Q&A: Key Nutrients for Skin Health and Beauty


Mark Tager, MD, who has spent half of his career in integrative functional medicine and the other half in aesthetics, always finds himself answering four questions: 

  1. What should I eat?
  2. What supplements should I take?
  3. What topicals should I put on?
  4. What procedure should I have?

The fact is, he says to them, that there's no person on this planet with the same skin; we've all been exposed to different amounts of sunlight and pollutants, and we all eat different food. Therefore, there is no one answer to those questions; each person needs to have an individual beauty protocol.

Back in February, we spoke with Dr. Tager in a live interview after his session at the Integrative Healthcare Symposium about the key diet and lifestyle factors that impact skin health, how he crafts individualized treatment protocols, and his go-to supplements for skin and beauty.

Integrative Practitioner: Based on your evaluation, how do you then design a patient’s individualized treatment protocol?

Mark Tager, MD: To start, you hope and pray that they're going to take your dietary advice. That's the hardest thing. And if they don't take it all the way, at least they make some minor improvements. We often ask people to do a dietary recall or keep a three-day dietary record, and that alone is therapeutic because they start paying more attention to what they’re eating. So, the first is trying to get people to really follow the dietary advice. On top of that, it’s about trying to get people to exercise and manage their stress. As for exercise, it's about just moving your body, getting 10,000 steps in a day; it's as simple as walking.

As people age, they need to spend time and attention on their muscle mass because their muscles are burning calories, and they're responsible for so much more than that as well. They also send hormone signals to the brain, these myokines. Resistance training is particularly important as you age. So, moving your body, resistance training, flexibility, and a little yoga are all good stuff. We all need to do more stretching, particularly when we sit all day and those hamstrings get tight, pulling the back out.

Stress is a whole other topic. Probably the biggest thing for people is to realize what's important, what's not important, what's controllable, and what's not controllable, and you need to really pay attention to what's important and controllable. So, it's learning to let go. I think this is part of the physiology of the parasympathetic nervous system; you can learn to calm your restless mind, and you can learn to relax your body; sometimes vagus nerve and non-invasive vagus Nerve Stimulation help with that. The biggest thing is soft belly breathing. I personally like the 4-7-8 technique. You're in for four, hold for seven, out for eight.

Integrative Practitioner: Why do you find it important to address something like skin health? How does skin health reflect overall health?

Dr. Tager: Skin reflects your overall health, and what's important about that is that skin is the biggest motivator in a lot of ways. If I were to sit with someone and say, “You're eating all this sugar, and that's why your hemoglobin A1C is 7.5; you have to cut it out." They would say, "Okay, I'll try, doc.” But if you say, “This is responsible, to a great extent, for your skin looking old and the loss of luster and the cross-hatching and wrinkles around your mouth,” you've got a motivated patient. You have to realize that this beauty motivation has been fundamentally ingrained in all of our societies since the beginning of time. We even see a lot of men in many dermatology and aesthetic practices. Today, 40 percent of the patients are men. Skin is just a powerful motivator, and it's something you see every day. You don't necessarily see the workings of your liver. You don't know how healthy your gut is, but you know how your skin's doing. It's an instant barometer for a lot of people.

Integrative Practitioner: And what supplements are you using?

Dr. Tager: It depends. I think a good multivitamin is a place to start. I think essential fatty acids, like omega-3s, are just that; they're essential. Vitamin D is also very important for the skin. We know that 92 percent of Americans don't meet the estimated average requirement for vitamin D, which is very significant. Vitamin D plays an important role in skin health. Moving on from that, I think you need to choose your antioxidants, and there are lots of favorites that people have. Certainly, Vitamin C is critical. The other ones that have good data behind them are Pycnogenol, and then we've got pine, bark ferns, and polypodium leucotomos. I'm also a big fan of Astra Xanten as an antioxidant.

Above and beyond that, you want to make sure your minerals are fine. I mean zinc, certainly. Acne is either in adolescence or in menopausal women, peri or menopause. A high-fat diet with a lot of dairy-changing hormones and low zinc is a perfect storm for acne. So, I always like to see what the zinc levels are in patients with acne.

And then, now you've got the basics, so what else might you need? You know, hair, skin and nails? I mean, are you going to take a formulation? Because stress is such a big part of things, do you want to reach for a supplement with Rhodiola or ashwagandha? I think adaptogens are particularly important. With women around menopause who are just not sleeping, they have estrogen dominance, and this is often the cause of many of the symptoms. So, cruciferous vegetables are great for this, most notably diindolylmethane, which is the extracted active ingredient of cruciferous vegetables. That's a wonderful supplement, and you need to sleep. Otherwise, you have issues with your cortisol.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from an Integrative Practitioner Podcast episode. To listen to the full podcast interview, click here.