Can Anti-Aging Supplements Actually Make You Look Younger? Experts Weigh In

·11 min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

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For one reason or another, many of us wish we could turn back the clock and take better care of our skin. As a result, the anti-aging market has become worth hundreds of billions of dollars, with creams, face masks, and serums that promise to reverse the signs of aging and make you look younger. You'll also find a variety of supplements and vitamins for women that claim to take years off your skin on the market, too — but if you're not sure what the best anti-aging supplements are (or if they even work in the first place), then read on to get all the answers you need from the experts we spoke with, including top nutritionists and doctors.

Do anti-aging supplements work?

To answer this question, let's start with an explanation of how the aging process works: Cellular aging is inevitable, but premature aging can be caused by a variety of environment factors — including ultraviolet (UV) rays, poor diet, and alcohol — as well as psychological factors, like stress. For that reason, the best way to support healthy aging is with a nutrient-filled diet, regular exercise, and (most importantly) sunscreen. However, it's possible that supplements can help protect skin from those harmful environment effects, allowing you to look more youthful for longer.

That said, supplements can be tricky territory. You can't tell right away if these products are actually working, and the science behind beauty vitamins is "soft," meaning it lacks a lot of concrete evidence, according to Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, founding director of the Bay Dermatology Centre in Toronto. Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital, agrees, adding that there is "limited data showing effectiveness" with oral supplements. "Your best bet to address aging skin is just stick to a good skin care routine," he says. But he does note that certain supplements can potentially help protect your skin barrier, while Dr. Skotnicki says that consuming a combination of antioxidants (such as vitamins A and E), as well as beta carotene, lycopene, and omega-3 fatty acids may result in more supple skin.

What should you look for when buying anti-aging supplements?

If you want to try an anti-aging supplement, but you're lost in a sea of multivitamins and unsure of which one to choose, Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RDN, and author of Eat Clean, Stay Lean, says labels are key. Here's what to look for (and avoid):

  • Look for third party verification. To make sure your supplement actually contains what it claims to contain, you should look for "GMP" and "USP" on the label. This indicates that the product adheres to the Good Manufacturing Practices and U.S. Pharmacopeia Standards for quality and purity, among other things. The National Science Foundation (or NSF) and also provide a degree of certainty when it comes to verifying the effectiveness of a supplement.

  • Be wary of supplements that promise "energy." These supplements often contain caffeine, guarana, green tea, or other stimulants. Dr. Bazilian warns that in addition to caffeine-related jitters, these stimulants can occasionally cause elevated blood pressure or other issues.

  • Avoid taking too many herbs. Though herbal medicine has a lot of positive effects, Dr. Bazilian says "herbal medicine isn't one size fits all," and that there are risks associated with some. She suggests consulting someone licensed in herbal medicine in addition to your doctor before you try herb-dense supplements.

The best anti-aging supplements and vitamins to try in 2022

While dietary choices, exercise, skin care, stress levels, and sleep all impact the health and appearance of our skin as we age, if you're not getting enough nutrients through your diet, supplements can play a more important role in anti-aging, according to Whitney Bowe, MD, author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin. If you believe that you'll benefit from taking an anti-aging supplement, experts recommend talking to your doctor before adding any products to your shopping cart.

⚠️ Take note: Before adding a supplement to your routine, make sure to speak with your doctor, especially if you have an underlying health condition or are pregnant. Certain supplements can interfere with some medications and conditions. Supplements are intended to supplement the diet, and are not medicines intended to treat, mitigate, prevent or cure diseases.

And remember: It is possible to take too much of a certain vitamin, especially when fortified foods are combined with high-dose supplements. Even water soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C, can cause stomach problems, and too much of one vitamin or nutrient can even interfere or block absorption of another.

All that said, here are the best anti-aging supplements that can potentially support healthy aging, according to doctors and nutritionists:

1. Vitamin C

Everyone touts vitamin C for its ability to ward off colds and flu, but this potent antioxidant may also improve skin's texture and appearance. Sometimes referred to as ascorbic acid, Dr. Zeichner says it stimulates collagen production that can, in turn, help reduce fine lines. "Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that neutralizes free radical damage, prevents production of abnormal pigmentation, and serves as an essential cofactor for the production of healthy collagen," he says. "Think of vitamin C like an insurance policy on your sunscreen to prevent damage."

While it's well known that topical vitamin C treatments can have a skin brightening effect (Dr. Zeichner personally recommends using RoC Multi Correcxion Revive + Glow Vitamin C Serum), scientists are still digging into the efficacy of supplements. Small preliminary studies suggest that high doses may treat skin discoloration when delivered intravenously, and researchers found an association between consuming more vitamin C (along with more omega-6 fatty acids and less saturated fat) and fewer wrinkles.

2. Vitamin E

Like vitamin C, vitamin E plays an important role in immune function and the regulation of inflammation, but it also helps with your body's natural collagen production. "Think of collagen like the backbone of your skin, providing structure and support and improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles," Dr. Zeichner explains. "The evening is the time of rest and repair, when your skin cells naturally undergo higher rates of cell turnover. So I tell my patients to take advantage of this process by using [topical] ingredients that enhance collagen production, like vitamin E."

