Edible beauty products that target hair, skin, and nails are becoming more and more popular
By Mariève Inoue
Genetics, environment, and lifestyle— these are all variables that can affect health, so it should come as no surprise that diet is another. “Eating well is important,” says Dr. Jean-François Tremblay, a dermatologist and the medical director at MédIME, a Montreal aesthetics clinic. “Lacking certain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, or essential fatty acids compromises your vital functions and is likely to cause your organs—including your skin—to not function optimally.”
Despite our best efforts, our diet may not always be perfectly balanced, and for that reason, some people turn to supplements, more and more of which these days are intended to promote beautiful hair, skin, and nails.
In the Beginning.
The knowledge that certain dietary deficiencies can be harmful is nothing new. “In colonial times, people understood that if they didn’t get enough of what is known today as vitamin C, they got scurvy, which led to their gums bleeding, their teeth falling out, and then death,” Tremblay says. Proper diet was a question of survival, and dietary supplements have been around for a long time. The emergence of beauty-focused products is more recent.
“The trend really took off thanks to celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, who developed her Goop brand in 2008 and was the first to really draw attention to beauty supplements,” says Robert Rose, one of the co-founders of Senzo, a Quebec-based brand of gummi vitamins. Other celebs such as the Kardashians, social networks such as Instagram and TikTok, and word of mouth helped the trend grow. Today, pharmacies and natural-product retailers are brimming with hair-, skin-, and nail-enhancing formulas.
“Life is demanding and people experience a lot of stress and anxiety, so they don’t always take the time to eat well,” says Annie Tétreault, a certified naturopath and store manager for Rachelle Béry health stores. “Supplements can help bring back balance, support you, and provide you with nutrients that promote optimal wellness.”
As the years go by, your body may also have a harder time absorbing vitamins, nutrients, and minerals and making good use of them. “And studies have shown that you’re more vulnerable to the oxidative effects of UV rays, pollution, and the environment as you age because your body isn’t as effective at fighting external aggressors,” Tremblay says, adding that supplements can help maintain your vital functions and “prevent the effects of aging on the skin.”
Ingestible beauty products can be a way to supplement a topical skin-care or haircare routine for “those looking for a solution that works from the inside,” says Marion Verschaeve, Senzo’s other co-founder. Even if you eat a generally balanced diet, you may not be getting all the nutrients you need due to intolerances or not eating certain foods or because the amount of food required to get the recommended daily amount just isn’t practical. “It’s easy to imagine someone not getting all the essential trace elements, vitamins, and minerals every day,” Tremblay says. In his view, taking a multivitamin that makes up for these deficiencies can be a sensible idea.
Has the effectiveness of beauty supplements been proven? Are they safe? Although it’s not always easy to find studies on a specific product, any ingredient used in a supplement sold in Canada must first be approved by Health Canada, as must any claims linked to it. “This means, for example, that there are studies that prove that vitamin C can help strengthen hair, make skin healthier, and harden nails,” Verschaeve says.
Collagen, a substance of which we produce less and less as we age, contributes to maintaining skin density (among other things), so it’s a popular ingredient in beauty supplements, which often also contain other vitamins and minerals that help to stimulate its production. Precisely how certain ingredients work hasn’t been tested exhaustively, but many people seem to notice positive results, which vary from person to person.
Some supplements focus on a single ingredient, but beautyspecific formulas tend to include a combination of vitamins and minerals. You’ll find different types of ingestible beauty products in stores and pharmacies: powders, tablets, capsules, liquids, and the increasingly popular gummies. The latter’s advantage, according to Rose, is that “they’re enjoyable and easy to consume.”
If you’re considering supplements, it’s crucial for your experience to be tailored to your needs. “Almost all minerals, vitamins, and dietary supplements have a recommended daily dose above which there is a risk for side effects and toxicity,” Tremblay cautions.
It’s also essential to consider potential interactions between supplements and certain medications. For example, even though omega-3s have beneficial effects in terms of reducing inflammation and promoting tissue repair, they can also have an anticoagulant effect when taken in large quantities. If you are taking anticoagulant drugs, “the combined effect can become problematic,” Tremblay says. The same goes for vitamins and minerals that are filtered through the kidneys or can accumulate in the liver. Before you start any kind of supplement, it’s important to check with a health professional who can guide you and take into account your diet, goals, medical condition, and any medication you’re on.
Ingredients of Interest.
Here’s the scoop on our experts’ list of the most beneficial beauty-supplement ingredients.
Collagen has been in high demand for the past few years, Tétreault says. “People seem to really appreciate it and notice a difference.” In supplements, the animal-derived protein (from beef or fish) is in hydrolyzed form— that is, as collagen peptides that may help improve skin elasticity and hydration.
Omega-3s “promote cellular membrane health and work on skin and mucous membrane hydration in general,” Tétreault says. These fatty acids can be found in fatty fish, such as anchovies, sardines, and mackerel, as well as in walnuts and flaxseed. “The body assimilates them well and in larger quantities in the form of fish- or seaweed-derived [vegan] omega-3 supplements,” she adds.
Famous for its topical antioxidant and brightening properties, vitamin C also plays an important role internally. “Without vitamin C, your body doesn’t produce collagen adequately,” Tremblay says. Its major asset is its antioxidant value. “Vitamin C is likely one of the most powerful antioxidants at our disposal to fight the effects of UV rays and free radicals, among other things,” he says.
Also an antioxidant, vitamin E is said to help “give your skin a smooth, hydrated appearance while nourishing your hair and nails,” according to Verschaeve and Rose. Vitamin E affects fat molecules and cellular membranes, helping maintain their elasticity. “It works on the antioxidant and hydration levels, while vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and promotes collagen synthesis,” Tétreault adds.
Biotin, a form of vitamin B found in foods such as eggs and milk, plays an important role in metabolizing the proteins necessary to produce skin, hair, and nail cells—which explains why it’s found on the ingredient list of many beauty supplements.
Zinc is another interesting mineral for hair growth. “It helps stimulate the production of keratin, the main component of hair,” Tétreault says. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that could help reduce acne lesions.
Another star skin-care ingredient, hyaluronic acid is also available in an oral formulation. The goal here is hydration—in supplements, it helps plump up the skin and smooth out wrinkles. “It can also help synthesize collagen and boost hair shine,” Tétreault says.
When to Expect Results.
How long it might take before you start seeing a supplement’s effects depends on a slew of factors, including “each individual and her starting point,” says Annie Tétreault, a certified naturopath. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on your deficiency levels (if you have any) and the product’s dosage, composition, and quality, as well as your body’s absorption capacity.
Photo credit: Marc-Antoine Charlebois