The best beauty boosters
Which are the best supplements for fighting wrinkles, repairing and regenerating skin, soothing inflammation, and boosting collagen? Here's the scoop on the top 12 you can't do without.
Your skin needs rich stores of antioxidants because it’s your body’s first line of defence against free radicals. It is also made up of rapidly dividing cells, making it especially sensitive to nutrient levels. Deficiencies of certain nutrients, particularly vitamins C and A, zinc, selenium and essential fatty acids, are damaging to skin and can trigger disorders like eczema and speed up ageing. This is because micronutrients are needed for the manufacture of anti-ageing hormones, optimal mitochondrial (your cell powerhouses) function, and protection against free radical and DNA damage. Can supplements really help create younger-looking skin? Absolutely!
Vitamin C, the wrinkle fighter
Humans are among only a handful of species that can’t manufacture this water-soluble vitamin and potent natural antioxidant, so we need to replenish stores daily. Vitamin C is essential in the biochemical transformation of skin cells, acting with the amino acid proline to form new collagen and elastin – the living matrix and structure of your skin – which gives cells firmness and strength. Increased collagen production leads to firmer, less wrinkled, more youthful-looking skin.
Vitamin C helps skin fight the effects of pollution, smoking, and the oxidative stress that occurs as a result of UV exposure, by slowing the rate of free radical damage in skin cells; it also boosts immunity and heals wounds, bleeding gums and gingivitis, and connective tissue conditions, such as easy bruising, dry skin and nails, varicose veins and broken capillaries.
Recommended dosage: Take 500-2,000mg in divided doses. Taking vitamin C with bioflavonoids increases its absorption. Can be taken orally or applied topically.
Vitamin E, youth preserver
This is a powerful fat-soluble antioxidant with exceptional healing, age-protective, and emollient properties that protect cell membranes from oxidative damage and genetic mutation, prolong cell life, maintain skin elasticity, reduce scarring, even out skin tone, and minimise fine lines. Vitamin E is also touted widely as helping to prevent skin cancer. The tocopherols – d-alpha, beta, gamma and delta –are the more familiar forms of vitamin E, with d-alpha and mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols being considered the best utilised by the body.
Recommended dosage: 400-800 international units (IU) daily. Check with your health practitioner if you are taking blood thinners, as vitamin E is an anti-coagulant.
Vitamin A, acne and wrinkle buster
A fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant, vitamin A is found in two forms - retinol (from animal protein, eggs and milk) and beta carotene (found in carrots, leafy greens, broccoli, and yellow fruits). Vitamin A is critical for the proper growth, development and repair of skin cells, and ensures that new skin cells rising to the surface are supple and healthy. Taken orally, vitamin A can strengthen rough, dry, scaly, cracked, bumpy or fragile skin and splitting nails; it can also minimise stretch marks and scars, and improve dandruff, eczema and acne, including pimples and blackheads. Topical retinoid creams may be used for acne and premature wrinkles.
Recommended dosage: 10,000-25,000 international units (IU) daily. Note that excessive amounts of vitamin A can cause toxicity; if pregnant or trying to become pregnant, keep doses under 10,000IU.
Zinc, the marvellous mineral
The second most prevalent mineral in the body after iron, zinc is essential for correct immune function and also plays a crucial role in skin health, regenerating cells, reducing inflammation, speeding wound healing, and synthesising collagen, the skin’s support structure. Adequate zinc is also essential for healthy nails and hair, for oil gland function and skin hormone activation, and in the treatment of eczema and psoriasis. Zinc absorption is compromised by the Pill, HRT, and overindulgence in alcohol. Applied topically, zinc acts as a mild astringent, and may be useful in soothing acne, rashes, skin infections, dandruff, and irritation. In the form of micronised zinc oxide, it is a highly protective physical barrier sunscreen, which is increasingly popular compared with chemical sunscreens.
Recommended dosage: 15-30mg
Fatty acids, essential for beauty
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are just that – essential because they are not made by the body, and must be obtained via food. EFAs are responsible for regulating cell function and maintaining the cell wall integrity, allowing the transfer of waste and water and lubricating the fat layer just beneath your skin. EFAs are a precursor to prostaglandins, tissue hormones which control many physiological functions in body and skin health.
EFAs – especially gamma linoleic acid (GLA), found in borage, evening, primrose and blackcurrant oils – have been shown to reduce acne, decrease inflammation, moisturise dry and scaly skin, reduce cellulite, improve skin texture and softness, and plump up skin. Deficiency symptoms include premature wrinkles, cellulite, hair loss, eczema, wounds that are slow to heal, and brittle hair and nails.
Recommended dosage: 1-2 tablespoons of flaxseed oil, 500mg of GLA, 1,000-3,000mg of EPA/DHA (omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils).
Pycnogenol, the skin smoother
Pycnogenol® is an exciting antioxidant, made from French maritime pine bark, which reduces inflammation in the body and also exhibits anti-carcinogenic and antimicrobial qualities. It offers tremendous benefits to the body when taken as a supplement, but is also well absorbed when applied topically, helping not only to protect skin but to boost collagen and elastin production, stop microbial and fungal activity which cause infection, reduce skin roughness, and greatly improve elasticity.
