(Disclaimer: the following article is not to be treated as medical advice, and observations are based on personal experience. Always consult your physician for your specific condition. I’m not getting paid for any product recommendations in this post.)
Walk into any pharmacy and one of the first things you notice shelves that are almost overflowing with health supplements for practically every kind of health concern. You want better eyesight? Try bilberry extract. Menopause? Check out the herbal blend over there. Improved sleep, better concentration during the day, liver detoxing… everything.
So what kind of supplements would be helpful for supporting skin health?
I’m sure you’ve come across some articles about all sorts of them, but perhaps have not yet found the chance to experiment with them for yourself.
Here, I’ll offer some of my personal suggestions and observations, plus some actionable steps for you to consider. Please note that these are supplements I am actually taking myself, so I do have first-hand experience with them.
I read research papers so you don’t have to (but you’re most welcome to follow the links to some of them if you’re curious to know more). As someone who grew up with eczema as a child, grew out of it as an adult, and then despaired when it returned – I was also desperate to find a cure. Now that I have figured out what helped to get my skin back to normal, I’m hoping that sharing my experience will benefit you too.
I’ll start with my favourite, because it practically erased my dishydrotic eczema on my left hand once I started taking it religiously for 15 days. You can see how bad it was and how it transformed, in my original blogpost.
Fish oil contains two types of Omega-3 fatty acids: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA is linked to supporting healthy brain function, and together with EPA, have shown promise as therapeutic agents in a number of inflammatory skin conditions, by helping the skin form a robust and healthy lipid barrier to prevent moisture loss (translation: your skin becomes better at staying moisturized on its own).
The recommended daily dosage for fish oil is 3,000mg, according to the American Heart Association. Personally I tripled the dosage during those 15 days, and then tapered off to the 3,000mg dosage once my skin went back to normal.
Be aware though, that fish oil was found to have some possible unintended side effects, including compromising chemotherapy drug treatments (no kidding).
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) Extract
This one is a very recent discovery (on my part, anyway). I began taking it about 5 weeks prior to writing this article, and it seems to have fixed my dry skin issue.
Horsetail extract contains a high concentration of plant-based silica, which the body can absorb easily. Silica is essential to the formation of collagen in the skin, which in turn ensures that the skin’s barrier functions run optimally. What I noticed was that I don’t need to rely so heavily on moisturizers, especially for my legs, which used to be dry, and sometimes flaky in the past. Now I can actually forget about applying any oils on my legs on a daily basis, because they still feel comfortable, and don’t have that powdery white surface from being dehydrated.
Poking around the web, I also found a research paper where a double-blind clinical trial in Iran showed that a 3% horsetail extract ointment was effective in speeding up wound healing as well as offered pain relief after episiotomy procedures. That was interesting to know.
Right now I am taking 3 x 500mg tablets a day, one with each meal.
Be aware that there are some concerns about the side effects of taking too much of horsetail extract orally, over an extended period of time. You can read more about that here.
Vitamin C (time released) with rutin and rosehip (rosa canina) fruit extract
All these are potent antioxidants, which among a myriad of other actions, help scavange free radicals from around the body. In the context of the skin, this helps to mitigate premature ageing from the destruction of collagen and elastic fibres in dermal tissue, usually from over-exposure to UV light (i.e. sun damage).
As with most antioxidants, vitamin C and rutin curb inflammation around the body too, which is generally a good thing.
I usually take 3 x 500mg tablets a day, together with the horsetail extract. It is a water soluble vitamin, so any excess that the body doesn’t need is easily flushed out (so long as you drink plenty of water).
B-Complex and Zinc
I have found that B-Complex supplements make a real difference in my day-to-day mental functioning, and to keep me in a generally buoyant mood. Apart from that, numerous B vitamins play critical roles in promoting optimal skin health. For example, thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3) and pantothenic acid (B5) all help to reduce redness in the skin and strengthen its barrier function. Some even have proven effects in reducing acne breakouts.
(However, it is worth noting that there was a study that looked into acneiform eruptions caused by vitamin B12 , also known as cobalamin. Although the breakouts were pretty gruesome, the patients made a full recovery between 3-5 weeks of stopping the oral B12 supplements.)
The B-Complex supplement that I take is also combined with zinc, which is said to contribute to regulating the body’s immune responses, by activating T lymphocytes. And here’s something I’m quite proud of – I am rarely ill, even though I may occasionally be surrounded by coughing, sneezing children (schoolyards are fantastic bacterial breeding grounds, aren’t they?). Prior to taking B-Complex supplements, although I would generally consider myself as healthy (I exercise and eat moderately), I would still succumb to coughs and colds that my kids bring home from school. Now, no longer.
All in all, it’s a good combination of vitamins that work in tandem to enhance the body’s natural resistance to infections, with a pleasant additional effect of giving your skin a healthy glow.
I’m taking 1 tablet a day, as recommended on the product label.
What You Can Do Right Now
1. Do your own research
You must want to understand how and why a particular supplement works, what its recommended dosage is, its side effects and safety considerations. You might find that it may not suit you, or you may stumble upon something else that makes more sense to try, in your particular situation.
2. See your physician and seek his or her advice
This is especially important if you have underlying medical conditions, or are taking any medications routinely. If you can’t make a trip there personally, even a phone call would be better than no communication at all. Even though these supplements are very common, and may be very familiar to you, it would be best to consult your doctor if you intend to start taking these to help with your skin condition. You never know if any of these seemingly harmless things could interfere with the efficacy of your other medications, or even bodily functions.
3. Be observant, and be patient.
Once you get the go ahead to start taking a supplement, always observe for any unwanted side-effects, especially within the first 1-3 days. Then if you choose to continue, you will need to allow for several weeks, or even months to pass before you assess its efficacy for you. Don’t give up after just 2-3 weeks. Some effects take longer to develop than others. Be patient.
4. Avoid taking a whole slew of new supplements all at once
You won’t be able to tell which one is yielding what effect! Instead, try one at a time for 3-4 weeks and observe any changes to your body or skin in that period, and make a judgement call about whether you would want to continue taking it.
Balanced nutrition and some supplementation of essential vitamins and minerals is going to give your skin its best shot at getting into its healthiest possible state. Regardless of your skincare regime, no matter how much money you spend on expensive cosmetics, it will all be for nought if you don’t look into the fundamental conditions needed for healthy skin, through nutrition.
It may take time for the effects to kick in, but I can personally vouch for the notion that the long-term benefits of nourishing your body well, will be worth the wait.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, I am no medical expert and I am not making explicit recommendations for you to take these supplements to fix your skin issues. This list is by no means exhaustive. Please consult your general physician or dermatologist to get his or her advice that is tailored to your specific condition.
What I do hope is to at least offer you some insights into the possible routes you can consider in taking charge of your own skin’s wellbeing, based on my own experiences.
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Wishing you all the best on your journey to better skin!