Arguably one of the biggest beauty trends of the past few years is ingestible skin care — that is, taking various supplements in the form of pills, powders, or liquids that claim to have the same (if not more) benefits for your skin as the topical products most people have in their medicine cabinets. If you follow even one single influencer on Instagram, you've likely seen them talk about the ones they take (whether it's #spon or not), and Vox reported that the global beauty supplement market is projected to be worth $6.8 billion by the end of 2024.
I keep various beauty-related gummy vitamins at my desk that I pop whenever I remember to, but had never stuck to a regular-enough routine to figure out whether or not they were making a difference. So, recently, I decided to try A Complete's Beauty Concentrate Supplement For Skin Care for a full 30 days straight to see if it really would change my skin for the better.
I first heard about these enticing-looking shiny blue pills when Fashionista beauty editor Stephanie Saltzman wrote about her positive experience with them. Saltzman's twin sister, Hayley, is BDG's Social Media Director and assured me that she, too, had seen her usually chronic acne completely clear after she finished a full box of the pills. I don't have the Saltzman skin genes, of course, but two rave reviews had me excited to get my hands on a pack.
A Complete is a skin care brand founded by Angélica Fuentes, "one of Latin America’s most prominent businesswomen and impact investors." The company also sells a range of topical skin care products, and the supplements (which are $18 for a pack of 30 on acomplete.com) are meant to be used alongside those treatments. "The quality of the skin depends on two factors: what we eat, and how we take care of it on the outside," Juan Carlos Flores, research and development R&D manager for A Complete, tells me. "Skin or beauty supplements are developed to incorporate essential nutrients for the skin health to your diet to take care of it from the inside out."
Miami-based dermatologist Dr. Roberta Del Campo echoes the importance of a person's diet when it comes to skin care. "First and foremost, I believe in a well-balanced diet that contains antioxidants and important vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, selenium, iron and fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E)," she explains to me. In fact, she says she recommends a well-balanced diet over taking supplements to all her patients.
A Complete's website says that the vitamins contain "a professional blend of pro-aging vitamins and antioxidants inspired by the Mediterranean diet." According to Flores, the formula went through two years of clinical trials before they were ready to be sold. The box for the pills lists vitamin E, hydrolyzed fish collagen, evening primrose oil, tomato extract, pomegranate extract, and Aztec marigold extract as the active ingredients. Although the site clarifies that individual results from taking the pills may vary, the main claims the brand makes about each ingredient have to do with improving skin moisture, increasing skin elasticity, and have "pro-aging" effects.
When I asked what pro-aging meant (as opposed to the more traditional "anti-aging" language, which has lately started to be frowned upon in the industry) the founder Angélica Fuentes tells me, "Pro-aging is the new anti-aging; we should start promoting pro-aging instead of anti-aging since we are celebrating life! For A Complete, aging is a beautiful process that must be embraced and appreciated. When we age, life gives us opportunities for us to live to the fullest, to learn, and to pursue our goals. A Complete promotes making time for ourselves, nourishing our bodies, and celebrating how beautiful we are, inside out. Aging is a part of that beauty that comes from within!" I wasn't sure what any of that meant in terms of how my skin would look after 30 days, but it sounds nice.
Del Campo says she also often recommends vitamin E, which is in the A Complete supplements, to her patients. "It is a well-known antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties," she explains. "Both of these factors are important in skin regeneration and cell turnover to keep the skin radiant and healthy. Vitamin E also protects against wrinkle-forming UV radiation and environmental damage."
Del Campo is skeptical about the rest of the active ingredients in the pills, since she isn't aware of any scientific proof that they have any benefit for the skin. "Most importantly, collagen taken orally cannot be transferred through the GI tract to the skin," she says. There are two frequently cited studies about the skin benefits of ingesting collagen — a 2013 study of 69 women showed they had "a statistically significantly higher skin elasticity level" after two months of ingesting collagen peptides, and a 2015 study out of Japan that included 60 women determined "oral collagen peptide supplementation significantly increased skin hydration after 8 weeks of intake." However, since the sample sizes are so small and there's no mention of how controlled the participants' diets or other skin care usage was, Del Campo says she doesn't consider the results of these "low-powered studies" valid.
However, Del Campo says the main risk in taking these pills is the potential for an allergic reaction. "It should be noted that supplements are not monitored or approved by the FDA, therefore there can be additional additives that can be dangerous when ingested in too high of a dose," Del Campo says. According to the FDA's website, the administration did establish "dietary supplement 'current Good Manufacturing Practice' (cGMP) regulations requiring that manufacturers evaluate their products through testing identity, purity, strength, and composition" in 2007. Basically, the supplements have to contain what they say they contain, but the FDA doesn't regulate the claims made. On the side of the supplement box, A Complete recommends checking with your doctor before starting the pill — something that's almost always advised when it comes to supplements. Although Del Campo rarely recommends supplements over a balanced diet, she will if a patient's bloodwork shows low levels of certain vitamins, like iron, vitamin D, and biotin.
Armed with all this knowledge, I started taking those shiny blue pills.
I started taking the pills a week after I had gotten a facial that really irritated my skin. I usually have a little bit of redness and dryness in general, but this week I was also experiencing some breakouts and even more sensitivity than usual. Although A Complete doesn't claim that the supplements treat acne, I'd heard from other people who took the pills before me that their skin cleared up by the time they finished the pack. I was also curious to see if it would have any effect on the dark circles under my eyes, although I know by now those are pretty much just due to genetics.
There was nothing especially notable about the pill itself: It tasted like nothing, was easy to swallow (granted, I already take a big pack of vitamins every night, so I'm used to it), and is a very pleasing shade of blue.
After one week of taking the pills, all that acne I was experiencing the week before had vanished. The texture of my skin had also improved; it was feeling a lot smoother to the touch, and you can see in the closer-up picture that some of the bumpiness has diminished.
Do I know for sure that this was related to the pills? Absolutely not. But clearly they hadn't hurt!
By week three, I saw the redness in my skin go down even more. The red dot you see next to my mouth is an allergic reaction to my cat rubbing her face on mine, not a pimple. Overall, I was very pleased with how my skin was looking.
Even though I tried not to switch up the other skin care products I was testing during this pill trial period, clearly something irritated my skin again at the start of week four. Still, I'm kinda glowing underneath all the redness, right?
On the 30th day, I took one final set of selfies. I can say with complete confidence that I prefer the look of my skin in these photos way more than how it looked in the pictures from before I started taking the pills. The breakouts are totally gone, as is the painful allergic reaction I was experiencing from my not-great facial. Here's a side-by-side of the before-and-after:
Since I wasn't doing this experiment in a controlled lab, I can't for sure claim that the supplements caused all of these results that I consider improvements. But I enjoyed taking a pill every day that seemed to be helping my skin — so much so that I started a second pack right after I finished this one.