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updated 9/14/2007 9:12:30 AM ET 2007-09-14T13:12:30

Are you taking an inside-out approach to beauty? You know that nourishing your mind, body and spirit enhances your natural glow; what's surprising is that scientists now say it's worth adding supplements to your diet, exercise, and skin routine.

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"It's important to also feed the skin internally," says Leslie Baumann, M.D., director of cosmetic dermatology at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami. "In addition to eating a healthy diet, certain supplements can provide a constant supply of essential nutrients."

Here's the latest on which pills have been scientifically proven to help deliver firmer, more radiant skin and healthier nails.

For strong, pretty nails: Biotin
Age-weakened nails may have met their match in this B vitamin. Several studies, including one published by dermatologist Richard K. Scher, M.D., a professor of clinical dermatology at Columbia University, show that daily supplementation with 2.5 mg of biotin significantly improves nail strength — translating into firmer, harder nails that are less likely to crack or chip. (Another possible benefit that hasn't been studied: thicker hair, which a number of people have reported.) Experts don't know why megadoses of biotin help fortify fragile nails — the idea originated with veterinarians, who give it to horses to harden their hooves.

Although getting nutrients from your diet is most desirable, you'll probably need a supplement to notice a difference in your nails: Eggs and liver, two rich dietary sources, deliver a scant 25 and 27 mcg (or 100 times less than the studied amount), and many multis provide just 30 mcg.

Your Rx: Look for a supplement such as Appearex ($25 for a 12-week supply; appearex.com) that contains 2.5 mg of biotin. Because the vitamin is water-soluble, it won't build up in the body and cause side effects. To be safe, Scher recommends checking with your physician before taking biotin and discontinuing use if you haven't seen any improvement at all after 3 months.

To help prevent aging: Heliocare
Nothing wears out skin like UV exposure, which is why applying sunscreen is the most important thing you can do to safeguard it. But bolstering skin's UV defenses with Heliocare — a potent antioxidant that mops up free radicals produced by the sun — is a good second step. Derived from a South American fern, the supplement has a huge dermatologist fan base: One loyal user, New Orleans dermatologist Mary Lupo, M.D., a Prevention advisor, calls it "a slam dunk."

"I'm positive it helps," she says. "On a recent trip to Cancún, my husband and I both used sunscreen and took Heliocare one day, and neither of us burned. The following day, we both used sunscreen, but only I took Heliocare — and he burned."

There's strong scientific support for the supplement's skin-protecting ability: It dramatically reduced the incidence of sunburn as well as damage to collagen and elastin, the fibers that keep skin smooth and firm, in two published Harvard Medical School studies. That's because Heliocare is particularly effective against the "aging" UVA rays that most sunscreens don't protect against completely.

Your Rx: Lupo recommends taking one capsule 30 minutes prior to sun exposure if you're prone to sunburn. If you plan to spend an extended period of time in the sun, take another capsule 3 hours from the first ($60 for 60 capsules; heliocare.com).

For soft, smooth skin: Omega-3 fatty acids
These supplements aren't just making headlines for preventing heart disease — dermatologists are recommending them to help heal dry skin and the rough, red, scaly patches of psoriasis and eczema.

"Countless studies show that increasing the consumption of omega-3 oils improves these conditions," says Baumann.

In one study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, volunteers with severe dermatitis taking high levels of omega-3s (6 g) saw a 30 percent decrease in symptoms. Psoriasis sufferers experienced similar results in other research.

It's easy to see why omega-3s are crucial to skin health: Besides being an integral part of the membranes that surround our skin cells, these essential fats — which must be obtained from diet or supplements because our bodies cannot make them — are a key component of the lubricating layer that keeps skin supple.

They also aid in the production of hormones that improve skin texture and help combat the inflammatory damage wrought by free radicals — one of the causes of wrinkles and blotchiness. This is likely why sun-sensitive people may be significantly less prone to burning after omega-3 supplementation, according to one study.

Your Rx: Eating fish such as salmon, mackerel, and albacore tuna — good sources of omega-3s — twice a week and taking supplements are easy ways to increase your intake. For better skin, Baumann recommends taking 1,000 mg of omega-3 oils a day — about the same dosage recommended to keep your ticker in good shape. Try Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Purified Fish Oil ($27 for 120 soft gels; nordicnaturals.com) or Kirkland Signature Fish Oil ($9 for 400 soft gels; costco.com).

To boost firmness and hydration: Imdeen prime renewal
The idea that a biomarine-based complex can shore up aging skin may sound a little fishy, but the evidence is impressive, says Baumann. Postmenopausal women taking the supplement (which is recommended for those age 50 and up) saw significant improvement in skin firmness and smoothness in a 6-month study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition — and the results were seen on the face, décolletage, and hands.

Likewise, in a similar 12-week study on women taking a sister supplement (Imedeen Time Perfection, suggested for women 35 to 50), skin's moisture content increased by 30 percent. Other changes include a visible reduction in fine lines, a fading of sunspots, and an overall brighter complexion.

The contents of the capsules — which contain a proprietary protein derived from a deep-sea fish and high concentrations of antioxidants such as vitamin C and lycopene — work in part by increasing production of collagen and elastin, as well as hyaluronic acid, the body's natural moisturizer, says Imedeen's Lars Lindmark, Ph.D.

Your Rx: Take the Imedeen supplement suggested for your age, advises Baumann, who uses Time Perfection herself and recommends it to patients. Although a 90-day supply of Prime Renewal ($245) is significantly more expensive than Time Perfection ($180; both at imedeen.us), it supplies twice the amount of the biomarine complex.

Copyright© 2012 Rodale Inc.All rights reserved. No reproduction, transmission or display is permitted without the written permissions of Rodale Inc.

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