Two and a half years ago, Gemma Watts started swapping the protein powder in her morning berry smoothie for a little "Glow", a little collagen or a little "Super Elixir".
With prices ranging between about $45 and $135 a pop, these prettily packaged jars promising more youthful-looking, smoother skin don’t come cheap.
“It’s an expensive brekky,” admits the 26-year-old beauty blogger from Melbourne. "But, my god, it’s delicious.”
In recent years, some researchers have claimed consuming collagen (the protein that gives structure to our skin) may improve skin texture, and as studies continues to uncover the relationship between gut health and the quality of our skin, beauty “supplements” packed with probiotics or collagen (typically extracted from fish scales, chicken or beef bone), have become a growing trend.
Watts says she didn’t initially see a change in her skin. “The second I stopped taking them, that’s when I noticed the difference,” she says. “When I get spots, it’s related to what I’ve been eating and drinking. The second I stop caring about what I’ve been eating or drinking, it shows on my skin.”
Although anecdotally there are those, like Watts, who swear by them, do beauty supplements really work?
Many of the studies on the effects of drinking collagen on skin are industry-funded and although collagen does decline as we age, it may not be as simple as consuming it to create more.
“I think these are largely just expensive products making money for the manufacturers,” says dietitian, Dr Joanna McMillan. “Taking collagen as an ingredient does not lead to more collagen production in your skin. Collagen is a protein so in your gut it is broken down into the constituent amino acids – these are absorbed but not repackaged up into collagen once in the body.”
As for the probiotic-packed powders, some limited research shows they may be beneficial to skin, but one problem is that there is no one probiotic that benefits us all.
This is because gut bacteria (and the individual balance that is healthy) varies from person to person, so what is great for the gut of one person may not be great for the next.
One recent review found that a “promising strategy for enhancing skin protection” is to consume the antioxidant-containing products that are normally present in the skin.
However, this should be not confused with consuming unnaturally high dosages of isolated antioxidants, the authors of the paper wrote.
"Fruit and vegetables consumption may represent the most healthy and safe method in order to maintain a balanced diet and youthful appearing skin," they said.
We can do this through a diet rich in carotenoids (tomatoes, carrots, sweet potato, dark leafy greens), tocophenols (nuts and seeds) and flavonoids (berries, apples, legumes), as well as vitamins (A, C, D and E), essential omega-3-fatty acids (oily fish, chia and hemp foods), protein (eggs, lean meat, lentils) and lactobacilli (yoghurt, miso, sauerkraut).
Avoiding chronic sun exposure, smoking, pollution, sleep deprivation and junk food also helps to prevent premature ageing.
Accredited practising dietitian Melanie McGrice says that she wouldn’t recommend beauty supplements to her clients but, “if someone did want to take them, in most circumstances, they are not going to do any harm”.
She adds: “These powders contain some nutritious ingredients, but I don’t know of any beauty powders that have undergone scientific research, so I’m not sure how they can make such bold claims. Essentially, it’s just marketing.”
In her view, the better and more affordable way to better skin is to hydrate with water and eat of antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables.
McMillan agrees that beautiful skin needn’t be expensive.
”The other ingredients [in the products] are on trend so-called superfoods, but I’m not aware of a single study actually showing any benefit from taking as a powder,” she says. “I think you are much better off spending your money at the grocers on real foods.
“We just don’t have the studies to really back any of these. We do know that eating the whole foods is where you benefit.”
Watts admits that it is “probably true” that the research on such supplements is lacking.
“But, with anything in beauty, it’s what works for you,” she says. “I’m happy to keep taking them because they work for me.”
Sarah Berry is a lifestyle and health writer at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.