They probably aren't.
However, don't totally abandon the idea of beauty (literally) from the inside out. As dermatologist Dr. Julia Tzu, the founder and director of Wall Street Dermatology in New York City points out, the ingestible beauty product category is huge. And while, for the most part, she cautions against false hope, there are a couple of supplement ingredients that do actually seem to do what the package promises.
For starters, Dr. Tzu says there is some scientific data to suggest the use of biotin (a complex of B vitamins also known as "Vitamin H") for nail and hair health. You can buy biotin supplements over the counter, but you should always check with your doctor before adding a supplement to your daily routine.
Another digestible beauty product that might actually work (to a certain extent) is, believe it or not, sunscreen. There is real data backing the utility of Polypodium leucotomos, an ingredient derived from a fern plant, in protection from UV radiation, says Dr. Tzu. She points out Heliocare as one brand that uses this ingredient. However, cautions Dr. Tzu, you cannot rely on the pills alone for sun protection.
"Sunscreen usage and sun avoidance is still advised even if you were to take the supplements," she says. "For people who are already wearing sunscreen and practicing prudent sun avoidance, taking pills with Polypodium leucotomos extract can provide an additional layer of protection."
Other supplements, such as collagen or hyaluronic acid supplements that allegedly promote collagen and hyaluronic acid production in the skin, have much less credibility and scientific data to back their claims, says Dr. Tzu. "Keep in mind that all supplements are not tightly regulated by the FDA, as drugs and medications are," she adds. "So buyer beware."
But what if you've heard really great things about a certain product and you want to check it out? The smartest route is to do a little research, says Dr. Tzu. You want to know whether or not there are any real studies, preferably large scale, that back up a product's claim about its usage or its main ingredient. Dr. Tzu recommends checking out PubMed, which she says is a respectable online database that scientists and doctors go to for looking up such publications.
So is there a downside? Like, if you really want to try one of these products? "Given the minimal regulation by the FDA on the supplement industry, it is difficult to know what exactly are in the supplements," cautions Dr. Tzu. For that reason, she says you're taking a risk whenever you purchase any supplement — beauty or otherwise.
The bottom line? "In general, having a well-balanced diet that includes lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins is sufficient to obtain all the required building blocks to have healthy skin and a healthy body," says Dr. Tzu. "'Beauty drinks' and 'beauty pills' are more costly, less effective and less evidence-based than simple healthy living."
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