You probably already know the three surest ways to ensure youthful skin: Protect your skin from the sun, don't smoke, and eat a healthy diet.
In addition, a variety of vitamins and antioxidants may also improve the health and quality of your skin. Here are a few of the most effective ones:
Vitamins C and E and Selenium for Your Skin
Research has found that vitamins C and E, as well as selenium, can help protect the skin against sun damage and skin cancer. And they may actually reverse some of the discoloration and wrinkles associated with aging. These antioxidants work by speeding up the skin's natural repair systems and by directly inhibiting further damage, says Karen E. Burke, MD, PhD, of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine's department of dermatology.
Burke recommends taking supplements containing 1,000 to 3,000 milligrams of vitamin C, 400 international units of vitamin E (in the D-alpha-tocopherol form), and 100-200 micrograms of selenium (l-selenomethionine) to gain the most benefit. (Don't give selenium to children until they have all of their adult teeth because it can interfere with the proper formation of tooth enamel.)
Coenzyme Q10 for Your Skin
Coenzyme Q10 is a natural antioxidant in the body that helps the cells grow and protects them from the ravages of cancer. A drop in natural levels of coenzyme Q10 that occurs in our later years is thought to contribute to aging skin. A study published in the journal Biofactors found that applying coenzyme Q10 to the skin helped minimize the appearance of wrinkles. Most studies conducted so far have used a 0.3% concentration of it.
Alpha-lipoic Acid for Your Skin
This antioxidant, when applied topically as a cream, may help protect the skin from sun damage. Studies have looked at creams with 3%-5% concentration, applied every other day and building up slowly to once daily, and found some improvement in sun-induced changes in the skin.
Retinoic Acid for Your Skin
Retinoic acid is the active form of vitamin A in the skin and the "gold standard" in anti-aging skin care, according to Burke. Topical retinoic acid (brand names Renova and Retin-A) treats fine wrinkles, age spots, and rough skin caused by sun exposure. In a study published in the Journal of Dermatological Science, researchers found that treatment with retinoic acid restored the elastic fibers that keep skin taut, and reduced the appearance of wrinkles.
Retinoic acid comes in gel and cream forms, which are typically used once a day. Although dermatologists used to believe that retinoic acid made the skin more sensitive to the sun, they now know that it actually protects against further sun damage.
If you apply retinoic acid in too high of a concentration and too often, it can cause redness, extreme dryness, and peeling. Burke recommends starting with a low concentration (retinoic acid products range from 0.01% in gels to 0.1% in creams) and applying it once every second or third night to reverse photo damage more slowly.
Flavonoids (Green Tea and and Chocolate) for Your Skin
Green tea and yes, even chocolate, just might help improve your skin. Research suggests that the flavonoids in green tea are strong antioxidants that may help protect the skin from cancer and inflammation. A German study in the Journal of Nutrition found that women who drank hot cocoa with a high flavonoid concentration for three months had softer, smoother skin than women who drank hot cocoa with a lower flavonoid concentration.
Another study, this one in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, found that women whose skin was treated with green tea extract were more protected against the adverse effects of sunlight exposure. Although the results look promising so far, more research is needed to prove that flavonoids work and to determine the best dose, according to Burke.
B Vitamins for Your Skin
The B vitamins are essential for cells throughout the body, including skin cells. It's important to get enough of foods rich in B vitamins, such as chicken, eggs, and fortified grain products, because a B vitamin deficiency can lead to dry, itchy skin.
Research is showing that some B vitamins are beneficial when applied to the skin.
For example, in one study of hairless mice, researchers in Kawasaki, Japan, found topical application of an antioxidant derived from vitamin B-6 protected against sun-induced skin damage and decreased wrinkles.
Many other plant-based extracts are being studied for their positive effects on the skin, either when ingested or applied topically. Examples are rosemary, tomato paste (lycopene), grape seed extract, pomegranate, and soy. Some experts feel that a blend of many different antioxidants and extracts might be more effective than individual products. The final answer about the best doses and extracts remains to be determined by researchers.
Evaluating the Claims on Vitamins for Skin Care
Companies often claim that their products can give you miraculous results, but don't believe all the hype. Although nutritional supplements and cosmeceuticals (products that combine cosmetics and pharmaceutical ingredients) are tested for safety, their benefits aren't necessarily confirmed in studies.
Even though a product may claim to contain useful antioxidants such as vitamin C or E, it's often difficult to know exactly how much of these vitamins and antioxidants are in the bottle. Vitamins and antioxidants need to be in strong enough concentrations, and in the correct forms, to remain stable and to be effective. If you are thinking about using a vitamin or antioxidant for your skin, it's best to ask your dermatologist for advice before buying it.