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Nutrients for Healthy Skin: Inside and Out

Vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients can give your skin the youthful glow of good health.

Beyond Vitamins and Minerals: The New Skin Nutrients continued...

More specifically, explains Mary Sullivan, RN, alpha-lipoic acid helps neutralize skin cell damage caused by free radicals, much like vitamins C and E do. In one study conducted at Yale University and published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics in 1999, researchers found that alpha-lipoic acid protected proteins against damage by free radicals. Sullivan says it also helps other vitamins work more effectively to rebuild skin cells damaged by environmental assaults, such as smoke and pollution. Alpha-lipoic acid is available in supplements or in creams.

DMAE. Another powerful antioxidant, this nutrient has one of the strongest appetites for free radicals. It works mostly by deactivating their power to harm skin cells. It also helps stabilize the membrane around the outside of each cell so that assaults from sun damage and cigarette smoke are reduced.

According to Sullivan, DMAE also prevents the formation of lipofucsin, the brown pigment that becomes the basis for age spots. As with alpha-lipoic acid, DMAE is available in supplements and in topical creams.

Hyaluronic Acid. Made by the body, this nutrient's main job is to lubricate joints so that knees, elbows, fingers, and toes all move smoothly and easily. But Sullivan says research shows it also plays a role in skin cells, acting as a kind of glue that helps hold them together, keeping skin looking smoother and younger. Another plus is its ability to hold water, up to 1,000 times its weight, which means more moisture in each skin cell.

Top skin care lines now include creams with hyaluronic acid. Sullivan says it is equally powerful taken in supplement form, though more research is needed to prove effectiveness. The nutrient isn't readily available in food.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). If your skin is dry, prone to inflammation, and frequently dotted with white heads and black heads, you may be lacking essential fatty acids, nutrients that are crucial to the production of skin's natural oil barrier. Without an adequate supply of EFAs, the skin produces a more irritating form of sebum, or oil, which can result in problems.

The solution, says Sullivan, may be to balance two of the key EFAs, omega-3 and omega-6. While most folks get plenty of omega-6s (in baked goods, cooking oils, poultry, grains, and many other foods), omega-3s are often lacking. They're found mostly in cold-water fish, including salmon, sardines, and mackerel, flaxseed, and flax and safflower oils. Taking supplements, such as fish oil capsules or evening primrose oil, may also help keep your skin smoother and younger-looking.

Skin Nutrition: The Bottom Line

Most people can get all the nutrients their skin needs from a multivitamin and a healthy diet, says dermatologist Rhoda Narins, MD, of NYU's School of Medicine.

"You should get your basics in a multivitamin, and if you want to reap the benefits of all these other nutrients, get them in food, or use topical preparations," she says.

To some extent, Georgiana Donadio of the National Institute of Whole Health agrees: "It's not a matter of running out and spending a lot of money on vitamins. The idea is to use them in a very intelligent way that's healthful to you. But don't ever think they are the whole answer to dealing with a health problem, particularly aging skin."

Sullivan adds this skin advice: "The best approach is to drink plenty of water, use gentle products to cleanse your skin, always wear a sunscreen, and eat a balanced diet - then you can augment that care with nutritional supplements."

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