Summer is the time of year when many people are hoping to look their best—it is bathing suit season, after all. But looking good takes more than just getting exercise; what goes on the skin and which nutrients go into the body can be just as important.This is particularly important for those who like to spend the dog days of summer doing things like sunbathing, which may give a temporary “healthy” glow to skin, but is ultimately the cause of many skin problems—including wrinkles and premature aging.
Lifestyle Choices and Your Skin
Lifestyle choices like smoking or tanning can negatively affect one’s health. Tanning is a favorite pastime of many in the warm summer months; however, it is not without its risks. Not only does sun exposure increase the odds of getting skin cancer (such as melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma), but it also results in premature aging of the skin: over time, tanned skin becomes wrinkly, leathery skin (1).
Smoking also has a huge impact on skin health, as it also contributes to a pale, gray-tinged complexion, wrinkles and dull, ashy skin. Some of this is due to the fact that smoking restricts blood flow through the capillaries, which prevents oxygen and important nutrients from getting to the skin (2). Additionally, smoke exposure causes more free radicals to form in the body, adding to the list of reasons why smoking is unhealthy.
Consuming the wrong foods can negatively impact one’s health, and that includes skin health, too. Although dairy products are essential for a balanced diet, they—along with high-glycemic foods—increase the chance of having acne, which is a common condition that many people fight long after the peak time during teenaged years (3). The right food, however, can contain essential vitamins and minerals that can help maintain healthy skin, hair and nails. Foods that are rich in antioxidants, like berries, prunes and pomegranates, help rid the body of harmful free radicals. Soy products are another healthy consumption option, as studies have shown benefits of soy and soy isoflavones for skin, hair and nail health (4).
It’s More than Skin Deep
Many people head directly for lotions and creams when looking to improve skin health. With the plethora of anti-aging products out there, it can be difficult to know what to choose. However, it may be beneficial to look beyond lotions. While lotions and creams can be great for skin, tell shoppers to think about both topical and internal cosmeceuticals, too. Skin cells constantly slough off and are replaced with new cells; so oral supplements can make all the difference by working from the inside out. Taking something orally as opposed to slathering something directly onto the skin can be counter-intuitive—but it works! Although supplements should not replace lotion like sunscreen, their added benefits are things to consider when working to maintain a healthy appearance.
Oral coenzyme Q10 can benefit skin health, for instance, and reduce the appearance of wrinkles (5). Coenzyme Q10 is naturally found in the body, but its production decreases over time (6). One reason why coenzyme Q10 helps to reduce wrinkles may be its role as an antioxidant (7). Another helpful supplement to keep in mind is hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is a lubricating fluid naturally found in connective tissue, and it happens to be a natural support structure for skin (8). Unfortunately, as our bodies age, levels of naturally formed hyaluronic acid decrease, which makes it an ideal nutrient to supplement (8).
Niacin and niacinide (vitamin B3) may also help reduce the signs of aging and improve skin tone and texture (9). Additionally, vitamin E has excellent moisturizing properties, and it may also help to protect the skin from the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays (10). Be careful, however, because studies have not shown that these photoprotective effects work when vitamin E is put on the skin topically, and it is thought that the presence of other antioxidants (like vitamin C, selenium and thiols) might be necessary as well (10).
Just as there is a lid to every pot, not everyone will benefit from the same supplements. Everybody is unique and some people require more of a certain nutrient than other people. For skin health, for example, the darker the skin color, the more important vitamin D becomes. In darker skin, more melanin is produced; while this means more protection against the damaging effects of the sun, a consequence is an increased difficulty in vitamin D synthesis (11). Vitamin D is found in fish and dairy products, but it is generally difficult to obtain enough of it through diet alone, which makes supplementation all the more necessary. So those with darker skin should be more concerned with obtaining the proper amount of vitamin D because it is harder for them to do so naturally, but everyone should be aware of the importance of getting enough vitamin D.
Healthy Hair and Nails, Too!
