Beauty: Nutraceuticals for the Skin (cont.)

However, for New York University nutritionist Samantha Heller, getting to the truth of what works and what doesn't may lie in the concept of "subclinical" deficiencies -- a dip in nutrient levels that's too small to measure by standard tests, but may, in fact, still cause important changes in our skin.

"You are going to excrete whatever you don't use, so taking ultra high-dose products...may net you nothing more than very expensive urine."

"We are living in a world where there is so much environmental stress on our skin, along with internal physiological stress -- even that which happens naturally when we do something healthy, like exercise -- that yes, there may be a subclinical deficiency that will respond to nutrient supplementation," says Heller. In this respect, some beauty vitamins may help she says.

But do we have to take a pill to see results? Heller says no.

"If you're eating a healthy diet with a lot of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, plus essential fatty acids from foods like flax seed oil, then you should not have to take any kind of skin supplement -- but then again, so many people are not really eating healthy," Heller tells WebMD. When this is the case, she says, a supplement can help.

"It isn't as good as eating healthy and it isn't going to give you back everything you need to have healthy skin, but it could make some difference," says Heller.

While Fox agrees that taking a supplement can be beneficial when your diet is less than perfect, she also believes an ordinary multivitamin product -- and not necessarily a beauty vitamin -- will offer all the protection you need.

"At a certain point you are going to excrete whatever you don't use anyway, so taking ultra high-dose products, particularly on top of a multivitamin, may net you nothing more than very expensive urine," she says.

Those vitamins that aren't readily excreted, such as pure vitamin A, can cause acute or chronic toxicity if taken in excess doses. In adults and older children chronic doses of vitamin A as low as 30,000 micrograms daily can cause toxic side effects. So, if you are taking more than one beauty vitamin a day, or adding them on top of a multivitamin, she says keep an eye on your total daily intake. If you are pregnant, experts say be extra cautious about high levels of all forms of vitamin A. Birth defects have been seen in children born to mothers taking a form of vitamin A (isotretinoin) for skin conditions during pregnancy.

And while it's true that in many instances regular multivitamins may provide all the help your complexion needs, it's also important to note that, depending on your specific deficiency, sometimes even a top-of-the-line multivitamin might not include all the nutrients believed beneficial to skin. These include ingredients such as lycopene, Evening Oil of Primrose, green tea extract, pycnogenols, alpha lipoic acid, and CoQ10, as well as high enough levels of vitamins such as A, C, and E, all of which can be found in these specialized skin supplements. In this respect, at least some experts say adding a beauty vitamin to your regimen may be worth the effort, as long as you are realistic about the results.

"Keep in mind that you may not see anything dramatic right away, and you definitely should not stop using your topical skin care products, particularly sunscreen," says Newburger.

Fox agrees: "Regardless of what you take internally, your skin care basics should still include a thorough cleansing with a gentle product, daily moisturizing, and continued use of a sunscreen, during winter and summer."

Beauty Vitamins: What's Hot

Currently, both Olay and Avon offer general "wellness" supplements designed to address both overall health as well as skin health. In addition, Olay's specific beauty treatments include a formulation to increase skin's firmness, (high in antioxidants particularly vitamin C); one to protect the skin from environmental stress (also heavy on antioxidants); one to renew the structure of the skin (a combination of antioxidants and essential fatty acids from Evening Primrose Oil); and a support product for younger looking skin (high doses of vitamins A and D).

Avon's beauty vitamin line includes an acne clarifying complex (high in vitamin A) and a skin nourishing formula for moisture including hyaluronic acid, chondroitan sulfate, and MSM -- ingredients traditionally found in many joint pain relief nutrients.

L'Oreal, has released a skin nutrient in Europe based on an antioxidant complex, and is getting ready to do the same in the U.S. in the near future.

Colette Bouchez is the author of Your Perfectly Pampered Pregnancy: Health, Beauty and Lifestyle Advice for the Modern Mother-to-Be.

Published May 7, 2004.

SOURCES: Zoe Diana Draelos, MD, assistant professor of dermatology, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C. Joyce Fox, MD, Cedars Sinai Medical Group; professor, dermatology, University of Southern California. Amy Newburger, MD, Dermatology Consultants, Westchester, N.Y.; president, Westchester Academy of Medicine; spokeswoman, Olay Vitamins. Samantha Heller, MS, RD, New York Univeristy Medical Center, New York City.

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