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Can vitamins really make your skin look better?

Not all beauty supplements do what they claim.
Nathan Congleton / TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

If it sounds too good to be true, well, you know what they say.

Swallow a pill or drink a liquid supplement and, like magic, your skin, hair and nails will be restored to their youthful glow. That’s some of the marketing we’re seen from beauty companies claiming that their product will work wonders to improve how you look, but do they really work?

“We used to call beauty creams ‘hope in a jar,’” said Dr. Rajani Katta, a clinical professor of dermatology at the McGovern Medical School University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. “Now we call it ‘hope in a capsule.’ That’s what it is. It’s hope. There is no single supplement that can ever replace the foundation of good health. People are hoping they can eat whatever they want and take a supplement, but it doesn’t work that way.”

Here, TODAY Style investigates what the ingredients in beauty supplements really mean and whether (or not) they work:


The promise: Otherwise known as vitamin B7, biotin is regularly marketed as a way to thicken hair.

The reality: Biotin supplements won’t work unless you have an actual deficiency (you’ll need bloodwork to know that). Chances are, the product you’re using isn’t going to restore thinning locks and may even have more biotin than recommended by the FDA. “The biotin level in one popular gummy contains 5,000 micrograms of biotin while the FDA suggests that an adequate intake of biotin is just 30 micrograms,” Katta said.


The promise: Collagen is marketed as a way to help your skin look young and supple.

The reality: Only a few studies have found that collagen supplements may help the appearance of skin, said Dr. Lisa M. Donofrio, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine and Tulane University School of Medicine. “(Some) studies did find that after supplementing with 10 grams of collagen peptides (a smaller version of collagen that can be absorbed), the skin showed greater elasticity, the ability to retain moisture better and decreased wrinkling,” she said.

The problem is, Donofrio explained, there isn't an industry standard to help consumers tell the difference between the different types to distinguish what is or isn't effective.

Polypodium Leucotomos

The promise: Derived from the fern plant, this compound acts as an "oral sunscreen" and can suppress sunburn.

The reality: In recent studies, this supplement (product name, HelioCare) has been shown to help prevent sun damage from UVA and UVB rays. “It’s anti-inflammatory and may help suppress skin cancer formation, too," said Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a dermatologist in Los Angeles.

Important to note: You can add this supplement to your daily sun safety routine, but don’t forget to wear sun-protective clothing and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30+, Shainhouse said.


The promise: This mineral found in Brazil nuts, tuna and beef is touted for its antioxidant properties that help the skin fight free radicals and improve elasticity.

The reality: While there has been anecdotal evidence that selenium can help control inflammatory diseases, like psoriasis and eczema, vitamins on the market may contain more selenium than necessary, which can lead to hair loss, muscle cramps, joint pain and fatigue, according to Katta. “In one case, a multivitamin contained as much as 200 times the intended dose of selenium,” Katta added. “This led to an FDA warning.”

Vitamin A

The promise: This vitamin is another that has been marketed as a key ingredient in promoting hair growth.

The reality: “In general, vitamin A deficiency is not going to be an issue in the developed world as long as someone is eating a balanced diet with fruits and vegetables (and the amount in most multivitamins should be fine as well)," Katta said. She doesn't recommend anyone without a deficiency taking additional vitamin A.

Important to note: A healthy, varied diet will give you all the vitamin A you need, Katta said. “Keep in mind that if you supplement with vitamin A and are also taking a multivitamin, you’re putting yourself at serious risk of taking way too much," she added.

Vitamin B12

The promise: This vitamin is said to help stimulate hair cells and help hair grow.

The reality: You should always be tested before supplementing with vitamin B12, Katta said. “There’s no evidence that it helps the skin in the absence of any deficiency,” she said.

Vitamin C

The promise: Vitamin C claims to make your skin look brighter and smoother.

The reality: Your best bet is to get the vitamin C you need from eating certain foods, such as yellow peppers, kiwis, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. “I haven’t seen any convincing data that supplements provide any benefit unless you have a deficiency,” Katta said.

Vitamin D

The promise: This vitamin has long shown to help with bone-building and immune-boosting properties.

The reality: Instead of a supplement, seek out vitamin D-rich foods, including fatty fish, dairy, egg yolks and beef liver, unless you’ve been tested and shown to be deficient.

Vitamin E

The promise: This potent antioxidant is used to treat skin inflammation and promises to help heal damaged skin.

The reality: “You need the right dose of vitamin E as studies have found that taking vitamin E at too high of a dosage can worsen damage,” Katta said. “In other words, if you’re not deficient, I don’t recommend it.”