These days, it's possible to do a whole lot more with your morning smoothie than get an added dose of protein. A dash of ashwagandha may lower cortisol levels, a pinch of reishi mushroom powder may boost immunity, a sprinkle of keratin may strengthen hair, a scoop of collagen powder may keep skin supple—the list goes on. Yes, these days, keeping your skin healthy comes from the inside out, and it's more than just drinking a lot of water; what was once was topical is now edible. With keratin, collagen, and hyaluronic acid all available for consumption, you can't help but wonder, does consuming all of these powders and potions really make a difference? Here, Dr. Whitney Bowe, dermatologist and author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin, breaks it down.
First of all: does taking edible beauty supplements work?
Yes! Studies show that if you take collagen on a daily basis for between four and 12 weeks, it can improve skin elasticity, hydration, and even improve the appearance of wrinkles. I was also very impressed with studies showing that daily collagen supplement use can help ease joint pain in both younger athletes and older men and women who suffer from joint pain and discomfort.
Why do our collagen levels drop as we age and what changes as they drop?
Collagen keeps our skin elastic and smooth. It is the most abundant naturally-occurring protein in our body and it’s essential to the health of our bones, joints, cartilage, hair and nails. Starting in our mid-twenties we begin to lose approximately one percent per year. Then our skin loses collagen quickly during menopause, with up to 30 percent decline during the first five years. After that it declines about two percent a year. Our body is in a constant state of equilibrium, continuously breaking down collagen and rebuilding collagen. However, as we age our ability to replace and repair collagen isn’t as effective. As a result, our skin slowly begins to lose firmness and elasticity and we begin to notice more fine lines and wrinkles.
Can edible beauty products fill that deficit and give us healthier skin?
I absolutely think that supplementing your diet with the right nutrients can help you not only achieve healthier bones, joints, and skin but can also help you reach your goals faster. But keep in mind these edible beauty products are meant to be adjunctive to an optimized diet, exercise and skincare routine. For example, if you incorporate a high quality collagen powder into your daily health regimen, it will help to boost skin hydration and elasticity. However, if you eat a diet rich in high glycemic index, refined foods, then the sugar from those foods will break down the collagen in your skin through a process called glycation. Consequently, you are sabotaging the efficacy of your collagen supplement with poor dietary choices in that instance. Similarly, if you take that same supplement but you don't do any resistance training at the gym, and your calcium and vitamin D intake is low, then your bone health won't be optimal. Supplements don't replace a healthy diet, exercise, and skincare routine. They are meant to take your goals to the next level, or expedite the process so you reach those goals sooner.
What about adaptogens?
Adaptogens may be new to the Western World, but they have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic healing and Chinese medicine. They are plants and herbs which, when ingested, help to rebalance your body’s stress responses and “adapt” to these stressors in a healthier way. As I say all the time, taking care of our skin is also an inside job, and these herbs help to heal our skin from the inside out. Proponents of adaptogens claim that they may impact hormone production and physiological responses to stress to ensure that your body—from your mind to your immune system to your energy levels—are balanced, restored, and returned to calm, optimal functioning. From a scientific perspective, it would be beneficial to see larger studies establishing the benefits of these herbs.
What should we look for in a quality edible beauty product?
It is well established that what you eat impacts your health and can reduce the inflammation that contributes to so many chronic diseases but not all edible beauty products are made equal. Do your research! After my due diligence, I was most impressed with Body Kitchen collagen supplements. They’re fortified with powerful di-peptides PO and OG. I was so impressed that I agreed to become their physician ambassador. Overall, you want to look for products that have been tested for safety, efficacy and consistency—look at lab results, the time frame before results were visible, and how long the results last. Most of these effects won’t persist longer than a month after stopping your supplements, so this is a commitment if you want to see continued results.
What should the consumer be weary about?
Not all collagen supplements are equally safe or effective. For example, collagen supplements are made from ground up animal, fish, chicken, and cow parts. Although these animal parts are naturally rich in collagen, they can also act like a sponge for contaminants such as heavy metals. As a consumer you want to look for products made from the highest quality protein sources; marine collagen should be from wild caught fish and bovine should be from grass fed cows, for example.
What are your top edible beauty product recommendations for women at every age?
I typically recommend a high quality collagen supplement for every decade. I recommend hyaluronic acid for patients in their forties and fifties, when skin is naturally less able to trap moisture. I have found that adaptogens are especially helpful for my patients during menopause.
What is the best way to incorporate these products into a daily routine?
I always recommend taking any supplements with food, and ideally with some healthy fats. I find that most supplements are better absorbed if taken this way. Although you might get better absorption spacing out supplements and vitamins throughout the day, the truth is that most people won’t remember to do that. The more complicated your regimen, the more likely you will throw in the towel or fail to be consistent. I’d rather you take all your supplements at dinner than create a complicated regimen that you never actually follow. With edibles, consistency is key!