Similarly, vitamin E can aid in the maintenance of your skin barrier when ingested, which protects your body from irritants and excess water loss. Research suggests that older adults need more vitamin E than younger adults in order to maintain health during the aging process, so if you want to take an internal approach to healthy skin, then making sure you're getting enough of this vitamin can be helpful.

3. Polypodium leucotomos extract

Of course, the number one rule for younger-looking skin is protecting it from the sun. According to Nava Greenfield, MD, a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, ultraviolet light breaks down the extracellular matrix in between your cells and speeds up aging. That's why she recommends an anti-aging supplement that contains an extract from a Central American fern known as Polypodium leucotomos, which has been shown to increase the amount of time it takes for the skin to burn from the sun's harmful rays.

“My melasma patients swear by Heliocare,” Dr. Bowe adds. “Once they start using it, they finally see their skin start to brighten and their tone [even] out.” However, Dr. Bowe emphasizes that no pill can replace sunscreen — the reported level of protection is nowhere near high enough to meet the AAD's recommendation to use an SPF of 30 or higher — so yes, you still need to slather on sunscreen!

4. Curcumin

Curcumin, the main active compound in turmeric, has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, both of which can help support the skin by combating oxidative stress. And since oxidative stress leads to signs of aging, curcumin or turmeric supplements can potentially help your skin look fresher (especially since research demonstrates that curcumin activates certain proteins that help delay cellular deterioration).

5. L-theanine

An amino acid concentrated in certain teas (such as green tea), L-theanine has been shown to promote alpha brain waves, which are the same relaxing waves that occur during meditation. Because of this, some research indicates that supplementing with L-theanine can help protect against oxidative stress.

6. Zinc

This essential trace mineral is best known for boosting immune system function and aiding in wound healing — but both Dr. Skotnicki and Dr. Greenfield say it may also protect the skin from UV damage. Research published in the Journal of Nutrition found that a zinc deficiency can speed the aging process, and a report published in Pathobiology of Aging & Age-Related Diseases concluded that, while the current evidence on zinc's efficacy is limited, what is available looks promising.

7. Resveratrol

In addition to giving raspberries and grapes their deep red hue, this antioxidant has proven to be extremely beneficial for skin health. By helping skin respond to UV exposure and free radicals, resveratrol is useful in combating signs of skin aging, according to research. And while consuming enough of certain foods, like berries, can give you these benefits, it can sometimes be easier to see the benefits of this compound in supplement form.

8. Selenium

Similarly, selenium also has antioxidant properties that have the potential to enhance skin quality and fight free radicals. Selenium works alongside enzymes in your body to combat oxidative stress (which, again, is characterized by an accumulation of free radicals that accelerates the aging process), and it may even help to slow both mental and physical deterioration, according to available research.

9. Coenzyme Q10

Also referred to as CoQ10, this antioxidant compound — which the body naturally produces to help convert food into energy — has some science that suggests it may help reduce wrinkles and improve the texture of the skin, Dr. Skotnicki says. A review published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology found that CoQ10 supplements may alleviate age-related issues, including an increase in oxidative stress, while a study published in BioJournals found that a daily supplement of CoQ10 resulted in "significantly reduced wrinkles" and an improvement in skin smoothness.

10. Epigallocatechin gallate

Also known as EGCG, this unique plant compound offers several impressive health benefits and can be found concentrated in green tea. Researchers have found that there may be an association between green tea intake and protection against aging skin, as well as reduced hyperpigmentation caused by UV light. You can reap the benefits of EGCG by drinking green tea or taking concentrated green tea extract supplements.

11. Nicotinamide riboside

Also called niagen, nicotinamide riboside supports many aspects of healthy aging. "Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that calms inflammation and brightens skin tone," Dr. Zeichner says. And like other forms of vitamin B3, niagen is converted by your body into nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), which works to repair damaged DNA and fortify your cells' defense systems. Since the amount of NAD+ in your body naturally declines as you grow older, a niagen supplement can potentially help.

12. Collagen peptides

There are two amino acids in the protein collagen — proline and glycine — that are essential for the formation and repair of joints, bones, muscles, and tendons, Dr. Bowe says. However, they also help skin retain its firm appearance. A study published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology evaluated the effects of collagen peptides on the skin and found that those who consumed collagen showed a significant improvement in skin elasticity compared to those who took a placebo.

13. Crocin

A lesser-known skin care supplement, crocin is a yellow carotenoid pigment found in the spice saffron. Over the years, studies have shown that crocin offers many health benefits, such as protecting against age-related decline. Research has also suggests that crocin can prevent aging in skin cells by reducing inflammation and protecting against UV light damage.

14. Multivitamin

Though multivitamins aren't specifically intended for anti-aging, Dr. Bazilian says there can be potential anti-aging benefits of taking a multivitamin. "A multivitamin might support healthy aging by ensuring nutrients needs are met in general," Dr. Bazilian says. Of course, she stresses this is alongside other health habits such as diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management.

The bottom line

Supplements cannot take the place of a balanced diet, daily exercise, and SPF when it comes to protecting your skin. And while supplements like curcumin, CoQ10, and vitamin C may offer age-supportive effects, they won't magically restore your skin or take 10 years off your face overnight. The best way to promote longevity (and stay looking youthful for longer) is to take good care of yourself, keep your stress at bay, and stick to a skin care routine that works.

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