We all want natural glowing skin, strong nails, and shiny, full-bodied hair—and if you enjoy a healthy lifestyle you may already notice that you look (and feel) your best when you eat a rainbow of colors, stay hydrated, and sleep well. Supplements can help you glow too. Supplements nourish your body at the cellular level to promote skin, hair, and nail health from the inside out.
The skin is the body’s largest organ, whose primary function is to act as a barrier, protecting us from environmental assaults such as pollution, UV radiation, pathogens, etc., and to help with detoxiﬁ cation. Like all parts of the body, the skin (as well as the hair and nails) is dependent on nutrients for optimal function.
Whether you have speciﬁc skin, hair, or nail issues, or just want an extra boost, here are some of the top supplements that can help.
Collagen is the primary protein in skin that provides strength and structure, keeping it smooth, ﬁ rm, and helps it retain moisture. Our bodies naturally produce collagen (when given the proper nutrients to do so), but production slows as we age.
Additionally, our diets contain much less of this vital building block compared to our ancestors’ diets, so supplementation becomes necessary for healthy skin, hair, nails, joints, and even bones, which also contain collagen.
One placebo-controlled study found that women who regularly took collagen peptides — a form that is easy for the body to digest and may be a good choice for those with digestive issues — could see a visible reduction in wrinkles. One hundred and fourteen women were randomized to either receive 2.5 g of bioactive collagen peptides or placebo daily for eight weeks. After four and eight weeks of follow up, the women taking collagen saw a signiﬁcant decrease in eye wrinkles, as well as a signiﬁ cant increase in both procollagen (the precursor to collagen) and elastin in their skin. A positive long-lasting effect was seen four weeks after the treatment was stopped.1
Another study of 69 women aged 35 to 55 found that taking a collagen supplement (2.5g-5g daily) improved skin elasticity in just four weeks. Some of the women also experienced a positive effect on skin moisture.2 Collagen comes in many forms, including pills, powders, and chews. Vegetarians and vegans can look for collagen precursor blends that typically contain a combination of vitamins, herbs, and amino acids to support collagen production.
Healthy skin requires large amounts of vitamin C, which is essential for making collagen, maintaining healthy cell growth, and for providing oxidative protection to skin cells. This antioxidant vitamin concentrates in the epidermis and research has found that those with aged and sun-damaged skin have diminished vitamin C levels in the skin. A number of studies have shown that supplementation with vitamin C improves resistance to UV damage (especially when combined with vitamin E); reduces wrinkle depth; increases collagen production; and improves roughness and dryness. A vitamin-C rich diet has also been found to decrease oxidative damage caused by things like UV exposure and smoking, including decreasing wrinkles, sagginess, and hyperpigmentation.3 4 5 Studies have used between 500 mg to 2,000 mg daily of vitamin C.6 Topical solutions of vitamin C at concentrations of at least 10 percent have also proven effective.
An outright deﬁciency of biotin is rare, but the ﬁrst signs that you may not be getting enough of this B vitamin include thinning hair, skin rashes, and/or brittle nails. Biotin supports the production of keratin, a protein required to maintain healthy hair and nails,7 and it may be particularly helpful for dry, brittle nails. Two small studies found that people with brittle nails who took a biotin supplement daily for several months saw an increase in the thickness of their nails by 25 percent. Splitting of the nails was also reduced.8 9 The daily recommended intake for biotin in adults is 30 mcg.10
Astaxanthin and lutein are carotenoid antioxidants that seem to be particularly effective at protecting human skin against photodamage. One study found that astaxanthin “exhibited a pronounced photoprotective effect” on human skin cells exposed to moderate UVA radiation, preventing cell death, reducing levels of damaging free radicals, and increasing antioxidant activity. The researchers also observed that there was a preferential uptake of astaxanthin by ﬁbroblasts, cells that make collagen.11 Human studies have shown that 6 mg of astaxanthin daily for eight weeks improved “crow’s feet” (wrinkles around the eyes), hyperpigmentation (i.e., age spots), elasticity, moisture content, and skin texture in both men and women.12 Lutein may be best known for its role in eye health, speciﬁcally in the macula, but this blue-light ﬁltering carotenoid is also proving to be valuable in skin health as well. Lutein, and its partner zeaxanthin, are present in the skin, where they ﬁlter damaging blue light and protect skin from environmental stressors. A placebo-controlled trial including 50 men and women with mild-to-moderate dry skin took a supplement containing 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin for 12 weeks. After 12 weeks, overall skin tone and “luminance” were signiﬁcantly increased in the group taking the lutein, which researchers attributed to lutein’s photoprotective (sun protective) and antioxidant properties.13
The outward appearance of the skin can be a glimpse into our internal health, speciﬁcally, gut health. Imbalances in the gut can manifest as a number of health issues, including skin disorders, and researchers are exploring how optimizing your gut microbiome can offer your skin a healthier glow.
Research investigating the gut-skin connection has found a strong association between imbalances in the gut microbiota and skin allergies, rosacea, and acne,14 15 16 while probiotics have been shown to improve these conditions. A recent placebo-controlled trial in Japan found that women who consumed a strain of Lactobacillus casei for eight weeks saw an improvement in their skin, including reduced ﬂakiness and a decrease in water loss from the skin, “suggesting an improvement of skin barrier function.”17 Another study showed that people who supplemented with a strain of Lactobacillus rhamnosus for 12 weeks saw an improvement in adult acne.18 Other research investigating the role of probiotics in skin health has found that probiotics can help improve acne, psoriasis, wrinkles, and dry skin. Strains used have included Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. bulgaricus, L. brevis, L. plantarum, Biﬁ dobacterium infantis, and B. biﬁ dum.19
Our skin, hair, and nails act as our armor, protecting us from outside assaults like UV radiation and pollution every day. And just like every other body system, it needs good nutrition. A healthy, well-balanced diet as well as supplementation with key nutrients will keep your skin glowing, your hair shiny, and your nails strong and healthy.
Technically a fruit (thanks to the pit), avocado is an excellent source of pantothenic acid, or vitamin B5, and a good source of vitamins C and E, as well as a healthy source of fat, all of which support healthy skin and hair.
The egg yolks from hens that have been allowed to forage on pasture are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidant carotenoids known to protect skin from photodamage caused by the sun.
It’s no accident that berries are freshest during the summer season, as they are nature’s way of helping ﬁght free radicals thanks to their high antioxidant content. Eat more berries to help protect your skin and hair from damage that can happen from too much time in the sun or pool.
These foods are heavy hitters when it comes to omega-3s which are essential fatty acids that help promote healthy skin and hair.
Vegetables are full of so many beneﬁcial vitamins and antioxidants, which go a long way in keeping skin healthy. Red and yellow bell peppers, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and broccoli are all great choices to keep in regular rotation.
In India, the spice turmeric is sometimes called “the golden goddess” thanks to its beautifying properties. Turmeric helps support healthy liver function to help rid the body of toxins and is full of antioxidants that can support skin cell health.
It’s no surprise that a variety of foods can help nourish you from the inside out and help strengthen your hair, skin, and nails. Since these parts of the body are part of the same organ system, the nutrients to help them stay healthy are similar.