By Geraldine Georgeou
With each new year, there’s a new wave of supplements, lotions and potions to try. There’s a solution for everything these days and while it’s tempting to believe you can smooth out your skin with vitamin pills, shakes and tonics, not all supplementation promises of healthy skin are based on sound science.
The health of our skin health relies more on what we eat than the supplements we swallow. Filling our diet with plenty of foods like vegetables and complex carbohydrates to feed our gut microbiome will do most of the hard nutrition work for you.
There are some times when supplements can help, so here’s my handy guide to discern fact from fluff in 2021:
Collagen has certainly generated a lot of chatter in recent years – and for good reason, after all it is the main building block of the skin and is crucial for skin repair. Collagen has become particularly popular in the form of bone broth, however is also sold now as powders, ready to be mixed with water and also as tablets to boost skin, hair and nails. Given collagen’s starring role in skin health, it seems obvious that eating more collagen will lead to healthier skin, however it’s not that simple. Some emerging research about bioactive collagen peptides taken as supplements has shown them to stimulate the body’s own collagen metabolism. Positive skin benefits include improved skin structure, reduced cellulite due to the improvement in the integrity of the dermis layer, and even improved nail growth.
My take: Collagen is important, but a balanced diet with good sources of protein such as salmon, eggs, lean meats, lentils, nuts, seeds and seafood can help improve skin health and integrity too.
Curcumin, the key active ingredient in turmeric, has made a name for itself in recent years as a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. In fact, it’s showing promise as a psoriasis treatment, as well as a topical treatment for reducing dryness and redness when applied as a gel. Some research suggests curcumin could quicken wound healing and boost collagen production. While there are curcumin supplements available, you can add more turmeric to your diet by using powdered turmeric in tea or add it to your scrambled eggs or rice. I use it in my tofu and eggplant curry in the book as well.
My take: It’s not a panacea, but curcumin could be worth trying for conditions like psoriasis and it’s easy to add turmeric to your diet, too.
Silica is the building block of skin, hair and nails, helping with collagen production and promoting wound healing. Many herbal ‘skin, hair and nail’ formulations and supplements use silica, however lots of delicious plant foods we already eat are rich in silica. Foods like leeks, green beans, strawberries, cucumbers, celery, mango and asparagus are all rich in silica. If you never eat any of these foods, you might consider a supplement, otherwise try to include a few more of these foods in your daily diet. Use my smoothie bases as a guide in the book to sub in mango or strawberries (you can buy these frozen as well as fresh) or make my tzatziki with cucumber to have with veggie sticks.
My take: Silica is helpful as a supplement if you don’t eat enough plant foods.
Chlorella and spirulina
These two algae are commonly found as ingredients in green powders, giving them their signature pungency and ‘ick’ factor. While both algaes have shown some promise on the science front, chlorella showing improvement in skin inflammation in mice, more human studies are needed before we can say these nutrients are important for human skin health. If you’re struggling to eat your greens and think green powders are a tastier way to go, try making everyday greens more exciting. I have recipes in my book to make your own tasty kale chips and a delicious apple pie smoothie with hidden spinach.
My take: More research into the role of these algae is needed, with human clinical studies required to confirm if it is truly a safe and effective treatment for skin.
Vitamin D is a tricky nutrient – we know just how important it is for our skin for wound healing, as well as for a strong immune system. But as the sun is our primary source of Vitamin D and over-exposure to the sun causes skin damage, it’s best to get regular small doses of sunshine. Try standing for in the sun for 10 minutes outside of peak times, say before 10am and after 2pm. If this isn’t possible, Vitamin D supplementation is a safe and easy way to top up your levels – any over the counter supplement will work. You can also get small amounts from foods like eggs and fish. If you’re feeling experimental, you can even try sun-baking your mushrooms. New research has shown putting your mushrooms in the sun for an hour in winter, and even less in summer, turns mushrooms into a Vitamin D powerhouse. You’ll even find the supermarkets selling these Vitamin D-boosted mushrooms, but you can easily do it yourself by putting your mushrooms in sunlight (just don’t let them roast!).
My take: Get Vitamin D from sunlight with careful light exposure during low UV times, otherwise supplementation is a good way to go.
Omega-3 fatty acids are commonly associated with brain and heart health, but they also keep your skin healthy by controlling oil production, protecting skin from sun damage and fighting early signs of ageing. For those that eat fish, oily fish is the best source of omega-3 – think salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel. For non-fish eaters, chia seeds, walnuts and flaxseeds are your best sources. You could also take an omega-3 supplement.
My take: Good not just for your skin but your overall health, try a supplement if you don’t eat much oily fish.