There are a number of nutrients to consider when wanting to support healthy hair and nails. Biotin (vitamin H) is a good option for thinning hair; however, it is most important and helpful when one is already deficient in biotin (12). While there are not as many supplements for helping nails as there are for skin and hair, nails can benefit from biotin. Biotin supplements can improve the appearance of thin, splitting or brittle toe and fingernails (13). Omega-3 fatty acids can improve hair’s luster, resulting in shiny, healthy-looking hair; silica, zinc and vitamins A, C and E also help to promote healthy hair growth (12).
Vitamin A helps grow and maintain hair and skin, vitamin C helps the body absorb iron (which is needed to grow hair) and vitamin E improves blood flow, which aids hair growth, for example (14). Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) is particularly important to supplement, as it is not produced in the body and it is water-soluble, which means it goes through the body quickly and needs to be replenished faster than fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A and E. Silicon is important not only for the maintenance of the body’s connective tissue, but also for strengthening hair, nails and skin (15). Additionally, niacin helps improve skin and nails, and acts to simulate follicles, which results in stronger, healthier hair (16).
The Bottom Line
Clear skin, shiny hair and smooth nails are more than just aesthetically pleasing. Looking healthy on the outside means things are working on the inside, and is a sure sign of a healthy lifestyle. Many supplements that are good for skin are beneficial for hair and nails, too. In terms of the supplements of which to be aware and to take for a healthy exterior, this means that many options have a three-for-one appeal! WF
Sarah Harwood is a freelance writer based in Princeton, NJ.
1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “The Risks of Tanning,” www.fda.gov/Radiation-EmittingProducts/RadiationEmittingProductsandProcedures/Tanning/ucm116432.htm, accessed March 19, 2011.
2. C. Ahn, P. Mulligan and R. Salcido, “Smoking- the Bane of Wound Healing: Biomedical Interventions and Social Influences,” Advances in Skin & Wound Care, 21 (5), 227–236 (2008).
3. E. H. Spencer, H.R. Ferdowsian and N.D. Barnard, “Diet and Acne: A Review of the Evidence,” Int. J. Dermatol. 48 (4), 339–347 (2009).
4. R. M. Blair and A. Tabor, “Potential Benefits of Soy for Skin, Hair, and Nails,” Nutrition for Healthy Skin (2), 109–117 (2011).
5. M. Udompataikul, et al., “An Oral Nutraceutical Containing Antioxidants, Minerals, and Glycosaminoglycans Improves Skin Roughness and Fine Wrinkles,” Int. J. Cosmetic Sci., E-publication (2009).
6. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, “Coenzyme Q10,” www.mayoclinic.com/health/coenzyme-q10/NS_patient-coenzymeq10, accessed March 20, 2011.
7. University of Maryland Medical Center, “Coenzyme Q10,” www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/coenzyme-q10-000295.htm, accessed March 23, 2011.
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9. H.R. Jerajani, et al., “The Effects of a Daily Facial Lotion Containing Vitamins B3 and E and Provitamin B5 on the Facial Skin of Indian Women: A Randomized, Double-Blind Trial,” Ind. J. Dermatol. Venereol. Leprol. 76, 20–26 (2010).
10. L. Baumann, “Cosmeceutical Critique: Vitamin E,” Skin & Allergy News, 13 (July 2001), www.vitasearch.com/get-clp-summary-29639, accessed March 19, 2011.
11. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, “Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D,” http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitamind/, accessed March 29, 2011.
12. S. Strausfogel, “Healthy Hair Growth,” http://betternutrition.com/health-hair-growth/personalcare/naturalbeauty/1010, accessed March 20, 2011.
13. University of Maryland Medical Center, “Vitamin H (Biotin),” www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/vitamin-h-000342.htm, accessed March 29, 2011.
14. M. Grimers, “Vitamins Prevent Hair Loss: Vitamin A, B, C, D, and Vitamin E,” Natural News Network, June 18, 2010, www.naturalnews.com/02918_hairloss_vitamins.html, accessed March 20, 2011.
15. C. Bouchez, “Nutrients for Healthy Skin: Inside and Out,” www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/skin-nutrition, accessed March 20, 2011.
16. K. Williams, “Beautifying Your Coiffure,” WholeFoods Magazine, 32 (7), 41 (2009), www.wholefoodsmagazineonline.com/hbc/features/beautifying-your-coiffure, accessed March 29, 2011.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2011