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Collagen and biotin: Do they really work?

Your frequently asked questions

The latest beauty supplements offer an appealing promise: clear skin, strong nails and improved hair growth. Some even offer brighter eyes and glowing skin. Who can resist?

These oral beauty supplements are called “nutricosmetics” because they are a cross between nutrition and cosmetic skin care. Manufacturers are doing all they can to package these supplements so you’ll give them a try. This includes giving them appealing names. For example, instead of buying a collagen supplement, you purchase “Vibrant Skin.” Instead of biotin, you can buy “Undeniable Beauty.”

Taken once or twice a day, the products come with a hefty price tag, particularly if taken long-term. What’s more, some cosmetic companies recommend their supplements be used with other products in their line, such as serums or lotions, for best results.

"To me, the biggest issue surrounding these supplements is they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration,” says Julie Enga, dietitian at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “So, you can’t be sure what’s in there. That’s why I’d recommend first doing your research, and always talking to your personal doctor.”

Do beauty supplements like collagen and biotin work?

In a nutshell, the jury is still out, because research is still new. Here, Enga weighs in on some questions about collagen and biotin.

What is collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It forms your connective tissue, and is found in bones, muscle, skin and tendons. Your body produces collagen naturally, but slows as you age. Collagen supplements are advertised as a way to reduce wrinkles, improve the strength and appearance of your skin, hair and nails, and keep joints strong and flexible External Site. Collagen can be found in pill or gummy form, or as a powder that dissolves into hot drinks or blends into smoothies.

Does it work?

A few studies have shown it may be beneficial, but the studies themselves are small, and many are at least partially funded by industry insiders. One 2013 study showed that individuals taking a daily supplement containing collagen peptides saw a significant reduction in eye wrinkle depth External Site. Some studies have also shown that applying topical collagen peptides directly onto the skin can improve skin quality and texture, and fight wrinkles. Researchers say more studies are needed to verify claims.

What is biotin?

Also known as vitamin H, biotin is one of the B complex vitamins that helps the body convert food to energy. B vitamins, and specifically biotin, help keep your skin, hair, eyes, liver and nervous system healthy. 

Does it work?

Most people get enough biotin in their diet. Having a biotin deficiency is rare. As with collagen, more research needs to be done. The Institute of Medicine has set a recommended intake for biotin at 30 mcg per day for adults ages 19 and up, and 35 mcg per day for breastfeeding women. In general, a healthy diet provides the body with sufficient amount of biotin.

Is it dangerous to take these supplements?

Potential side effects include an upset stomach, constipation, or diarrhea. These types of supplements can interfere with other medications you may be taking or existing health conditions you may have, so always talk with your doctor. 

Remember that supplements are drugs, even though most people don’t consider them as such. Even if your doctor doesn’t ask you about supplement use, be sure to bring it up. Also, it’s important to talk to your doctor if you are concerned about thinning hair or weak nails, as it could be a sign of something else going on in your body.

How do I know if a supplement is safe?

Since the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements, you’ll have to do some research or discuss with your doctor. In general, choose supplements that have been tested by independent labs such as Consumer Lab, NSF International or U.S. Pharmacopeia. 

What about taking supplements in gummy form?

Gummies are certainly appealing, because they’re like eating candy. Remember that one serving often contains 2–3 grams of added sugar. If you do go with gummies, stick to the recommended dose, and keep them out of the reach of children.

How can I keep my skin looking good without supplements?

Your best bet is an antioxidant-rich diet that includes healthy fats. You’ve heard it before, but it’s true: Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, limit refined carbohydrates, avoid added sugars, and stay hydrated. If you’re having trouble with your skin, talk to a trusted dermatologist.

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