Over the past few years, there’s been a rise in the popularity of a new form of skin care: edible beauty.
Every day it seems like there's a new line of products you can ingest rather than slather on your skin; whether they're drinkables, smoothie powders, supplements, or even chocolate bars, they all claim to leave you with fresh, glowing skin. But the question is, do they actually work?
We chatted with expert dermatologists and nutritionists to get to the bottom of the hype—and we definitely got a mix of opinions, with quite a bit of skepticism.
Dermatologist and RealSelf contributor Dr. Anthony Youn thinks that these products should be embraced. He explains that ingesting certain antioxidants can be very beneficial to the skin and overall health. “They fight free radicals and oxidation, which are some of the chief agers of our bodies,” he says.
However, he stresses that we don't have to turn to a packaged product to reap the benefits of ingestible beauty. “Many foods you can buy at the grocery store can be powerful anti-agers, such as colorful fruits and vegetables, green and black tea, green smoothies [not juice], bone broth, and grass-fed beef and wild caught fish," he says. "These can be just as good for your skin as a fancy nutraceutical drink.”
Then there are those experts who don't believe in these products' claims at all. Dermatologist Dr. Neal Schultz, founder of DermTV.com and BeautyRX by Dr. Schultz, explains that while a lot of the skin-benefitting ingredients used in mainstream edible beauty products aren’t necessarily harmful when ingested, consuming them in larger amounts than recommended can be. He explains that a lot of the products on the market are purely a marketing hoax and that while they’re “generally harmless to your health," they're "maybe not [so harmless to] your wallet.”
Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care, isn’t convinced either: “Ingesting collagen [one of the most common ingredients in these edible beauty products] itself is, in my opinion, worthless.”
However, she isn’t knocking the hype entirely: “For general nutrition, most supplements are an ‘act of faith,’ meaning they’re relatively harmless, and if you feel better or think you look better taking them, then go for it. I have a great deal of respect for the placebo effect and the ‘power of suggestion’ in terms of self-perception. When you take these supplements, you’re taking a proactive step to bettering yourself, and that alone—without objective benefits—can make you feel good.”
Nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto has a similar view. While she isn’t disagreeing that some ingredients may have skin benefits, she feels strongly that there’s no such thing as a magic product. “Lines and wrinkles start deep beneath the skin’s surface, and some of the ingredients wouldn’t work applied topically. But just because something has proven efficacy in one area doesn’t mean it’ll work in another,” she says. “People hear that collagen repairs the skin or that biotin will grow your hair, and they automatically think that these are magic pills. The reality is that there actually isn’t a magic pill, and even though certain ingredients are being promoted in that way, they may not be as beneficial as one might think.”
Another thing to consider is that no two ingestible beauty products are created equal. All have a star ingredient or a combination of two or more—and this is where efficacy comes into play. Dr. Sonia Batra, board-certified dermatologist and recurring co-host of The Doctors, outlines some of the most common ones (some of which were mentioned above), below. Not surprisingly, not all are what they’re cracked up to be. Here's what you should know:
Collagen is probably the most common ingredient in ingestible beauty, promising to have an anti-aging effect on the skin. However, Batra mentions that collagen comes in many forms (at least 16, to be exact) and that many products marketed as anti-aging products don’t specify exactly what type of collagen they contain. She also mentions that, when ingested, collagen will undergo digestion. While the amino acids and small peptides that make up collagen will be absorbed and can act as building blocks for other proteins, they aren’t automatically transported back to the skin intact. Rissetto agrees, and suggests seeking out products with hydrolyzed collagen, which is composed of a smaller chain of amino acids that the body can more readily absorb, “leading, ‘in theory,’ to faster collagen production.”
Tocos, or tocotrienols, have been making their way into edible products as well. Tocos are an unsaturated form of Vitamin E that is fat-soluble. Batra describes it as a potent antioxidant that has the research to back it up: “Research suggests that it promotes collagen synthesis as well as inhibits collagen degradation.”
