Nuts, vitamin C and now skin supplements: Will these consumables smooth our path to a wrinkle-free old age?
In the beauty industry, they are called "ingestibles" or "oral skin treatments"; pills specifically designed to work alongside skincare in the pursuit of heathier, better-looking skin and hair. They are also growing in popularity. Avon, Olay, Boots No7, and the Estée Lauder brand Origins are included in the list of big beauty brands to release lines of skincare supplements overseas.
Here in New Zealand, the list is small, but also expanding, albeit slowly because of government licensing regulations. Ultraceuticals, the innovative Australian skincare company founded by skin specialist Dr Geoffrey Heber, has a three-product range with supplements specifically for acne, uneven skin tone and age defence. Murad, too, offers a range of treatments designed to improve the health of the skin from within.
But while the concept of offering supplements alongside creams at the beauty counter is a relatively new concept in New Zealand, the taking of supplements themselves certainly isn't. We're well used to taking vitamins as a kind of natural insurance policy against spotty skin and lifeless hair. Do they work? Undoubtedly, says Heber.The skin is an organ, and is therefore affected by what we consume. It also directly refects the state of our health. "It stands to reason that how well you age internally will affect how well your skin ages," asserts Heber.
New research on the links between supplementation and better looks is also published almost daily. A recent study, reported in the British Journal of Nutrition, shows that borage and flaxseed oil can make a huge difference to redness and dry, flaky skin when consumed orally. The study took groups of women aged 18-65 and fed them either flax seed oil, borage, or a placebo. An irritant was applied to the skin to produce inflammation.
The researchers maintain that the omega-3 and omega-6 in the borage and flax seed oils minimised skin redness by up to 45%. What's more, over a 12-month timespan, the skin's water loss reduced by 25%, showing that the oils positively affect the body's barrier function. The only caution is that the irritation treated was generated externally rather than the result of an internal disorder.
The biggest issue with supplements and their effect on the skin is that the skin isn't the first organ to benefit when we consume them. The brain, in particular, gobbles up nutrients leaving the leftovers to our other organs. We also can't realistically take supplements to protect ourselves from the environment, and sun, wind, pollution and extremes of temperature are some of the key factors determining how skin looks as it ages.
Magic pills or non-essential skincare optionals? Taken wisely, vitamin supplements have scientifically proven benefits. But when it comes to the skin, they will never replace traditional skincare. As Heber says: "a vitamin such as vitamin C - which is proven to be beneficial to the skin - is 40 times more effective applied topically than when it's ingested."