The shine of your hair, glow of your skin, and strength of your nails are all major indicators of overall health. Even if you have a clean bill of health and just want to look your very best, there are several supplements that can help. In many cases, supplements that help one aspect of your beauty will also provide carry-on benefits for the others as well.
The most important substance required for healthy hair is keratin. Keratins are proteins made from amino acids (mainly alanine and glycine) that help form hair, skin, and nails and keep them strong and healthy. Your hair is made almost exclusively of protein, most notably keratin, so if you aren’t supplementing, make sure you get adequate amino acids in your diet. Lean meat, fish, eggs and dairy are all excellent sources of protein. For vegetarians, quinoa and soy provide all nine of the body’s essential amino acids. While beans and nuts do not provide all of the essential amino acids, they do feature significant levels of protein. If you do decide to supplement, a certain type of bioavailable keratin – known as Cynatine HNS – has been shown to benefit the strength and appearance of both hair and nails.
Biotin, also known as vitamin B7, is a supplement popular for its ability to support both hair and nail quality. Biotin is necessary for cell growth and for the proper metabolism of fats and proteins in the body. It is also known as vitamin H, because of its relationship with “Haar und Haut,” German for “Hair and Skin.”
Myth bust: Although biotin is biologically required for hair, skin, and nails, high doses of biotin aren’t always the best. Here’s why. There isn’t significant research that supports the use of biotin to support hair, nail, and skin health. A small study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that biotin supplementation increased nail thickness and reduced nail splitting in people with brittle nails from time to time. In fact, most studies are mediocre. Some show benefits with supplementation and some don’t.
Although no upper limit for biotin has been defined, a recent safety alert was released about high doses of biotin (above 1000 mcg) being problematic for certain labs. Troponin, thyroid hormones (TSH, T4, T3), steroid and sex hormones (FSH, LH, estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, and cortisol), nutrient levels (B12, folic acid, and Vitamin D) can be impacted by supplementing with high doses of biotin.
Biotin is often included in many beauty products or vitamin B-complex supplements. However, it is important to review the dosages on those products. If they are too low, it is unlikely that you will see improvements to the quality of your hair, skin or nails. The suggested intake for biotin is 30 mcg/day for most adults, and 35 mcg/day for breastfeeding women, but therapeutic dosages can be as high as 100 mcg/day. Our prenatal vitamin only includes 100% of the RDA of biotin at 35 mcg. Since biotin is not stored in the body, it must be a regular part of the diet. Foods that are high in biotin include nuts, sweet potatoes, meat, and eggs.
Keep in mind that supplementing with biotin may impact your lab results. Be sure to discuss your supplements with your health team. They may recommend taking a break from biotin supplementation 1-2 weeks before scheduled lab work.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and a great supplement for skin health. This powerful vitamin is necessary for the production of collagen, and has also been shown to help the body maintain its natural collagen deposits at optimal levels.
As an antioxidant, vitamin C can protect the body from free radicals. We get exposed to free radicals from numerous sources including sun exposure, living in cities, pollution, and just from normal everyday aging. In addition to citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, peppers, Brussels sprouts, and berries are also good sources of vitamin C. If you are concerned that you do not consume enough plant-based vitamin C, you may want to consider a vitamin C supplement.
Astaxanthin (pronounced “as-ta-zan-thin”) is a unique carotenoid that is known for giving many fish and shellfish a bright pink color – think shrimp and salmon. The purest form of this powerful antioxidant is derived from a very small algae.
Astaxanthin has performed well in clinical trials, where it was shown to support healthy skin hydration and even tone for those who were supplemented with 6 mg orally over a period of 6-8 weeks. According to a 2009 study published in the medical journal Experimental Dermatology, astaxanthin may be effective in maintaining healthy skin from the everyday oxidative stressors that may contribute to wrinkles. Beyond supporting the skin’s healthy appearance, clinical studies suggest that astaxanthin supports general heart and brain health. Due to these key benefits, supplementing with astaxanthin is worth considering, especially if you rarely consume seafood.
Fat gets a bad rap, but we all know not all fats are created equal. Omegas are better known as healthy fats, and they are important for several things, including building healthy skin layers. The skin is made of three layers, the outermost layer being the epidermis, which uses fats to maintain healthy skin moisture and hydration. This preliminary study found that omega-3s containing EPA and DHA may even have photoprotective properties when taken orally. Initial results demonstrate lower sensitivity to UV rays from the sun. Additional research is needed. To support healthy skin appearance and function from within, consider improving your diet and adding in at least 2 servings of fatty fish per week or supplement with at least 500 mg of combined EPA + DHA omega-3s daily. These are available sources from fish oil as well as marine algae for a vegan option.
