Cosmetic Dermatology

The Role of Vitamins and Supplements on Skin Appearance

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Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin obtained through dietary intake and exposure to UV light.3,18,19 Precursors of vitamin D require interaction with UV light for conversion into active forms. The highest concentrations of 7-dehydrocholesterol are found in keratinocytes in the basal cell and spinous cell layers of the skin where they are protected from UV light by melanin. As such, individuals with higher melanin content in their skin require more exposure to UV light to produce the same levels of vitamin D as those with less melanin,20 leading to a high rate of vitamin D deficiency in dark-skinned individuals. Because of their prodifferentiating and antiproliferative effects, vitamin D analogs have been very effective in the treatment of psoriasis.20,21 Vitamin D deficiency also has been implicated in the pathogenesis of vitiligo. A systematic review and meta-analysis conducted in 2016 found that a significant relationship existed between low 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and vitiligo (P<.01), but no causal relationship could be established.22

A 2017 double-blind, placebo-controlled study performed by Scott et al23 aimed to elucidate the relationship between vitamin D concentrations and sunburn. Twenty adults received either placebo or high-dose vitamin D3 (200,000 IU) 1 hour after experimental sunburn induced by an erythemogenic dose of UVR. Investigators measured participants’ concentrations of the proinflammatory mediators tumor necrosis factor α and nitric oxide synthase via skin biopsy 48 hours later. Patients in the experimental group were found to have significantly reduced expression of both tumor necrosis factor α (P=.04) and nitric oxide synthase (P=.02). Additionally, participants with significantly higher vitamin D3 levels following supplementation (P=.007) demonstrated increased skin expression of the anti-inflammatory marker arginase-1 (P=.005) as well as a persistent reduction in skin redness (P=.02). Investigators concluded that vitamin D plays a large role in skin homeostasis and implicated vitamin D’s upregulation of arginase-1 as a potent mechanism of its anti-inflammatory effects.23


As humans age, the density of collagen in the dermis decreases, leading to sagging and wrinkling of skin.24 Oral supplementation of collagen has been examined for its dermatologic benefits, primarily increasing the thickness and density of collagen in the dermal layer. In 2014, Proksch et al25 performed a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in which 69 women were randomized to receive 2.5 or 5 g of collagen peptides or placebo for 8 weeks. Both treatment groups demonstrated improvements in skin elasticity as well as improved skin moisture and decreased skin evaporation; however, changes in the latter 2 qualities failed to reach statistical significance.25

The results of this study were replicated by Asserin et al.26 One hundred six female patients were randomly assigned to receive 10 g of collagen peptides or placebo daily for 8 weeks. The collagen group demonstrated significantly improved skin hydration (P=.003) and increased density of collagen in the dermis (P=.007) relative to placebo.26

In another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 71 women consumed a 20-mL beverage containing either 3000 mg of collagen peptides or placebo for 12 weeks.27 Participants in the treatment group demonstrated significant decreases in periorbital wrinkles (P<.05) and enhanced facial skin moisture (P<.001) and elasticity (P<.001) after 12 weeks. Researchers concluded that oral supplementation with collagen peptides holds promise as a natural supplement to provide cutaneous antiaging properties.27


Ceramides are lipids composed of a sphingoid base conjugated to a fatty acid and serve as the main component of the stratum corneum of the skin. Ceramides are crucial for the maintenance of skin barrier integrity and for preventing transepidermal water loss.28 In a 3-month study of 51 women with dry skin, Guillou et al29 showed that a ceramide wheat extract capsule significantly increased corneometry measurements of skin hydration on the arms (P<.001) and the legs (P=.012) compared to placebo.

Mixed Supplements

The discovery that nutritional contents can affect skin appearance has energized the development of combination supplements containing multiple vitamins and micronutrients. Imedeen is a biomarine complex and antioxidant supplement with several different formulations, including Prime Renewal, Time Perfection, and Derma One (Pfizer Inc). The ingredients include a combination of a biomarine complex (blend of fish proteins and polysaccharides), lycopene, grape seed extract, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc. Several trials have been conducted to assess the efficacy of the supplements on improving the appearance of photodamaged and aged skin (Table).

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