When it comes to optimizing your skin health, the key factors that affect your skin include diet, genetics, lifestyle, and your environment. Ensuring that you are getting adequate sleep, avoiding excessive sun exposure, exercising daily, managing your stress levels, and eating a diet that is rich in nutrients mostly from whole foods are all important.
Despite putting forth the effort, sometimes we all need a little extra help. Whether you need support to address nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, elevated stress levels, and/or specific skin complain, supplements can improve your skin health when used in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle.
Many skin conditions involve inflammation and oxidative stress. Supporting your body with anti-inflammatory, immune supporting, and antioxidant supplements may all be beneficial for your skin health. The following supplements may help to support a healthy skin barrier, have anti-aging effects, and some are more specific to certain skin conditions. Keep in mind that all supplements may have contraindications for certain health conditions, may interact with other supplements and/or medications, and may be unsafe if taken in excess. Please consult a medical professional before considering if you want to include any of these five supplements into your health regimen.
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Collagen is a protein that gives our skin its elasticity and youthful appearance. A decrease in collagen quality, which occurs normally with aging, can lead to wrinkling and loose skin. Supplementation with collagen has become more and more common and can be found in a powdered form called collagen hydrolysate. Collagen supplements are usually derived from fish skin (marine collagen peptides), or cartilage from chicken and/or beef. It is thought that those sources of collagen are similar in structure to human collagen and may help to:
- Increase the collagen levels in our skin.[3,4]
- Improve skin moisture and elasticity
- Reduce skin wrinkling
- Protect against skin damage caused by sun exposure
Omega-3 fatty acids
The integrity of the skin’s barrier to the outside environment is important in maintaining healthy skin. The outer layer of skin (epidermis) and the layer directly beneath the epidermis (dermis) contain lipids, which are important in the functioning of skin cells.[1,6] Intercellular lipids (or fats) along with facial sebum (or oil) help to protect the skin barrier from our environment and to ensure that the skin remains moisturized.[1,6] Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are thought to be beneficial for skin due to their anti-inflammatory properties. In particular, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can be beneficial to inflammatory skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.[6,7] Fish oils and certain types of algae contain high levels of the polyunsaturated fatty acids EPA and DHA. It has also been theorized that lower serum (blood) levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids may be associated with increased risk for atopic dermatitis.
Another surprising supplement that may benefit skin health is vitamin D. Some of its overall health benefits include:
- Support for a strong immune system
- Bone health
- Heart health
Vitamin D has also been used as a topical treatment for the inflammatory skin condition, psoriasis. In addition to a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D deficiency may also play a role in the following skin conditions: eczema, psoriasis, vitiligo, and acne.[8,9] Low levels of vitamin D may also be involved with higher levels of overall inflammation.
Adequate levels of vitamin D can be obtained from sun exposure, but many individuals may still be deficient in vitamin D for several reasons. Individuals who have minimal sun exposure, use sunscreen while out in the sun, have darker colored skin, and/or live in an area with lower sun intensity may be at risk for a deficiency in vitamin D.[10,11] Sun exposure elevates the risk for sunburns and skin cancer and regular sun exposure should be avoided in those that are sun sensitive.
Other sources of vitamin D
Vitamin D can be obtained through supplementation. Vitamin D2 can be obtained from food sources such as egg yolks, fish, meat and poultry, soy products, and many fortified cereals and beverages.[8,9]Although there are some food sources of vitamin D, it is often difficult to get enough vitamin D from diet alone. For this reason, many foods such as milk, cereal, and orange juice are fortified with vitamin D. This is also where vitamin D supplementation comes in handy. The two forms of vitamin D are ergocalciferol (D2) and cholecalciferol (D3). Of the two forms, vitamin D3 is better able to raise blood vitamin D levels.
Astaxanthin is a very strong antioxidant that can be beneficial as an anti-inflammatory supplement. It is a type of carotenoid derived from marine animals, microalgae, and yeast, and can possibly be used to:
- Increase elasticity
- Improve skin barrier
- Increase collagen production.
- Protect the skin from UVB (sun) damage
One of the reasons astaxanthin supplementation may be beneficial for skin health is because it is difficult to get high enough amounts of it from diet alone in order to achieve the skin benefits mentioned. For example, an individual would need to consume approximately 165 g of salmon in order to get about 3.6 mg of astaxanthin. Most supplement amounts range from 6-12 mg of astaxanthin daily.[13,14]
Zinc is an essential mineral that is important for many biological processes and can be found in a variety of foods, but as much as 33% of the world’s population may actually be deficient in zinc. It is a mineral that is important for the immune system to function properly and helps to fight off infections. In this study, zinc levels were decreased in some individuals with severe acne. A deficiency in zinc may also be associated with poor wound healing.
Other Important Vitamins to Consider
There are of course many other nutrients that are important for skin health. For example, vitamins C and E are also important antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties that are vital for the skin.[4,17] Vitamins C and E work together to possibly reduce skin inflammation caused by sun exposure. Vitamin C is also very important in the production of collagen.[2,17] It is more ideal to get nutrients from a diet that includes a variety of whole foods when possible. When including more whole foods, you can benefit from many more components such as fiber and water content, additional antioxidants, and more.
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