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Nutritional supplements and your skin

November 29, 2012 Reviewed by Marta 12 Comments

If a plant or nutritional extract can work topically, then wouldn’t an oral supplement work just as well? Because I am not a big believer in vitamin supplements, I’ve never put much thinking or research effort into whether, for example, sea buckthorn supplements have been proven to have a direct positive effect on the skin. Then the other day headlines blared that French maritime pine bark, taken as a supplement called Pycnogenol, had been clinically proven to have anti-aging benefits for the skin.

Because I am innately cynical and uncharitable, I immediately wondered if the makers of Pycnogenol were behind the study claiming that 20 postmenopausal women experienced “significantly improved hydration and elasticity of skin”. It was conducted at the Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine, which sounded objective until I saw that one member of the team was from Horphag Research, the company that, yes you guessed it, makes Pycnogenol.

I was exactly happy to prove myself right though. I’d love to find out that popping a pill alongside all my potions and lotions would boost my skin’s appearance. So I set about seeing if there is an independent study somewhere. Pine bark has been linked to a mind-boggling and implausible amount of cures. It is supposed to treat everything from erectile dysfunction to sunburn. Its fabled potency is due to the presence of proanthocyanidins. But independent research on the effects of taking a supplement on the skin was not something I could find.

What of other supplements. I remembered mentioning once  mentioning one on borage and flax on Truth In Aging. Researchers from Germany and France claimed that the omega-3 and omega-6 (fatty acids) in flax and borage oils prevent skin from roughening and scaling. After 12 weeks, there was a decrease in reddening of the skin in the flaxseed and borage oil groups of 45% and 35% respectively. But this is the only study on these supplements that I have found.

I decided to look at sea buckthorn and had quite a bit more luck. A 2009 study using extracts of leaves and fruits of sea buckthorn at a concentration of 500 μg/ml concluded that it reduced free radical production. And more specifically, a Finnish study on sea buckthorn supplements and dermatitis reported symptoms improved and a beneficial effect on the composition of essential fatty acids within the skin. There’s also one published in the Journal of Applied Cosmetology. According to the study, which examined the effects of both sea buckthorn oral supplements and topical oil application on skin aging, the plant works as a skin hydrator, an anti-wrinkle serum, and as a collagen promoter.

Next, I took a look at astaxanthin. Here again, I found only one study on astaxanthin supplements and skin. The study stated that it is “usually very difficult to observe any significant difference to skin condition resulting from the oral administration of dietary supplements”. I was intrigued – does it mean that typically supplements don’t have a visible effect on the skin and this is all a waste of time? No, it just means (in the researchers' view) that the astaxanthin results – “excellent cosmetic effects on human skin were observed from astaxanthin administration” were all the more remarkable.

Although there isn’t exactly a wealth of evidence and my examples are hardly exhaustive, I feel encouraged enough to continue to look for evidence that a daily pill is a worthwhile supplement to our potions and lotions. In the meantime, sea buckthorn could be the best bet.

  • April 9, 2013

    by Ursula

    yeah i personally use bioCorrex and the ingredients alone kinda persuaded me to get this and I do see a difference. But I know what you mean Karen about trying to be aware of what is truth and what is fact. I'd say check the ingredients and I went to numerous sites and the doses and ingredients in imedeen (any one of their range) is pretty lame. but if you're worried about price then you should definitely go back to imedeen but i'd personally hedge my bets with quality rather than price. check out imedeens ingredients and I don't think you'd be talking about price anymore :))) by the way, find a decent omega 3 too because biocorrex don't include that and I personally think that's a necessity.

  • February 13, 2013

    by Michele Watson

    My son has had great success with Sea Buckthorne for his Psoriasis. Living in Perth Australia we take astaxanthin at the moment for sun protection. What is interesting e is the antui ageing pills being touted by Dr Sister in the UK:"Age defying YOUTH Supplement
    YOUTH, is designed to reverse the signs of ageing from the inside out, by stimulating growth hormones that deplete as we get older. It has been covered extensively in the press, and has proved to be an instant, sell-out success" hmmm. Does any one know more about these? Seems to be mainly amino acids.

  • February 13, 2013

    by Tom Adams

    My wife and I found some high quality nutritional supplements that have improved our skin and overall health. Emerald Sea is derived from 7 organic sea vegetables and is good for detoxification and cell regeneration which are both important for the skin. We also use their organic skincare products that nourish your skin with whole food sources and nothing artificial. We have experienced younger looking skin and so have others who are using the products. You can find both products here.

  • February 13, 2013

    by Karen Cullen

    Hi Jina/all

    I am in the same position - I have been taking Immedeen for at least 10 years and my skin is pretty good - however I switched to Biocorrex about 4 months ago. Was just about to order my next lot when I thought it worth googling again to find any other opinions. In the UK Imedeen is much much less expensive than Biocorrex and i'm really confused as a result of the 'comparison' studies which seem to deride Imedeen and promote Biocorrex - how can I tell if these comments are real or part of the marketing campaign. Thank you for any comments

  • February 4, 2013

    by Susanna

    I have been taking Imedeen Time Perfection tablets for a long time and it seems to work as I have very good skin. However, I have been reading articles saying that it is not that effective compared to what's in the market, could you please let me have your view and advise on any alternative supplement? Thanks.