Baobab is a powder made from dried fruit that’s been used in Africa as a natural skin remedy for a long time and can regulate the immune system of our skin. Batra mentions that it also contains a ton of great nutrients, including antioxidants, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and protein.
Adaptogens are another common ingredient. They include herbs such as he shou wu, reishi, and ashwagandha that are said to have healing effects on the body, including things like boosting energy and the immune system to helping the body adapt to stress. However, Batra mentions that the data on whether they have any effect on the skin is still pretty limited.
Biotin has been marketed as a miracle worker for the hair, skin, and nails, but it’s not particularly essential; in fact, it can have a negative effect if you’re not careful. If you aren’t deficient in it, Batra says, an excess amount can decrease Vitamin B5 absorption in the gut and even worsen skin rashes and acne.
Of course, there’s also good old vitamin C, which Batra agrees does benefit the skin when ingested. It’s an antioxidant that helps protect the skin from free radical damage and also helps in the production of collagen. However, check your labels. Orange juice is brimming with excess sugar, which isn't great for the skin (or anything), so make sure you’re ingesting your vitamin C in a way that doesn’t include unnecessary nasty stuff. She also recommends looking for omega fatty acids, as they decrease skin inflammation and benefit the skin’s barrier function.
Dr. Nu Dastaran, maxillofacial surgeon at Santi London, also mentions a new ingredient being tested that has, so far, yielded quite beneficial results for the skin: aloe vera sterol, which is the flesh of the aloe vera plant. “It’s clear that this segment of the beauty industry will establish itself on firm foundations,” she says.
Overall, while some of the above do have research to back up skin-care benefits, the experts recommend ingesting these through natural foods rather than opting for a packaged beauty product.
Why? Because many of these products are filled with unnecessary (and sometimes combative) filler ingredients. Just like you would with the food you eat on a daily basis, you should be avoiding anything processed or full of preservatives. “Any processed food and drinks should be scrutinized. If it’s made in a factory, then check the ingredients to make sure it doesn’t contain added sugars, chemicals, and preservatives,” says Youn. “Even if it has a great antioxidant, like vitamin C, if it’s also filled with horrible ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, then it can actually be bad for you and your skin.”
Dastaran agrees: “I’ve seen collagen in brownies—obviously sugar is not good for the skin. I’ve also seen alcohol infused with collagen—but alcohol is detrimental to skin health.”
That said, if the products don’t pose any particular health threats (meaning, the ingredients are natural and simple and you don’t take a higher dosage than needed), there’s no harm in satisfying your curiosity and giving them a try.
If you do find yourself curious, Michelle Miller, Clinical Nutritionist at Physio Logic, does have some guidelines for ensuring a product you’re interested in taking is safe. First, she suggests you do research into where the company sources its raw materials and investigate other ingredients in the product. Check for the main ingredients—have any specific studies or research been done on them? “If not, you might be the experiment,” she says. She also notes to remember that more doesn’t always mean better results, basically a reminder that high doses can potentially be harmful. She also recommends monitoring how you feel when using a product and getting regular blood work done and always discussing with your physician when you have health concerns.
Remember, at the end of the day, these beauty supplements shouldn’t be making up for an inadequate diet. As Batra says, “For the health of the skin, the best formula is still a balanced diet with protein, antioxidants, and nutrients—as well as adequate sleep and exercise.” Tanzi agrees, reminding us that it’s possible to have skin look and feel its best by having a good diet. “An anti-inflammatory diet rich in vegetables, good fats, protein, and low carbohydrates can be helpful to the skin,” she says. “Also, not smoking and reducing excessive sun exposure. When the body is in a low-inflammation state, the skin can produce collagen efficiently, which is the goal.”
So go ahead, pour in that $5 packet of Beauty Dust into your $6 matcha latte if it makes you feel good. Just don’t expect it to take years off your skin.