Spoiler alert: Some work while others are a total waste of money.
Sure, there are plenty of products out there promising to do these very things. And we’ve all seen a celebrity or beauty blogger who swears by her daily collagen smoothie or biotin supplement. But despite the hype, there’s actually not much science backing up the validity of beauty supplement claims.
“Most of us dermatologists just don’t recommend oral supplements to healthy people,” says Sheryl Hoyer, MD, a dermatologist with Northwestern Medicine.
But does that mean all supplements are a waste of your money? Or are there any that might actually be beneficial? Here’s what you need to know about things like biotin, keratin, collagen, and other popular pills, straight from the experts.
Also known as vitamin B7, biotin plays an important role in helping the body metabolize proteins—which are needed to produce healthy skin, hair, and nail cells. People who are severely deficient often end up with hair loss, eczema, and brittle nails, and supplementing can help correct those problems, explains Melanie Palm, MD assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California-San Diego and founder of The Art of Skin.
But if you already get the recommended 30 mcg of biotin daily, loading up on extra won’t give you a beauty boost, according to a reent review of 18 studies.c And as long as you eat a balanced diet, you’re almost certainly getting your fill. The nutrient is found in eggs, salmon, pork chops, hamburgers, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, almonds, broccoli, and spinach.
Pregnant women are known for having thick, lustrous hair that grows really fast. But contrary to popular belief, it’s not because they’re taking prenatal vitamins. “It’s more likely the hormones of pregnancy, not the vitamins, that are enhancing hair growth,” says Hoyer.
In fact, there’s zero evidence that prenatals do anything for hair growth—whether you’re pregnant or not, she adds. So unless you’re having a baby (or trying for one) don’t bother buying these.
Keratin is the structural protein that makes up the outermost layer of hair, skin, and nails. Our bodies make plenty of it on their own, but beauty buffs often claim that supplementing can make hair stronger and shinier.
Again though, there’s no evidence to back this up. In fact, keratin is highly resistant to the digestive acids in your stomach—so taking a supplement could cause more harm than good. “Cats who regularly groom themselves with their tongues often form hairballs in their intestines that they eventually vomit, because they can’t ingest the keratin in their fur,” Hoyer says. You don’t want to end up like that, do you?
Like keratin, collagen is a naturally occurring structural protein that gives skin its smooth, plump appearance. And when production dips with age, wrinkles start to form.
So is supplementing the fountain of youth? One industry-funded study did show that women who took about three tablespoons of a collagen-based product for 60 days experienced less skin dryness and fewer wrinkles. (Independent studies are far and few between.)
But it’s not a surefire solution. “In your gut, collagen [that you consume through food or a supplement] is broken down into amino acids. And it’s at your body’s discretion how those amino acids are used,” Palm says. “It could become proteins to help your blood vessels, repair your liver, or stimulate your brain—not necessarily amino acids to produce collagen.” In other words, collagen might be a beneficial anti-ager, but there’s no guarantee.
It’s an antioxidant—and a potentially potent one at that. Vitamin C has been shown to protect against aging and skin cancers by boosting the production of collagen, preventing collagen from degrading, and fighting the formation of melanin (skin pigmentation), Hoyer says.
The problem? Even at high doses, only a fraction of that vitamin C supplement actually makes its way into your skin. Topical products that contain vitamin C are more effective—but even then, there’s not a ton of evidence to support their use, says Hoyer. “Because of all this, I’m not a big proponent of vitamin C yet. But I don’t think there’s much harm in it.”
Here’s the one supplement that might actually do you some legit good. These essential fatty acids provide must-have nutrition for healthy hair and skin cells. “Our skin cell membranes are composed of a cholesterol-derived layer, and omega-3s are needed to help maintain that. In the same way, they help with the integrity of the hair,” Palm says.
In other words, getting your fill just might contribute to a glowier complexion and shinier strands. If you don’t regularly eat fish like salmon and tuna, aim for 500 mg of DHA and EPA (the most potent types of omega-3s, which are found in fatty fish) daily, Palm recommends. Nature Made Fish Oil Pearls will help you hit the daily mark.