  • August 14, 2012

    by Jina

    Hi Debbie

    I find your view interesting and always like to get the viewpoint from someone with science knowledge about skincare but please explain why you don't recommend rx retinoic acid as a topical aso many studies have have been published and people have stated on this and other sites with getting excellent results.

  • August 14, 2012

    by Debbie McCune

    There are actually quite a few studies linking supplementation and skin health/anti aging. The reason there are not more is because, unlike Big Pharma, supplement companies don't have the financial resources to do the studies. Consumers need to remember that 95% of all research is bought and paid for. There is no money to be made in natural products that cannot be patented, thus there are little research $$$ given to sponser large scale studies at universities. Martha (sort of directing this at promotes endless topical products that have little to no research to back their claims. Usually at best the only studies done on the "best" ingredients on this site are very limited company sponsored studies by the manufacturer. If you look at most of them with a scrutinizing scientific eye, most are meaningless BS. Does this mean that these ingredients don't work? Of course not (although it does not mean that they do either). It just means that unlike something like Rx retinoic acid (which as a biochemist I do not even recommend as a topical), there are no double blind placebo controlled scientific studies to prove they work.

  • April 25, 2012

    by Cara

    Hi Marta

    I've been taking a supplement (biocorrex skincare capsules) for a couple of months now and I honestly have noticed my skin is a bit less gaunt, less wrinkley and just better really. I wouldn't go without it. But I went onto a site and someone there said it's rubbish because its got hyaluronic acid in it. Is that true that this is a nonsense product. I feel like I've definately got better skin with biocorrex but would you mind looking at the ingredients and telling me whether you think this is nonsense or not? I'd greatly value your opinion.

  • February 22, 2012

    by Naomi

    Thanks Susie, thats really interesting. I read a university paper that found that DHA (from fish oils) was more effective in protecting the skin from the sun than anti-oxidant vitamin supplements. I'm going to start taking krill supplements as these contain both DHA and axanthin (double whammy!!)

  • February 17, 2012

    by Naomi

    This really interests me and i'd be interested to hear if anyone else has anecdotal evidence of supplements that work. A couple of years ago I was taking Pygenocol and also hyluronic acis but stopped in an attempt to save money! I felt it did improve my skin but difficult to tell if this was the placebo effect! I guess there aren't many evidence based results for the effect of supplements on the skin because you'd have to take them over a long period of time and during this time it would be difficult to tell if other lifestyle habits and changes in skincare routine, etc had also impacted on skin health? Has anyone else had positive results with any supplements?

  • February 16, 2012

    by susie tsaclis

    There is a product put put by Lifestream in NZ & Australia called Astazan. Astazan- (Astaxanthin is part of the Vit A complex as is Zeaxanthin, cryptoxanthin, Canthaxanthin)
    I work in a healthfood store & we get all sorts of samples to try- one being this.
    It is the products that stood out- very few did. IT IS AN INTERNAL SUNSCREEN. In other words if you cant be bothered slapping on sunscreen in the middle of a job outside- you wont be burnt to smithereens. I guess this action would also include the skin actions you are seeking. being a strong anti-oxidant also- it staves off ageing. also IT IMPROVED MY EYESIGHT, AND A COLLEAGUES. I know this because I used to drive at night every week 100ks on wet windy roads for 2 yrs- and I could see better- you know the bit about carrots being good for your eyes? ditto ++. My colleague who is blind in 1 eye & poor eyesight the other eye- said she was driving home from work 1 night & exclaimed "I can see I can see!" IT INCREASES YOUR CORE ENERGY after about 6 weeks, your youthful energy, not sugar/caffeine type energy that is short lived.
    It also has male & female hormone boosting effects- i definitely noticed libido, and the longtime promoter back then used to get razzed about having 6+kids....
    No I didn't lose weight incase you are wondering, not that it promotes it...
    So that is my experience

  • January 30, 2012

    by kim


    I was taking astaxanthin supplements before I got pregnant (it's not something you should take while you're preggers). It's an amazing supplement with all sorts of positive benefits. As one small anecdotal piece of evidence, I absolutely did notice my skin improve while on it. It seemed more supple, hydrated and plump.

    According to Dr. Mercola, when it comes to free radical scavenging, astaxanthin can be as much as…

    * 65 times more powerful than vitamin C*
    * 54 times stronger than beta-carotene*
    * 14 times more potent than vitamin E*

    I think Mercola has great, cutting edge info, but do note that he does sell astaxathin supplements. And one other thing, if you do decide to take the supplement make sure the astaxanthin formula is created from natural marine microalgae. You don't have to buy it from him.

    Also, if you search Mercola's site you will find tons of interesting information on astaxathin, and he does seem to reference many independent studies.


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