Collagen is the primary structural protein that makes up all of our connective tissue. It is often credited for providing skin’s strength. Paired with soft keratin, collagen is a fibrous tissue that is crucial for healthy, vibrant skin. This is one reason collagen is so popular. Simply getting sufficient amounts in your diet through food can be challenging, so supplements can also be part of the solution.
Though the typical modern diet is not rich in foods containing collagen, bone broth is gaining popularity for its collagen content. The body can produce collagen through the consumption of key amino acids: glycine, lysine, and proline. Glycine, lysine and proline are found in meat, eggs, dairy, soy, and seafood. Beans, lentils and nuts are excellent vegetarian sources of glycine, lysine, and proline. In order for the body to convert lysine and proline into collagen, vitamin C is also required. Grass fed collagen in powder form seamlessly blends into coffee, tea, and smoothies. Collagen can support hydration and elasticity in skin, and strengthen nails.
Ceramides are a family of lipid molecules that are popular in skincare supplements and topical lotions due to their moisturizing ability. The effects of aging and exposure to harsh elements, like wind and sun, can deplete the skin’s natural lipids. These lipids play an important role in retaining the skin’s moisture and reinforce the top layer of the skin’s cells that serve as a protective barrier.
When taken orally, ceramides can boost skin firmness, elasticity, and hydration. If using plant-based supplements is important to you, be sure to double check the source of your ceramides supplement, as they can sometimes be derived from wheat or rice-extract preparations or produced synthetically. For those who are gluten sensitive, rice extract preparations of ceramides may be ideal.
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient needed for a healthy immune system, and it also plays a role in healthy tissues, including eyes, skin, and hair. It is found in foods as two different forms:
Vitamin A is a powerful micronutrient that supports a healthy skin repair process through supporting the synthesis of type I collagen, which is the most abundant type of collagen in the human body and important for healthy skin and tissues. It also supports regulation of a healthy skin microbiome, which is necessary for managing skin issues related to microbes. Additionally, vitamin A contributes to the production of sebum, a natural oil that helps moisturize both skin and scalp.
For those who may have difficulty obtaining adequate vitamin A through their diet, supplements can be a convenient and effective solution. The RDA for vitamin A is 900 mcg RAE for adult persons born male and 700 mcg RAE for adult persons born female. As with most things, the right balance matters. Excess amounts of preformed vitamin A, however, can lead to dry skin, hair loss, and other negative side effects. So, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting a vitamin A supplement and to keep to recommended serving sizes.
Although Vitamin D, (also known as the sunshine vitamin), may not be the first nutrient that comes to mind, research shows that it supports skin cell growth, helps to maintain healthy hair follicles. This essential vitamin also plays a crucial role in regulating the immune system.
A healthy balance of the production of keratin, one of the main components of healthy hair and the outer layer of skin, requires vitamin D. Vitamin D supports hair follicle cycling as seen through vitamin D receptors (VDR). In two stages of the hair cycle (catagen and anagen) there is an increase of VDR indicating the significance of vitamin D in the hair growth cycle. Active metabolites of vitamin D also support healthy skin aging processes and have UV protective properties. Additional human studies are needed to fully understand the extent of vitamin D involvement in hair, skin, and nail health.
The RDA of vitamin D is 15 mcg (or 600 IU) for adults, or 20 mcg for adults over 70. However, getting enough vitamin D each day can be a challenge. One of the best sources of vitamin D is through sun exposure to the skin. However, age, skin pigmentation, latitude, genetics, and other factors influence how much vitamin D is synthesized from sun exposure. Additionally, natural sources of vitamin D in foods are limited, since vitamin D only naturally occurs in fatty fish and egg yolks. It’s also present in fortified foods and some mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light. For this multitude of reasons, vitamin D supplements can serve as a valuable alternative to ensure sufficient intake.
As always, it's essential to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice on supplementation. Blood work can test if levels are adequate.
Vitamin E doubles not only as a fat-soluble vitamin but also a powerful antioxidant. It offers a range of benefits to support healthy hair, skin, and nails, making it a natural beauty enhancer. As an antioxidant, vitamin E combats free radicals and can help protect skin from premature aging. It also has moisturizing properties that contribute to soft, supple skin while aiding in reducing the appearance of scars and promoting a clear complexion when applied topically. Hair gets a boost from vitamin E as well, as the vitamin can help promote blood circulation, delivering essential nutrients to the hair follicles and supporting strong hair.
An association has been found between some hair, nails, and skin issues with micronutrient deficiencies such as low vitamin E.. A diet rich in antioxidants from foods and supplements can support healthy hair, skin and nails. A good example of the need for a well-rounded antioxidant-rich diet is the concept of “vitamin E recycling.” Since it is widely used as an antioxidant in the body, vitamin E can get depleted when cleaning up oxidative stress. Vitamin C can actually help the body to restore levels of vitamin E in a synergistic recycling process.
