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Do Skin Care Supplements Really Work?: An Analysis of the Vitamins, Minerals, and Herbs in Skin Care

Posted Oct 09 2009 10:00pm


I personally take GNC WellBeing Be Wholesome Women’s Vitapaks every morning, with a multi-vitamin, triple-strength Omega-3 fish oil, and 1000 mcg of biotin.

With all of the skin care options on the market, it’s hard enough to choose the most effective topical treatments, much less to consider supplements for your skin.  Yet, the latest research suggests that taking certain supplements can greatly benefit your skin.  In fact, according to this2007study inThe Journal of Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, oral consumption ofan ingredient is more beneficial than topically applying it. However,the studyfurther suggests thata combination of eating and topically applying ingredients to the skin may be most beneficial.

The Actual Study

In the study, conducted byMaviCosmeticsin Italy, 40 women were split into four groups. The first group was given a supplement calledFloraGloLuteinwith antioxidants (10 mgluteinand 0.6zeaxanthin). The second group was given a topical cream withluteinandzeaxanthin. The third group was given both the supplement and the topical cream. The fourth and final group was given placebo.After 12 weeks, it was found thateither theoral supplement or the cream improved skin elasticity, hydration, and protection against sun damage. However, the combination of oral and topical formulations boosted numbers the most — skin hydration by 60 percent and protection against sunburn by 20 percent.

Vitamin D

In recent years, dermatologists and other physicians have been giving vitamin D supplementation a second look.  A1985 study inThe Journal of Clinical Investigationsuggested thatthe skin contains only about half as much vitamin D at age 80 than at 8-18, andvitamin D3supplementationmay fight aging byenhancing vitamin D3 to youthful levels,fighting inflammation and preserving telomere length.

Yet the benefits of vitamin D3 may go much further than skin-deep.  According to

astudyin the journalCancer,cancer rates are approximately twice as high in the northeast compared with the southwest, implicating a statistically significant inverse relationship between UVB exposure and bladder, esophageal, kidney, lung, pancreatic, rectal, stomach, and corpus uteri cancers.One theory for this correlation isthat UV exposure is required for proper vitamin D synthesis, and hence the higher cancer incidence may be caused by vitamin D deficiencies, which are prevalent throughout the U.S.An editorial inThe New England Journal of Medicinereports that 57% of 290 patients in one study were reported to have inadequate vitamin D levels, while another alarming2007 study from the University of Pittsburghfound that approximately half of the pregnant women residing in the northeastern U.S. are “at high risk” for vitamin D insufficiencies and deficiencies, even when taking prenatal vitamins.

Just how much vitamin D is necessary for proper nutrition is unclear. In fact, the NIH has announced that new guidelines for vitamin D consumption and supplementation are to be released in early 2010.  While a1995 Australian randomized clinical trialinArchives in Dermatologyfound that it was still possible to use broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB SPF 17)daily over the course of a summer andsynthesizehealthy vitamin D levels, many experts still recommend using a vitamin D supplement, as the body will not naturally over-synthesize vitamin D.As levels of vitamin Dhigher than50 mg or 2000 IUvia food and supplements can lead to toxicity,it is generally advised to keep supplements to 1000 IU or less, if one has other sources of vitamin D incorporated as a part of their healthy diet.

Sunscreen Pills

With UV light implicated as the number one cause of skin cancer and skin aging, but with so many people enjoying lifestyles out in the sun, it is no wonder that sunscreen pills have recently been gaining popularity.

One of the most popular sunscreen pills isHeliocare, which containsPolypodiumleucotomosextractderived from a tropical, fern-like plant.Clinical studies onHeliocaredemonstrate thatPolypodiumleucotomosextractprotects against UV damage to the skin,decreases UVA-induced damage,prevents acute sunburn, andpreventsLangerhanscell depletion upon UV exposure.One critique of these studies is given by Mayo Clinic dermatologist Lawrence Gibson, M.D., who says that “these trials were too small to have detected any possible side effects — meaning that the long-term safety of these extracts is still inquestion.

It hasalso been proposed that the active compound in pomegranate extract (ellagicacid)can protect against UV-induced damage in humankeratinocytes, bothUVAandUVBin two separate studies in theJournal of Photochemistry and Photobiology. Pomegranate extract may prevent againsthyperpimgnetationas well: inthis double-blind, placebo-controlled 2006 study in theJournal of Nutritional Science andVitaminology,it was found that 100-200 mg/day ofellagicacid has an inhibitory effect on a slight pigmentation in the human skin caused by UV irradiation. The results of theBioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistrystudysuggest that the skin-whitening effect of PE was probably due to inhibition of the proliferation ofmelanocytesand melanin synthesis bytyrosinaseinmelanocytes.

Still,althoughthe results seem to be sound,Dr. Gibsonnotes, “[Sunscreen]supplement[s][are]meant to be used in conjunction with — and not in place of — other sun protection measures, such as wearing sunscreen or protective clothing when outside.” If you wear sunscreen and sun-protective clothing already,there does not seem to be any harm in takingPolypodiumleucotomosor pomegranate extract (ellagicacid) – and in fact only some promising research behind doing so.

Overall Opinions

With the American lifestyle ever-increasing in its daily activity, it is no wonder that the enjoyed convenience of popping a pill for everything from aches and pains to sleep deprivation has now turned to skin care.  Although early research seems promising, it is worth it to keep in mind that most of the previous studies are conducted by companies who have some interest in the product.  This is not to implicate that there must always be bias in business-based research, but it is suggestive that there is a need for more peer-reviewed, non-company-affiliated, independent research for skin care supplementstogain full notorietywithin the scientific and dermatological communities, as such research exists formany popular topical ingredients.  Furthermore, such research will lead into exciting advances as in the optimization of oral skin care, from optimal doses and times to the elimination of toxicities and the prevention of detrimental interactions or allergic reactions.  As such, while the future for oral supplementation in skin care certainly looks promising, we need to keep in mind that there is still much more work to be done before we can safely prescribe effective doses for optimal skin care.

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