Beauty supplements: are they worth it?

popping pills
Supplement is the latest beauty industry buzzword but just how effective are beauty power pills? And just how green? Robert Phillips takes a closer look

The beauty industry is a multi-billion dollar business producing the creams, gels, moisturisers and powders that most of us use on a daily basis. As our infatuation with celebrity culture grows, so too does our desire to look young and beautiful, no matter how old we really are. To match this demand, dermatologists and scientists are continually working on finding new ways to prevent ageing and to give us the hair and skin we’ve always wanted. While for some, the pursuit of Jenifer Aniston’s preternaturally youthful looks has meant turning to invasive surgery and a smogasbord of jabs, fillers and creams; for the industry itself, the holy grail is something smaller, more compact and more convenient. Pills and supplements.

Pills and supplements are the new currency of the beauty business with the big cosmetic companies competing to be first to bring anti-ageing skin perfectors to market in capsule form. L’Oréal thought they had a winner last year when they launched Innéov Fermeté – a supplement based on lycopene; an extract sourced from tomato skin. Already on sale in parts of Southern Europe and Latin America, the pills are yet to arrive on these shores, but when they do, they won’t be short of competition. According to Dr. Mariano Spiezia, the man behind Inlight organic skincare, the skin is ‘a mirror of what we are inside.’ While dietary supplements can help to boost intake of essential vitamins and minerals – helping to boost skin and hair in the process – the big question is whether beauty power pills really are a magic bullet for skin and hair problems or just another placebo.

Although the proportion of users who take supplements purely for skin, hair and nail care are still a small minority, numbers are rising. So what’s in the magic pills? Since supplements are regulated under the umbrella of food legislation, petrochemicals, parabens and other substances associated with topical beauty products don’t get a look in. Instead, you’re likely to find supplement staples such as zinc, calcium, iron, copper, vitamins A, C and E and one or two less familiar names such as biotin. Other beauty supplements such as Pukka’s Vitalise Capsules and Nature’s Plus Herbal Active Hair, Skin and Nails Tablets take a more holistic approach to beauty and contain organic ingredients including myriad plant, herb and fruit extracts ranging from bilberry and blackberry powders to horsetail and green tea extracts.

While some of the more outlandish claims might sound like complete bunkum, supplements ‘have their place’ according to Yvonne Bishop-Weston, nutritionist and founder of Foods for Life. ‘Because our lifestyles becoming increasingly hectic, you can’t eat perfectly everyday,’ she says, ‘and these supplements can serve as a nutritional top up.’ ‘Vitamins A, C, D and E are important antioxidants and are particularly good for healthy skin,’ adds Dr. Spiezia. Minerals such as calcium, zinc and iron are essential for body processes and silica compounds, in particular, are touted as an excellent ingredient for strengthening the hair and skin. The sulphur-based compound MSM, although as yet not fully researched, was also highly recommended, with Bishop-Weston pointing out its use in detoxification and joint and bone health. Dr. Spiezia also mentions sulphur for its importance in collagen, skin and bones. ‘Herbal-based supplements are a good source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories,’ says David Melrose, a medical herbalist with over 30 years experience. ‘Horsetail extract, a common ingredient in beauty supplements, is rich in silica, for healthy hair, and flavonoids which have anti-inflammatory properties,’ he says. ‘Burdock aids in the lymphatic system and blood supply to the skin and green tea extracts contain anti-oxidant properties.’

While the majority of supplements contain ingredients that have genuinely beneficial properties, not all are what they appear to be, and none should be used as a subsitute for a balanced diet. ‘Pills should be your last chance’ says Dr. Spiezia and Dr. Laura Wyness, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, agrees, saying that she ‘would not promote these supplements’ and would ‘promote a healthy, balanced diet instead’. This, she explains, will provide a greater range of important nutrients, that supplements can simply not provide. Similarly, supplements should not be used to treat genuine medical issues. For this you should seek professional help or a healthcare expert where, as David Melrose explains, a more ‘bespoke combination of vitamins and minerals’ or other help can be prescribed. Dr. Wyness also expressed concern over potential health risks arising from excessive consumption of fat soluble vitamins like A and E as these can build up in fatty areas of the liver and be potentially toxic, although Yvonne Bishop-Weston deems the risk of over-dose to be highly unlikely due to the low doses in many of these supplements. Some herbal extracts too, such as Poke Root, can be toxic in high concentrations, but David Melrose explains that potentially dangerous herbs are no longer allowed to be sold over the counter and can only be distributed by certified herbalists.

So are pills all they’re cracked up to be? Like food supplements, beauty pills aren’t a cure-all and work better when taken as part of a healthy diet. Thanks to the rules covering food production, beauty supplements are also a better environmental choice for skin than conventionally produced topical products, although, again, combining them with decent organic skincare will give you improved results.

Three to try

Viridian Ultimate Beauty Complex, £15.90
Highly recommended by Dr. Spiezia and Yvonne Bishop-Weston, the tablets contain all the vitamins and minerals needed to support the hair, skin and nails, with no artificial additives. Viridian is Soil Association certified and a percentage of sales go to grassroots environmental charities.

Fushi Beauty Totale, £15.26
Fushi products contain no added fillers, binding and bulking agents or other nasties and have been given an Ethical Award for their commitment to the environment, people and animals. The supplements contain all of the usual suspects including vitamins A,C and E, as well as a high dose of beta carotene – a vitamin needed for healthy eyes and skin.

ProDen Plaque Off, £15.99
The active ingredient in Swedish brand ProDen’s Plaque Off is Ascophyllum nodosum – a type of seaweed found in the seas off Norway and Iceland that contains plaque-busting sulphates, which act as a natural tooth whitener. A good alternative to chemical-filled tooth whitening kits, you’ll start to see results after four weeks.

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