Some additional research has emerged that may point to tocotrienols as the safer and more effective form of vitamin E to use in supplementation. The RDA for vitamin E is 15 mg or 22 IU daily for those 14 and older. Some of the best food sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, and salmon.
Proper doses of vitamin E are important for safety, since very high doses of vitamin E may have a pro-oxidation effect in the body. Doses up to 1,000 mg per day in adults appear to be safe, although more data is needed on testing for longer durations.
Hyaluronic acid is a molecule found in the human body mainly in cartilage and synovial fluid that promotes joint health. In addition, hyaluronic acid is necessary for skin health and often an important molecule used in beauty regimens. It is essential for skin moistness and tissue integrity since it is a major component of the extracellular matrix, where much of the skin’s collagen resides.
There is abundant research on hyaluronic acid for skin health, much of it on topical treatments or injections. Clinical trial evidence for oral supplementation is less robust, however. One trial of 60 subjects found that after 28 days, an oral hyaluronic supplement supported skin hydration, elasticity, and healthy fullness and firmness. Another trial of 40 subjects found that participants had improved skin water content, fullness, firmness, and elasticity after 12 weeks of supplementation with hyaluronic acid. While studies for oral supplement use have been small, results are promising. More research is needed to make firm conclusions about long-term use and effects, but at the very least hyaluronic acid has a good safety profile.
MSM is a naturally occurring compound found in various foods that contains sulfur, an important nutrient in the body with a multitude of roles. Sulfur acts as a major essential element found in the MSM compound and it is necessary in several areas of the body including but not limited to collagen and protein formation, detoxification, immune response, and energy production.
MSM is a valuable source of sulfur in collagen and keratin production, supporting maintenance of skin elasticity and strength in nails and hair. By supporting collagen formation, MSM contributes to a more youthful complexion, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Its support of a healthy immune response aids maintaining healthy skin and can help promote scalp health, fostering thicker, healthier hair growth.
A 2020 study of 20 participants found that MSM intake was associated with healthy skin texture, hydration, and appearance. Improvements were seen at intakes of 1 to 3 grams per day, with 3 grams proving to be more effective. Outside of these small studies, no large-scale studies on MSM have been done, but the current evidence on MSM’s benefits are promising.
MSM can be found in protein-rich foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and legumes as well as sulfur-rich vegetables including onions, garlic, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus. For those seeking that extra boost, MSM supplements can provide a convenient way to ensure sufficient intake.
Perhaps a lesser known nutrient, silica is a remarkable mineral naturally abundant in both foods and supplements offering multiple benefits to support healthy hair, skin and nails. In fact, silica, also known as silicon dioxide, is the second most abundant element on the Earth and the third most abundant trace mineral in the body.
Silica plays a vital role in collagen formation, providing structural support as well as supporting the enzymes that cross-link collagen fibers, creating a strong network that supports skin strength and elasticity. Evidence also suggests that hair with a higher silicon content results in a lower rate of hair shedding. Additionally, in vitro research has found that it can protect skin cells from UV light due to its antioxidant properties, although this has not been tested in human trials.
Overall, little research has been done on oral silica supplementation for hair, skin, and nail health. Silica supplements are widely used, but bioavailability (ability of the body to absorb and use) varies between 1%-50%. Orthosilicic acid, which we’ll discuss next, is the most bioavailable form of silica, but clinical studies evaluating efficacy and safety are still lacking.
Another supplement that particularly aids in nail refurbishment is choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid, or ch-OSA. It is a bioavailable form of silicon, which has long been recognized as an important building block of skin, hair, and nails. It has been found to be an effective therapy for supporting strength in all three of those areas, especially when attempting to repair the effects of prolonged sun exposure. Because of the helpful effects it produces for all three of these beauty areas, it may be a good way to address concerns across the spectrum with a single therapeutic regimen.
It is easy to lose track of the fact that our outward appearance is the result of our overall health. If you feel like the quality of your hair, nails or skin could be improved, then first make sure your diet is providing you with adequate nutrients. When it comes to the health of hair, skin and nails, essential nutrients play both direct and indirect roles. Drinking plenty of water and exercising regularly can also have a noticeable impact on beauty. Quality supplements can provide an added boost or help bring about results faster, but remember that they are not replacements for a healthy lifestyle. Speak with your healthcare professional. You can also take a lifestyle assessment questionnaire to determine which supplements could be right for you.
Incorporating the right supplements into your daily routine can significantly enhance hair, skin, and nail health, allowing you to radiate beauty from within. The 13 supplements discussed in this article are some of the top contenders, each offering unique and powerful benefits. Of course, always combine supplement intake with a healthy diet rich in nutrients and antioxidants, as well as healthy lifestyle practices like adequate sleep and regular physical activity. These practices go a long way to supporting overall health as well as healthy hair, skin, and nails. Before starting any new supplement regimen, however, consult with a healthcare professional to ensure safety and determine the appropriate dosages for your individual needs.