Green tea, the regenerator
Not just a popular beverage, green tea helps the skin stay on top of regeneration, which is required to reduce the signs of wrinkles and ageing, via its active compound epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Green tea also improves the skin’s elasticity. In a Dermatologic Surgery study, researchers found that women taking green tea extract showed improvements in their skin’s elasticity, meaning it rebounded after repeated movement and retained a smooth, wrinkle-free appearance. Green tea acts as a UV protectant, and has been shown to be effective in controlling acne breakouts thanks to the antibacterial effects of its catechins, which decrease hormonal activity in the skin.
Coenzyme Q10, the skin protector
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a powerful antioxidant found in the body’s cells that protects them from free radical damage and facilitates metabolic reactions, including the production of adenosine phosphate (ATP) which is essential for energy. It prevents wrinkles by preserving and boosting levels of collagen and elastin in skin. Levels of CoQ10 drop dramatically with age, causing the mitochondria (‘engines’) in your cells to run more slowly, and allowing the ageing process to accelerate. Deficiency typically presents in cardiovascular problems – high blood pressure, angina, congestive heart failure – as well as gingivitis, fatigue, and problems in regulating blood sugar.
Recommended dosage: 30-200mg daily.
Alpha lipoic acid, antioxidant extraordinaire
One of the most potent anti-ageing antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, alpha lipoic acid (ALA) plays a vital role in cell turnover and protecting cells from environmental stressors, and is widely used in skincare products to promote repair and regeneration. When applied topically in high concentrations, ALA improves skin tone and texture. Dermatologist Dr Nicolas Perricone has published several studies on the effectiveness of ALA in reducing fine lines and wrinkles. Studies are also underway to investigate the role ALA might play in reducing inflammation and speeding detoxification, which could prove useful in treating acne and rosacea.
Recommended dosage: 50-100mg daily.
Hyaluronic acid, the skin plumper
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a naturally occurring substance in the body that gives skin its volume and thickness. Present in the deeper layers of skin, where it retains water and so keeps skin smooth, it is crucial in regulating cell growth and renewal. Dubbed the ‘fountain of youth’ by the cosmetics industry, it is credited with extending life and maintaining a youthful appearance in people who consume high levels of it. HA depletes naturally with age. It can be administered topically or via a series of tiny injections under the skin, which gives similar effects to collagen injections – Restylane being the best-known, non-animal form of HA widely used as a Botox alternative. Applied topically, HA can be highly effective, as its chemical composition allows it to be effectively absorbed by the skin and also act as a ‘carrier’ molecule for other anti-ageing nutrients.
Pantothenic acid, hairfood plus
Better known as vitamin B5, pantothenic acid is a water-soluble nutrient that is essential for human growth and reproduction, and is involved in over 100 different metabolic processes. Pantothenic acid has received accolades for its use in accelerating wound and scar healing, thanks to its ability to boost collagen and protein synthesis at the injury site, and in treating acne, due to both its anti-inflammatory effects and its ability to increase the uptake of the mineral zinc, which also fights acne. It is a humectant, meaning that it reduces the amount of moisture lost from the skin, keeping it more youthful-looking. A derivative, d-panthenol is often used in skincare as a moisturiser, and in haircare as a conditioner to protect against and repair damage due to chemical and mechanical procedures (brushing, straightening, curling, or colouring), and to add sheen, manageability, and strength to hair.
On the horizon
Acetyl-l-carnitine This amino acid helps the body convert food and fat stores into energy. Improving your metabolism can literally turn back the clock, by increasing detoxification of skin cells, protecting against oxidative stress, and even ramping up your weight loss efforts. Plus, as an antioxidant, it also has a whole stack of great skin benefits, including helping to counteract glycation, promoting melatonin production, and dissolving the ‘age spot’ pigment lipofuscin.
Kombucha A ‘living’ health drink, made by fermenting tea and sugar with the kombucha fungus culture, experts at the NYU Langone Medical Center also say that advocates of kombucha claim it can return grey hair to its original colour, promote weight loss, clear up acne, and remove wrinkles. In her book Skin Saver Remedies, Juta Stepanovs promotes kombucha as a wrinkle fighter when used internally and topically.
Melatonin Our bodies produce this hormone to induce sleep, and a supplemental form can be used to avoid or overcome jet-lag. Melatonin helps to control energy production and the ageing process by reducing the effects of free radicals, protecting against skin cell deterioration, and suppressing ultraviolet (UV)-induced damage to skin cells.
Carnosine This is a dipeptide – a combination of two amino acids, alanine and histidine – that occurs naturally in the body. It has specific anti-ageing properties that have only recently come to light, and it may be used both internally and externally. In addition to quenching the destructive free radical superoxide, it has the important ability to rejuvenate the cell structure of subcutaneous skin tissue and so prevent the cross-linking of collagen fibres, which would otherwise cause loss of skin elasticity and wrinkle formation.