Skin is the largest organ in the body and one that mirrors our aging the most. There is considerable scientific literature that diet and certain supplements can significantly improve the appearance and health of skin. It is estimated that over 50% of skin aging is extrinsic, not genetic and is influenced by environmental factors such as diet, stress, lack of sleep and lifestyle. This suggests that we can influence our skin health and appearance using supplements and lifestyle interventions.
Extrinsic factors can cause chronic inflammation, now referred to as inflammageing, which is a chronic, low-grade invisible inflammation caused by the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS cause oxidative stress, which can induce the release of inflammatory cytokines and result in glycation (crosslinking of collagen). ROS can also cause DNA/mitochondrial damage leading to age-related changes in skin.
Based on published research, the most efficacious oral skincare supplements contain carotenoids. Carotenoids are a large family of color-containing plants ranging from yellow to red that are predominantly found in fruits and vegetables. There are 700 known naturally occurring carotenoids, 60 of which are found in the everyday diet and 20 that can be detected in the blood (1). Carotenoids such as beta carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin are the main antioxidants that protect skin against ROS attack. Others include vitamins A, C, D, E, superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione peroxidase, lipoic acid, uric acid, selenium and coenzyme. Beta carotene and lycopene account for 70% of the carotenoids present in human skin (2).
Singlet oxygen is a highly reactive form of oxygen created when a photoactive molecule absorbs and transfers energy to oxygen. It is the most reactive type of ROS and is responsible for much of the skin damage caused by photoaging. Carotenoids are the most effective known scavengers of singlet oxygen and the reason why large amounts are found in skin. They also are much more effective against singlet oxygen than vitamin E, C or any other antioxidant found in the body (4).
Key literature supporting the use of oral supplements to treat skin
- A significant correlation was shown between skin roughness and the lycopene concentration in skin (R=0.843). The age of volunteers was shown to correlate to their skin roughness and subjects treated with lycopene subjectively appeared younger looking compared with controls (3).
- 6 mg daily of astaxanthin demonstrated significant improvements in wrinkles, age spot reduction, elasticity, skin texture, moisture and overall skin appearance (5).
- 6 mg daily astaxanthin in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study demonstrated a significant improvement in wrinkles, elasticity and transepidermal water loss (TEWL). Cheek hydration and sebum levels also trended up (5).
- A combination of oral and topical lutein (10mg)/zeaxanthin (0.6 mg) daily for 12 weeks was shown to provide significant improvement in skin hydration, elasticity and resistance to UV exposure (6).
- Carotenoid-induced face coloration was shown to increase perceived attractiveness of individuals (7).
- Consuming large amounts of carotenoids increases skin coloration, similar to sun tanning (8). The color was perceived as being more attractive than that achieved by tanning.
- A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study demonstrated that daily supplementation with mixed-carotenoids (10 mg α-carotene, 12 mg lutein, 0.053 mg zeaxanthin) protects human skin against both UVB-induced erythema (increased MED) and UVA-induced pigmentation (9).
Glucosamine derivatives (n acetyl glucosamine, glucosamine hydrochloride/sulfate and sodium hyaluronate)
- Glucosamine is the basic monomer unit of hyaluronic acid (HA), and it is likely that HA is rapidly degraded in the body to lower molecular weight species by hyaluronidase when consumed orally. Orally administered high molecular weight HA has been clinically shown to perform similarly to low molecular weight HA.
- A randomized, controlled, single-blind 5-week study using an oral supplement containing glucosamine, amino acids, minerals and various antioxidant compounds demonstrated a statistically significant 34% reduction in the number of visible wrinkles and a 34% reduction in the number of fine lines. No significant changes in epidermal hydration were observed (10).
- 1000 mg daily N-acetylglucosamine supplementation for 60 days increased skin hydration and decreased roughness. Skin lipids also decreased (11).
- In women with mild-to-moderate skin aging, oral hyaluronic acid (200 mg/day for 28 days) decreased wrinkle size, lowered TEWL and increased skin hydration and elasticity (12).
- An oral hyaluronic acid preparation containing biotin, vitamin C, copper and zinc was shown to significantly increase skin elasticity, hydration and decrease skin roughness and wrinkle depths.
- A placebo-controlled, randomized, double-blind trial of daily HA 120 mg for 12 weeks demonstrated wrinkle reduction, improved skin elasticity and hydration versus the placebo group after 8 and 12 weeks (12).
Collagen, hydrolyzed collagen, gelatin
- 1000 mg of a low-molecular-weight collagen peptide (LMWCP) daily for 12 weeks demonstrated improved skin hydration, elasticity and wrinkling (15).
- Oral collagen peptide supplements were shown to significantly increase skin hydration after 8 weeks and collagen density in the dermis. Ex vivo experiments demonstrated that collagen peptides induce collagen as well as glycosaminoglycan production in skin (16).
I have been personally taking astaxanthin, lutein and glucosamine supplements for many years and believe they have improved my skin appearance. Supplements aren’t a miracle cure for treating aged skin but are a good complement to use with a well-formulated anti-aging skincare product. Some studies suggest benefit synergy may be possible when the right topical and oral treatment regimens are combined.
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