "Unfortunately, none of them can make you look like you're 16 again. Everybody is searching for the fountain of youth."
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