Do I Need…? Supplements

I’ve been hearing a lot about beauty supplements. Sephora sent me several promotional e-mails and has a pop up for their site advertising them. Seems like a perfect timing. Supplements, in general, have been a big question mark for me, actually, since I stopped eating meat a couple weeks ago. I knew I would need a multivitamin to ensure I was staying healthy. My search for the perfect multivitamin just happened to collide with an online controversy that got me asking a whole lot of questions: what is the difference between a beauty supplement and a multivitamin? Are beauty supplements worth the investment? Or do they truly amount to what some sites call nothing more than “expensive pee”?

Let’s investigate.

What Are They?

Depending on the supplements being compared, there can be a little or a lot of difference between a multivitamin and a beauty supplement. A multivitamin is designed to support a person’s diet by providing vitamins and minerals they may be lacking. There’s a list of usual suspects in multivitamin formulas, but there are specialized blends to address particular deficits. I had no trouble finding several containing iron to make up for all the meat I was no longer eating. The cost of multivitamins varies depending on the brand and the formula, but they can run as low as a couple of dollars a month.

A beauty supplement is formulated with vitamins and minerals that address cosmetic concerns such as clear skin or strengthening nails and hair. There is some overlap between beauty supplements and multivitamins in terms of their formulas (Vitamin C, D, E; zinc), but a beauty supplement also touts other ingredients. Some of the more popular ones include biotin, which is supposed to help strengthen hair and nails; collagen, which is supposed to improve skin elasticity; a smattering of oils like primrose to improve skin condition; and ingredients like chlorella, which are supposed to assist with mental health. The cost of beauty supplements also varies, but I have yet to find an option I would define as cost-effective.

Do They Work?

Short answer? They can. To what extent is open to debate.

In the case of multivitamins, benefits have been noted for people with dietary restrictions, like vegetarians and vegans, or people with poor diets. Studies have noted that they can lend to improvements in health for high-risk individuals and the elderly. However, definitive recommendations are hard to come by from major health organizations because multivitamins don’t have any significant impact on the likelihood of an individual contracting major illnesses. Also, many people may find a multivitamin superfluous if they are already maintaining a healthy, balanced diet.

Beauty supplements have fewer studies attesting to their benefits. The data is limited and difficult to extrapolate. There are, for example, studies about the effects of certain oils and minerals when applied topically, but it’s impossible to extend those effects to ingestion. Moreover, I’ve found a number of critics attesting that the quantities of vitamins and minerals in beauty supplements do not compete with the amount being offered in scientific studies. This casts doubt on the efficacy of beauty supplements overall.

Neither multivitamins nor beauty supplements contain 100% of the daily recommended dose of any of their ingredients, and even if they did, excess amounts of the ingredients are simply expelled from the body – typically through urine. Hence, the notion that beauty supplements result in “expensive pee.” I’m curious, though, since my research turned up a couple of suggestions that taking multivitamins for too long can have negative effects on overall health. Meanwhile, supplementing too much biotin or collagen with a beauty supplement can potentially have the opposite effect on hair, nails, and skin. I’ll admit that I have to do more research in this regard.

Speaking of more research, I also struggled to find objective resources with regards to the efficacy of synthetic vs. natural vitamins as well. My skeptic senses were tingling with every page I passed that used the term ‘toxin’ as a general catch-all in place of clear language. What the heck are these toxins that everybody’s talking about? And how on earth is rosehip oil supposed to help? The claims seem rather dubious, and with such limited studies, it’s difficult to say anything definitive about the advantage of taking a beauty supplement on a whole.

Do I Need It?

Earlier this year, I went to donate blood for the second time. I was rejected because my hemoglobin was too low. This was when meat was still a part of my diet. I can’t attest to feeling any positive changes since starting my multivitamin a few weeks ago, but I am planning on donating blood again in a few weeks. I’ll be sure to post the results.

Obviously, this isn’t at all scientific. I didn’t establish a baseline or parameters. I haven’t visited a physician to identify any gaps in my diet. Nevertheless, the number of resources I have on vegetarianism suggest that a multivitamin is beneficial for supplying things like iron, vitamin B12, and magnesium. There’s also some great videos that break down the price of multivitamins compared to buying individual ingredients in bulk, and while it’s obviously more cost effective to buy more, the difference in price is not astronomical.

As for beauty supplements, well, I would love lustrous hair, strong nails, and clear skin. I would love even more to have a magic pill that solved all these problems for me. Unfortunately, the research just isn’t there. That isn’t the fault of beauty supplements, but it’s enough to make me wary, particularly when so many of the ingredients seem superfluous is even a vegetarian diet. Biotin is a buzzword nowadays with loads of supposed benefits for skin, hair, and nails, but a quick web search reveals that biotin is readily available in foods like eggs and avocados, foods that I already consume regularly.

The markup on beauty supplements is astounding, too.

Given the variety of beauty supplements out there, it seems plausible that one might address some of my needs. However, until some hard evidence presents itself, the effort required to single out a beauty supplement formulation that’s both effective and affordable seems like a price I’m not willing to pay.

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